Friday 22 May 2015

How to Launch a Colour Revolution

Thank you for purchasing your How To Launch a Colour Revolution guide! Here you will learn how to launch your own Colour Revolution, and push your nation in new and unexpected directions. No right-thinking young person can do without it!

Now, in order to launch a colour revolution, the first thing you will need is a colour. This may seem obvious, even elementary, but you’ll be surprised at how complex the question is. You can’t, after all, choose just any colour. You’ll have to select it according to the criteria we’ll describe here:

First: the colour must not have been used in a revolution already. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, what with the excellent success rate of this business model, which has already changed regimes all across the eastern world. You’ll find that colours like orange, green, pink and so on have all been used already. But don’t despair, there are plenty more yet to go! If you can’t find one of your own, our helpline will be happy to suggest more for you! Phone 1800-REGIMECHANGE now!

Suppose you have found a colour that you’d like. Now, you must understand that the colour is a marketing tool. People will recognise you by the colour. Therefore it must be a memorable colour – one that will stick in peoples’ minds. It must also be a reassuring one – one that people will feel comfortable with. So if you chose, let us say, red or black, you have to think again, or people in the West will associate your revolution with communism or anarchism, and lose all sympathy for it. Choose a nice pastel shade, like lemon or sky blue.

Let us repeat that our helpline is willing to provide all assistance. In fact, we strongly recommend that once you have chosen your colour, you contact us to make sure that the colour is acceptable and you’re approved to use it. If you do not do this, frankly, we shall not be responsible for the consequences.

Let’s assume you’ve chosen your colour, and that it’s passed our inspection. Now, the next step is to make sure the government you wish to overthrow is one that’s approved for overthrowing. In plain terms, we don’t suggest anyone going hog-wild overthrowing good, friendly governments. Unless your government controls resources or pipeline routes which it isn’t sharing with the West world community as any public-spirited nation must do, or unless it’s sited strategically but does not intend to allow NATO access to bases in its territory help protect freedom and democracy, you should not attempt to launch the revolution. To confirm whether you should or should not, please contact our helpline. The list of regimes approved for colour revolution changes frequently, and we will be able to inform you whether it’s the right time to launch your revolution or whether you ought to wait. Sooner or later, your nation will be on the list, so even if it’s not on right now, you needn’t despair.

Suppose you’ve got both a regime approved for revolution and your colour. Now you’ve got to brand yourselves as liberal students and pro-Western democracy-lovers.  Trust us on this; even though you may all be rabid right-wing fact, though you’re almost certainly all rabid right-wing fascists...please do not admit to the world that you are rabid right-wing fascists. Trust us on this. You have to get the Western media on your side, and the Western media has to be able to peddle the story that you are all liberal pro-democracy freedom-loving students. So keep your swastika armbands at home for the time being. You can wear them later, don’t worry. There will be plenty of time for all that after you’ve won.

Now, as you’ll understand, these revolutions don’t come cheap. In fact, you’ll require a huge amount of money, and that money will have to be provided via certain approved organisations. You will readily understand that money doesn’t come without a quid pro quo. They give you quid, and you have a quota to provide for them when the time comes. But don’t worry – though you’ll be selling off your resources and economy to them, there will be plenty of kickbacks to go around!

 So please make sure to contact the approved organisations at the earliest. Your local EU representative or US Embassy will be happy to provide you with a list. Adhere to it strictly. Funds from unapproved sources can cause problems down the line, with rival claims to resources and economic sell-offs. Please do not deal with unapproved agencies if you wish your revolution to succeed.    

Once you start your revolution, now, it must be as eye-catching as possible. In order for it to be eye-catching, it has to be two things. First, it has to be highly visible, so visible that it’s impossible for the world to ignore. Therefore, you have to launch your revolution in the centre of your capital. Does it have a large square of some kind? Then there’s nothing like it. Fill it today with your protestors, Bring them in any way you can. And once you are there, announce to the world that you won’t leave till you win.

Now, it has to be said that just cramming protestors into the square won’t help. You may be awash with money, and have a marketable colour, and the regime might be ripe for removal, but you won’t succeed unless you can incite violence. The problem is that most regimes have a peculiar reluctance to commit violence against peaceful protestors. Therefore, and this is vital, your protest must not remain peaceful. While you will require the common herd of protestors to choke the scene in front of the cameras, shock squads must be prepared to force a showdown with police. To repeat – the police must be attacked until they have no alternative but to react with violence. And then the media must be allowed to see that the violence is all the work of the regime.

Do not worry; freedom-loving forces in the background will be helping you all they can, not just with media coverage and funds, but with more sophisticated backing. For example, secret regime conversations accessed by wiretaps will be selectively leaked to help your cause. If no such secret conversations can be found, they’ll be invented. After all, who will the people in the West believe, the evil oppressive regime – or you?

Once the situation has reached the point where the violence is at a high level, the regime will begin to have second thoughts about its future. At this point it will offer to negotiate. Do not accept this offer. Do not allow any weak-kneed elements among you to accept this offer. The regime’s offer to negotiate merely proves one point – that the regime is weak and tottering. Now is the time for the final push.

Keep your storm troops ready.  At the right time – you will be told when the time comes – storm the parliament building, the presidential palace, and any other government building which the regime controls. Use any amount of violence you want; it can be passed off as an expression of justified anger. Once the regime flees, as it will, its very flight will be proof that it has abrogated its authority and so your revolution was fully justified.

And then you will be in power, and doling out favours in return for kickbacks, and be in clover.

Simple, isn’t it?

There’s just one final point you must remember. When your colour revolution finally collapses, as it will, in total ruin, you must know how to avoid blame. You can depend on us making sure the people believe it.

So repeat after me:

“It’s all Putin’s fault. It’s all Putin’s fault. It’s all Putin’s fault.”

 You'll need the practice.

The Great Big ISIS Movie Extravaganza Part XII

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

The Way Home

Title: The Way Home

Material: Acrylic on Plaster

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015 

Thursday 21 May 2015

Blood Sun

Blood sun shines in my face as I come down the hill, hanging above the red horizon, the heat washing over me like a tide.

I squint my eyes to block out the sun, trying to focus on the road ahead. It’s steep and narrow here, the crumbling concrete warrens in which the labourers live only just held back by the retaining walls. The jagged glass on the walls catches the sun and reflects it back in a thousand shards of blood-fire.

