The Sword Of Christmas

“As you can see,” Graham said with pride, “Zack and his group have been doing an awful lot of groundwork. Indeed, they discovered these,” he continued and produced three swords from the armoury. “We have quite a selection of these and after out talk earlier, I think that swords may be one of our best forms of defence. Without their appropriate limbs, the leathers will struggle to do much harm.”

For once, his gentle humour failed to reach an audience so he continued.

“The next thing that I wish to ask is difficult,” he cleared his throat slightly. “You see, we need to get an early warning of their arrival so we would be best served by deploying a scouting unit that can cover the immediate areas around the castle. It will be a dangerous task so I only want volunteers. One thing to bear in mind is that you may have to move pretty quickly to get back to HQ if and when you do spot them.”

Keith Rains shot up a hand and this was followed by several others, all men in their late twenties or early thirties, all of them having lost family members. Then, Michael stepped forward and he was holding the sword he had picked out for himself. It was a shorter version of a long sword yet had a blade that was not straight. The blade had been fashioned into a facsimile of a series of flames, each one glinting with shiny menace. Graham had told him that the sword was favoured by German soldiers protecting the most important personnel. 

“It would have been used in a sweeping movement to ensure greater coverage and to keep the unwanted attentions away from those who were being protected,” Graham touched the blade and drew a little of his own blood in doing so.

“As sharp today as it was when it was first forged. They called this a Flammanschwert, the flame sword, and these edges meant that any strike would be intensified by the additional surface area. It was meant to maim.”

Chris had noticed that his brother’s presence brought immediate attention from the rest. It was not born of the charisma of Graham, the wisdom of Mr. Dale of the admiration of Judith. No, when Michael was in the room, people just stopped doing those things that they would have been doing; chat and movement were stilled as if awaiting the arrival of some natural disaster.

If Chris had not known his brother so well, had not understood his truly sensitive nature, had not seen his head stuck, night after night, into some grand book or other, he would have felt the same as the others.

“I volunteer,” Michael announced. This was followed by his brother who was now standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

The rise in optimism was matched by a hike in temperature. The signs of a thaw were there for all to see and, whilst usually the disappearance of snow brought about a twinge of sadness, everybody welcomed its short, if powerful life span.

Within little time, the organisation for the defence of the castle was completed to a satisfactory level. The rat runs were trodden and re-trodden to familiarise all with the evasive measures that would probably be required. Graham, his knowledge of history becoming their guide to survival, set up three murder holes, confined areas were attackers could neither move backwards or forwards once they had entered and where his quickest and strongest males could strike with relative impunity.

Because of the confined spaces, only short swords and spears could be used. However, Keith Rains had equipped himself with a ‘morning star’, a brutish looking club that was studded with vicious spikes. “I used to play cricket a bit so I should still have a good swing,” was his explanation for choosing such a weapon.

Towards twilight, the first of the refugees began to emerge from the countryside. First there came two young men, all smiles and greetings not disguising their discomfort at being within such a large group of strangers. Then, very soon afterwards, came more and more. On questioning, it would seem that the empty landscape through which Graham’s band had travelled was not so empty after all. The group’s reluctance to venture into buildings meant that they had missed numbers of others who were just hiding and surviving. For all they knew, Graham may have been in charge of a mopping up exercise run by The Piper so they did not show themselves.

“So why now?” Mr. Dale wondered aloud.

The dreams. They had all experienced dreams about the leathers and these dreams had been so disquieting, so very different to the replays of the previous terrors, that many of them took them to be warnings of things to come. Then they had dreamt about the man who was yet a boy, the one with a sword of flames, the one who had the brightest light at his back but not upon him, and they headed towards the castle in which he resided believing that he could halt the flood of their hunters.

“That’s him,” a voice cried out in amazement, its owner pointing towards Michael who had just entered the room with his brother. “That’s him from my dream.”

A tide of rising whispers seeped into the library with faces turning towards the one who had been identified. In return, Michael walked quickly from the place intent on becoming as invisible as he could.

“Michael wait for me,” Chris was after him. “What is it? Why were they pointing at you?”

Michael had broken into a run by this point and his brother had to do likewise to keep up. The pace increased to a sprint as they raced along the ground floor and then the eldest darted to his left and through a large opening that took them into another tower. Taking the stairway two steps at a time, they were soon at its summit. Chris was breathing heavily, the short activity having taken a surprising amount of energy from him. His brother, who was standing by the towers widow looking out to the east, was apparently in no discomfort at all.

“What was all that about? Why did you run away?”

