Thursday 21 January 2016

The Thief and the Treasure of the Ghost Gods: Yet Another Tale of Bunglistan

Lords and ladies, my greetings and salutations, and I wish you all a pleasant evening. Thank you all for coming to listen to my tale.

Let me introduce myself. As you can all clearly see for yourself, I am a ghost. This, of course, should not be anything surprising to you, let alone frightening. After all, this is Bunglistan, and you all know how every corner of our land is teeming with ghosts. I’m just one of so many millions that one can’t begin to count them all.

Nor, of course, am I in any way a special ghost, as you can also see for yourselves. I’m no fisher ghost with stilt-long limbs, living in the holes on the banks of ponds, and coming out to wade at night. I’m no giant bhoot with teeth like radishes, ears like winnowing baskets, and eyes like red brass gongs, no pret with horns like shields around my cheeks. Nor am I an obese brohmodottyi with a beard down to my navel and a belly full of specious wisdom. I am, clearly, a mere, unremarkable, common-or-garden ghost.

By now, lords and ladies, you will be no doubt asking why a miserable non-being like me should even dare to thrust myself on to your attention. Well, if you will only listen to me, you will find that out for yourselves.

As you may know, we ghosts have a society among ourselves, just as you of the living do. And we have, as you do, rulers, arch-ghosts, and, above them all, a king ghost, who rules in his capital down beneath a mountain in a place that has no name.

Ah, lords and ladies, you would love to see that city of ghosts! You would, I’m sure, love to wander its streets, and peer into the windows of its palaces, to feast your eyes on the wonders within. But, alas, no living human has ever set foot inside its walls of midnight-coloured stone; not just that – few of us ghosts have ever been permitted even the great fortune of gazing upon its jewel-sparkling roofs, even from a distance.

Once upon a time, though, it was different. Once, even a lowly ghost like me, of no importance whatsoever, might have been permitted entry inside its hallowed portals, and even be allowed to dwell in its halls and chambers if he or she so desired. But that time is long gone, and I am now going to tell you why.

Now, lords and ladies, we ghosts have little use for the things that the living hold precious – gold or silver ornaments, which humans lie, cheat, rob and kill for, mean no more to us than baubles, perhaps, to grace a petni’s wrists or a shakchunni’s neck, to buy a little peace at home; for you don’t know just how bitter a petni or shakchunni can get, and how difficult it is for us ghosts to sweeten their dispositions enough to get by.

But I digress. The real treasures of the ghostly world are measured in power and magic, in things great as universes that might be contained in a grain of sand. Most of them are, in fact, so ancient that their secrets are unknown even to us ghosts, or so powerful that even the most knowledgeable in their lore do not dare to use them. And there are good reasons for that – reasons so good that even they are a secret from common ghosts.

Long ago, when the portals of the capital were thrown open for all comers, there was once a ghost. Like me, he was totally ordinary, not even a pret or a tree ghost. But in life he’d been a famous thief, and, sad to say, he had not been able to throw off the stealing habit only because he’d died. I’m afraid, my lords and ladies, you will find many like him – and I would caution you now about it, lest you too carry your little habits into the afterworld. It’s different when you’re loaded down with habits that make you unpopular and stick around forever, which you can’t even die to get away from.

This ghost, whose name was Chĩchké Chōr, had unfortunately never learnt that lesson, or, as is perhaps more likely, he enjoyed the act of stealing much too much to give it up merely because he was dead. So he kept stealing things. At first he only stole little things, from the living, more to cause them annoyance than anything else. A housewife might find her cherished brass cooking pot vanished, only to discover it tucked away out of sight in the rafters; a fisherman might look everywhere for his net-mending tools, only to discover them pushed under a rock by the bank of the river. A tailor’s best pair of scissors might go missing the day of a major order, or a lonely student, preparing for an examination that might decide his future, would discover the oil mysteriously vanished from his lamp. That was the kind of thing Chĩchké Chor got up to for a while – annoying, but not really harmful.

But then he decided that this was really no challenge for an accomplished thief like him, and turned his eyes on more challenging prospects. And what could be more challenging than stealing from the vaults of the Ghost King himself?

It wasn’t that difficult to plan the theft. It was nowhere near as difficult as carving a hole in the wall of a family’s hut while they slept within, something he’d done a hundred times when he was alive. It wasn’t as difficult as sneaking into the back of a shop while the owner was busy at the front, taking all he could carry, and leaving again without being seen. He could simply enter the city like a thousand other ghosts, go where he wanted, and enter the treasure chambers without hindrance, since nobody then had ever imagined a ghost could stoop so low as to steal from other ghosts. But then there had never been a ghost as much in love with thieving as Chĩchké Chōr before.

He drifted through the streets of the city, perfectly openly, mingling with the rustling crowds of ghosts, until he came to the royal section of the city. Here were the tall, beautiful buildings with their soaring towers, their bridges that looked delicate as a petni’s sighs, though in reality they could bear the weight of the heaviest bhoot with no trouble at all. Here were the treasures of the Ghost King, just a thickness of wall away from Chĩchké Chōr, all there for the taking. So easy would it be to steal, indeed, that the thief ghost soon grew frustrated. There was no challenge here.

But then – casually glancing down a side street, which he’d just watched a comely shakchunni enter – he saw the tall spire of the Temple of the Ghost Gods, and all the frustration disappeared from Chĩchké Chōr’s mind like fog in the morning sun.

The Temple of the Ghost Gods? Yes. Did you not know ghosts have temples? Who would worship the ghosts of all the dead gods if ghosts didn’t, I ask you?

Now, of course, it was one thing to steal from the treasures of the Ghost King. It is another thing altogether to purloin the property of the ghost gods. Most thieves wouldn’t have considered it for a moment. But Chĩchké Chōr wasn’t like most thieves; he prided himself on being in a class of his own.