I know they’ll all be watching from their warrens, crowding on the roofs and at the blank holes of the windows, peering at me and trying to guess which one I am, checking my number off on their betting cards. A lot of money must be hanging on me at this moment, though they have no idea who I am and couldn’t care less if they did. Nor do I, to tell the truth, care whether they lose their savings on me. I have other problems, and, after all, I didn’t ask them to bet on me, anyway.

There are much weightier bets hanging on me than the life’s scroungings of a few hundred thousand labourers.

The steering wheel, narrow and smooth, is slippery with sweat, and I rub my hands, one by one, on my thighs. Ten seconds on the wheel and they’re slimy with moisture again.

If I could look behind me, I’d be able to tell where the rest of the field are. For the moment I’m ahead, and it’s possible I’m far ahead. But I can’t tell, and there is no rear view mirror and behind me is a metal sheet blocking the rear view. It’s the rule of the game, apparently. Someone thought it would add interest if nobody knows where the others are.

The owners keep adding rules to make things more interesting. It doesn’t matter to them what that means for us – we’re the ones doing the racing, not they.

By now the field must be getting thin. A lot of them usually drop out early, from accidents and from breakdowns, and sometimes it’s only one or two cars which last to the end. I’ve never had an accident, and I’ve never broken down, but that won’t matter. I’ll still have to win, even if there’s nobody else in the race but me.

...and Unajna. Though the entire rest of the race crash out, there will still be Unajna.

The green metal dashboard, flat and nearly featureless, is scratched and dented, and the seat under me is a pan of uncushioned plywood on metal, so that I have to brace my knee against the door to keep from sliding off. It wouldn’t do to make things too good for the racers, because then the richer owners could outspend the poorer and that would be unfair. In fact, it’s a mark of pride for the richest owners to handicap their racers even more, by stripping even more from their vehicles, so as to show that they’re going out of their way to not take advantage of their wealth.

My owner is one of the wealthiest of them all.

He expects me to win, though. There’s no wiggle room, no way to misinterpret the message his man had brought to me yesterday in my cell in the slave pen.

“You’re going to race tomorrow,” he’d said, tapping his short leather quirt, mark of his office, meditatively on his thigh. “You’re going to race, and you’re going to win.”

“Can I go over the course once at least?” I’d asked, knowing already what the answer would be.

“Of course not,” he’d said, looking down his narrow nose at me. “That would give you unfair advantage.”

“May I ask you a question?” I’d eyed the quirt warily, knowing that if he chose to use it I’d have no defence. I’m just a slave, and slaves have no right to even protect themselves, let alone fight back. “Why me?”

He’d shrugged. “It’s a big race – the biggest of the year. You’re the best of those available in the pens. How does it matter why you? It’s you either way.” He’d turned to leave, and then looked back over his shoulder. “You should be grateful,” he’d said. “You’re in the race pens and not in the mines, or in my lord’s workshops. But lose tomorrow, and if you’re unfortunate enough to survive...” He’d paused, running his lower lip through his teeth.


“You’ll wish you were in the mines or the workshops instead,” he’d said.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been told I was lucky to end up in the racer pens. It could have been much worse. But to stay in the racer pens, one has to keep winning. A losing racer – particularly one who loses in a big race, thus humiliating his owner – hasn’t a hope. If I lose, I’ll be lucky if I don’t get sold to the organ donation market.

They can do that to slaves. They can do anything.

Perhaps it isn’t fair, that’s true enough. But slaves are criminals, and have no right to expect fair treatment. Like me – I’m a criminal, like all the others. I was born to labourers.

That’s the greatest crime of all.

I feel no kinship to the labourers though. As a slave, I’m as far beneath them as they are beneath the owners – I’m a warning to them, how far they can still fall, and they can congratulate themselves that they’re much better than me.

They have rights to a family, and what passes for freedom in the concrete warrens. Slaves have nothing.

That’s what I used to think. But even among slaves, there’s still room to fall.

The road’s beginning to flatten out, and I can see the turn coming, sharp to the left, and the blood sun will be right in my eyes so I’ll have to slow down even more than I’d have had to otherwise. And meanwhile the others will do their best to catch me up.

Unajna, for example.

I’d been checking the engine before we started up when a shadow had fallen over it, and I’d become aware that someone was standing behind me and looking over my shoulder. I’d turned, expecting it to be a race official doing the rounds.

It wasn’t. It had been Unajna.

Of course I’d known who she was. Everyone had known who she was, which was precisely as she’d wanted it. As a free racer and owner of her vehicle, she was already famous, and she’d dressed to be noticed, in a body-hugging overall of silver and gold.

She’d stared down at me with some amusement. “So you’re planning to win this race, are you?”

I’d said nothing.

“Answer me,” she’d said evenly. “I am accustomed to being answered when I address a slave.”

“I intend to do my best, ma’am,” I’d replied.

“And what do you intend to do when you lose?” Her bright red upper lip had curled scornfully over her even white teeth. She was all colours, silver and gold, red and white, and hair the black of midnight. “Oh, sorry, I should have said if you lose, shouldn’t I?”


“Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to go to the mines. I hear it’s not so good in the mines. But it would be better than the organ banks, I suppose.” She’d flipped a hand up casually. “Well, you’ll find out, soon enough.” Then she’d walked away to her vehicle, shining red and yellow among the rust-streaked unpainted metal of all the others, smiling all the way.

Remembering, my hands grow tight with anger on the wheel, even though I know this is precisely what she’d intended, to anger me enough to make me lose my judgement. Breathe deep, I tell myself. Breathe deep, and concentrate

The turning is coming up, and the blood sun is in my eyes, and I slow down as far as I can, and then suddenly she’s there, in the corner of my eye. Her red-yellow car on my outside, accelerating, turning sharply in front – she must have been waiting for this moment to make her move, having run this course before, the thing I hadn’t been allowed to do. And the red of the blood sun and the red of her car merge so I can’t say which is which, and I have a choice to make.

I can accelerate and try to ram her, and she’ll perhaps go into the wall. Or I might miss her and go into the wall myself. She can certainly see where she’s going, after all – she’s certainly got screens to block out the glare, the kind of thing slave racers don’t get. And even as I’m thinking all this, my feet are on the brake and the clutch, and I’m turning the wheel as sharply to the left as I can, almost going into the wall on the other side myself as she roars away.

