Obsessive Inertia

Badger, a large and proud example of his species, supposed he could help himself. He tried. It did not work. He tried again, and again.

He should let it go. He knew he should. Other badgers did not act worried. They pointed out to him that the Leader brought them no harm he could name. They said the fellowship of badgers might re-elect their Leader for another term. They might turn over more of their lives to the Leader, to live for them.

So why couldn’t Badger go along? He shook himself. He ate an earthworm. He asked himself, ‘If I can’t forget how the world is going, can I somehow use my worrying to reach any goals?’

He laughed cynically at his question. He knew his neighbours accepted the New Security their nearly-enough elected Leader promised them. Things and thinking frightened his neighbours, thinking most of all. The Leader relieved them of the need to think. The Leader provided slogans they substituted for thought. Why couldn’t Badger relax and be like them?

Why was he obsessed?

He laid out his thoughts, and found them meagre. So he laid them out again. He found them paltry.

‘As far as talent goes,’ he said, ‘I could be the Leader. Neither of us has the sense to come in out of the reign.’

Then he, a badger who by definition and nature should be biting, felt his conscience bite him. The pain was ferocious. He stood it, because he had to. The pain was horrendous. He withstood it. He was by nature and experience a stoic. His conscience bit him again, harder. Badger rolled in the dirt in front of his sett, and he cried.

Guards noted Badger’s crying. They looked around to learn what else they they could report to the Leader. No one helped Badger. He ran out of tears and went below.

He felt blank, and relieved. And no wiser.

‘It’s the fault of the bagpipes,’ Badger told himself. ‘That music wipes me out. It is the sound of a reason for living, left over even now.’

‘Was it my conscience?’

His obsession resurged. It chafed him for not doing what he should. It berated him with fully-orchestrated, over-the-top remonstrance against his Not Doing Anything.

‘I do not know enough. I have no proof. I must be cautious and well-grounded …’

No good. His conscience held him fast but not kindly. He could not block out knowing what he knew: Bagpipes played less frequently. People sang protest songs less often. More people stopped protesting as Leader’s henchmen dismantled old laws protecting Earth from human greed.

‘I know too little to act,’ thought Badger. ‘I know too much to sleep.’

‘Maybe I am starting at shadows,’ he thought. No one had threatened him. Guards had asked him to join Secure Church. They told him the Leader tolerated bagpipe players if they joined Secure Church. They showed him the Leader’s Executive Orders protecting Secure Church members even if they towelled off oil-downed seabirds. They left him copies of Executive Orders protecting silent Secure Church members who attended no services.

Badger heard something, a far-away baying. It got louder. He remembered that sound. He ran up out of his sett to warn his neighbours. Baiters!

Badger felt strangely relieved. Dogs could not hurt him as much or as long as his conscience and suspicions and fears did. He was the size of a spaniel and twice as strong. He had claws.

‘I am looking forward to fighting, and to dying,’ he said.

Security Dogs and Guards surrounded Badger. The Guards kept the Security Dogs leashed. The Guards shocked him with cattle prods, and shocked him again each time he moved.

Each time they shocked him, he moved.

This went on for some time.

That evening’s Security News showed Badger flinging himself from side to side. Security Dogs in the video were restrained. No Guards were in sight. The video showed colour close-ups of the badger’s teeth with blood on them. His black, swollen tongue. His powerful claws trembling inches from the cameraman. Inches!

The Security News announcer intoned: ‘Not only loud protestors, but also the silent minority can be dangerous. Dangerous to our norms and values. Exercise Lightning unearthed and neutralised one of the dangerous today. The war on nature will be a long one, but we will not quit until we have won.’

As far as watchers could tell, Badger’s conscience no longer troubled him.

Un hombre con una sombra dorada

Érase una vez un hombre con una sombra dorada. No tenía yo ninguna idea de dónde vino esa oración. Afuera estaba oscuro y oía la llegada de la tormenta llamada ‘Dorus’ – el viento fuerte, la lluvia intensa. Otra vez oía la frase en mi mente: ‘Érase una vez un hombre con una sombra dorada.’

¿Era la frase inicial de una historia? ¿Debería leerlo? ¿Escribirlo yo mismo? ¿Cómo es posible una cosa así – una sombra dorada?

No lo sabía. Pero sabía dónde estaba yo. Estaba en mi cama al amanecer del día en una de mis seis favoritas temporadas. Me sentí rico teniendo tantas estaciones favoritas, seis de las ocho. Las cuatro tradicionales – primavera, verano, otoño e invierno – y también sus cuatro sombras para las cuales no hay nombres en todas las lenguas humanas. Incluida ésta estación, mi favorita.

Él empezó a llamarme, ese hombre con la sombra dorada. Quería contarme su historia, para que yo la escribiera para que todos la leyeron. Pero luego me desperté.

Burnt Ochre Battalions — Chapter One


The colour called burnt ochre seeps though the leaves
of a tree festooned with umbrage jackdaws took.
Assembled skunks vote Less Reality
but to no avail. We’re post democracy.

A brighter note: on this farm near Alhaurin
a chimpanzee has succeeded teaching me
their language. I have learned that the sounds they make
mean, if anything, additional punctuation
to their sentences that they share by beaming light
from their eyes and even directly from their minds.

