Saturday 2 January 2016


The smell of pine in the morning air mixes with the smoke from the burning town as we walk up the road from the camp. The pine smell is familiar, the smoke is strange, a heavy, oily smell that hangs low on the ground as though hugging it for warmth.

“Incendiaries,” Rottenführer Schepke says. “The Tommis used incendiaries.”

“How do you know?” I ask curiously.

“You get to recognise that smell of burnt flesh if you’ve ever worked on a crematorium.” Schepke laughs, a brief giggle. “Once you’ve burnt enough Jews you get to know the smell all right, Herr Untersturmführer.”

I look past him at the line of camp inmates trudging after us, bowed under their shovels and pickaxes. They look down at their feet as they walk, as though the tools are so heavy that they can’t stand upright, as though they can’t stand upright ever again. “You were at Birkenau, weren’t you?” I ask.

“That’s right.” Schepke giggles again. “Burnt Jews, burnt Aryans, they smell exactly the same. No difference at all!”

“Yes, well.” I know Schepke is enjoying this, trying to make me uncomfortable, and he’s succeeded. “The Führer says we will make the Tommi Terrorflieger pay.”

Schepke shrugs noncommittally. The town is still over the bulge of the hill, but we can see the smoke now, like a grey stain hanging between us and the dawn. I drop back a little, walking down past the line. There are only two guards, and even they are probably unnecessary. The kapos do all the guarding that’s necessary, and with their whips and staves they’re more deadly than the guards anyway.

The head kapo sees me and whips off his cap. He’s a man with the most porcine countenance I have ever seen on a human being, tiny eyes and an upturned nose buried between slabs of fat. “Herr Untersturmführer,” he says, eyeing me warily.

I nod. I don’t like the kapos. Nobody likes the kapos, including themselves. They know they stay alive only as long as they’re brutal enough to suit us. The moment a kapo stops being brutal, he’s no longer a kapo, and he’s sent back to the ordinary camp. And then, before the night is over, he’s a dead ex-kapo.

But they do a necessary, an important job. It’s because of them that four of us are all that’s required to control so many inmates. So I nod, and smile a little. “Carry on,” I say.

Now I’m near the tail of the column, and I can see him, my beloved. He’s trudging along with a spade hanging over his shoulder, his arm wrapped round the handle to keep it in place. His arm, so thin that the shaft of wood seems thicker, so thin that for a moment I am terrified that the bone will break from the weight, like a brittle stick.

I walk along behind the column, looking at them all, looking at him, my beloved. I have been watching him for months now, since the first day I saw him. We’d arrived on the same day at the camp – I from training, he from whatever nameless Hungarian town had spat him out and packed him on a train along with all the others. I’d seen him waiting at the gate, waiting to be let in, and I’d fallen instantly in love.

My love, I think to myself, and I have a sudden guilty flash of Anja’s face, as I’d seen her last, waving goodbye to me at the bus station. The buildings behind had been in ruins after a Terrorflieger attack a few weeks earlier. Anja’s own family was now living in an attic elsewhere in town, but she’d come to see me off, even though it had meant walking right past the bombed out shell of her former home. “Stay safe, Peter,” she’d said. “Stay safe for me.”

“I should tell you that,” I’d told her, nodding at the ruins. “I’ll probably be safer than you.”

“Shh.” She’d looked around quickly and put her finger to my lips, and then briefly raised herself on her toes to press her mouth to mine. “I’ll be waiting for you to come back,” she’d said.

“Yes,” I’d replied, and watched with relief as my bus had come in. “I’ve got to go,” I’d told her.

“Don’t forget me when you see all those Slav girls,” she’d replied, with a tiny smile.

“Never,” I’d replied quite truthfully, and waited until I was in the bus before, with a sudden almost violent impulse, I’d wiped my lips on my handkerchief, over and over, as though I was scrubbing them clean.

But that was months ago and Anja is far away, and I watch my beloved walk before me, his head down, the grey camp uniform flapping around him as though he’s shrinking inside it with every step he takes.

I don’t know your name, my beloved, I think. I don’t know your name, but I know your number, it’s eight two four eight six. I know your number and I repeat it to myself fifty times a day so I don’t forget. And someday, when all this is over, I will take you away from here, and we will go somewhere the sun shines warm. There I will no longer have to hide what I feel, no longer have to conceal what I am. There your body will fill out with muscle and health, and we will be together, and then, my love, you’ll tell me your name.

The town comes into view, the little town that the Tommi bombers have picked up like a toy and thrown down again, smashing it into a thousand pieces. It had been a pretty little town, totally harmless, without even a single soldier to its name, a town that had never had anything to do with a war. It had been a town where stone girls had danced around the fountain in the little square, and slow moving burghers had smoked pipes as they walked with their fat little wives and beautiful daughters past empty shop windows. But now there is nothing left of all that.

My love, I thought, do you feel happy? Do you think this is your vengeance? Are you exulting at the fate of these harmless people, who had nothing to do with what was done to you? But he doesn’t even look up, just like the others.

A BODO engineer is waiting for us, and leads us past other groups of rescuers to one of the oldest parts of the little old town. It was just old houses, small shops, dressmakers, bakeries and the like. Now it’s just smashed brick and slate and rubble.

“There were no air raid cellars, of course,” the BODO man informs us. He’s got a scratch down one cheek, and it’s leaking blood droplet by droplet. His eyes are red with smoke. “Nobody thought the town would ever be bombed. So they were all inside their houses when...” he shrugs expressively. “And then they came over again when we were trying to save the survivors of the first raid.”

I remember what it had felt like from the camp, as though someone had been pounding on the earth with a sledgehammer. “Were there many survivors?” I ask.

He stares at me a moment and turns away without a word. I wonder if he’s from the town. Perhaps he’s got a family here.

Rottenführer Schepke has taken part in rescue operations before, so he knows something about it and begins ordering the inmates around. I’m just the makeweight, the obligatory officer present. I watch my beloved enter the shell of a building, just knee high walls, and begin shovelling up the rubble. Each time he bends, his shoulder blades stick up like knives through the cloth of his camp uniform. I have a sudden mental image of what he’ll be like when we’re away from here, when he has food and his health and freedom back, when the muscle will lie heavy on his bones. How his skin will glide as he flexes his limbs...

Someone is calling my name. I blink and shake my head, as if waking up from sleep. “Ja?”

“Herr Untersturmführer,” Schepke calls again. “Over here, please.”

The BODO man is back, with someone from the fire brigade. They’re bent over a map. We discuss the likely places survivors might still be found, and I agree to whatever they suggest. It’s quite a long discussion, and when we’re done the sun is shining wanly through the thinning smoke.

I’m half way back to where I was standing when I hear the shout. It’s coming from the smashed house where I’d last seen my beloved, and it’s a shout of anger. I break into a run.

The head kapo is there, inside the ruin, standing over my beloved, who’s on the ground, on his knees. His hands are between his legs, holding something. The kapo, stave raised high, is just about to bring it crashing down on his head when I arrive.

“What’s going on?” I demand.

The kapo turns to me. His face is flushed, his little piggy eyes flashing. “Looting, Herr Untersturmführer,” he says, breathing so heavily the words come out as grunts. “I caught the bastard looting.”