I’ve just thrown away my life, I think.

There’s no time to catch her up now, however hard I try. I can already see the finish line, past the point where the labourer section ends, and it’s all the way straight from here, right to where the owners are sitting in their stands, high up and safely out of the way in case someone crashes their car at the last moment or – ha ha – decides on a suicide attack on them. Actually nobody has ever tried that and nobody will, for the simple reason that attacks won’t ever succeed anyway. The owners are guarded well enough.

And here we are, blood sun over my right shoulder, lighting up Unajna’s red car as though it needed to get any redder, and we’re coming down towards the end line. I’m trying to coax as much power from my vehicle as I can get, but it’s impossible, I can’t get close enough to that red tail to have any chance of catching it up in time. And by now, up in the stands, my owner must already be clenching his gym-muscular hands and turning his handsome face to his subordinates, to tell them exactly what to do to me, as soon as the car comes to a stop.

Maybe I should just keep going, try to make a getaway, run until my fuel tanks run dry and then keep running, until my shoes are worn through and my feet are bare to the bone, and then they’ll come and pick me up like a sack of fertiliser and laugh and curse at me for making me do that work. Perhaps I should swing the wheel over and crash into the wall, while I still can, end it all in an instant of pain and blood and shattered metal. But quite likely I’d only be mangled, not killed, and so badly mangled at that that they’d not even anaesthetise me when they took me apart at the organ banks.

If, that is, they anaesthetise anyone at all. They have the power to do as they want. What’s a slave’s pain anyway?

...and suddenly Unajna’s car is slowing, slowing sharply, and moving to the right to make room for me. It’s so unbelievable that I can only blink helplessly for a moment before my instincts kick in and I push down on the accelerator and swing past her. The finish line is a blur passing by under my wheels, almost too fast to see, and the bell goes off in my car to let me know the race is over.

The race is over, and – somehow – I’ve won.

I sit shaking behind the wheel, feeling the sweat running down my spine, until there’s someone at the window, a hand beckoning. It’s the owner’s man, the one who had come to my cell in the pen.

“Out, you. He wants to see you.”

The owner wants to see me? I’m more than astonished. Owners don’t see slaves except – sometimes – if they want to buy one. After all, it’s not as though I won the race, as far as he’s concerned – he did.

My owner is standing among a group of others of his kind, talking, when I follow the man up to his presence. A guard steps up and runs a metal detector quickly over me – just in case – while the man goes up to the owners and says something. I think I hear “It’s here, sir.”

Not “she’s here, sir.” It’s here.

Not that this is surprising, of course.

The owners all turn to look at me. I have a sudden flash of what they’re all seeing – this small slave woman, burnt by the sun, with the oil-stained hands and the old denim overalls, harmless and beaten down into subservience. And they’re right. Whatever I have inside me, whatever anger, I’ll never take any steps to do anything. Now that I’ve won the race, they aren’t going to turn me into a mine slave or an organ donor, and I’m going to do anything I can to keep his favour so I can still stay on the top of the heap.

As I said, even as a slave, there’s a long way to fall.

My owner takes a step forward. “So you won the race,” he says.

I don’t answer. He hasn’t asked me something.

“Normally, I’d have just sent you back to your cell, but there are two things.” He has a glass in his hand, something with a pencil-thin stem and a flared top filled with a dark red liquid, and looks into it thoughtfully. “The first is that you didn’t actually win, you were allowed to win. This was quite a humiliating thing for me. Secondly, I don’t like being humiliated. While you still won me a substantial wager, I can’t have that. So...”

“So I’m going to buy her.”

Everyone turns at the sound of the voice. It’s Unajna, of course, coming up the stairs behind me, changed out of her silver and gold into something midnight blue which sweeps the floor. “Whatever you’re planning for her, I’ll pay you more. Done?”

My owner raises carefully shaped eyebrows and bows. “Are you sure? This is just a slave. Plenty like her around.”

“I’m sure. Send me your bill, I’ll settle it. Come along, you.”

“As you wish, my dear. Won’t you stay for the party?”

“I don’t think so, not today. I have things to do.” Unajna turns to me. “I said come along. Are you deaf?”

I’m bewildered by the speed at which things are going. I’ve no idea why she wants to buy me. Is it to keep humiliating me round the clock? In that case why did she deliberately lose the race to me? But I have no say in the matter in any case. I’m a slave, and I’ve just been sold.

I follow her past the dour-faced guard, down the stairs and to her street car. It’s small and black and subdued, not the flaring orange and red of her racer, and when she motions me to sit beside her my arm and hers are almost touching. We drive a while in silence, through the owner part of the city, all tree-lined avenues with lovely houses the insides of which I can’t even imagine. Then she turns into a side street and comes to a stop.

“All right,” she says, glancing at me, “ask.”

“Ask what?”

“Why I threw the race. Why I bought you. Why you’re sitting beside me, now, instead of already on your way to the mines. Don’t you want to ask all that?”

“Yes, but I don’t know how. I’ve...fallen out of the habit of asking questions.”

She nods, lips pressed together. “I thought so. You see, I’ve been watching you for a while, Risalda.”

“Risalda,” I mouth silently. It sounded strange, like a word I’d never heard before. It had been so long since I’d heard it.

“Did you forget that that’s your name?” She glances at me from the corner of her eye. “You were born to labourers, but you turned to crime. Why?”

“Being a labourer, ma’am, didn’t give me enough to eat or enough clothes to ward off the cold in winter. It gets awful cold in winter if you’re a labourer, ma’am.”

“And you got caught. You were foolish to get caught.”

“As you say, ma’am.”

“But you’re not just foolish, are you?” She looks at me and away. “You’re still comparatively young, and yet you have good mechanical ability, intelligence – and, most of all, the capacity for self-control even when badly provoked. And I did my best to provoke you, both before the race and during it.” Her long fingers tap the wheel. “In other words, you’re just what I need.”

“For what?”

“Did you ever imagine that there’s a resistance movement among the owner class – against the phenomenon of slavery? That some of us might be actually building up a secret movement to overthrow the class distinctions? That there might be owners and labourers and slaves working together to make sure that there’s no more slavery, ever again? Did you ever imagine that?”