‘Telepathy,’ I marvel. She replies,
‘Hallelujah, I wasn’t sure that it would work:
my years devoted to find one sentient human.
We had suspected what your kind does might be thinking
but while you, all of you, effectively stayed dumb
my colleagues thought I chased a Fata Morgana.’

She beamed to me an image: ‘Look, banana.’
She beamed, ‘It’s yours if you “say” more words.’
I tried and tired. She smiled, her massive teeth
encouraged me enough to try to flee.
Which didn’t work. It never did. She’s faster.
Moreover, for her strength I’m a pushover.

I tried to beam, and suddenly a ‘Help’
escaped my cranium. She leapt and smiled.

‘I’ll tell the world humans cán speak,’ she beamed. She looked strong.
Then she started crying. I beamed her, ‘What’s wrong?’

She and I both noticed that I had made
my first beaming sentence. We exchanged high fives.
Jackdaws in the ochre tree outside
whooped with laughter at our simian display
and chivvied the skunks for wanting to go home.

The chimpanzee beamed – communication was getting easy –
that humans had one strength her species lacked.
‘I can’t tell my world,’ she confided. ‘We can’t write.
I would have to see every living member of my kind
to share with them my world-beating new discovery
that humans, at least one, can talk and think.’

In Alhaurin all that day and into the evening
she, strong beamer, and I, a scrivener, spanned
the pillars of our cross-species conversation
with lists of our respective strengths and weaknesses
and by teatime we had hatched a wondrous plan.

Obsessive Inertia

Yesterday I published ‘Obsessive Inertia’ over at Medium, which, as they say about themselves, is

‘a place where everyone has a story to share and the best ones are delivered right to you. Every day, thousands of people turn to Medium to publish their ideas and perspectives. Leaders. Artists. Thinkers. And ordinary citizens who have a story to tell. Posts range from scrutinies of world affairs to deeply personal essays.’

I like reading stories at Medium with a browser at their website and also with their app on phones and tablets. I will probably post more of my own there too.


Jack the Unicorn

It had been there an hour, or maybe two, or six, and no one had noticed. Not that the unicorn was invisible or lurking; no one saw it because everyone knew unicorns were extinct. Except one. This one. Jack.

Jack was getting very tired. He fancied a bag of oats or better a bucket of single malt. His coat was dusty but his horn glittered brightly. SUV’s drove by.

One of the SUV’s was tarted up with ever so many off-road gadgets that its owners enjoyed showing to their neighbours and might actually use someday. It zoomed along carrying three people in fair comfort: a father reading the maps, a mother driving, and – alone in a welter of gear in the back – Cynthia.

Cynthia, not knowing what she was looking for, looked out into the dark and saw Jack.

‘Mom, Dad, a unicorn!’ is what she did not cry out.

Cynthia was not born yesterday. For all she knew the unicorn might have been, so she did not want to startle it by calling out ‘Unicorn!’ What she did shout was, ‘The bridge is out!’

Mom slammed on the brakes. Dad explored the dash the way a mole would: eyes shut, hands and nose all over the tasteful plastic and wood trim.

The SUV shuddered and stopped with its brakes squealing with the sound a unicorn makes when it can’t help laughing.

Jack laughed; he could not help it. Dad looked at Mom. Mom looked in the mirror, at Cynthia.

‘Sorry,’ said Cynthia, ‘I was dreaming I still had braces.’

The other SUV’s kept to the tarmac, speeding up to pass Mom and Dad and Cynthia in their vehicle parked mostly off the road.

‘Afraid we’ll ask for help,’ Dad said.

Mom looked at the traffic. Cynthia looked as Jack. He was really there, ten metres from the rear bumper. In the grass. In the shadows.

Standing out, thought Cynthia, with that signal horn on his brow, and with those ruddy muddy eyes. ‘Can you hear me?’ she mouthed soundlessly.

‘Of course not,’ Jack answered, ‘but I lip read. Any single malt in there, then?’

There was, actually. Bottles and bottles of single malt, one open and mostly empty. Mom said traffic frightened her too much to attack it sober.

‘Why?’ lipped Cynthia.

‘Horsepower,’ answered Jack. He laughed, not unattractively, and the ayre leaked out of the SUV’s tyres.

‘I think we’ve got a flat,’ Dad said, quick as a whelk.

‘Yes,’ Mom answered, ‘and a house in Provence. We won’t get there tonight sitting here on our berm.’

‘I’ll fix it,’ Dad said, moving as if he were about to get a move on, up tools, and open the door.

Mom, as he had hoped, beat him to it. She cleared her open window to land noisily outside. She popped the spayre tyre from the back of the SUV, looked at each wheel and squealed, ‘They’re all flat!’

Modus ponens

The squirrel was demonstrating how to build up all logic gates just from NAND but the visiting pair of jackdaws wanted to move on and discuss Shelah’s classification of countable first-order theories. We did that for long enough (35 seconds) to see that none of us had any idea what we were talking about. The husband jackdaw noted that darkness was approaching and the wife jackdaw pointed out that negations, such as darkness, can’t ‘approach’ or in fact ‘do’ anything. I was wishing we had met outside instead of in my study, birds not being noted for being continent. The squirrel sensed my concern and asked, ‘Is that the cat behind the sofa?’ Both jackdaws flew out the window but they will be back at first light …