The role of god is a maddening twenty four hour experience complete with overtime and few rewards. A job where there is no clocking out, no in house psychiatric care and no chance of early retirement. When the thing in the big chair loses the plot, whose job is it to save the world?
a genius to figure out how a Russian Doll story might go, and that each layer
is held together by a common theme. Though you can be forgiven for not
knowing the golden rule: if the listener asks a single and particular question
correctly, the narrator is obliged to tell the story within the story, oh yes.
London. Morning. The shower
from the heavens, seemingly eternal, thought Spiderfingers.
Should I live through the night, I'll
change the rules of the game. Forever.
up Crown Street’s dire colourless landscape, his mind whipping through recent
adventures, memories of a Play-Doh figurine dubbed Danger-man, and
of course, he leafed through the memory of his black folder, the collection of
wild stories inside.
on welcoming his star with a wave, that new pal of his, all bundled up in
that oversized heavy green overcoat; that curl of brunette poking from under
her niqab. She’ll be the one to say hello – if I’ve played my
cards right. Only one way to be sure, he thought,
half-jogging against the cold. When
he reached the bus stop, he snuggled into the corner of the long bench,
grinning, journal in hand.
ENTRY Three Hundred and Twenty Six
Operation Genie Bottle is going well, despite
continual observation by Doctor’s Kwame and Silberman. Kwame sat through
Bradley the Boy Wonder, patiently taking it all in. Not a fucking word.
A few signals to Silberman across the road. Just sits there next to
Steph, watching. They wanna be
noticed. Fuck em. They’ll get what my enemies get: nothing. I
number these entries for a reason. I do this so that the next time I
meet battalions of Odin or Thor, I’ll show them. I’ll show them how I don’t
acknowledge their ownership of the week. Thorsday can kiss my
arse. There is only entry three hundred and twenty six, fuck you very
The banner on
the side of Steph’s bus, advertisement for a movie called Death Warrant.
Starring Vicky Buchannan. Her face all covered with blood. I heard
Nat’s voice in my mind as I read the blurb: Mayhem, mental illness and
murder await those who discover Spiderfingers. I must be mindful
of these tricks of the brain. I’ll never forge direct contact with Miss World
intervening weeks since Bradley the Boy Wonder involved considerable task-work,
so much in the way of preparation. His actions felt noble to him.
His tactic of making her wait and wait for so many weeks, a logical necessity,
tension being a fantastic application for an audience. He turned the
corner of Pratt Street, dived into the huddle of waiting businessmen and other
bus stop users and sang, “A smile is free, so grin with me!” His stink caused
enough movement, but not enough for Steph to leave with a gaggle of deserters.
she’d laid out on the bench enthralled him. If life were his play to
direct, the stage would quickly fade to black for a moment, a lone spotlight
illuminating the brolly’s navy blue canvas, studded with droplets of moisture,
to really drive the point home, that this formed a makeshift barrier between
them. Her nervy excitement radiated through the letterbox opening of
her religious tailoring. No need for the guitar-playing to render
me harmless.Besides, he thought, there are only so many
tunes I can play on that hard-to-tune travesty. He watched her
produce a small silver-chrome Dictaphone from her bag. She reached
into her coat for something else. A gold coin.
What? Hey, my stories are free so close your
purse, save your money. You may think I suffer chilblains throughout the
night, but this Superman hoodie works wonders. Sometimes I’ve gotta shake
off the jacket cos it all gets a little too much.
Warmth, food, happiness, all these creature
comforts exist only in the mind.
Like that one? Thank you. Vagabond Zen
101, that is. It’s a how-to book for me; society’s trash. I’m still
soft-writing it. These days, I rarely write anything down.
Notebooks aren’t cheap and that crazy idea I had with a spray can never quite
worked out. Believe me, Steph, you don’t
wanna know. So yeah, Vagabond Zen. Some choose the street-life,
y’know? Some people hate themselves that much.