Michael hesitated for a long time before answering, “They think that I can save them. They believe that I have been sent here to stop the leathers.”

“That’s stupid. How do you know that?”

“Have you not seen it in their faces? Every time somebody looks at me, there’s something in their eyes. Have you not noticed how only a few of them actually talk to me. The young ones, they talk, they’re not the same, but the older ones…sometimes some of them can’t even meet my eyes. They look at their hands or their feet. Others just rush away as soon as they can.”

“Perhaps it’s just your imagination.”

Again Michael looked towards the gathering dusk.

“When I was with Mum, I had this dream, it was as if I couldn’t wake up. You were in a wood somewhere and you were with Lucy. There was a man who was pointing a gun at you. You were in danger. I saw the man. No the physical one, but the one inside him and it was The Piper. He’d coiled himself up inside this bloke. Inside him was this snakelike creature that controlled all of his actions and the creature was commanding it to kill you. Payment. That’s what it was after. Payment.”

“That happened. Just last week. We had stopped by this big private school and Will, a bloke who came in with Judith, made me go up the woods where he was going to kill me. He had a gun. Said that it was for The Piper and he talked about the debt. It’s a good job that he couldn’t shoot straight.”

“I distracted him. At the very last moment, he saw me and I saw him. You were thinking about the window you had seen in the church.”

“How do you know?”

“You thought that the figure in the window was me.”

The younger brother listened without interrupting.

“The Man in the window had something like this hadn’t he?”

Michael was holding up his sword and, in an instant, Chris noticed the flames, the real fire that danced along its edge. “Chris, I don’t know who I am any longer. I have blackouts. Look at me. Am I the same brother you had less than two months ago?”

Ingredients for Rabble-Rousing

Arguing The Indefensible

Washington (CNN)

“After puzzling comments about 19th Century abolitionist Frederick Douglass and marveling that no one knew Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, President Donald Trump has just unloaded another historical non sequitur. In the latest strange aside, Trump said that Andrew Jackson, the populist rabble-rousing President with whom he has begun to claim political kinship, had strong thoughts about the Civil War — even though he died 16 years before the conflict broke out.

There comes a point when somebody takes out a soap box, or position at the head of others, in order to begin a blabber about what they have just read in their version of brilliant insight (usually provided by a newspaper prior to it being used to wrap up fish and chips). They state the unnacceptable as if it is a demystification of all that we have been blinded into believing. They may even throw in some dubious facts or statistics in order to bolster their case. The facts are the facts and are indisputable.

Let’s take slavery.

It’s now come to light that most people subjected to slavery actually prefer it as a form of existence that is free from responsibility. Indeed, slaves had the best of deals because they didn’t have to find work and make horrible choices such as, “What to do on a free afternoon.” The slave owners shouldered the responsibility of providing accommodation and inventing suitable punishments that would deter pesky dissenters (runaways). If it hadn’t been for the ‘do gooding’ rabble rousers everything would have been just fine and all those decent citizens would not have had to die in the carnage that was the Civil War.

As President Trump pointed out, it was a shame that Andrew Jackson had not chosen to die a little later as he would have avoided such a situation. Such a prescient president (Trump not Jackson). 
 

And that leads us to some of the ingredients for a successful “rabble rousing”:

  1. Don’t rely on the facts if you don’t agree with them.
  2. Reshape history in any way that you wish, to suit your agenda.
  3. Ignore logic.
  4. Speak to the lowest common denominator in your audience (the guy at the back with extra lardage and drippling from the mouth).
  5. Don’t avoid hate-filled speeches. Indeed, embrace them as they tend to excite the massess (especially fat drooler at the back).
  6. Speak with conviction as these days you are not likely to be convicted for anything that may encourage violence.
  7. Demonise your ‘snowflake’ targets and mock their ‘neo-liberalist’ views.
  8. Point people towards the lessons of history (there would now be no middle-eastern problems if Hitler had been left to get on with it). Indeed, there would be no race problems if trendy lefties had not been allowed to portray other races, that were not WASP, as being vaguely human.
  9. Read widely, within the narrow confines of your skewed views and quote often. Point out that Shakespeare was a racist and anti-semite as this will get under the skin of the so-called intellectual elite.
  10. Do not suffer a reasoned, rational or fair response.
  11. Take anything from holy scripture that will serve your cause and ignore all else. Rewrite The Bible. Edit out The New Testament.
  12. Do as John Lennon would have suggested, “Make War Not Love” 

And A Merry Christmas, One And All!

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.”