I shiver, looking out at the street, not knowing how to reply. The last of the blood sun touches a window and reflects red against the coming of the night.

“You don’t trust me, do you?”

My mouth works. “No.”

“Say that again. I didn’t quite hear.”

“I said no, I don’t trust you.” The words spill out, and for an appalling moment I imagine men spilling out from behind the trees to drag me to the ground.

She grins. “Excellent. Exactly what I was hoping for.”

“Excuse me?”

“If you’d said you trusted me just because I said something,” she says softly, “I’d have called you a fool, and given up on you on the spot. But you have not just the intelligence not to take my words on trust, but the courage to tell me you don’t. That was the final test.”

I open my mouth and shut it again.

“Welcome to the resistance,” she says. “We’re going to go to my home now, and tomorrow I’ll introduce you to those of the others you’ll need to know. And then we’ll do what we need to do.”

“Ma’am?” I ask.

“Don’t call me ma’am. I have a bloody name. Use it.”

 “Unajna,” I force myself to say. “Will I be racing again?”

“Naturally.” She smiles. “In a proper car, of course. We do have to subvert the bastards in all ways we can – including beating them at the races.”

I nod, thinking of the slaves in the other cars. “Of course.”

Darkness lies fresh and cool outside, and the blood sun is gone.

But, I think, with the total despair of knowledge, that it’s going to be back again.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015


Monday 18 May 2015

Night of the Clan

Cuta trotted over the ground, head low, her heavy shoulders working. The scent in the air was maddening, crawling up her nose to hurt the inside of her head. But at least the noises had stopped, the terrific thundering that made the ground shake was over.

Cuta hated the noise as much as she hated the strange smell, the mix of smoke and rancid Otherness, which still lay so heavy in the night air and made her head ache. The smoke wasn’t even a clean smoke, like the familiar odour of burnt wood. It was something else, something different, oily and redolent of danger, something which made her hackles rise. Normally, she wouldn’t have anything to do with it, would never have come out where she had to breathe it. But she had no choice. There was an imperative driving her, one greater than her fear and the uneasiness that consumed all of her being.

Cuta was not far short of starvation. Hunger was a fierce gnawing pain inside her, hunger so severe that she had had to abandon her better judgement because of it. It had been days since she’d been able to forage, because the nights had been filled with flashes of light and thunder, and the ground had shaken as though the earth had set to quaking and would not stop, and the days had been filled with fires burning on the horizon while buzzing things flew overhead.

Even then, she might have waited a day or two longer. She would have been able to last till then. But back in the den, her squirming mass of cubs were waiting, and they couldn’t live without food. She daren’t starve them any longer, not even for a single day.

To her flanks and behind her, the rest of the clan loped, silent now, intent on the hunt. Cuta glanced around at them quickly, making sure they were where they were supposed to be according to the hunting plan they’d decided. All except her mate, Cro, younger and still far too callow, who was too close to her, almost brushing her left flank, so close that he’d be in the way if she had to make a sudden move. She whirled at him, her huge teeth snapping shut a nail’s breadth from his face. He jumped away at once, falling back into his proper position, and Cuta swung round again to take up the lead.

Earlier in the evening, before the hunt had begun, she’d come out once before, and – climbing on an abandoned, eroded termite hill – had checked the lie of the land. The two-legged things had mostly gone now, which was why the thunder and the shaking of the ground had finally stopped. Some of them were still around, though, in a collection of shelters they’d made by hanging sheets of material from the branches of a stand of acacia trees.

There was no way they’d be hunting zebra or wildebeest tonight. None of the grazing animals would stay anywhere close to the two-legged things after the noise and smoke and the earth-shaking of the last few days. There was only one source of food to be had – the two-legged things themselves.

Of course, Cuta wasn’t crazy, and had no intention of trying to prey on the two-legged creatures themselves. But her experience of them had showed that wherever they were, they tended to leave a lot of refuse behind, everything edible garbage to meat scraps. That wasn’t the best of pickings to be had for the starving clan, but it was much better than nothing.

Cuta hated and feared the two-legged things, more than she feared and hated anything else, even the lions which would kill a whole litter of cubs or an unwary member of the clan if they got a chance. She knew what they were capable of, had known since the time when she was less than half grown and had gone out once, foraging with her sister, Fisi, long limbed and slender and graceful where Cuta was squat and heavy bodied and musclebound.

They’d left the den and gone down to the river behind the old red hill, the river which had been a trickle of liquid mud in the dry season. Birds came there to drink, and could be captured if they were quick, and even then the two of them had been quick. But when they’d come down to the river bed, it was already occupied, and not by birds.

The creatures were tall and spindly, like overgrown tailless baboons, and were making noises among themselves in a yammering cadence that struck Cuta’s sensitive ears like a blow. And though their smell had made her wrinkle her muzzle in disgust, she hadn’t been afraid of them. Not until one of them had almost casually raised a stick, pointed it at the two of them, made a noise like a tree trunk bursting in a savannah fire – and Fisi had gone rolling over and over in the mud, painting it dark red with her rich blood.

She’d reacted instinctively, turning and racing away as fast as she could, jinking from side to side like a gazelle, and that had saved her life. The noise had come again, and she’d felt a burning, red hot along her flank, and smelt her own trickling blood. But she had lived – lived to be filled with anger and fear and the embers of hate.

Even now, her skin bore an ugly white scar in a line all along her left side, where the two-legged thing’s fire stick had burned her.

Remembering, her upper lip lifted in a snarl, and she might have snarled but for her rigid self-discipline as clan leader. Even so, the mane along the back of her neck lifted, and those of her clan near enough to see caught her uneasiness. This would not do. Uneasiness and doubt had no place on a hunt.

She fought down her fear, fought it like an upstart female from the clan who might think of challenging her for the leadership, fought it until it was under control, until she could assert herself over it. Stopping, she quickly gathered the clan around her, and sniffed at their noses and tails, calming them, reassuring them that she was unchanged in purpose. It took longer than she liked, so close to the two-legged things, but that wasn’t something she could help. Cro, especially, took much reassuring, to the point where she considered taking him by the scruff of his neck and shaking some sense into him. She was more than big and strong enough to do it, too, but they couldn’t afford a fight now.