Yeah, maybe when it’s done – if you play your
Maybe, but then you’d be guessing wouldn’t
you? You’re going to need at least three stories before you can sleuth
out the theme that holds all the dolls together.
clicked the red button on the Dictaphone whilst Spiderfingers noted the
smile upon her lips. He warned her to, “Listen
with the mind-set of a writer.” She ignored the stink of him for his
words, for this wasn’t true kinship, not yet. He
reintroduced himself as Rumple,
bored.” He replied. Spiderfingers slipped seamlessly into the Jane
Faye character once more. The Southern black American drawl, the ample
attempt at feminising his timbre, these telling details all displaying Jane
Faye: Back-Specialist, not Spiderfingers: street orator. With a
well-practiced wink, he began the performance. “Time has stopped,” He projected
his voice toward the whirring machine, leaning in, closer. His voice
raised above the hiss of rain on pavement, affecting it with as much black
American twang as possible. “Now, Bradley, this tale begins with legs.
This story starts with people walking.”
By Jane Faye
red-rimmed glasses – a little like my own – you look around you, Bradley.
Above you, legs rush to and fro; busy lives, fleeting, judgmental in their
indifference. What do they know, those unfeeling carnivores in Dolce
& Gabbana? Always penniless when they spot your sign, they shake their
heads at your outstretched hands, as invisible coins jangle happily in their
disappearing pockets. Somewhere you can hear children sing jingle bells.
You remember someone from your past ask for help:
needs tinsel, man.”
younger, not quite yourself, half-asleep on a charcoal coloured sofa in a
student pad over-looking Turnpike Lane station. You’ve long since taken
on the scent of wet dog and cigarettes. The uncomfortable furniture
twists your spine, until you can barely feel the aching that shoots through
your weary protruding bones. But that was years ago, the concrete has
since become your pillow, and you know something, Bradley, cement bedding’s
completely free of charge. Daily trips to the job centre are no longer
required. You’re a loser, and now you belong to London’s pavements, part
of a colossal company of losers. You’re sitting on the pavement outside a
Starbucks, and you’re lost.
bottle of White Lightning fails to drown out the jackhammer drumrolls of London
Town, you escape. Your fantasies are relief, a parallel universe to
escape the drab bleakness of your minute to minute. It is a London – of
sorts – but it is your London. In this realm, ‘history’
is too weak a word to describe your chronicle. If your life were printed
in primary coloured collectibles, you wouldn’t have a biography – you’d have an
origin. And the O word equals saga doesn’t it?
thousands of years ago, the demigod Boleraam fled to Earth, the last survivor
of a brutal civil war. A clash sparked over the proposed emancipation of
mortal-kind. In agreement regarding the nature of gods and the horrifying
weakness in human souls, Mother Nature helped Boleraam create a wall between
deities and the apes, it being in her best interests to prevent the arrival of
your jealous off-world brethren. So many eco-systems sucked dry in their
wake. So many of Gaia’s scattered sisters, raped. Dying planets
forced to eject living weapons, odd creatures in the form of microbes
buried deep, securely placed within the heart of meteorites. Those
meteors landing on Earth for champions to discover, wield and defend her.
that his own need for adulation might become a threat, Boleraam allowed Mother
Nature to suspend him under the Earth’s crust, to only awaken him in her
darkest hour. When warriors of the gods eventually found their way
through the age old division, Gaia released Boleraam from his
slumber. She bound the welfare of the barrier to Boleraam’s
soul. Should one be destroyed, so would the other. To aid
his integration with twenty first century life, Gaia spliced Boleraam’s quiddity
with the egotist, John Clay. Oh yes, Boleraam seized John Clay’s
soul, wrapped himself inside and ruined them both. The scruffy tramp
whose eyes you wear today? Well, you’re the fusion of god and
human. You deserve a new name. Back when John Clay played
in a blues band in a bar on Kingly Street, the barman mocked him
mercilessly. The silly way he fluttered his fingers over the keys
like an insect scratching against the glass of a jam jar. Ladies and
gentleman, I give you John ‘Spiderfingers’ Clay.
focus shifts back to the present, you find that your pace has slowed.