The reason he decided on stealing from the ghost gods was simple. Unlike the rest of the city, the Temple of the Ghost Gods was guarded closely, because otherwise, of course, any recently deceased ghost might barge into it and take up residence pretending to be the ghost of a god. Each entrance was therefore closely guarded by a pair of huge bhoots armed with staves that might break a ghost like Chĩchké Chōr to pieces with one blow. Even the windows weren’t just left free; at each, crouching with its mouth wide open, enormous teeth extended, was an eaterghost, still gluttonously trying in the afterlife to devour all it couldn’t while it lived. And the walls of the temple were covered with tiny ghostlets, which clung on to each other with teeth and claws leaving not chink between them for the likes of Chĩchké Chōr to burrow through.

In other words, it was a perfect challenge. Chĩchké Chōr shivered with delight as he contemplated it.

For several days, he drifted round and round it, watching. Nothing escaped his notice, from the bhoots with their staves guarding the gates, to the eaterghosts waiting hopefully at the windows; and as for the ghostlets on the walls, he abandoned the idea of finding a way to get past them without a second thought.

Did he ever, for an instant, think of abandoning the plan and moving on to easier prey? Of course not. The more impossible the project appeared – for, remember, he had not only to get inside the Temple, but to steal some worthwhile item of treasure, and then get out safely again – the more determined he became to make sure it succeeded. Obviously, it would be impossible to sneak by the guards. Therefore, he would have to bluff his way past them.

Only three kinds of ghosts got past the guards. The first, of course, were the worshippers, but they were few, because the ghosts of dead gods needed a home more than they needed worship, and they scarcely ever granted a prayer unless they felt like it. And what can a ghost offer to a ghost of a god as a bribe to grant prayers, in a city where treasures were to be had for the asking? So few worshippers ever came, and, as Chĩchké Chōr noticed, those that did were always accompanied inside by a guard bhoot, who stood attendance while the worshippers prayed. And there were, of course, the priest and priestess ghosts, but they were all Brohmodottyis and petnis, and he, a common ghost, had not the slightest chance of being mistaken for either.

There was only one way, then; he would have to pretend to be the ghost of a dead god.

This was, as you may imagine, less easily said than done, but Chĩchké Chōr hadn’t spent a lifetime sneaking through people’s homes without getting a good idea of what they expected from their gods. From there it was less than difficult to make out what the gods themselves must be like. And, being a ghost who’d once been human – and not born a ghost, as so many are – he knew what happened when someone, even if that someone was a god, died.

So, a little later, the pair of bhoots guarding the biggest of the gates watched a ghost walk towards them up the street and make as though to walk in right between them, as though they weren’t there. One of them hastily slammed his staff down in the nick of time, blocking the way.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded in a voice like thunder.

The little ghost glared up at them. “You dare try and stop me? I am the ghost of the god Asto Olumbush, and nobody has a better right to come in here than me.”

The bhoots looked at him and at each other. “Er,” one began. “I never heard of any such god...”

“Do you intend to tell me that you know the names of all the gods?” the spirit demanded, stamping a ghostly foot. “Tell me, fool. Do you know the names of all the gods, everywhere?”

The bhoot, who had never been challenged in such a fashion, licked his lips nervously. “Well, no.”

“Can you prove that you’re the ghost of the god Asto Olumbush, as you claim?” the other bhoot, who had a little more of his wits about him, asked.

“Can you prove that I’m not?” the ghost snapped right back. “What do I have to do to prove that I’m the ghost of Asto Olumbush – turn you into human beings?”

Now, this is one fate that bhoots dread more than any other. From being gigantic, powerful, immortal beings who could reduce even a wayward pret to shivering terror with a glare, to be reduced to a weak, puny human, one which could not even be certain of getting through a day without risking fifty different nasty fates – that is a fall indeed. The bhoots opened their mouths and closed them again, looking at each other nervously.

Chĩchké Chōr began snapping his fingers. “At five snaps,” he said dramatically. “One...two...”

They broke at four, as he’d anticipated. “Please, o ghost of the god Asto Olumbush,” the first bhoot said piteously, “forgive us for our rudeness. Please do come in at once.”

And that was all it took. Chĩchké Chōr walked past them into the Temple, into the colonnaded chambers with their richly carved walls and high-domed ceilings, where the ghosts of dead gods rustled and gibbered in the corners, plotting and muttering against each other as they had done when they were alive, and as they still did now that they were dead. He walked past them and deeper and deeper into the Temple, where the treasures of the ghosts of the gods were piled. But they were little enough treasures, things that attracted Chĩchké Chōr not at all; things he might have stolen with no effort from the city of the Ghost King, without having to enter the Temple at all.

No, Chĩchké Chōr needed something more. And then, in a chamber at the very heart of the Temple, held in the hands of a squat little idol, he found it.

Actually, it would be more correct to say he found them, for there were two, one clutched in each of the idol’s hands; little brown stones, faceted and streaked with blue and white, which reflected the light dimly; stones which were carved so as to resemble lenses exactly fit for putting over a ghost’s eyes. They weren’t anything much to look at, but as soon as he saw them, the thief knew that they were what he’d been looking for.

It wasn’t even a guardian idol; it was just an idol, ugly and common, and the stones were lightly held in its hands, so all Chĩchké Chōr had to do was pick them up and walk out. And that was what he did, down through the halls the way he’d come, until at last he reached the gate where the two bhoots stood gaurd.

“Move out of the way,” he snapped, even before he reached the door. “Let me out.”

“But you just went in,” the bhoots objected.

“And now I want to get out. This temple of yours isn’t fit for the ghost of a self-respecting god. Or...” Chĩchké Chōr raised the dreaded fingers again. “You know what I’ll do.”

“No, please,” the bhoots said, stepping aside quickly, and Chĩchké Chōr walked away to freedom.

Now, of course, Chĩchké Chōr was an experienced thief. He was no beginner to make the stupid mistake of stopping to admire his spoils. So he made sure not just to leave the City of the Ghost King, but to travel far, far away, before he took out the two stones and held them up to his eyes.

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. The landscape before him – a dull picture of dry scrub and semi-desert – vanished, and instead he saw a breathtaking picture of transparencies and light, turning shades of being and nonbeing, things that were and were not and might have been. The whole of all the creations that had been, and might be, and ever were, came by him and went away, and then came by again. And it went on, and on, and on, no pattern ever repeating.

Chĩchké Chōr was entranced. He was, if I might say so for a ghost, in heaven.