 The clan members were close enough to the two-legged things’ encampment that they could hear the creatures’ vocalisations. Some were rhythmic noises, which made Cuta’s ears twitch as she remembered the time by the river. Others were shrill and staccato, like the clan’s vocalisations when they gathered to decide on the hunt, as though the two-legged thing making the noise was trying to submit itself to the clan. And there was another, low and constant, like a wounded animal crying out in agony. Cuta hunkered down when she heard this noise, and began creeping slowly towards the sheet-shrouded stand of acacia.  

Then she saw it, the movement near the shelter, a sheet lifted as two of the two-legged things emerged, pulling something between them, which moaned as it dragged on the ground and tried to lift itself up on its arms from where the two others threw it under an acacia tree. Cuta froze where she was, trying to merge into the shadow, the clan following her example as she waited to see what would happen. The two of the two-legged things which had dragged the third one out carried, she could see clearly, fire-sticks over their shoulders. They stood over the third, moaning one, and made some more of the staccato noises which resembled the clan’s calls as they kicked at it. Then they seemed to get bored of their kicking – Cuta could see it in the way their bodies moved, like prey which had become complacent – and one of them took its fire stick off its shoulder. There was a noise like a tree bursting, and the moaning thing on the ground jerked and went still.

It was then that Cuta showed why she was a great leader – the best the clan had ever had, by far. Instead of fleeing at the noise, she waited – bristling, fighting down her terror, but waited, watching. The two-leggers who had just killed the third made a few more noises at each other, and with a final kick at the corpse of the third, went back to their encampment. The sheet rose and fell again.

Then Cuta stole forward, belly nearly to the ground like a leopard. And when she returned, she was dragging the dead two-legger in her jaws.  

Silently, voraciously, the clan fed.


It was two nights later.

Cuta sat outside her den, licking the blood from her fur. Behind her, the cubs played with each other, wrestling and growling. The noise made her happy, just like the weight of the meat in her stomach. The clan had hunted well tonight, and the cubs had full bellies.

The smell of the night was clean, too, the burned oil and smoke gone from the air along with the two-leggers. The next night the acacia stand was empty, but the clan had found some foraging there, enough so that they could bring something back to the den to regurgitate for the babies. And tonight –

Tonight the wildebeest were back. Not many, but enough so the clan had eaten. And what better than that could one expect?

Cro came out of the den, cringing and whining as he presented himself for Cuta’s attention, just as a lowly male should. She didn’t even feel like snapping at him to teach him his place as she might have otherwise. Tonight, she was simply happy, despite the pain of the wildebeest kick in her hindquarters. The pain was natural, like hunger, like sex, like the smell of the world.

The cubs squealed and grunted, so she whined at them to calm them down. They, she thought, were probably going to survive, if the clan continued to be able to find prey to hunt.

And if the two-leggers didn’t come back, she thought. They’d done well enough this time, but she didn’t want to see them again.

Across the savannah, the blood-red moon rose slowly into the sky.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

ISIS and the Soldier in White

The last few days, I’ve been making a conscious attempt to stay away from the news, because it’s always depressing at the best. From Yemen to Amerikastan, from Novorossiya to Nepal to Nigeria, Gaza to Somalia  to South Sudan, from Macedonia to Myanmar and Mexico to our Hindunazis in India, “good news” these days merely means that nothing much is happening, because when something happens the news is always bad.

The only exception to my decision to stay away from the news is ISIS. I have to keep up with the news from ISIStan, not because I want to be informed about the doings of these murderous savages, but because, for one thing, I have to know what they’re up to for Raghead purposes. And I might as well remind you to check out The Great Big ISIS Movie Extravaganza, because if you aren’t, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Now, as I believe I have both insinuated and said outright in the past, ISIS is a farce. If it was really what it was touted to be – the Great Big Threat To All Civilisation – it’d have long since been smashed to scrap in the sands of the Iraqi desert. Do you seriously mean to tell me that the same people who essentially bombed Saddam Hussein’s much stronger army virtually out of existence in just over a month in 1990-91 can’t eliminate a lightly armed force comprised basically of motorised infantry, with no air cover whatsoever, in what is it, nine months of air attacks? A baby can be born in that time. Can one imagine that this light force is taking over even more territory under this alleged effort to degrade and destroy it?

 So, while we’ve all been watching this or that and talking about the other, ISIS has captured Ramadi in Iraq and assaulted Palmyra in Syria. In the latter town, where non-US-trained-and-armed Syrian forces were deployed, ISIS didn’t have a good time and was peremptorily thrown out. In Ramadi, though, ISIS was faced with the US-armed-and-trained-New Iraqi Army. And just as they did last year in Mosul and Tikrit, the New Iraqi Army abandoned its tanks, artillery pieces, and hundreds of those nifty Humvees (which ISIS loves to use as suicide bombs) and ran for Baghdad with wild yells of terror, as fast as it could go.

Let’s go over this again: embattled, exhausted Syrian forces using old Soviet-made equipment fight ISIS to a standstill and kick it out, with no external assistance. On the other hand, the US-created and armed, trained and financed New Iraqi Army, just like the US-trained, armed and financed “Free Syrian Army”, apparently can’t give its weapons to ISIS fast enough, even when supported by American air strikes.

This is a curious way to conduct a war if you ask me.

In Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22, there’s a particular episode where the protagonist, Yossarian, is in hospital. Among the others in his ward is a mysterious figure called the “soldier in white”, because he’s encased head to foot in white plaster. Nobody knows who he is. He never moves or speaks. All there is to show he’s even alive is that there’s a bottle of fluid on a stand draining into his arm, and a metal pipe set into his groin from which fluid drains to another bottle on the floor. When the bottle on the stand is empty, the bottle on the floor is full, and the nurses simply switch them around.

“I don’t get it,” Yossarian says. “Why don’t they just hook up the bottles to each other and eliminate the middleman?”

Where it comes to the Great Big War Against ISIS, I have the same question.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Badlands VII: The Sunless Land

It was the sound that woke him, the slow grinding of rock under the beast’s hooves, as though its feet were grinding the stones to fragments at every step.

It had been a long time since he had heard any noise, longer than he cared to think of, and for a while he was content to lean his head on the beast’s rough neck and simply let the rhythm of the hooves lull him back towards sleep. But he couldn’t fall asleep again. His mind insisted on thinking, and the thoughts would not let him go.