Loser. You’re a liar, pretending you can’t feel the ice creep across
your flesh. One foot follows another, on and on. You’re a traveller
without a destination. Cold can’t kill what it can’t catch. Then
you turn a street corner and meet him. An ordinary man, in need of help.
“He came to
me in a dream and he says he don’t care,” says the twisted weakling before
you. This man has no legs Bradley, and, entombed within his rusty
wheelchair he points, stabbing his fingers into the torn white Levis that hold
two broomstick stumps where legs ought to be. “Jesus don’t love me. He
told me hisself,” he cries, pointing at the squat black lady with the winter
coat and sensible shoes. She towers above him, a malevolent presence;
holding photocopied lies in her gloved hands. Each word that leaves her
mouth in a polluted, oily bubble, a foul expulsion that coats her lips with a
slick of dishonesty.
Jesus, m’dear. That be the devil!”
How can you
save him, Bradley? You see the twisted untruths of Christianity for the rusted
bent out spokes they are, but you remember your promise to Mother Earth so
Do not show your face. Do not
spread your faith. Protect humankind from the shadows. Gods bring
suffering to the apes.
lady’s trying to push the cripple now, her fat hands curled around the thin
frame of his wheelchair, wrestling with the handbrake clamped around the left
tire and mumbling lightly under her breath.
“You got the
devil in you, son,” she growls, covering his bald head with a sheen of black
effluence that drips down into his blinking eyes, “You must visit our
church. Tonight! My congregation can heal you. You’ll see. We
must burn out the fallen one, burn him right out!”
is thick, West Indian, quoting passages from the bible as she shakes the chair,
sending the shrunken invalid flying this way and that, in time with her wash of
lies. Gloomy, oily bubbles float around them both, until the air is heavy
with dark falsehood. The man in the chair moans, refusing to relent – oh
– part of him wants to believe he’s a victim of demonic possession. The
man in the chair wants to be special, just like you, Bradley.
Do not show your face.
disabled guy, he sounds proud of his nightmare, the way only the wretched can
when listing the details of their own wretchedness. He says he lost his
legs in Afghanistan, but he’s far too old to have fought that war. You can
hear her screaming now. It’s time to run, run, run! Behind you,
Bradley, passers-by shout for police. The wheel of an upturned wheelchair
spins slowly and silence descends. What happens now, after all that
chaos? You’re slumped in between two buildings, staring at the red smears
across the pale skin of your palms. You hear yourself whimper, “I could
have handled that better.”
You stop for
breath after another five-minute dash, deciding prison is a better place to
dream. You sit out in the open, where any passing bobby can confirm your
identity via radio, and you beg, paper cup in hand.
the shape of humans pass you by as the city’s orchestra of eternal road-works
and vehicle honks play the Ballad of London. The mechanical opus
cannonballs against your chest, and it keeps you hating. The song crashes
through your torso, reverberating off each rib, shaking your lungs with tremendous melody.
Without warning, the words tumble from you, out into the night. You’re
bellowing indignant rage, your mouth a siege of angry ulcers and abbesses the
size of golf-balls. God, it’s a horrible hole in your face and it just
gets wider and wider, barking over the world’s constant automated din:
SPREAD YOUR FAITH!”
are Spiderfingers, and you’d gladly swap street life for a sexual
embarrassment, a couple of weeks in a wheelchair after – ahem – that incident
involving a wardrobe and your ten inch cock. You look down at your cup;
the word ‘Starbucks’ is barely legible under the grime. You loser fuck!