“Looting?” I look around at the smashed ruin. “What on earth is there to loot in here?”

“A loaf of bread.” The kapo points at the object my beloved is clutching between his thighs. “I saw him dig it out, and when he saw me he tried to eat it. See, it’s still in his mouth.”

I look at my beloved, and for the first time ever, he looks back at me. There is something white between his teeth. As we stare at each other, he chews it, his jaws working, and swallows.

“See?” the kapo is almost shrieking. “Let me kill the bastard, Herr Untersturmführer.”

“Nein,” I say. I’m looking at my beloved, he’s looking back at me, and I don’t know whether I’m talking to him or to the kapo. “Nein.”

“Nein?” the kapo sounds as though I’m speaking a foreign language. “But he’s...”

“We need every hand we can get,” I tell him. “There are people buried under here, people who have to be rescued before they die. We need every bit of help we can get. You’ll kill nobody.”

“All right, Herr Untersturmführer,” the kapo says. The disappointment is heavy in his voice. “But afterwards when we get back to camp...”

“You’ll do nothing then either.” I force my gaze away from my beloved, turn to look at the kapo. “What will you accuse him of, eating bread? How will you prove it – force him to vomit it up?”

He says nothing. His pig face is white with rage.

“I think I can hear the Rottenführer calling for you,” I say.

My beloved and I look at one another once more, for what seems an eternity. Then he climbs off his knees and picks up his shovel.

“Come along, you,” the kapo says, and spits.

I watch them leave before I kick the remnants of the bread into a hole and push some rubble over it.

The sun is a watery ball struggling slowly into the sky.


Later, when the sun is a red ball in the west, we walk back up towards the camp. The inmates walk though they’ve taken the places of the corpses they’ve been digging up all day. They walk like men dead so long that nothing keeps them moving but habit alone.

I walk along at the end of my column, watching my beloved, willing him to look up once, to look at me, to acknowledge I exist. I walk along, knowing he won’t, remembering that last look that passed between us. I know now why he’d taken that bread, why he’d swallowed it while staring defiantly at me. I know what he’d wanted, what he’d expected from the kapo and then from me, what he’d tried to provoke me into giving him. I know, now, that life can be worse than anything else.

My love, I want to tell him, look at me just once more, I beg you. Just once more. And this time, my love, do it once, just once, without what I saw when you looked at me last, when you knew I wouldn’t give you what you wanted.

Look at me once more, my beloved, without that blazing hate in your eyes.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Friday 1 January 2016

From the Office of Prince Khaled ibn Bandar ibn Moosad Nawaf al Killah al Saud

Good morning, my friend, and a very happy new year to you!

I know this message will come as a surprise to you, but, rest assured, I found you by a careful search based on your interests and online activities. I am assured that you are exactly the kind of reliable person I am looking for.

Let me introduct myself. I am Prince Khaled ibn Bandar ibn Moosad Nawaf al Killah al Saud, one of the princes of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia, and Minister of Executions in Saudi Royal Government. As you know, our country is an important part of the war against terrorism, and that weare fighting in Yemen to free country from terrorists. Also our country is fighting to keep our religion pure and to prevent corruption by evil people. There are so many evil people, who do things like being accused of drug smuggling, murder and witchcraft. I am sure you know this is bad evil and against all god, even your god.

The only way to do this is by cutting off their heads so that they do not do evil again, is not so? We fight evil well here in Saudi Arabia.

Now, the problem is that because of the war we are being forced to fight in Yemen, our finances are getting low. Also number of people we are being forced to behead is going up every day, so we have to hire more beheaders, but we have no money to hire enough more beheaders. Also even though we advertised for beheaders not enough people replying to advertisement for some reason. That is why I looked on the internet and found you. From your love of online video games I see you liking sword work very much. I am therefore offering you chance to cut off heads for real.

All you have to do is come here to Saudi Arabia, and you will be provided with a criminal to behead, right in front of big crowd in Deera Square in Riyadh. Deera Square is very nice, you will like it. Very good tourist attraction. You will be celebrity, will be famous and get the knowledge that you are fighting terrorsm evil and doing god work. You will also be getting good vacation here. Is totally free and all your expenses paid! If not sure how to behead we can train you, too, in Iraq and Syria with ISIS training programme. Nothing to worry. We have good training programme and this is instructor.

Please do not thnik this is Nigerian scam or illegal. In first place I am Saudi, not Nigerian. In second place as I am Prince of Royal Family all I do is legal, and this is with the approval of the King Salman al Isisi ibn Bibi al Killary al Saud himself. Where else will you get chance to cut off heads for free? Where else can you feel nice satisfying sensation of sword cutting through skin and muscle and bone and seeing head fall off and bounce like rubber ball, and then blood leaking on ground? I am telling you this is very good sensation. Also you have to pay no money at all. It is free totally.

Even Prince Charles of Britain danced with sword here and in conversation said to me that if only he could he would have loved to cut head too. “But it wouldn’t go down too well with the wogs, old chap,” he said. “They and the Bolshies are a right bunch of twits, you know. Don’t let a chap have fun. Why, I can’t even chase down foxes on my horse and have my dogs tear the little beggars to shreds any longer.” And he sighed deeply and tears began coming from eyes. 

His son Prince Harry also told me he wanted to cut off heads. “Couldn’t kill any ragheads when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “Bleeding tossers kept shooting at me whenever I flew up to drop rockets on ‘em – that’s not cricket, is it, what? I wish I could have a go at one when it wasn’t shooting back. You’re so lucky!”

President Obama also said to me that he would like to cut off head of whistleblower, but not possible without getting golf shoes covered with blood. “Even though the folk back home would fall over themselves supporting me,” he said, stroking a drone with a far off look of pleasure in his eyes, “there are other ways to kill folks. With this I can play god. I mean, I know I’m god, but even then, it’s a real charge to blow up folks from the sky, like a thunderbolt, isn’t that so?” He then told me he would give one million tons of more bombs to drop on Yemen. That is because I made him sword offer. He is good man. You please vote way he tells you to.

As you can see, even if in your country if you cut off heads you will go to jail, here you are hero. Good?

If you are interested please respond to this mail with following information:

Your name:

Age and Sex:

Your complete address and phone number:

How many times you cut off heads in video game:

How often you dream of cutting off heads:

Please be to noting that we do not discriminate in gender. If you are female you can still cut off heads so long as you wear a burqa. We are very modern as you can see. No other country will give you chance to cut off heads if you are woman.

Hoping to get your reply soonest. Please be telling if you have own sword or whether you need one provided for you.

With regards,

Prince Khaled ibn Bandar ibn Moosad Nawaf al Killah al Saud
Minister Of Executions
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Happy New Year 2016!

This is for all my readers, and especially for those who like and enjoy my Badlands series of stories. It's because of you that what I'd thought would be a one-off tale has now become nine, and many more, I hope, to come. 

Here, as I visualise them, are the knight, the demon, and the beast. Painted with acrylic on wood, and because it's on wood, you can see the grain so clearly. 

This is a scan, by the way, not a photograph. I tried photographing it several times but the scan was always clearer. 