And then he tried to remove the stones from his eyes, and found that he could not.

There is one thing I said earlier that Chĩchké Chōr had forgotten, and it would have been well for him if he remembered. The treasures of the ghosts is in magic, and much of it is magic the purpose of which has long since been forgotten. Undoubtedly there had been a time when the stones could be controlled, could be made to serve the will of the user, but that time was aeons gone. And now, having put them on, the thief could never take them off again. He was stuck there, in the waste, with the stones over his eyes.

It was much worse than being merely blind. If he’d just been blind, he could have felt his way, fumbling like a mere blind human. But here his entire senses were occupied by the flickering, changing lights behind the stones – he couldn’t even shut his eyes to block them out. He couldn’t even move; he could do nothing at all.

I see you all looking at me, and all of you are wondering the same thing: how is it that I am now talking to you, since you can see my eyes quite unencumbered by those crystals? But, my dear friends, I am not Chĩchké Chōr. Not at all! I’m just who I said I was, a common ghost with nothing special about him at all.

So how do I know all about Chĩchké Chōr? My lords and ladies, I found him. I found him one day, still standing where he had been, though the scrub around him had long since turned to farmland, and then to desert, and was beginning to revert to scrub again. I found him and brought him home with me, and he now sits, as he has sat since he came back here, in the rafters above our heads.

This is why I am telling you his tale. Through all the long, weary centuries he stood with the stones over his eyes, Chĩchké Chōr had thought and thought, and he finally realised what it is that has to be done to free him from the consequences of his crime – a crime for which, you’ll agree, he’s paid many times over already.

It is just this, ladies and gentlemen – one of you must remove the stones from over his eyes, and put them over your own.

Here’s Chĩchké Chōr – look how weak he is, how uncertainly he fumbles, though I lead him by the hand. And look how beautiful the stones are, how they sparkle and glitter, and how the universe shifts and beckons through its facets. Would you not love to wear such stones over your eyes? Think of the beauty, my lords and ladies. Think of the wonder that will be unveiled to you!

I can see the look in your eyes, my lords and ladies. I know your hands are yearning to seize those stones and slip them over your own eyes. You’re looking at each other, each wanting to dart forward, before anyone else can. Yes you are. So tell me, my friends –

Which of you will be the one to set my friend free?

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

[Image courtesy my dear friend Jim Lipton]

If I Were A Drone

If I were a drone, you would love me.

You would run your eyes over my elegant lines, so slim and beautiful. You would see the bulge of my front end, like a big-headed baby or a cartoon bird, and you’d think of me, instinctively, as cute. Your gaze would follow the long, sweeping curves of my slender wings, and you’d think, with justification, of graceful, soaring birds. Yes, whatever you said with your mouth, whatever you mumbled about how I was evil, you would think me beautiful.

And, because you’ve been conditioned to think that

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all.
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

- you’d love me. I’m beautiful, therefore I stand for truth and justice, and therefore you must love me. It is simple.

If I were a drone, you would feel good whenever you saw me. Because from above I can bring death and destruction, and you can see the results on your television screen, buildings and cars turning into smoke, just like the video games you grew up playing, the games you still play when you have nothing else to do. You will feel good when you see me, because you will see me and you’ll feel yourself in me. It will be your eyes which will be watching through my cameras, your wings which will tilt as I turn towards a new target, your rush of adrenalin as a car driving across a desert – or through a town marketplace, filled with people – becomes a puff of dust. It will be your victory, racking up the points, when my missiles fly down and incinerate a target.

If I were a drone, you would feel superior when you saw me. Because I am on your side, and I fly far above the Enemy of the Day, where they can do nothing to harm me; and I can hurl down death and destruction on them with impunity, exactly as though I were a god and they were savages beneath contempt. In fact, the rhetoric you hear each day calls them savages beneath contempt, and who better than a god to teach them the consequences of their savage ways? And, because they follow a different god than yours, my destruction of them would validate your god over theirs, because you created me, not they.

These are things you would feel, even if you did not speak of them.

If I were a drone, I would be infallible. The people I would kill would not even be people – they would be scuttling little ants, worse than ants, creatures of monstrous evil who had skin of a different colour, spoke a different language, flew a different flag, wore different clothes, ate different foods, worshipped different gods...and had different ideas of what constituted a good future for them. They would be the Other, the Great Outside, the barbarians battering at the gates, who must be destroyed before they can break in. Those of them I would kill would be quite properly and legally killed, simply because I killed them. The act of killing validates them as the Enemy.

The Enemy is the Enemy. If It has done, as yet, no verifiable wrong, It must have been plotting to do such wrong. Or It might have given birth to, and suckled at the breast, and brought up, Enemies who would do wrong in later times. Eliminating the Enemy cannot be wrong, simply because It is the Enemy.

If I were a drone, I would make you feel righteous. You would know that the people running the current government might not be perfect, but at least they’re using me to drive away the gibbering horrors in the shadows, horrors you know from your media and your movies are all too real; they aren’t sending soldiers to do the fighting, soldiers who might come back with an arm or leg or penis blown away, and make you feel awkward afterwards each time you wave a flag for them and see that the war in which they lost that arm or leg or penis grinds on, with no end in sight, a decade after those in power told you it had been won. You would feel righteous about voting for those in power now, and defend them, because their wars are fought with me, and not with human bodies – on your side. And your side is all that matters.

If I were a drone, I would make you feel safe and happy. On cold winter evenings, when the wind blew icy outside your window, you would listen to news reports of terrorists killed halfway across the world, terrorists infesting countries your gallant warriors were battling to save, countries you’d never heard of until they were invaded and occupied because that was the only way to make you secure. Later, you might see a photo showing a brown-skinned, bearded father carrying the corpse of his mangled daughter, as brown skinned as himself, out of the ruins of his home. And you would look around your intact walls, at the roof over your head, and feel more snug and warm than ever. You would cuddle your lovely wife, and you would tell yourself that their women live their lives wrapped up in veils and don’t deserve any sympathy anyway.