At last, without opening his eyes, he spoke. “Demon?”

There was no answer. He had not expected an answer.

“Beast,” he said then. “Beast, do you know what happened to her?”

The beast plodded on, hooves crunching. Slowly, unwillingly, he opened his eyes.

The darkness still lay around, as it had lain since the night of the storm, when they had been climbing up towards the pass. The lightning had run like rivers of light down from the sky. And then it had faded, the storm had withered away, and after a while he’d realised that he and the beast were alone.

It wasn’t totally dark, so at least, he thought, he hadn’t gone blind. Very far away, stark black shapes rose against a faint greenish glimmer, like cliffs outlined against the horizon. In the flickering, almost invisible glow, vague things could be made out on the plain, the outlines of rocks and dark channels which might be cracks or rivers. The beast plodded on, as though it could see. At least, he thought, it hadn’t broken a leg in a crevice or fallen into a chasm, which meant it was doing better than he might have been.

“Demon?” he called again into the silent dark. “Where are you, demon?”

And then, suddenly, she was there.

At first he didn’t realise it was she, and even when he understood it, he could scarcely believe it. This wasn’t the red-gold horned woman with the barbed tail and the hair like flames. This wasn’t even the other forms in which she sometimes appeared, as though in sport. This was a shadow so attenuated that in the greenish horizon-glow it was scarcely distinguishable at all. And when she spoke, her voice was so faint as to be a whisper on the edge of consciousness, drifting beyond the limits of hearing.

“Man,” she whispered. “ Can you hear me?”

“Demon!” he shouted. “You’re back!”

But she wasn’t back, and even as the words left his lips he knew she wasn’t. “Where are you?” he asked.

“...prisoner,” she whispered. “In the Hall of Shadows. find energy enough to talk.”

“Hall of Shadows?” he asked blankly. “And you’re a prisoner? You?

“Many of us,” her shadow said, dissipating almost to nothing. Her voice was even weaker now. “Can’t stay long...I’ve no strength left.”

“You’ve got to get away,” he said, leaning over the beast’s neck. “You’ve got to.”

“Can’t.” The word was flat and definite, even in her whisper. “Sorry. It’s not possible.”

“Then we’re coming to free you,” he said.

“Don’t,” she replied. “You...taken too. Don’t risk. Take, Man, both of you. Be free.”

“The hell with that,” he said. “Where is this Hall of Shadows?”

“Far...” her whisper came, faint as a tumbling grain of sand. “I’m...going now. It was...” she faded almost completely away. “ honour and privilege to be with you.”

And the shadow was gone.

“Demon?” he asked. “Demon?”

There was nothing but the low crunch of the beast’s hooves on the rock.


It couldn’t have been long after that that he realised they were being followed.

He’d spent the time desperately thinking of any reference he might have ever heard to the Hall of Shadows, and couldn’t think of one. Not even once had he heard of such a place, and he didn’t think the demon had either, or she’d have told him about it during the course of their travels. If it was a place that could imprison her, it was a place she’d know that they had to steer clear of.

He wished he could talk to the beast, to coax from it any knowledge it might have of the place. But it hadn’t even turned its head or paused when the demon had appeared, and now, as though nothing had changed at all, it still plodded into the dark.

He turned from side to side to see if there was anything at all different, anywhere, anything that might indicate where this Hall of Shadows was. And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something behind them.

It wasn’t much. A movement, as of something quickly slipping behind a rock, and he couldn’t even be certain he’d seen it at all. In the sunless dark, he couldn’t be quite sure of anything. For a while he rode on, straining his ears to listen for any noise. Then, suddenly and without warning, he turned again.

This time he made out the movement clearly, in the instant before the thing – whatever it was – froze in place and became one with the darkness. He still couldn’t make out what it was, except that it was there, and that it was following them.

Riding on, he tried to think of what to do.

Running from it was clearly impossible. The beast could move fast for short periods, but not in the unknown rocky plain with its fissures and boulders, all shrouded in darkness. And clearly the thing behind them, which could move with such silence, was better suited to it than they.

But, as clearly, it dared not attack them, for if it could have, it would have already, instead of just following. Unless – and he eased the sword of nameless metal from its scabbard when the thought came to him, and held it across his thighs – it was merely a scout, and others would gather around soon. He could not risk that, either.

Leaning gently across the beast’s neck, he murmured into its ear, hoping it would understand, and tugged on its mane, pointing it towards a large boulder not far away. As soon as they were between it and where the thing behind them ought to be, he slipped from the beast’s back and lay down on the ground, pushing himself down as far as he could go.

He saw it almost at once, briefly illuminated against the glimmer – something that might perhaps be as large, as a man, a fluttering shape merging into darkness that flowed, silently as oil, from rock to rock. It came quickly closer and then suddenly paused, shifting irresolutely. It must have realised that he was no longer on the beast’s back.

It was then that he moved. Thrusting himself up by his arms, he hurled himself at the thing, his sword outthrust, and was on it before it could react. He heard the weapon rip as though through cloth, and ring on the stone below – and he had the creature pinned to the ground with his blade.

It fought. It fought like few things he’d encountered before, wriggling frantically and snapping at him with tusks which gleamed greenish where the distant light struck them. But the tusks, try as they might, could not break through his armour. And he put his weight on the sword, and, leaning on the haft, kept it pinned down, until all of a sudden the creature stopped struggling.

“All right,” it said suddenly, its voice thick and barely comprehensible. “What you want?”

He blinked in surprise, and it was a few moments before he could make himself answer. “What are you? And why are you following us?”

“Name you want? I Sthina. Of People.”

“What people?”

“People living in Darkland, course.” The creature, Sthina, snapped its jaws. He could now make out a beaked face with huge black eyes, surrounded by the flapping skin which he had skewered on the sword. “What you do here?”

“Never mind what I do here. Why were you following us?” For emphasis he twisted the sword, and was rewarded with a gasp of pain. “Well?”

“ see where go you. No want trouble.”

“Well, you’ve got trouble.” He heard the crunch of hoof on rock as the beast returned, as he had instructed it. “Do you think I want to be followed by something which won’t show itself? I should probably kill you.”

The creature was silent for a moment. “Not kill,” it said eventually. “You let go, I go away.”