Incidentally, I discovered naked women are a lot harder to paint than I'd imagined. Even if they're red demon women with horns, wings and tail. Oh well.

I'm not saying this is the final, definitive depiction of these three. You may well have your own vision of what they look like, and you're more than welcome not just to that visualisation, but to share it with me and anyone else.

Happy New Year.

Thursday 31 December 2015

The Last Thing I Wrote In 2015

Once upon a time, not that long ago, and not that far away, there was a young man. There are many young men, but this one was special, or else we’d not have been making up this story about him.

He was a fine man, big and strong, for all that he had lost his parents hat a very young age, when they had been frolicking in a field of peas and had been frightened by a bull. Abandoning him – and the majority of their clothes – they had fled, never to return. The little boy might have died then, but he was taken in and raised by the peas as one of their own. Along with his adoptive brothers and sisters in the pod, he grew up, and as he grew he became big and strong until throughout the pea field he was known by one name, a name fit to send shivers down a malefactor’s spine before he snapped it in twain...the one, the only...

Zartan of the Peas!

One day, it so happened that the pea field was invaded by a dread monster. Zartan was off foraging for grubs and berries when he heard shrill, terrified screams coming from his pea relatives, and took off for the field at a dead run. Arriving there, he saw the monster marching on its many legs, while it cut up his friends and relatives with its immense jaws and devoured them alive.

Shrieking with fury, not with fear – for he was a brave and noble man as well as young and strong – he rushed upon the monster, a dried twig as his weapon, and so fierce was his assault that the caterpillar turned tail and hurried away as quickly as it could, never to return. And Zartan was the toast of the pea field, celebrated in song and story.

But, of course, everywhere, there are evil people looking to do harm; envious people, who lack all decency and honour. And it is no different among the peas. So among the peas there were those who began murmuring against Zartan.

“He is not one of us,” they said. “He has arms and legs. Perhaps he is a spy come among us, to betray us to our enemies.”

“Rubbish!” his defenders said. “He saved us from the caterpillar. He is one of us as much as anyone else is.”

But the jealous ones would not stop waggling their evil tongues. “Just think,” they urged. “Sooner or later he will realise that he is not one of ours, that he is from our enemies by birth. Then what will he do?”

And so they kept repeating the same line until even the strongest defenders of Zartan began to waver. “But he has never attempted to do us any harm,” they protested.

“Only because he has not had the opportunity,” the evil ones said darkly. “Give him but a chance, and see what he does. You must test him.”

“How?” the defenders asked. “Tell us but how, and we will.”

“Nothing simpler.” The evil peas grinned so widely that their pods virtually split. “So many of us have been kidnapped and taken away by Zartan’s own people. Send him to find them and rescue them.” For they imagined, of course, that he would never return.

So Zartan’s friends called him to them and said: “Zartan, you know that so many of us have been pulled cruelly from the earth and taken to the cities of men, no doubt to serve them as slave labour. We cannot go and rescue them, but perhaps you can. We’re looking up to you.”

“To do so would be my honour,” declared the youth, and, pausing only to pull on a loincloth made of pea leaves, he rushed off to the city. People were everywhere, of course, and they stared at him, but he couldn’t care less.

“What are you looking for?” a policeman asked.

“Peas,” Zartan said.

“Doesn’t everyone,” the policeman replied sympathetically. “Well, if you’re looking for peace, you’ve come to the wrong place. However,” he added, looking at the young man with his leaf loincloth and deciding to have some fun, “you can go to that building over there.”

Now the building in question was a pea packing plant, and as Zartan arrived at the entrance he saw immense loads of peas being dumped onto conveyor belts. He threw himself at the belt in an attempt to rescue the peas, but the belt carried him into the depths of the building, only to be caught, washed, and sealed in a packet all ready for canning.

But Zartan flexed his mighty thews and burst out of the packet with a roar of fury. Gathering together all the peas around him, he burst out of the building and rushed back to the field.

“There!” he declared to his exulting friends and his dumbstruck enemies, dumping out the peas so they rolled in all directions. “I have set them all free from slavery!”

And there was peas upon earth.

Bill's Forecasts For 2016

So, everyone – you’d like to know what’s going to happen in 2016, right?

I agree it’s going to be a vital year, and that events of major importance are going to take place. Some of them can be predicted by just about anyone. For the rest, well, you need somebody of undoubted genius, who can see into the future and who has an amazing record of being right, always, invariably, without a single miss.

Where can one find someone like that? Oh, right.

So, looking into my crystal ball, here’s what’s going to happen in 2016. You may or may not believe any or all of it according to your predilections.


The New Year begins with a bang when, in an attempt to recreate the ancient Hindu knowledge of space flight, a Vedic research laboratory in India ties ten million fireworks together and sets them off from a top secret launch site in the Rajasthan desert. The collection rises a couple of hundred metres into the air and explodes with such a huge flash and bang that Pakistan mistakes it for an Indian nuclear attack and fires off a missile in retaliation. Fortunately, the missile, having been programmed in accordance with Saudi interpretations of geography, rises into the air and hovers, waiting for the world to turn so that India comes below it, by which time the mistake is realised and the missile destroyed by remote control. The nuclear warhead falls to the ground near Mosul, and ISIS gratefully acknowledges this addition to its arsenal.

In the world of business, Apple introduces a new way of measuring chronological progress, known as iTime, which can only be used by people willing to purchase a licence to use it. People all over the world begin to pay immense amounts to buy iTime licences. A hoax post appears online which claims that iTime can be made to run backwards if one stands on one’s head on the top of a skyscraper and has a friend spin one round thrice. Eleventy-three people are killed or injured as a result of this.

A criminal gang infiltrates the Louvre, determined to steal the Mona Lisa. However, they are easily foiled by the authorities, who, tipped off in advance, have replaced the real painting with a gif downloaded from the internet.

A major new doping scandal erupts in sporting when, at the World Ice Cube Chewing Championship at Ottawa, Canada, it is revealed that the contestants from Botswana have had their teeth coated with desensitising sealants in advance. The World Federation of Ice Cube Chewing at once suspends Russia for this.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, five unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


In an attempt to dispel the stigma associated with being the shortest month of the year, February files an anti-discrimination lawsuit at the International Court in the Hague to be formally declared “elongationally challenged.” February-Pride parades are held throughout the world, with processionists carrying flags coloured grey and white and emblazoned with the numeral 28.

On the campaign trail, US Democratic Party frontrunner Killary Klingon alleges that February faces systematic discrimination in Russia, and that Russian president Putin has had the month arrested and thrown into prison. “When I am president,” she says, “February shall have justice!”