If I were a drone, I would take your humanity, and you would be happy to give it to me. You would close off your eyes and ears to reports that I kill thirty innocents for each “suspect” I manage to eliminate – “suspects”, who, in effect, are in their own nations, often fighting foreign invaders, who happen to be supported by the same government which created me. When I blow up a car, wait for people to rush to the aid of the man, woman and child trapped in its flaming wreckage, and then destroy them, too, you would justify it, or, if you couldn’t, you would turn your gaze away. What you would not do, what you could not do even if you wanted to, would be to make any attempt to oppose it. And, meanwhile, if you saw a YouTube video of an accident in which nobody came to help the victims, you would condemn it whole heartedly, and consign them to hellfire. And if you noticed the contradiction, you’d keep it hidden, even to yourself.

If you couldn’t keep it hidden to yourself, you would double down on your efforts to pretend such things don’t happen, and to justify it in every way you could.

If I were a drone, you would be happy to pay for me. You would agree without demur that I am the lesser evil, the lesser expense, than all the costly foreign wars and invasions, because, of course, flying a drone into a foreign land’s skies and bombing its people is not the equivalent of a foreign war or invasion. You would shout about the neglect of the roads and hospitals at home, and about how money is wasted on foreign aid, and you would avert your eyes when passing homeless persons in the street – but you would not even dream of asking them to stop making me.

If I were a drone, you would fear me. You would fear me, because you would wonder what might happen to you if I were ever to be turned against you, and you would try your best to make sure, whatever else you did, that you never angered them enough that my cameras would turn towards you. You would tell yourself, of course, that this would not happen, could not happen, that your government would never do anything that would ever bring something like this to be. But the idea would loom, like a bogeyman in the shadows, in the back of your mind, and you would meekly do whatever it took so that it wouldn’t be your car blown up on the daily commute, your lovely wife’s corpse under the rubble, your daughter’s blasted, naked body in your arms while your tears rained down on her face. You would deny it could happen, but you would know it could, and you would hope desperately that it would take someone on the other side of the country, on the other side of the city, or your colleague, or your friend, or your neighbour – but, please, not you, not yours. You would deny it could happen, but you would know it was all too likely.

And you would fear me.

If I were a drone, you would treat me like a god. You would drop your voices whenever you talked of me. As you made love to your boyfriend out in the woods, you would look skywards and wonder if I was watching, and would punish you for your sin. As you thought things that might even possibly be construed as disloyal, you would feel the faintest shiver in your spine as you wondered if I could somehow know it, if I were around, watching. When you argued with someone, you would wish I would throw down Hellfire from above and burn him.

If I were a drone, you would do your best to distract yourself from the reality of me. You would create other drones, harmless drones, drones which might be the deliverers of packages and the subjects of harmless jokes, drones which would become as familiar as the plaster saints you see in churches, while you’d direct your gaze as far from me as possible and try and imagine that I do not exist. When you thought “drone”, you would do your best to think of them, not me.

If I were a drone, you would hate me. But you would never admit it, not even to yourself, not even for a second.

And if I were not a drone – if I were me – the me I am, the living breathing human that is me, a brown-skilled military aged male who is Not Like You,

you would cheer

if a drone

killed me.

[Copyright at bottom of image]

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Playing God


You can’t mean it!” little Miss Frankenstein said with a delightedly shocked giggle. “She married a zombie?

“Yes, she did.” Mrs Jekyll leaned confidentially across the table. “Of course, it was a quite unsuitable match. Her family was shocked!”

“Did they disinherit her?” Miss Frankenstein asked, shivering deliciously. “I heard her parents are very strait-laced.”

“I don’t know,” Mrs Jekyll admitted reluctantly. “They don’t have any other children, though, so it’s unlikely.”

“Still...a zombie.” Miss Frankenstein pulled a face, but not too much in case it smudged her makeup. “It’s so...déclassé. I mean, who marries a zombie these days? You’d have thought she’d have had the taste to at least choose a werewolf or a vampire.”

Not a vampire,” Mrs Jekyll said firmly. “My sister was in a relationship with one. She had to break up with him in the end.”

“Why?” Miss Frankenstein asked. “They’re so sexy. Those dreamy eyes, and the pale skin to die for. And I’d just melt if one touched my neck with his fangs, my dear.”

“Ha!” Mrs Jekyll snorted. “You don’t know the half of it. Oh yes, it’s all very nice from the outside, but when you’re together, that’s when the trouble starts.” She looked around conspiratorially. “My sister told me that vampires look great, but that’s all that can be said for them. You know they can’t see themselves in a mirror? So they can’t even shave themselves. Each night, my sister had to shave him.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound too bad...”

“Wait, I haven’t finished yet. Then, they can’t eat anything, just drink blood. His fridge was filled with bottles and bottles and bottles of blood. She said there wasn’t even room for a slice of cucumber between them. And she’s a vegan. She took it up as a fashion statement last year.”

They both contemplated the horror of this for a moment. “A vegan,” Miss Frankenstein repeated, aghast.

“And she loves garlic,” Mrs Jekyll said, “but she couldn’t even have it on her breath when she was around him.”

“Imagine that,” Miss Frankenstein murmured, shuddering.

“Then,” Mrs Jekyll continued with relish, “you can’t go for a day out with them, of course. My sister so wanted to go for a picnic with him...kept badgering him until he gave in, saying he’d do it as long as she made sure he wouldn’t burn.” She paused dramatically.

“And...?” Miss Frankenstein asked breathlessly, holding up her part of the drama.

“She got a sunblock for him...positively slathered him with it, from top to toe...but she missed the insides of his nostrils. The insides of his nostrils. So when they went out, the hairs inside his nose started burning, and he began breathing fire.”

Miss Frankenstein giggled.

“It’s nothing to laugh about,” Mrs Jekyll said severely. “He could have had a nasty burn. So they came in again immediately, and agreed to go out at night to the West Bank to see the opera.”

“But...?” Miss Frankenstein supplied.

“But he couldn’t cross the river. Running water, you know.”

“I’d still choose him over a zombie,” Miss Frankenstein said mutinously. “You know what zombie hygiene standards are like.”

Mrs Jekyll laughed unpleasantly. “I haven’t told you that he slept in a coffin on a bed of graveyard dirt, did I? No,” she sighed, “it would never have worked. I’m so glad she found a new lover.”