“Yes? We’ll see. Where are your...people?”

“Village away. Behind. You keep go, you go away from village. No trouble. No kill.”

“How do I know you won’t gather your people to hunt us down?” The man didn’t wait for an answer. “For that matter, I’m not interested in your people. I didn’t even know they existed. I’m looking for a place.”

“What place?”

“It’s called the Hall of Shadows. Have you heard of it?”

The thing twisted on the sword so violently it almost ripped free. “You from Hall?” it squealed. “No harm me, I do nothing.”

“I’m not from this Hall. I just want to find my way to it. You seem to know it.”

“ across Darkland. People no go.”

“Too bad, Sthina. If you want to live –” He twisted the sword again.

“No kill!”

“As long as you take us there,” the knight said. “As long as you guide me, I’m not going to kill you.”


Hall of Shadows, bad place,” Sthina said.

 “I know that well enough.” The beast walked just behind the flapping creature, and the knight had the tip of the sword held to the back of its beaked head. “But what is it like?”

“I not know inside. Never inside, none of the people. But it bad place, everyone know.” Sthina lifted a bony limb and pointed into the darkness. “When it comed to – ”

“You mean it wasn’t always there?”

“No, but been there for long time now. At first was small evil, then growed. Now big evil, getting bigger.”

“Did it take any of your people?”

“One, in the beginning. Spatham. After that nobody go. Why you want to go there?”

“I’m looking for a friend of mine...of ours. She’s imprisoned inside the Hall of Shadows. We’re going to set her free.”

“If she in set free. Once in Hall, never come out again. You too.”

“Yes, we’ll see about that, won’t we?” The knight shifted his grip on the sword. “How far is it to the Hall?”

“Still long way. You...”

Something reared up out of the dark before them. It was like a tree, a column of darkness that split into branches that split again, and at the tip of the branches there were white spots like flowers, and the flowers had teeth. And the branches swooped down at the man and the beast and the flapping creature, the teeth snapping to cut and tear and destroy.

Then the sword of nameless metal, black as the gulfs between the stars, so black that the sunless darkness was nothing to it, rose and fell then, and the mouths with teeth fell away from the ends of the branches. Once, twice and a third time the sword fell, and the column of darkness wavered and coiled on itself, and shrank back into the rock.

There was a long silence, broken only by the beast’s hooves.

“You beat it,” Sthina said. “Never seen I that one of it beaten before.”

“Were you perhaps taking us to it?” the knight asked. “If that was your plan, it’s failed, and badly. Besides, it would have taken you too.”

“I not know it there,” the creature replied. “I not want to be eaten either. But...”


“No need to hold sword my body. I now take you to House of Shadows.”

“Weren’t you taking us to it before?”

“No. I taked you to Darkland, away from People, to leave you lost. But you save me, so I now take you to House of Shadows.”

“Sthina?” he said.


“If you’d tried to get away, I’d have found you, and I’d have killed you. And if you try to get away now, I’ll still find you, and I’ll still kill you.”

“It make no difference anyway,” the creature said after a while. “Once you go into House of Shadows, you no come back.”


The Hall of Shadows.

It reared above the plain, a cliff of black ice-smooth rock carved into turrets and battlements, so high that the top of it merged into the darkness. The walls and the turrets distantly reflected the greenish flickering of the horizon, so that the whole mass seemed outlined in distant lightning.

Sthnia had been walking more and more slowly for a while, and now she stopped. “I stop going now.”

“How do you go inside it?”

“I not know.” The creature turned its beaked face towards the knight. “Kill me if you want, but I still not know. And no further I go.”

“All right.” The knight looked up at the mass of stone. “I assume you aren’t going to wait for me to come out.”

“Would be no good. You not coming out again.” Sthina turned to face him. “I go now.”

“You go then.” The knight watched the creature fade back into the darkness and then touched the beast on the neck.

“Let’s find a way in, shall we?” he said.

Even before he had reached the base of the walls, he knew it was the right place. There were tendrils plucking at his mind, wisps of thoughts a faint as the memories of mists, groping a moment and then slipping away just before he could get hold of them. There was anguish in there, and anger, and sadness, and other, more complex thoughts that he could not understand, thoughts so strange that they could not possibly have come from a remotely human mind. But they were there, swirling around that cliff of stone like gusts of wind on a winter night.

It was not going to be easy finding a way in. Something as large as this would not leave an entrance unprotected – or, if it did, it would only do so if it wanted someone to enter. And if it wanted someone to enter, it would not expect that person to leave again.

The ground was fissured and split by crevices, some so narrow that the beast did not even break stride over them, and some so broad that it had to head out into the plain until it found a spot narrow enough to cross. Though the man kept his eyes on the wall of rock at all times, he saw no sign of anything that might be a gate, no break in the smooth stone at all.

And then – after he’d almost convinced himself that they must have surely gone all the way round the structure by now – they came to a crack that looked as though a titanic axe had smashed down on the rock, cleaving so deep that the bottom was invisible, and which looked as though it went all the way to the base of the nearest wall.

“Wait here,” he said to the beast, and dismounted. “Wait here for me.”

It was not as difficult to climb down into the cleft as he’d thought, and it wasn’t as dark either, since the flickering glow reflected from the Hall’s battlements gave some light. But the bottom was far from silent; there were clicks and crunches all around, faint but unmistakable, as though he was in the midst of a great host of creatures of all kinds, scuttling and digging, and watching him with eyes which were not really eyes.

And then something loomed up behind him and touched him on the shoulder...

The knight’s reactions were fast – fast enough that he managed to stop the sword in mid swing. Even then, though he knew it was useless, he glared at the beast.

“I told you to wait,” he said.

The beast made no reply. It merely waited for him patiently.

“All right,” he said eventually. “Come if you want to. Maybe you think I’m not coming back either?”

The beast stolidly followed him up the cleft to the base of the wall.

And there it was, a hole, large enough for the man to go in if he bent low. He knelt and looked in first before entering, mindful of traps and ambushes. But it seemed clear as far as he could see, so he went in quickly, the sword held out in front.

At his heels, crouching so its belly touched the rock, the beast followed.


The Hall of Shadows was filled with whispers and murmurs that seemed to go on forever and ever.