In India, the colour green is banned as being Islamic, and therefore against the national ethos. Since the forests that cover much of the central part of the peninsula are green, it is decided that they must be eliminated. “It is purely a coincidence that the land below these Muslim forests is filled with coal and mineral deposits,” the newly appointed Minister of Environment and Mining declares. “Any organisation, like Greenpeace, which says otherwise is an antinational force determined to hold back our economic development and must be destroyed!” Offices of Greenpeace and other environmental bodies are attacked by patriotic Hindu mobs and burnt down. “They were only expressing their justifiable anger,” the Home Minister says.

iTime becomes the largest selling chronological system in the world, increasing Apple’s stock prices by 1000%. “It’s a Crime to Be Without iTime,” its catchy new ad, swiftly becomes the new internet and television sensation. The designer of iTime buys a ticket as a space tourist to the International Space Station. “I’m willing to pay to have the name changed to the iNternational Space Station,” he says.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, ten unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


In a startling new development, the Arctic ice cap packs up its bags and announces that it’s taking a vacation in the sun. “I’m sick and tired of always being cold and wet,” it says. “Everyone else can have a vacation, why can’t I?” Liberals around the world decide to launch GoFundMe campaigns to finance the vacation for the Arctic ice, and declare anyone opposed to the idea as Putin supporters and enemies of freedom.

Meanwhile, it’s revealed in the latest issue of ISIS’ magazine, Dabiq, that the nuclear warhead received by the organisation from the crashed Pakistani missile will be only used against Russia. “There’s no need to panic about the matter,” White House spokesperson Marie Psaki announces. “It’s Russia’s problem and nothing to do with us.” Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yatsenyuk appeals to ISIS to paint a blue and yellow flag on the warhead as well. “It will be Ukraine’s victory against the Russian invaders,” he declares.

In India, as the process of destruction of the Muslim forests starts, Communist guerrillas hiding in the jungles begin fighting back against the deforestation. “This is obviously a conspiracy of the Communists and Muslims,” the government announces, and bans the colour red.

Microsoft announces that it will begin a rival to iTime, called WindNows 2016. “It’ll be cheaper than iTime, and much more easily serviceable,” Bill Gates says. “My wife and I will at once donate money from our foundation to any organisation which uses WindNows 2016 exclusively.”

The Indian cricket team suffers a shock when – on the eve of its tour of Australia – Hindu nationalist organisations say that cricket is an alien pastime and hence must be banned. Fortunately, the Sports Ministry brings together a panel of Hindu sages and holy men who declare that according to the Vedas cricket is an ancient Hindu invention and the tour can go ahead.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, fifteen unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


The GoFundMe campaign gets together enough money to send the Arctic ice cap on holiday to Goa. It melts at once, flooding coastal lands across the globe. “It’s all the fault of the conservatives,” the campaign contributors insist. “It’s because of their support for fossil fuels that the ice cap melted so quickly, not because of us.”

A Russian Spetsnaz attack in Syria retrieves the nuclear warhead from ISIS and in the course of the attack kills a Turkish army officer who was acting as advisor and trainer with the terrorist organisation. Calling this an “unacceptable aggression against a NATO ally,” Barack Obama announces 12345 new sanctions against Russia.

A new fairness cream takes the market by storm in India. It instantly bleaches skin to an albino white. Indian media justifies this as “taking revenge on the West by becoming whiter than they are.”

iTimes hits its first minor snag when the iNternational Space Station threatens to change its name back, claiming it had not been paid as promised. Apple’s stocks decline by 1%. Microsoft gleefully announces “Apple is finished!”

In the world of sports, Saudi Arabia announces the first World Headball Championship, to be played with severed heads. Teams from all Syrian moderate rebel groups at once agree to participate. Prince Charles of Britain, the guest of honour, opens the ceremonies by kicking the first head after chopping it off its owner’s shoulders. The winning team is given a gold cup filled with stewed human heart.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, twenty unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


The month begins with a major controversy when US Democratic Party presidential candidate Killary Klingon kisses a baby and is alleged to have surreptitiously wiping her mouth afterwards. “Did you wipe your mouth?” a Senate investigative committee asks her. “You mean with a cloth or something?” she replies. “What difference does it make anyway?”

The pro-Klingon group Woman The Future (WTF) declares that this is a conspiracy by Russian president Putin. “The best revenge,” the group states, “will be to vote en masse for Her and Defeat Putin.”  

On 7th May, the European Union declares that the day will henceforth be celebrated as the anniversary of the victory of freedom and democracy, led by the United States, over communism in the Second World War. German Chancellor Angela Merkel scoffs at historians who protest. “Whom are you going to believe,” she asks, “Hollywood, or some ancient relics who live in some other world of their own?” Time Magazine responds by declaring her the Person of the Year for the next decade in advance.

According to western media, mass protests begin in Eritrea against the government of President Afwerki. “Afwerki,” Barack Obama declares in an address to the nation, while ordering fifty thousand soldiers to East Africa, “is a bloody tyrant and must go at once!”   

ISIS launches itself as a corporate entity on Wall Street, under the name of iSIS. It begins buying up blocks of stock in various major companies which are part of the military industrial complex, such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Hillary Clinton.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, twenty five unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


An air strike demolishes a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital complex in Baghdad, killing 1000 patients and doctors. White House spokesperson Marie Psaki at once blames Russia for the airstrike even though multiple videos and photographs show US Air Force planes making repeated passes over the hospital, dropping bombs and firing missiles. “Putin must be made to pay a price for this aggression,” Barack Obama declares, and announces an additional 67890 sanctions on Russia.

According to reports in the Western media, the Afwerki regime in Eritrea uses tear gas against freedom-loving demonstrators. “This is clearly chemical warfare, which crosses the red line,” Fox News declares. “Under the current president, the prestige of the US has sunk so low that even tinpot tyrants like Afwerki dare defy us.” In response, Obama boasts that he has personally ordered the killing of 200000 people. “Nobody kills folk better than I do,” he says, before leaving for the golf course. “I’ve killed more folk than both Bushes put together!”

Meanwhile in India, a major corruption scandal erupts when it’s discovered that various ministries have over-invoiced orders by a factor of 100. Pushed to the wall by public outrage, the government says that zero being an ancient Hindu invention, it’s up to Hindus to define it. “A hundred is a one and a zero and a zero,” the Minister for Vedic Mathematics declares. “Since zero means nothing, over-invoicing by a factor of a hundred merely means by one, which leaves the original amount.” 

“The sentiments of a billion Hindus have been hurt by this talk of zero meaning anything but what we want it to mean,” another prominent Hindu leader says. “These anti-nationals who talk of corruption should go to Pakistan.” Prominent right-wing media and Bollywood personalities take out a march in Delhi against anti-corruption activists.

As iTime and WindNows 2016 battle for market share, Linux releases a free time platform. "It’s based on a twenty four hour day, each divided into sixty minutes and sixty seconds,” Linux says. “It’s free and simple to use.” Apple and Microsoft jointly immediately reject it as an affront to free enterprise. “People have no right to free time,” they declare.

A mass shooting happens at a primary school in the US in which the shooter is white. He is sent for psychiatric evaluation. Gun rights campaigners demand that kindergarten children should be given the right to carry firearms.

In sports, Israel announces that it will be holding the Palestinian House Demolition World Championship. The winner, Prime Minister Netanyahu says, will get a gold swastika Star of David. All NATO nations at once announce their participation.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, thirty unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening. 


The moon declares that it has had enough of revolving round the earth and intends to go off to hang around with Pluto, which, it says, has been feeling lonely ever since it was demoted from its status as a planet. Internet fora put the blame on astronomers who, they say, had demoted Pluto without any care for its feelings. Major tour groups announce package tours for Pluto, to be paid for right away and taken when the technology becomes available.