“Well, who’s he?”

“A centaur. She rides him, and they eat all kinds of vegetation together, and, my sister tells me, as for his, um...” She looked at Miss Frankenstein dubiously and shook her head. “Not for your tender ears, my dear.”

Miss Frankenstein, whose face had been pink with excitement, looked disappointed. “Well, I’m glad she’s happy,” she said. She returned to the original topic. “But how anyone could marry a zombie...”

“Why don’t you come to the party the Gorgons are throwing tonight?” Mrs Jekyll suggested. “I can get you an invitation easily. They’re going to be there, and you can see for yourself.”

Miss Frankenstein went through the motions of opening her diary to look at her social engagements, though Mrs Jekyll knew perfectly well that the pages were blank, and Miss Frankenstein knew perfectly well that Mrs Jekyll knew. “I’ll be able to make it,” she said, shutting it quickly. “I just have to make a few tiny adjustments in my schedule...”

“Make them,” Mrs Jekyll said firmly, and began to rise from her seat. “I’ll see you at eight o’clock, my dear.”


Arrhng urnghh,” the zombie said, struggling with his tie. “Gnngh rnnng.”

“Let me help you, George,” his wife said. Expertly, she loosened and retied the knot. “Does that feel better?”

“Be...tter.” The zombie turned his head side to side experimentally. “Not...ssssstrangled.”

“Good.” Mrs Romero stood back and admired her husband. “You’re looking great.”

“Sssssso are you.” The zombie batted his eyelids in appreciation at his helpmeet, but not too hard, in case they fell off. “Ssssshall we go?”

Mrs Romero took his arm, smiling. She knew most people wondered what she saw in her husband. Well, she didn’t wonder, because she knew. And she was sure someday the wonderers would find out, too.

The party was already packed when the Romeros arrived. This was not surprising, because the Gorgons’ parties were always popular. At some point in the evening, they’d turn somebody to stone, and there were always bets taken as to who it would be this time. Several people had got quite rich by guessing right. Besides, they all wanted to see the infamous zombie-human couple.

The elder of the surviving Gorgon sisters, Euryale, met them at the door, wearing something flowing and Greek, except for her hair, which was, naturally, decorously covered, though it twitched and hissed a little. She smiled at them quickly. “Why, it’s the Romeros. Come on in!”

Stheno, the other sister, was across the room talking to a mummy. Leaving the Pharaoh to his own devices, she came rushing across to greet them, and Mrs Romero had to move fast to prevent her from wrenching George’s arm off with her enthusiastic shaking. “So glad to be here,” she murmured.

From across the room, little Miss Frankenstein watched them with keen eyes. She’d felt rather alone at the party so far. The Jekylls were there, of course, and Mrs Jekyll’s sister, Miss Hyde, with her centaur, who was a lot duller than Miss Frankenstein had expected. He never took his eyes off his lover, and she never got off his back, which meant that they simply stood in the corner with him looking over his shoulder at her. Miss Frankenstein wondered why Miss Hyde seemed content to simply sit on him rubbing herself back and forth on his back. Maybe she would ask her, if she got the chance later. Or maybe she wouldn’t. With her Goth getup, Miss Hyde wasn’t to her taste anyway.

There were plenty of other guests, of course. There was a pair of ghouls who skulked in the shadows and seemed to be waiting for someone to die. There was the mummy, who was accompanied by a retinue of animated figures carrying his organs in canopic jars. There was a huge shaggy werewolf, who trotted around the room sniffing people with his cold wet nose. When Miss Frankenstein rubbed his head and fondled his ears, he lay down at her feet and rolled over so she could scratch his tummy.

She’d only just finished playing with him when there was a general stir of excitement and the Romeros entered. Miss Frankenstein, who’d met Mrs Romero a few times before the latter’s marriage, was about to go over and greet her and get introduced to the zombie, but the crush around the couple was so great she had to back away after almost getting her toes trodden to splinters. Cursing in the properly ladylike manner in which she’d been trained, she retreated wallwards.

“So, you’re alone here, are you?” a voice asked. “How strange to see a pretty lady like you all by herself.”

Startled, she turned, and her heart leapt to her mouth. Dressed in jeans and biker gang regalia, flowing hair, beard, and all, was the most handsome vampire she’d ever seen.

“You were Miss Hyde’s lover, weren’t you?” Miss Frankenstein asked, feeling her knees grow wobbly.

“Does it show that much?” the vampire grinned ruefully. “Are you a friend of hers?”

“No,” Miss Frankenstein said quickly. “I only know her to say hi to.”

“Ah, well, you don’t have to worry. I’m no longer in love with her, so I’m not going to go over and make a scene.” The vampire sent a sardonic glance across the room. “And she seems fine with her new beau, doesn’t she? Mind you, from what I know of centaurs...” He broke off abruptly.

“What?” Miss Frankenstein asked eagerly.

“Never mind. It’s not for delicate ears like yours.”

“But,” Miss Frankenstein said, piqued, “your appearance is all right for delicate eyes like mine, I take it? Even when you’re hung about with biker patches and tattoos and things?”

“Touché.” The vampire threw back his head and laughed. “After she left, since I couldn’t shave myself without risking cutting my throat, I had to grow a beard. Since I had to grow a beard, I thought I might as well get an image makeover to go with the beard. After all, everyone knows that all of us vampires are suave, so we try to compete with each other in suavity. It gets mighty tiring to be cultured all the time, I can tell you.”

“So,” Miss Frankenstein asked, “what’s your name?”

“Alucard, of course,” the vampire said. “I thought you knew. All vampires are called Alucard.”

“Oh. And my name is...”

“Viktoria Frankenstein.” The vampire smiled at her expression. “I know all about you, my dear. I’ve been watching you for a long time.”

Little Miss Frankenstein blushed. “Why? I mean, I’m nothing special...”

“Aren’t you?” The vampire looked at her in a way that made her blush some more. “Ever been on a motorbike?” he asked abruptly.

“What?” She blinked. “No.”

“Right, then, come for a ride with me, and I’ll tell you all about why you’re special.” He raised an eyebrow. "Shall we go?"