That’s right – you just glare at your empty paper bank account. A cup,
thrown away by someone you used to be.
to be homeless, you know.” John Clay would tell his date, over a three figure
bottle of wine. Her head rests on her right palm, the noose of a golden
chain swings limply from her wrist, but she’s smiling, glowing pleasure from
across the restaurant table. He can feel it.
let the weight of life drag you down.” he says, nodding, gesticulating. “You
can take a break, maybe. But you can’t give up. Or the weight will
pull you under. Like them, a lifetime of drowning.” Oh God, her dress!
Its bright red – no – inferno red – generously cut. Her breasts strain
against the fabric, but John Clay cannot employ the safe distance available to
others, those other males seated at other tables. Unlike them his focus
cannot linger there.
hits him with it. Blocks his last point. Counters him with some
hard-hitting statistic, some wall of fact, erected high and out of nowhere.
He must pole-vault this hurdle to win her. And so? He leaps:
people aren’t victims. There are jobs for the strong-willed.” This is, of
course, long before the break-up, the agoraphobia, the resignation. All
this before he joined with Boleraam to become what you are today.
Spiderfingers. But your rebirth as a demigod came with such a high
price. You had to give up living with humans, didn’t you? Your presence
turned housemates into superheroes, pets into demons, rooms into kingdoms, vast
microcosms ruled by multi-coloured mechanised descendants of video cameras.
living DVD players and remote controls.”
Best to stay
out of the way then. The man you used to be watches from the inside and cries
for you. It was him, wasn’t it? John Clay was the weak part of your
psyche that convinced you to get out of the game completely. Forget
keeping tabs on your clergy, you have to keep yourself safe, right? Their
deaths instead of billions. Oh yes, it was John that succumbed to the
promise of an institution’s warm bed – never mind the electro-therapy – at
least you time off from fighting invisible monsters. A clink of coins,
interrupts your reverie. Or did you imagine the instalment? What does it
matter? No small change loan can erase your on-going tragedy. You’ve
slept on so many benches, eaten from so many bins, skulked inside so many
doorways; lost your job, adopted family, warm bed. Or maybe you gave them
away? For a task more noble, perhaps? But your inner city, your secret London,
she allows you to re-record an outcome with an artists’ eye. Like a twenty-first
century Homer perfecting some Neo-Iliad. You, its chief protagonist.
the bloody scenes in every detail, editing out sharp truths too prickly for
your own recollection. In this alternative world, you could never drive
your thumbs through the eyes of an old lady, a Jehovah’s Witness.
If that were
a story, you wouldn’t tell it. Not to anyone. No, what really
happened is this: you dealt her a spiritual blow, delivered via a weapon that
sleeps in saliva. Yes, that’s it. You’re a loser reconstituted,
Bradley, an unsung hero, unappreciated by those you swore to defend. You
are made from a rib of the real. Oh god of Chaos, you’ve a worthy tale to
tell! You need only be asked. A man without legs needs to know the truth.
You know his begging spots; it won’t take long to find him. But you
hesitate in your tracking. Mother’s words slow you down:
Do not show your face. Do not spread
your faith. Protect humankind from the shadows. Gods bring suffering to
No, you mutter, Gaia lacks the understanding of humans. Her
words deal in absolutes that blind her. That’s why she needs you.
Your half-human existence is perfect for occasions like this. The
more followers you have, the greater your power. You need to be powerful
to protect Mother Nature. Besides, what she doesn't know won’t kill her.
Safe in the
disused toy factory you drag him to, you speak your words. No trees or
animals to pick up on your blasphemy. They’ll be no interference from
mother tonight. The disabled war veteran sobs through his new
penitence. Oh, his fear, it feeds you and you invite him to see your
flaming hair, a fiery crown of celestial royalty, which flickers pale ochre,
round across your scalp.
idols,” you warn him, “The inferno of jealousy I harbour is but a misplaced
prayer away.” The event is branded onto his memory, your hair sizzling in his
“I love the
backstory for Spiderfingers, er, Rumple?” said Steph.
nodded, clapping, confirming that Rumple was his new preferred name. “Harry
Potter’s England has a government in cahoots with the fantasy world to cover up
any weirdness. How does Spiderfingers’ ongoing battle with minions go unnoticed?