On the far side of an immense stone expanse, on a throne raised from the floor, sat a figure lit faintly by a glimmer of green like that which lit up the horizon; a figure so huge that at first the knight thought it was a gigantic statue. Then it slowly raised a hand and beckoned to him.

“Come,” he heard a voice, which echoed from all the walls around and reverberated in his head. “Come.”

As he came closer, the figure came slowly into clearer view. And with every step it became more and more familiar, and when he stood before the throne looking up at it he could no longer deny what it was.

Dressed in armour, sword between its knees, the figure was a gigantic version of himself.

“I have been expecting you,” the echoing voice said. “Though I have not called you here, I have watched you come.”

“Then you know why I’ve come.” His own tones were like a breath of a whisper in the huge hall.

“Do I?” The huge armoured figure on the throne raised a gloved hand from the sword and rested it on a mailed thigh. “You tell me why you have come, and I’ll see if I do know.”

“You took the demon. Let her go, and let us leave in peace.”

“The demon?” The vast echo held a tone that almost sounded like laughter. “There are so many demons here. Which do you mean?”

“You know the one I mean.” The knight fought down a tide of frustration. “You stole her in the storm. Free her and let us go.”

“I will, of course, not let her go,” the voice from the throne said. “And what will you do then? Fight me with that puny sword of yours?”

“It’s not a puny sword.”

“I’m sure you can cut the rabble from the villages of the plain to pieces with it,” the titanic armoured figure said. “But it has no power here. Try it and see.”

The knight shook his head and sheathed the sword. “I see it would be of no use. But I’m going to free her, whether you want it or not.”

“So many come here,” the thing on the throne said, and there was a definite chuckle in its voice. “So many, little knight, and none of them make threats. And not one of them ever leave.”

“So what do you do with them?” he asked. “Turn them into your slaves?”

“I have no need of slaves. I use them as I need.”

“I see.” The knight nodded slowly. “And how long have you been doing this?”

“How does it matter how long? Long enough.”

“But long as it’s been, you haven’t been able to steal enough of them to make your hall of Shadows secure, have you? It’s still got cracks and fissures – like the one by which we came in.”

“What do you mean, little knight?”

“Well, isn’t it true that none of this is real? It’s only held together with the power of those you’ve captured, and that’s all. And you haven’t gathered enough to make it secure. Isn’t that so?”

For an instant there was total silence, and then the thing on the throne began to waver, as though it was melting. The armour shifted and flowed like water, and below it things squirmed, like faces forming and melting and forming again, too fast to see. The figure shrank, too, melting down on itself, to something smaller and faster and far more dangerous, something that bore claws and teeth.

“Man!” The red-gold glow was beside him, she was beside him, her hand on his arm. “Man, run!”

It was already too late. The throne was empty, the giant armoured figure was gone, and the thing crouching on the floor was all spikes and beak and snapping teeth.

“Spatham,” the knight said. “I thought the Hall had taken you, but you’re the Hall. All this – and it was only you.”

“Only me?” The creature’s beak clacked. “I am greater than anything you can conceive. I am...”

“Insane,” the knight said. “So insane that you don’t even realise it.”

“You can’t hurt it, Man,” the demon said. “Leave me. Run.”

The knight didn’t look at her. “Go away,” he said. “I’m not falling for mind tricks. Go!”

The air around him seemed to change. The Hall was filled with crackling light, and the light turned into faces, a thousand thousand faces, and scenes. Laughter turned to tears and tears to shrieks and then to nothing at all. Cities burned and crumbled under the iron tread of warrior hosts, who destroyed what they could not carry away. Women screamed as their children were torn from their arms, and screamed again as they were thrown down and raped. Creatures beyond naming roared through the charred ruins of once great empires. Skies rained blood and fire and things that had no relation to anything the man had ever known. And voices from all around cried to him for help, and others cried out in mortal terror of him, and others still begged him to go away.

“I am not...” he began to repeat, but the words fell away from his mouth, uselessly.

And then the he felt her, the real her, around him, under his armour, flowing over his limbs, and she was moving inside him, she was moving him, moving him back towards the beast, and the beast was coming forward. Somehow he was on its back, and the demon was in the beast too, they were melded into one creature, rushing forward into the vision of molten fire raining from skies and screaming women and destruction. And the beast reared up and came down, and something crunched under its hooves.

Suddenly, the visions ended.

The Hall of Shadows came apart. Cracks appeared in the walls, swiftly spreading from the unseen ceiling high above down to the floor. Whole parts of the walls fell away, dissolving to nothing. And then it was all gone, and there was nothing to indicate it had ever been.

Except for a glimpse of a moment, which he was never sure of afterwards. A glimpse of thousands of half-seen forms, like flickering lights on shadow, that streamed out in all directions and disappeared into nothing.

Man, beast and demon were left on the empty sunless plain.


It must have even deluded itself that it was all real,” the man said.

They were making their way through the plain, but the darkness seemed no longer so complete and enveloping. The demon walked beside the beast, her hand on its neck.

“And when it had to defend its delusion, it couldn’t.” He looked back over his shoulder, but no trace of the Hall was left. “It lived in a world it had made out of shadows.”

The demon nodded. “But as long as it was secure in that delusion, nothing could touch it. How did you know it was all a projection?”

He shrugged. “Why else would it have taken my own image? Its Hall couldn’t keep out merely material creatures like me and the beast, either, though it could imprison those like you who’re made mostly of energy. How else could it have taken you anyway?”

“And you knew that it wasn’t me out in the Hall, asking you to run.”

“Of course it wasn’t you. Once I was there, if you were free, you wouldn’t have told me to run. You’d have helped, as you did when you really were free.” He grinned at her. “See how well I know you?”

“Someday you’ll want me to let you go,” she said. “Someday, you’ll really want to be free. And then you’ll wish you’d taken this chance when you could.” Her hand rested on his thigh. “You know why?”

“Tell me.”

“Because I’m never letting you go now,” she said. “How does that make you feel?”

“Like seeing the daylight again,” he told her. “Do you think we’ll ever get out of this darkness?”

“If we keep going long enough, Man,” she said. “All we need to do is to keep going.”

“Do you think the beast understands?” he asked her then. “What we’re saying, I mean?”

“Do you?” the demon asked the beast, poking its neck with her finger. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The beast turned its head momentarily towards them, but said nothing.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015