A new fossil bed is discovered in Somalia, which proves that human evolution began earlier than thought and fills in many gaps in the record. Al Shabaab militants abduct the fossils and hold them for ransom.

Rebellion breaks out in Riyadh as the Yemen war, now well into its second year, continues to fail. The royal family reacts by beheading twenty thousand protestors. Barack Obama and Francois Hollande hold a joint press conference in which they announce they are shocked and saddened at this. They are so shocked and saddened that they send the Saudis ten billion dollars’ worth of cluster bombs to drop on Yemen.

Alleging that Afwerki of Eritrea is massacring protestors, the US invades and occupies the country. Britain, which was not consulted, begs to go along, and sends a squadron of Tornado strike aircraft. They arrive the day after the invasion begins and bomb a Coca Cola factory by mistake. British Prime Minister Cameron takes funds from the National Health System to compensate Coca Cola. Five hospitals close down as a result.

As the invasion continues, Afwerki is murdered in a drone strike along with his family. Killary Klingon, on the campaign trail, takes full credit for this, saying she had recognised the Eritrean leader as a bloodthirsty tyrant when she was still Secretary of State. “I came, I saw, he died,” she says, laughing. Pro-Democratic Party websites break out in mass praise at her wisdom and sagacity.

An earthquake hits Kazakhstan, leaving a hundred thousand dead. Since a major baseball game is held on the same day in America, it finds no mention in US media. Since a major reality show involving gay transvestite trapeze artists wearing bikinis and high heels is held on the same day in Paris, it finds no mention in the European media.

iTime and WindNows 2016 intensify their rivalry with Apple releasing the iTime 2. Microsoft says it will soon bring out the even better, even bigger, WindNows 2020.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, thirty five unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


An alien spaceship approaches earth, orbits it several times, and flies away, leaving a message which is deciphered to read that the aliens have decided earth people are not worth knowing. The internet at once blames President Putin of Russia. “If it was not for this gay-hating, freedom-repressing, neo-Hitler,” the popular organisation Americans Worshipping Obama the Lord (AWOL) declares, “the aliens would most certainly have landed.” The rival Heroic Obama Lord Eternal (HOLE), however, says Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shares some of the blame.

A mass shooting occurs at a US mall, killing seven. Since the shooter was a brown man, rampaging groups of vigilantes go around massacring all Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus they can find. It is finally discovered that the killer was a Hispanic man with a history of mental illness, who bought a machine gun by mail order.

No evidence is found that the Afwerki government in Eritrea ever killed or oppressed anybody. “We must move forward, not look at the past,” Barack Obama states, and awards Killary Klingon a Freedom Medal. “We will stay on in Eritrea to midwife the transition to freedom and democracy,” he adds, ordering the construction of a mega base large enough to hold a million troops. 

After a stray marble from a catapult used by a Palestinian boy lands ten metres from an Israeli soldier, Israel attacks Gaza once again, murdering two thousand people, almost all civilians. US Democratic Party candidate Killary Klingon rushes to Tel Aviv to express fulsome praise and support. Zionist businessmen respond by giving her ten billion dollars in campaign contributions.

The Indian rupee falls to 100 to the dollar overnight. “This,” the finance ministry gleefully declares, “will help Indian manufacturers sell their products abroad. The lower the rupee, the better.” Asked about the essential imports, like medical supplies and petroleum, which will now become unaffordable, the finance minister frowns. “Cow dung extracts,” he announces, “are medicinal enough for all our needs. As for petroleum, our Vedic scientists are researching the use of cow urine in engines instead.”

A new superhero movie takes the world by storm. It depicts a masked vigilante who uses tame cannibal headhunters to kill the bad guys. Action figures by the million vanish from the shelves of toy stores and supermarkets worldwide.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, forty unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


Helped by Russian airstrikes and Iranian and Hizbollah military support, Syria throws out all the various terrorist groups that have been infesting its territory. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk of Ukraine at once offers his own nation as a haven for them. “Just throw out the Russian invaders,” he says, “and Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea are all yours.” Victoria Nuland, the US’ controller of Ukraine, says she thinks it’s a good idea. “Obviously, Yats is our guy, so whatever he says goes,” she declares.

In a huge scientific breakthrough, it is found without the slightest shadow of doubt that whales are more intelligent than humans. Japan at once declares its intention of hunting all whales to extinction. “Whales are potentially spies in the pay of China,” the Japanese Prime Minister, Tideki Hojo, says. “They need to be eradicated. We cannot take the chance, what with tensions rising in the South China Sea.”

The human fossils found in Somalia, which were taken hostage by al Shabaab, are destroyed in a drone strike personally authorised by Obama himself. Fundamentalist churches in the US declare support to the Democratic Party for taking a bold and decisive step against the heresy and evil of evolution.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees flood out of Eritrea as the country is engulfed by violence and anarchy after the US liberation. Those of them who go to Israel are used as target practice by conscripts. “Israel is the white man’s land,” a spokesman for the Israeli government declares. “These monkeys, I mean black people, should go back where they came from instead of polluting our culture.” A new Hasbara handbook is issued to help professional Israeli propagandists justify this.

In India, a new and fatal strain of disease breaks out among cattle, which decimates herds everywhere. Blaming it on Muslims, mobs of Hindus attack and massacre them. Prime Minister Modi, who has just returned from his 115th trip abroad of the year, refuses at first to discuss the question. When pressed, he says, “Yes, I feel bad about it. If you accidentally crush a worm under your boot, won’t you feel bad?” His party announces a new National Pride Day to coincide with the anniversary of the massacres. “Remember who started the disease,” Modi’s online troll army declares. “They deserve whatever happens to them.”

In the world of business, iSIS’s share price collapses after the defeat in Syria. As a corporate person, it at once applies for and receives a bailout and a stimulus package.

A huge controversy erupts in the world of sports when it is discovered that a particular team is using plastic coated cleats on its boots instead of rubber coated cleats. It is so huge that all other news disappears for a whole week.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, forty five unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


The whales rise in rebellion and sink a Japanese whaling ship, drowning all the crew. Infuriated, Japanese Prime Minister Tideki Hojo announces a new rearmament programme, inclusive of a nuclear arsenal, and declares his nation’s intention to nuke the ocean depths to clear them of all life. The whales respond by saying that in that case they’d start tunnelling away at the base of the Japanese island mass and send them drifting off into the Pacific Ocean.

A Nigerian 419 scammer successfully scams Prince Harry of Britain, claiming to be a Saudi prince who is auctioning the opportunity to behead prisoners in Chop Chop Square. Having shelled out ten million pounds for the privilege of doing what his father did for free, Harry realises he’s been conned. The British government compensates him by taking the funds out of the National Health System. Ten hospitals close down as a result.

A series of state government elections result in crushing losses for India’s governing party, in spite of opinion polls and media reports proclaiming huge imminent victories. Prime Minister Modi, who had taken time off between his 135th and 156th trips abroad to campaign, is shielded from blame by his ministers who declare that it is the fault of Pakistan that the elections were lost, and that all the parties which won were Pakistani agents. All these parties are banned with immediate effect.