What’s the conceit?”
“It helps to
think of the divine as … celebrities.” he played with Steph’s umbrella, “There
is a ‘clean-up crew’, neutral entities. The Pseudologoi. It’s their
job to erase any sign of supernaturalism. Anything that can’t be
explained by science, gone. Any witness to the oddities of war, they have
their memories cleansed.”
edged a little closer to her Dictaphone,
“There is no
way my jealous brethren would risk me – sorry – risk Spiderfingers gaining the
fear or the praise of humans. Gaia shares their point of view, albeit
with a few exceptions. She allows the
clean-up crew to pass through the god-hex and scrub any potential scandal from
civilian minds. What good is power without Public Relations?”
how come the Pseudo-whatsits didn’t cleanse the mind of that wheelchair man?”
Pseudologoi rely on the Earth Mother’s guidance. So long as there
are no plants or wild-life in the area, Gaia’s embargo is ineffective.
Lot of people see stuff they can’t prove, all cos the Pseudologoi missed them
in their rounds. In short: Miss World has blind spots.”
nodded. Then she asked another question, the right one, but intuition
told Spiderfingers that she really wanted to ask something else entirely.
is delusional, and if he would retell his story about the old woman, what would
he say? What happened in his version?”
follow ...” he lied. And he allowed himself to hope. He poured a
molten deluge of belief into his plans for Steph.
that sleeps in saliva? You … He told her something that hurt her,
somehow. That’s the next story isn’t it?” She rose to her feet as a bus
hissed to a stop at the kerb, disgorging its passengers into the street.
He made a show of brushing himself off, moving to embrace her, forgetting his
particularly pungent smell. Eau de Tramp. Steph flinched, and
shoved the Dictaphone into her pocket, not even bothering to press stop.
The bus she boarded? It wasn’t even the two seventy-four. In her
effort to flee from him, she’d forgotten her umbrella. Spiderfingers
waved it madly, shouting above the roar of the bus engine, trying to make Steph
hear him. He ignored the stares of people who’d played silent witness to
his ramblings, withholding eye-contact with the more curious as he roared
“Steph!” He glared at her during her furious swipe after swipe of her Oyster
card. He bellowed during her frantic rubbing of her wallet, the leather
case rolling over the scanner again and again. He didn’t know what she
was saying but when Steph pointed at him, he realised some deal had been struck
with the driver. Everyone watching him as he held his head with both
hands, screaming Steph’s name. He watched her not swivel round like
last time. No wave goodbye, no smiling. He ran through the hail
after the bus, Steph’s umbrella clung to his side as he charged through the
heavy spray that had become the enemy, an opposing force determined to blind
and confuse him. On his left flank a young man ran beside him. That
young man from two months ago in the billboard. Tall, slicked black hair,
a giant bloody cavity where his chest ought to be. Nat, go away, not
now. He batted away at his imaginary running partner, spluttering
through the fumes of the bus, his tunnel vision married to the speeding
vehicle as it steadily became a red blur on the other side of his
rain-speckled-badly-cracked glasses. He pressed
on, belligerently fighting through the reek of pollution, nowhere
near fast enough to catch up, his super speed a thing of the past. A
story motif to share with youngsters one day, perhaps. He would look into
the eyes of eager children as he conveyed a sanitised version of his street
theatre. Soon, the distance between himself and Steph’s bus was far away
enough for him to drop the act. His face full of success, his hand gripping
his Navy blue prize.
N E X T T I M E I N S P I D E R F I N G E R S
“I want you,
Steph. I want you.” She giggled at his absurdity. His words
sweeping over hers, rescuing her from the great sea of worry. No
small-talk, no “hey, how's your morning been?” Just in
with that voice, ransacking her baggage, issues she’d promised
to resolve one day. His voice
slinging problematic history into hungry waves.