"You mean right now?" She looked around at that party where nobody else had even looked at her. "Yes."

Meanwhile, Euryale Gorgon had conducted the Romeros through the throng to a table which was covered only with brain dishes; stewed brain, fried brain, sautéed brain, brain centrifuged into a soup, even some raw sliced brain, pink and grey and quivering. “Specially catered for your husband, my dear,” she told Mrs Romero, as though George couldn’t hear and understand. “Please do ask him to help himself.”

The zombie looked at the crowd of people and non-people gathered round, eagerly waiting to watch him eat, and shook his head deprecatingly. “Not huuuuungryyyy...” he moaned. “Perhapsssss lateeeeeeeeerrrr.”

Disappointed, the crowd began to drift away, though not too far in case something happened at which to gawk. Mrs Romero, leaving her husband’s side for a moment, went to fill her plate at the human buffet. When she returned, it was to find George talking to the mummy.

“He underssssstandsssss me,” the zombie moaned, an arm around the Pharaoh’s withered, linen-bandaged shoulder. “He’sssss not like thossssssse othersssss.”

“Your husband, lady,” the mummy acknowledged, in a voice like the wind blowing across the Valley of Kings, “is the only one to appreciate just what it is we undead go through. While our experiences are somewhat different, of course, because...”

At that precise moment there was a terrific blast and part of the wall disintegrated. Before anyone realised quite what was happening, a squad of ISIS jihadis rushed in, wearing black flags around their heads. One jumped up on the nearest table, sending all the dishes cascading to the floor in a rain of smashed glass and stewed, fried, raw and sautéed brain.

“Ay up, you kuffars,” he shouted, in a strong British accent. “Anyone moves, and we blow the tosser’s ‘ead off before he gets done moving, you get me?”

“That’s right,” another yelled, and fired a burst from his AK at the ceiling. Plaster rained down. The werewolf, terrified at the noise, crawled under the centaur’s belly, whimpering piteously. “You’ll listen to what Abu Kameron al Londoni said if you know what’s good for you.”

“You bellends ‘ave it good here, innit?” Abu Kameron al Londoni surveyed the room from atop the table. “Live high on the hog on the proceeds of yer dealings with the devil, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Don’t use the word ‘hog’, Abu Kameron,” the second ISIS jihadi called. “It’s haram. I mean, I do know your past history with the animal, but it’s still haram.”

“Bloomin’ brilliant,” Abu Kameron said, and shot the second ISIS man dead. “Nobody bloody tells me what I can say or can’t say. You hear?”

“What do you intend to do with us?” Dr Jekyll asked. His wife, by his side, clutched his arm in fear. Over in the corner, Miss Hyde was still rubbing herself on her centaur, oblivious. “Take us as hostages?”

“You’ll find out in a moment,” Abu Kameron al Londoni said. “The Caliph, ‘e said about you that...”

“Everyone shut your eyes!” Euryale and Stheno screamed, and whipped off their caps. Snakes writhed and hissed and snapped at the air with their jaws. The Gorgons looked at the jihadis, expecting them to be turned to stone.

No such luck. “What a pair of twats,” Abu Kameron al Londoni jeered. “What do they think we are, some chavs out of the EDL or something? In this day and age, they think we’re too fuckin’ ignorant to use anti-Medusa glasses.” He tapped the eyewear. “Proper ace, this is.”

Deflated, the two sisters put on their caps again. “I’m sorry,” Stheno said to the room at large. “This was the best we could manage, and...”

“Now shut yer mouf an’ listen,” Abu Kameron began. “I was sayin’ that the Caliph, ‘e passed sentence on you. ‘E thinks it’s time you abominations were removed from the world, and we’re here to do it.”

“Nooooot if we have anythingggggg to dooooo with it, you woooooon’t,” the zombie moaned. “You’ve jussssssst ruuuuuined my ssssupper, and I wassssss beginning to get huuuuuuungry.”

“I’ve also had enough of these morons defaming the Arab world,” the mummy announced. “In my day, we’d have them impaled.” Side by side, they advanced towards the ISIS men.

“Shoot, you twits,” Abu Kameron al Londoni yelled at the other ISIS men, suiting himself to his words. Bullets slashed across the room. The mummy, who had stepped swiftly in front of the zombie, took the brunt of the bullets, but continued unfazed. A moment later, he’d dragged Abu Kameron down from the table and began strangling him with his own black flag.

The zombie, meanwhile, had taken down a second ISIS man and was busily biting his head off, making a noise that almost sounded like a word. It sounded as though he was saying “Braaaaaainssss.”

With that, a switch seemed to have turned on in the room. The werewolf dashed out from under the centaur and threw himself at an ISIS man, taking a half magazine of bullets in the chest as he did so. Since none of the bullets was silver, they didn’t affect him at all. In less time than it takes to tell of it, the ISIS attack was done, and the ghouls were clearing up the remains.

“You two saved us all,” Mrs Jekyll said, hugging the zombie and the mummy. “How can we thank you?”

“No thanks will be necessary,” the Pharaoh announced grandly. “It’s all in a day’s work. However, my friend here could do with a little more appreciation. Zombies are people too, you know.”

“I think it’s great how you stepped in the way of the bullets fired at my husband,” Mrs Romero said, hands clasped under her chin in hero-worship.

“It was nothing,” the mummy said. “I was in no danger whatsoever. As I was saying when we were so rudely interrupted, being undead  is a little different for your husband and me.” He jerked a withered thumb back over his shoulder. “All my vital organs, you see, are in the canopic jars with my attendants, over there.”

In all the rejoicing throng, there was only one unhappy voice.

“I’m ssssstilll hungryyyyy,” George moaned. “Thoooose ISIS had no braaaaaaaaaaaaaaainsssssssss insiiiiiiide their headssssssssss, you ssseeeeeeeeeeee.”


And, meanwhile, not too far away, there was some ecstatic moaning.

Little Miss Frankenstein was showing the vampire Alucard that there were certain things that were definitely not unfit for her tender ears, and other tender parts, at all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Monday 18 January 2016

The Great Big Kashmir Novel Extravaganza: Fidayeen!