The tiny nation of Bisaria discovers huge gold and silver deposits, but promptly hides them again. “We’ve seen what happens to small, weak countries cursed with natural resources,” a senior official says off the record. “We don’t want that to happen here, thank you very much. Oh no, we’d rather stay poor.” It is, however, suspected that since word of the find has leaked out, Bisaria is about to become a candidate for freedom and democracy anyway.

In an attempt to set a world record, 1111 skydivers jump out high over the US and form and re-form into patterns as they fall through the air. However, they then fall right into a blizzard of drones crisscrossing their descent path, and are chopped to pieces as a result. The drone manufacturers announce that they will set up a National Drone Association to protect drone owners’ interests. “We advocate open flying of drones,” a spokesman says. “They will have to take the joysticks out of our cold, dead hands.”

In science, a new fundamental particle is discovered, which is responsible for the other particles to be able to interact without flying apart or destroying each other, no matter how otherwise incompatible they may be. The research team names it the Trump Particle, because it trumps the incompatible charges, spins, mass, etc of all the others. Both AWOL and HOLE angrily denounce the decision. “It’s an obvious insult to associate it with Trump,” they say. “It’s obviously a liberal, democratic particle, and should have been named after President Obama. They could have called it the Obviously Better And More Acceptable particle.” The research team is reportedly informed that it will not be considered for the Nobel Prize in Physics unless it performs the name change.

A zombie apocalypse breaks out in Papua New Guinea. Australia at once ships off all asylum seekers to the apocalypse area. “This has nothing at all to do with the outbreak,” Prime Minister Turnbull declares. “However, we have no space to house all these people demanding asylum, so we have to send them somewhere.” When it’s pointed out that Australia is an underpopulated, continent-sized land mass, he says that the vacant areas are off limits owing to the requirements of national security. “Putin will invade and occupy us unless we use them to get ready to defend ourselves,” he says.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, fifty unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.


In a day of high drama, voting takes place in the US presidential elections, where the main candidates are Donald Trump for the Republican Party and Killary Klingon for the Democratic Party. As counting progresses, Trump achieves an early and increasing lead. When it becomes obvious that his victory is all but confirmed, the Donald calls a hurried press conference. “I admit defeat,” he says. “I’ve lost huge. I’ve lost enormous. I’m fired!” When asked by the media why he should wish to concede without waiting for the verdict, he whips off his famous combover hair, revealing a head bald as an egg. “I said Make America Great Again,” he says. “Not Make America Pate Again.”

In her victory speech, Killary Klingon displays a crown which she announces she will use at her inauguration, which will be renamed the Coronation. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is by her side. “Bill will make a great First Lady,” Killary says. “And he knows that cigars aren’t very ladylike, don’t you, Bill? Are cigars ladylike?”

“Define ‘are’,” Bill Clinton replies.

President-elect Killary also says she will follow an aggressive foreign policy. “I’ll come,” she says, giggling happily. “I’ll see. A lot of people will die.”  Stocks of Raytheon and the other military industrial complex firms, including iSIS, rise through the roof.

India announces a new round of bids for supplying backpacks to the army, which has been clamouring for a replacement rucksack for decades. It’s estimated that, if the bids go according to plan, a winner might be announced as early as 2020 and the first deliveries start by 2024. Meanwhile, cows are declared the National Animal of India, replacing the tiger, and a new law makes it illegal to stop a cow going wherever it pleases. This last part of the law is rescinded after Modi’s 199th trip abroad of the year is postponed when a cow wanders on to the runway and lies down in front of his plane.

A new food craze grips the western world. It consists of the hearts of white rhinoceroses, cooked in the blood of Tasmanian Devils and garnished with the sautéed livers of Saiga antelope. Since these are some of the most endangered species in the world, there are protests from environmental groups. “Ignore zem!” famed French chef Liberte d’Escargot declares. “If you don’t eat zese, ze terrorist ‘e win!” Facebook users at once change their avatars back to the French flag to display their support.

The business world sees a gigantic upheaval when Coca Cola and Pepsi merge. “All these years,” they say, “we’ve been pretending to be enemies so we could wipe out the competition. Now that there’s no competition left, why should we pretend any longer?” Apple and Microsoft deny reports that they are planning a similar merger. “Not while open source software still exists,” they say.

In sports, the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the world goes to a blind man who has been implanted with radar viewfinders and titanium implants in his fists.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, fifty five unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening. 


As the Southern Hemisphere summer approaches, the Antarctic ice cap announces its decision to take a holiday in warmer climes like its Arctic counterpart. At once the internet fills up with GoFundMe campaigns to sponsor this holiday. “Sure,” people say, “the Arctic was a mistake. But that was then. We’re smarter now. We know what we’re doing!”

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee unanimously awards the prize to Killary Klingon. When asked the reason why, the Committee chairman looks embarrassed. “Um, hmm, if we didn’t, she threatened to bomb us,” he says. “So by giving her the award, we are preventing her from bombing us, which is keeping the peace. Right?”

A whistleblower reveals that outgoing US President Barack Obama owns a majority share in companies which manufacture drones and drone components. The next day, the whistleblower is killed by a drone strike, which is applauded by liberal Americans in huge numbers, who say the president has “executed a traitor”. AWOL and HOLE say that they have resolved their differences enough to jointly announce the setting up of the Holy Exalted Church of Lord Obama the Living God and Messiah, whose symbol is a golf club superimposed on a drone.

When told of his impending godhood, Obama beams modestly. “I do think I’m a pretty good president,” he says. “If folk think so too, who am I to come in the way of their democratic right?”

In India, an alleged terrorist bomb leaves thirty people dead. Shreds of black cloth are discovered at the blast site. Declaring it to be the work of ISIS, the government declares emergency, bans all dissent, locks up all opponents, and announces that it is now a Hindu nation. At once, different groups of Hindus start a vicious internecine civil war over which particular version of Hinduism the nation is to follow.

Apple gives the media a sneak preview of its new iTimes 3, which is three times more expensive than the original iTimes. People across the world fall over themselves to order it.

The new sport of flood parkour takes the world by storm. In this, the newly flooded towns along the coast are used for parkour demonstrations and races. The World Flood Parkour Association headquarters are established in New York, near Wall Street. Killary Klingon is its top patron. “As long as she and those like her remain in power,” a WFPA spokesperson declares, “our sport will flourish. Why, next year we’re planning a world championship in Gaza, which by then should be totally under the sea!”  

On Christmas Day, Santa Claus is shot dead by an enraged house owner while in the act of squeezing down his chimney. No charges are filed, of course, since the house owner clearly had the right to defend himself with his automatic rifle.

An unarmed young black man is shot dead by police in the US. The internet blows up with outrage. Barack Obama declares sympathy with the victim’s family and appears on TV with them. The internet applauds his liberalism and empathy.

Meanwhile, sixty unarmed schoolchildren are blown up by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The internet’s silence is deafening.  

31st December:

Bill the Butcher announces his forecasts for events in 2017. The internet is not amused.

[Image Source]

Monday 28 December 2015

Badlands IX: Sacrifice

All through the day, the mountain above them had quaked and grumbled, and the black clouds of smoke that had gathered overhead had rained ash which had coloured everything, including the beast’s heavy shoulders and the knight’s armour, grey.

Only the demon had been unaffected. The ash hadn’t touched her glowing red-gold limbs and spreading wings, and though the knight and the beast both coughed and wheezed at the ash and the heat in the air, she spoke as easily as ever, as though none of it touched her at all.

Now, as the darkness fell, the sky above the summit glowed a sullen, inflamed red. The rumbling through the earth was continuous, and the air was so filled with searing gases that the man and the beast could scarcely breathe. Slipping off the beast’s back, the demon called a halt.

“I’ll go on alone from here,” she said. “This is too much for you two. I can’t really ask you for more.”

The knight fought for breath enough to be able to reply. “We can’t let you do that,” he said eventually. “We’ve come this far and we’ll go all the way.”

“You aren’t going to be of any help if you get yourselves smothered by ash,” she told him. “And the mountain’s going to blow, Man. We don’t have much time left to rescue those people.”

The knight peered up at the glowing bulk of the peak above. “Do you really think they’re there?” he asked. “Don’t you think they should have left by now?”

The demon flapped her wings a few times, clearing the air around them for a moment. “You know what they told us in the villages on the plain. The people living in the town below the crater worship the mountain. They won’t leave because they’re convinced it won’t ever harm them.”

“Even when it’s all set to erupt?” the knight said. “And we don’t even know where this town is. We haven’t found a trace of it. Maybe it’s already buried by the ash or a rock slide like the one this afternoon.”

The demon nodded. “That’s possible. But things like the rock slide this afternoon is why I don’t want you to risk yourselves coming further. I’ll be able to search more quickly if I’m alone anyway. You two go down a little, where the air’s clearer, and wait for me. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“What happens if you do find them, and they don’t want to come?” the knight asked.

“They may, certainly, Man,” the demon acknowledged. “I don’t think, though, that in that case if we’re three of us there together, they’d change their minds.” She flapped her wings again a couple of times. “If they refuse, I’ll see what I can do.”

There was a bright spurt of flame from above, and the slope trembled. “We won’t go all the way down,” the knight said. “Do you remember the shelf of rock we passed this morning? We’ll wait under that. It’s good shelter.”

The demon nodded. “Be safe, Man.” She reached out to them both a moment. “I’ll see you soon.”

The knight turned the beast’s head away from the track up the slope and back down the way they’d come.  Once, only, he looked back over his shoulder. She was still standing where she had been, watching them.

He remembered how she’d touched his arm and the beast’s neck just before they’d parted. It was only his fancy that it had seemed so much like a gesture of farewell, he told himself. Of course it had been.


The night was full of glowing red skies and raining ash, shuddering ground underfoot and rumbles as of thunder. As the demon ran, the slope around her feet cracked and quivered and split open, bleeding molten rock which trickled sluggishly away. She raced up towards the crater now, directly up the slope, running so quickly that her feet barely touched the kiln-hot soil. As she went, she strained her ears, trying to make out the sound of voices, or any other noise that might indicate human beings, from the grumbling of the mountain torn asunder.

It was a forlorn hope, she knew. If the town near the crater really existed – and the village people had been totally uncertain about its whereabouts – the people should have left by now. If they hadn’t, they’d most likely already be dead from the ash and the gas in the air, even without the lava that would come pouring out when the final eruption came.

But she still had to do it, to go looking, and, if she could, to rescue them. She had no idea how she might lead them to safety. But she had to try, she told herself grimly. She had to try.

The slope was becoming less steep, the ground flattening as she neared the summit. Not far above, the crater pulsed fire like a beating heart.

She felt the chanting more than heard it. It was a vibration in the air, like a string being plucked, an insistent repetitive thrumming, a wordless tune, but made up of human voices. She hesitated, turning from one side to the other as she tried to find the source. It was coming round the curve of the mountain, still very far away, and lower down on the volcano. But at least now she had something to go on.

She saw the procession while she was still not far below the crater, a line of tiny dots of flame down the slope. The chanting was louder now, but still almost lost among the rumbling, which was now almost continuous. She stopped a few moments, studying the line of lights, judging where she could intercept the procession best. Then she had a sudden thought, and, before running on again, she set out to change her appearance.

She took the grey of the ash under her feet and wove that into fabric that she wrapped round her body, her wings and tail. She took the darkness of the air and plaited it into her hair, turning it black and draping it over her horns. She took a stray beam of moonlight  which penetrated through the smoke overhead,  splashed it over her face and exposed arms and legs, turning her skin to a pale flesh tone. Lastly, she took the brown of a rock and spun that into the straps of leather footwear.

Looking down at herself, she took a deep breath. Now she was no longer a red-golden naked woman with horns and wings and a barbed tail; she was a long-limbed girl in the clothing of the people of the villages, a loose long shirt down to her knees and sandals with thongs wrapped round her ankles. She could not keep up the pretence indefinitely, but for now it would do.

As she ran, the chanting grew louder, more distinct, though there were still no words she could discern. There were two columns of torches, held high over bent figures trudging slowly upwards. The flames lit their grey-robed figures, their hooded heads, and on a large box on poles they bore between them, like a palanquin.

Racing down the slope, the demon skidded to a halt before them, ash and cinders pattering around her feet. “Stop,” she shouted, loud enough to be heard over the mountain and over the chanting. “Don’t go up any further.”

The chanting broke off abruptly. A taller figure, at the head of the procession shuffled forwards, and pulled the hood back off its face. It was a man with a deeply lined face. In the hand which held no torch he carried an ornately carved staff of black stone. It reflected the light of the torch and turned the lines on his face into canyons of shadow.

“Who are you?” he asked. “And why are you trying to stop us?”

“The mountain is about to erupt,” the demon said. “If you go any further, you’ll be burned or...” she glanced upwards as a spurt of flame towered momentarily into the sky from the crater. “Or,” she added, “you’ll be smothered by the gas and ash. Don’t go any further.”

“You can’t stop us,” the man with the staff replied. “It’s our holy duty to go up to the crater and perform sacrifice to appease the god of the mountain. Then everything will be as it was before.”

“Sacrifice?” the demon repeated, astonished. “What are you going to sacrifice?”

“That is none of your concern, woman. You should not be here on the slopes anyway. You villagers of the plain should keep to your place.”

“Please,” the demon said, “try to understand. There is nothing to be achieved by sacrifice. Can’t you feel the eruption coming? The air is barely breathable anyway, and we aren’t even near the crater.”

The man with the staff peered at her, actually bending forward to stare. “Have you been up there, woman, that you tell us not to go higher?”

“Yes. It’s much worse the higher you go. Up near the crater it would burn the skin off your flesh.”

“The god of the mountain,” the man said heavily, “does not put unsurmountable difficulties in our path. He has always demanded and received sacrifice, and he will receive it again.”

“What’s the problem, High Priest Dabanol?” one of the people in the lines called. It was a woman’s voice, but roughened with the dust in the air until its gender was almost unrecognisable. “Who is this and why is she holding us up?”

“Just a silly village lass,” the man with the staff called back over his shoulder. “She’ll let us by in a moment.”