Hey guys and dis-guys.

Some time ago, if you recall, I'd said that I had written a novel called Fidayeen, on the separatist insurgency in Kashmir? What, you don't recall it? Well, you can refresh your memory here.

Well, guess what? It is now available for purchase.

I know, I know. You aren't interested in books, or while you're all right with a 3000-word short story, you don't have the patience to wade through a nearly 300-page-long novel. I understand.

However, what about your friends, relatives, and enemies, huh? What if they want to read a 300-page novel on Kashmir and you're depriving them of the opportunity? Could you live with yourself if you did that? Huh? Huh?

[Angry panting sounds as Bill wipes away furious tears.]

Oh, right, you're all willing to buy it now. How sweet of you. Sincerely. I appreciate it.

So where can you buy it?

In India, it is available on:

Amazon (India)

Shop Clues


Pustak Mandi

Or, you know, you can just go downtown and buy it in the book store. They actually still do exist.

I think.

If you're an overseas prospective buyer, don't despair! You can get it direct from the publisher, Amresh Singh of Panther House Publications. Here are the contact details, which involve all the effort of tapping away at a keyboard for a minute or so:

Email him at


 WhatsApp him at +918419850445

And then bloody well read it and review it. It's...the least you can do, and it'll give you an excuse for a blog article too.

Next weekend I should, unless the skies fall - or, you know, I get droned - be in Lucknow to formally release the book. Photos will be, hopefully, taken, and posted here, and you will be expected to see them too.

Gah! What more I have to do to get attention around here - dance naked but for an ISIS flag?

No, that's too much like cruel and unusual punishment, even if you all deserve it. And don't deny that you do.

The End Of The World

Every day the end of the world grew a little closer. Some mornings, standing at the upper window shaking out the blankets, Jill could see it in the distance, a sharp line where the world ended. Once, they’d had to drive out there in the old lorry, when Jack had wanted a picnic or Polly to conduct one of her experiments. But now it wasn’t even a particularly long walk.

Polly said it would probably reach the house before another year was through, but Jack disagreed. Jill thought it was probably because Jack didn’t want to admit it, not because he really thought that Polly was wrong. In any case she didn’t need Polly’s prognostications to see for herself that the house had only months left – and she wasn’t even a scientist.

Their names weren’t really Jack, Jill and Polly, of course. They didn’t know any longer what their names really were. It had been so long since they’d used them that they’d forgotten. They’d all fallen into such routines that they almost had no other identity apart from them. Jack minded the store and tinkered with the car and generator. Jill cooked, cleaned, and pottered around in the “garden”, scratching what growth she could from the dun-brown dirt. And Polly sat with her machinery and her test tubes and her furnaces and retorts in the laboratory, doing whatever she did all day.

One day they’d chosen the names from nursery rhymes, because they seemed to fit fairly well. But by now even they couldn’t quite remember how they thought the names had fit.

The store hadn’t been doing so well any longer, not since the end of the world had started getting close enough to see. Once upon a time they’d had customers crowding in, desert sprites and cuchuchillas, spiny molochmen and even the odd dune troll from out in the wastes. But now days would go by without a single visitor, and if a sandwalker or a mirage mangler stopped in, he or she would keep glancing nervously over his or her shoulder, as though the world was being bitten away in huge chunks and any minute the wall and shelves would vanish into the void.

Jill remembered well the first time she’d gone out to the end of the world and looked out into the void. It had been a literal void. The flat eroded desert ran up to the edge of the world and then just...stopped. There was nothing beyond.

“The sky ends there too,” Jack had pointed out. And, indeed, the metallic, burnt-out blue haze of the desert sky had just...stopped. At the end of the world there was nothing.

“What do you suppose is beyond the edge?” Jill had asked. “Do you think we might take a look?”

Polly had arched an eyebrow at her. “Before you do,” she’d said, “let’s check.” She’d picked up a pebble and tossed it across the boundary. It had reached the edge, hung in mid air for a few seconds as though frozen, and vanished.

“The earth at the edge is vanishing also,” Polly had said, kneeling and peering at the boundary. She’d whipped out some kind of complicated apparatus with scoped and lenses and moved it around the ground, reading off scopes. “We’ll have to keep measuring to see if it’s speeding up or disappearing at a constant rate.”

“Or if it’ll slow down and stop,” Jack said, but even then he’d had no certainty in his voice.

That had been then, and after that the world had kept disappearing. Sometimes it went a little faster, sometimes a little slower, but it kept vanishing into the void, day after day. Sometimes Jill lay awake at night in her narrow bed, imagining that it would come up and eat them all while they were sleeping.

One morning, she found a rock vampire crouching outside the door. The vampire blinked at her with its great pale eyes. When she half-heartedly raised her broomstick to threaten it, it raised itself on its claws and waddled away a few paces.

“What do you want?” she asked. “This is a human house. No rock vampires allowed here, unless it’s as a customer – and I’ve never known your kind to buy anything.”

The vampire cranked open its misshapen maw. “Sssssssshelter,” it hissed. “All I want isssss ssssssshelter for the day. I’ll go in the night.”

That was the first one. Each day after that she found more creatures, some of them outside, and a few of the smaller ones inside. None of them ever did any harm. Even the Thorn Tiger she found one dawn lying across the door did no more than raise an eyelid at her when she stepped over it. They stayed around for a day or two, gratefully ate and drank anything she could give them, and then went on their way.
“Do you think it’ll ever stop?” Jill asked Polly, visiting the lab so Jack wouldn’t overhear and scoff. “Or will it keep going on and on till there’s nothing left?”

Polly looked up from her work. “Yes, isn’t that wonderful?” she’d said. “The greatest scientific mystery of the age!” But nobody ever came from the cities to have a look, not even from the big universities that Polly said existed. Jill wasn’t quite certain that even the cities existed, let alone the universities. As far as she knew, they might be the only people in the world.

“What will we do when the end of the world reaches the house?” Jill worried every day, but she worried to herself. Jack refused to admit it would ever happen, and Polly thought it was the most fascinating thing. And each day, Jill, despite her worries, also carried on as usual, cooking meals by habit, cleaning the dust from the shelves, and scratching at the ground to plant crops that would be eaten by the end of the world long before they could sprout. It was as though she was in a cage she couldn’t break out of, and only she could even see the bars.

Then one night Jill was lying in bed when it happened. The end of the world was so close now that no longer did any fugitive creatures seek shelter for the day or the night – they’d fled already. The last customer they’d seen was a fortnight earlier, a gangling stilt-stalker who’d eyed them strangely and asked why they hadn’t left yet. And though by now the end of the world was almost at the end of the garden, Jack still acted as though it would stop of its own accord, and Polly still concentrated on studying it with her instruments, as though it wasn’t anything to worry about.

That night, Jill was lying in her narrow bed, trying to sleep, when she saw a light glowing and flickering through the window. It was a faint, greenish-blue light, so faint that at first she thought she was imagining it. Then she got out of bed and went to the window.

It loomed over the end of the world, a flickering haze that twitched and rippled. She stood for hours looking at it, but it never changed. When the night finally began to end, it faded, too, and by then it was too late to go to bed.

“Yes,” Polly said over breakfast. “I know what it is. That will be the light from the photons annihilating themselves as they reach the end of the world.” She went into a ten-minute dissertation on the physics of what was happening. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

Jill didn’t quite understand Polly’s long words, but interesting wasn’t the word she’d have chosen. And that night the flickering glow was back as soon as darkness fell. She could almost see it right through her closed eyelids, and repeating to herself that she was just imagining it didn’t help.

“We can’t stay here,” she said to Jack and Polly the next morning. “Surely even you two understand that?”

Jack looked as though he would have liked to argue, but Jill pointed out through the window. “Look there,” she said. “You can’t even see the sky any longer, and the stone spike beyond the garden is gone, too. By this time next month it’ll take the house.”

“Yes,” Polly agreed reluctantly. “I suppose it’s time to go.”

So they loaded up the old lorry with everything they could load into it, including all of Polly’s equipment, which she refused to leave behind, and the remaining stock of the shop, since, as Jack said, they  would have to start over somewhere else, wouldn’t they? So in the end it was, of course, Jill who had to leave almost everything of her own behind. Not that she would miss most of it, she thought, as the house, and the end of the world beyond it, finally began to recede into the distance. She’d hardly been noticing the existence of most of it anyway. It had receded into the general background, like the desert before the world began to end.

Jill sat in the cab of the lorry between Jack, who was driving, and Polly, and stared out at the desert. It had been so long since she’d come this way that she’d forgotten the stubby little hills they passed, the names of the villages of the molochmen, or the burrows of the desert sprites. But it didn’t matter anyway. The molochmen’s villages lay empty, the desert sprites’ burrows were beginning to fall in one themselves, and, as for the stubby little hills, they, too, would be gone soon enough.

They drove for hours, and more hours after that, until the end of the world had fallen so far behind it was as though they’d imagined it all. But the villages, the burrows, and even a town of the sandwalkers they passed through, with its lopsided towers and houses built out of piled stone, were empty, and they never saw a living thing except vegetation not yet so withered as to drift away on the wind.

“There’s nobody left,” Jill said. “Nothing living at all. I’ll bet if Polly checked the soil with her microscopes, she’d find that there aren’t even any bugs or bacteria any longer.”

Neither Polly nor Jack said anything to that.

When Jack grew tired, Polly drove, and after that Jill took the wheel, while the other two napped. By that time the night had come, and the headlights formed a dim lane of yellow down which she drove into the desert. Her eyes became weary of looking out into the headlight glow, and after a while she turned off the lights, just for a minute. After all, it wasn’t as though there was anyone else using the road, and it wasn’t as though it was anything but straight as a line laid out across the eroded rock of the desert floor.

And then she eased the truck to a stop and switched off the engine.

Beside her, Polly stirred sleepily. “Why have you stopped?”

“Look,” Jill said quietly, pointing through the windscreen.

They looked. Out in the distance, where the sky should meet the horizon, was a faint, flickering curtain of blue and green.

“It’s on both sides, too,” Jill said quietly. “It’s on all sides. The world is ending from all directions at once.”

Neither of the others said anything.


Jack, Jill and Polly stood by the old lorry and watched the end of the world close in from all sides.

Long ago, they’d decided to stop running. There was nowhere to run to. And, increasingly, as the world shrank, as the flickering glow ruled the night as the void walled off the day, they crowded to each other, not moving or speaking, just watching as the world closed in.

Standing, leaning against Polly’s shoulder, with Jack on her other side, not really sleeping and not really awake, Jill dreamed. In the dream they were on an island, in the middle of a silent sea. But they weren’t alone. A gigantic figure in a robe of flickering green and blue waded in the sea round and round the island, chopping away at it with an axe the colour of the desert. Little by little the island shrank, until the sea lapped at their toes, until they pressed as close to each other as they could in order not to fall in...and still the figure in the robe went on cutting.

“What should we do?” Polly said, and her words seemed to come inside Jill’s head, not in her ears.

“We must stay together,” Jill said. “Whatever happens, we must stay together.”

“Stay together,” she mumbled aloud, opening her eyes. For a moment she didn’t understand what she was seeing, for there was literally nothing before her eyes. Then she looked down at herself, and, very, very far below, she saw her feet, and beside them, a tiny box on wheels. It was the lorry.

Slowly, very slowly, she turned. All around there was nothing but the void, and, below her, the tiny, vanishing spot on which the lorry, now the size of an ant, still dwindled.

“Polly?” she asked. “Jack?” And then she added a third name. “Jill?”

There was no reply. Polly was gone, and so was Jack, and Jill was gone, too. There was only she, whoever she was. And there was the last scrap of world.

Slowly, slowly, she bent, took up the last dot of world in her hands, and held it up to her eyes. And she breathed on it, breathed on it with Polly’s knowledge, and Jack’s optimism, and, at last, with whatever it was that Jill had.  She breathed on it, held it to her breast, and, when it was ready, her hands began to knead and shape.

Half-dreaming, unsure of who she was, or if she had ever been, she began moulding a new world. 


Copyright B Purkayastha 2016