“If she doesn’t,” the woman said, pushing past the others, “just break her head with your staff, Dabanol. We’re wasting time.”

“No,” the man called the High Priest Dabanol said. “I don’t want unnecessary bloodshed, and this is just a silly girl.”

“Meanwhile,” the woman said, “the god awaits his sacrifice and grows impatient.”  

The demon looked past her to the double line of torch bearers and the box they bore. “That’s the sacrifice, isn’t it? Whatever you’re carrying in the box.” She paused, as the truth struck her. “Or whoever. It’s a human being, isn’t it? A human being you’re planning to sacrifice.”

Dabanol blinked. “As I said already, it is none of your concern. But, yes, it’s a human. The god wants a healthy and fit sacrifice, and we’re doing him the honour of giving him one.”

“We’ll throw her into the crater,” the woman said. In the light of the torches she looked transparent. Her skin, hair, even her eyelashes, were so pale as to be essentially colourless, except for two red patches that burned on her cheeks. “Now crawl back to your village and let us be.”

“And suppose the mountain god does not accept your sacrifice?” the demon asked. “What do you intend to do then?”

There was a brief silence, and then the High Priest slammed the butt of his staff on the ash. “If that is so,” he said, “we have transgressed too far to be forgiven, and we shall deserve destruction.”

The demon looked at him and at the box. Something lay inside it. She could see the vague outline of a body, wrapped in ropes, and twitching. For an instant a face was visible, a pale oval with huge fear-stricken eyes. “Your sacrifice,” she said, “does not seem to be pleased at the idea of being given to the god.”

The colourless woman shrugged. “It doesn’t matter what she thinks or doesn’t. The god doesn’t care either way.”

“But I do,” the demon said quietly. “I don’t agree with sacrifices anyway, but a sacrifice against the will of the sacrificial offering is an abomination.”

The High Priest Dabanol laughed shortly. “And what of it? Who will volunteer to be sacrificed instead – you, perhaps?”

“Why not?” the den replied. “I am healthy and fit enough, and that’s all you want, isn’t it? Let that woman go, and I’ll go willingly. You won’t even have to tie me up.”

The High Priest and the colourless woman glanced at each other and conferred briefly. “All right,” the former said eventually. Up above the mountain creaked and rumbled. “If you wish to sacrifice yourself, we have no problem with it at all.”

The demon nodded. “Let the sacrifice go,” she said. “Let her go, and let her leave the mountain if she wants.”

They did.


The crater was a bowl of fire, smoke and incandescent molten rock. The heat was so great that the demon felt her disguise of woven darkness and shadow begin to grow thin, threatening to evaporate. She pitted her willpower against the light and heat and pulled the disguise together again, knowing it wasn’t for long.  

“I told you it was much worse up here,” she said.

Only the colourless woman and Dabanol had accompanied her up to the crater lip, cloth wrapped round their faces to keep out the worst of the ash and the searing gases. The others were huddled further down the slope, where the heat was slightly more bearable.

“It doesn’t matter,” the High Priest rasped. “It’s only a little while longer anyway.”

“So what happens now?” the demon asked. “Is there something you do, some invocation?”

“No, nothing,” the colourless woman said. Her eyes were squeezed to tiny slits against the glare. “Do you want us to throw you in or will you jump in yourself?”

The demon opened her mouth to answer and then, suddenly, she felt it, through the ground, the rising force of the final eruption, building and rising. “Get out,” she said. “Get out now.”

“What?” the High Priest blinked. “What did you say?”

“Get down as quickly as you can,” the demon shouted, her voice cracking through the rising thunder of the volcano. “It’s about to blow. Can’t you feel it?”

“The god will not allow...” the High Priest began, and then he felt it too. The demon saw him glance down at the crater and shake his head. “We can’t go without witnessing the sacrifice.”

“All right,” the demon managed. “You’ll have your sacrifice.” The effort to keep her disguise together was getting too great, the heat and the light burning away the shadow, and as she spread her arms and let herself topple over backwards into the crater, she felt the clothes and sandals melt away, her own face and form coming through, but then she hit the molten rock. It was around her now, closing around her face and limbs, and then the incandescent light and heat were all around her, through her, she was part of it, and it of her.

And the mountain swallowed her down.


When the knight stepped out from under the shelf of rock, dawn was just breaking through the smoke and clouds of ash. He looked around, still astonished that the mountain hadn’t blown apart the previous night. There had been a while when, crouched under the rock shelf with his arms round the beast, he’d thought it was a matter of moments, when the rock overhead had creaked and shifted and the ground underneath shuddered and quivered.

For a moment then, he’d considered leaving the shelter of the rock. He’d considered going back up the slope, to find the demon, and, if he could, to bring her down with him or share her fate. It was only because he’d no idea where she might be that he’d hesitated.

And then, the mountain seemed to have taken a deep, long breath, and quietened down. The rumblings had reduced, the earth ceased to shake so much, and though the sky overhead was still thick with smoke, the ash that had been raining down for days had thinned to a drizzle.

Looking up the slope towards the summit, still shrouded in smoke as black as night, the knight saw a tiny, fluttering reddish shape. It eddied back and forth, like a leaf caught in a wind, but surely no leaf could have survived the heat of the lava and gas up above. The knight squinted, peering, as the thing twisted and turned and finally caught on a boulder which stuck out of the grey ash like a broken tree stump. He watched it try and free itself, and then subside, defeated.

Then he called the beast to him and led it up the slope to where the thing lay, and overhead the clouds of smoke dissipated, slowly, one by one.


The sun had finally emerged, almost overhead, when he reached her. She lay caught in the boulder, one charred wing still weakly fluttering, the other an incinerated ruin. She turned her head slowly towards him.

“Man,” she whispered, as faintly as a grain of dust falling. “Beast. You came.”

The knight knelt by her. “Demon,” he said, helplessly. “Demon.”

“It’s good to see you,” she said. “Good to know you cared enough to come. I wanted to see you, at least once more.” She reached out a twisted, burned claw. “Take my hand,” she said. “Just hold me.”

The knight took her hand. His mouth moved, forming useless words.

“I fought the mountain,” the demon whispered. “I fought the god of the mountain. I met it face to face. fought as I’ve never fought before, fought to drive it down back from where it had come. And I won. I won.”

“You did,” the knight said. “Of course you did. But how it’s cost you, Demon.” And then his tears came, bursting out of him, tears that had been held back for aeons. Crying helplessly, he collapsed on her ruined body, and his tears rained on her as he shuddered, sobbing his heart out, not even trying to stop.

The next thing he realised, he was lying on his back and the demon was looking down at him. Her wings flapped behind her shoulders, grown whole again. She traced the line of his cheek with one finger. “Enough now, Man,” she said. “You’ve wept enough.”

He sat up so suddenly that the edge of his helmet bumped one of her horns. “Demon!” he said. “You’re all right.”

The demon looked down at herself. “Yes, aren’t I.” She shook her head. “You know, Man...”


“I thought, sometimes, you loved me,” she said. “But I didn’t know how much. Not until now.”

The beast nuzzled at them.

“You too,” the demon said, stroking its broad flank. “You, too.”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015