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?
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.
From her standing place, squashed among
fellow passengers, Steph decided the plan to head three stops in the wrong
direction would be sufficient to escape her killer tramp. She had a
classroom to run. And so, after a brief internal argument, she adjusted
her niqab, hoisted her handbag onto her shoulder and swapped the bus for the
downpour of rain and hailstones. She scanned the pavement ahead, peered
over tops of hats and umbrellas. The
homeless man with the Superman hoodie and big coat had vanished.
her steps along Albany Street till she entered the rowdy car horn fanfare, the
utter madness of the Gloucester Gate intersection. She flagged down a
black cab, agreed to the absurdity of the fare as she leapt inside messily,
pulling the wet folds of blackness in after her. After all, it was better
to spend some silly money on a taxi than head back even further and risk a
second encounter – especially in the rainy weather. I might run
straight into him, thought Steph. There’s no telling what he might
do. Push his thumbs through my eyes perhaps? Just like he had done to the
old woman in his story.
the back of the taxi, Steph massaged the tenseness in her neck. The small
of her back still ached but the scent of Milo’s Calvin Klein aftershave clung
to her hair. Even her clothes smelt of him. She closed her eyes
harking back to the night before, how thick biceps encircled her waist, pulled
her close, much closer still. Hot breath warm on her bare skin. For
now, Milo’s features were far more appreciable than anything Spiderfingers had
to offer. Lost in her dreamland, Steph hardly noticed the journey at all,
as the residential sprawl of North London fell away, only to be replaced by the
tall glass peaks of The City. It took the crescent moon atop the London
Central Mosque to catch her eye, to remind her of herself.
remembered why she wore her Muslim attire. Her mind flooded with the
regret and shame that followed every transgression from her religious path.
But her main preoccupation was Spiderfingers. No dishonour could
distract her from the man. She felt idiotic for dusting her college
Dictaphone; for stupidly returning his polite plaque encrusted grins.
Often she had seen him, the odd hello infusing her with a grand sense of
humanity. Cheaper than buying a Big Issue and definitely more
fulfilling. Those gum-diseased smiles.This was
the way he had sought and gained my trust. Spiderfingers: a strange,
sad character gifted with a great speaking voice, damned with an acute mental
imbalance. Either he was a killer who fantasised about being some sort of
demigod, or alternatively – more improbably – Spiderfingers, Rumple – whatever
– was a demigod who wanted to be a homeless killer. Why do the
delusional always pick such grandiose alter-egos? Her storyteller
spelt bad news. Still, Steph knew she would return to Camden again
soon. As if on cue, her phone began to flash:
you? You won’t believe what I’ve just been through. Remember that Spider
“I have to
see you,” replied a refined older voice, “I must see you,
Steph squeezed her Nokia. She felt her pulse quicken at the sound of
Milo’s voice, a rumbling fatherly wave that washed all the recent mental scum
from her forethought, “I need to see you again. I think
we should break our rule.”
in spite of herself, and tried to hide her shortness of breath as she recalled
Milo’s fingers lightly caressing her thighs, “Milo, I’ve broken enough rules to
last a lifetime.”
more won’t hurt.”
“– My kinky little
prefer if you stuck to something more traditional? Honey, perhaps?”
“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. That day in primary school sunk beneath
bottomless waters. That day eliciting her attention, no
matter the distracting activity she employed. Only Milo’s voice
could drown it. No sister called Margery to be jealous of.
Just his voice. No crooked nose to hide away from view.
His arms. No impending class to teach. Rebelliousness,
leading to deep feelings of acceptance, god I’m pathetic.
we lose the Niqab motif? You want original, how about Nursey Wursey?” The
silliness that he uses to offset his intelligence. It’s not just
about who he is; it’s the way he sees me. “Well, my hooded harlot of the
a step too far, Milo.”
Silence. Waiting. I must
make him wait before I eventually say:
Ninja will see you at six.”
And boy, does she have a story to tell
The Cromwell Toy factory had been desolate
since nineteen ninety two, arguably, the perfect site for developers to raise a
shopping centre, but Camden’s township had successfully campaigned against the
renovation. Cromwell Toy Factory therefore stood deserted, uninhabitable,
only the unbelievably desperate would live through the factory’s infestation of
rats and stale air.
getting out of this one, fucker.” Spiderfingers was busy, squirming alone in
the darkness of the factory floor, rust and garbage covered conveyor belts
surrounded him. He was industrious, binding chains tight over himself,
not caring about the pain of overzealous wrapping. Winding these large
restraints to him and the radiator would make his morning easier, where
inevitably, he’d wake up with snatches of murder cutting through his
memory. He had seen a character do this in Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, John Clay’s favourite T.V show.
Oz, a noble
college-school kid who chained himself up during the day. A person taking
responsibility for the werewolf he became at night. But thinking of Oz
only made things worse, because Oz had been a practical monster. Why
didn’t I bolt the door as well? Why can’t I be more like Oz? He glared
at the failing metallic door sure to rip out of its hinges, courtesy of his
night-self and the chain-faced minion that would arrive in the next hour or so. His
sense of impotence passed soon enough, transmuting into a dark resignation.
There was no way any exit could contain the thing he became at
night. Still, he checked and double checked the steadfastness of his
metal braces. He blocked out the futility of the event, reminding himself
that suicide was for selfless World War II commandos or conflicted artists
unable to handle the chaos of showbiz. For Spiderfingers, death was
certainly not an option: My death seals the fate of billions.
He sought to remind himself that at least with his self-imposed captivity, the
bastard he transformed into would have a few moments of frustration before his
inevitable break out.
Just a few more nights like this. He twisted calloused dirty fingers
through the silver manacles, his hand diving into his brittle flaking jacket.
The book there held the secret to his sanity. He scanned the
passages scribbled between aquamarine covers. These were more than words,
these were lines for recital. Specific stage direction for the role his
life-play relentlessly demanded:
Entry Three Hundred and Thirty Eight
John Clay’s love of the superhero genre more
than likely affects Spiderfingers’ self-perception. Spiderfingers is John
Clay’s wish fulfilment made flesh. He only kills as a last resort, never
for fun. He is not a maniac.
Lost in the
intricacies of his study, he didn’t notice the girl in the school uniform enter
Spider.” Vicky leaned over him as he scrambled to nudge his journal back into
the crustiness of his pocket. “... Soooo … What’s with the bondage look? Is
this how Superman gets off?”
you know about my nightlife doesn’t mean I’m ready to talk. How come
you’re always so late?”
Then arguments with mum about detention. Then screaming that I’m going
out, even though I’m grounded for?”
deity indulging in bondage gets a B plus!”
the insecurity in your answer that fails you, my lord.”
supposed to ask you about school so we’ll start sharing and crying and talking
about my chains, and my … night situation.”
O.G, but we both know you’ve never had detention in your life. Being the
bad girl was more your sister’s role.
Seriously, O.G, why’re you always so late?”
called me O.G since I was little.”
“Oh no, no
problem. Object Girl to the rescue! Hey, remember how I could never say
lisp! Spiderzfingers. Ha, Spazz-face! Can you still call people Spazz-Face?”
“Oh … Oh,
O.K.” Vicky’s high pitched giggling mixed with his raucous pirate cackling, the
laughter filling the factory up, making it warmer somehow.
“How did you
become who you are?”
asked Spiderfingers, unable to mask how much the question caught him off guard.
like, the sidekick of the great and powerful Spiderfingers. I ought to be able to get the origin story
you don't remember?”
pieces. I’d just turned seven. Like you don't wanna tell me?” she smiled.
puff-up-the-chaos-god’s-ego trick.” He settled back a little, his chains
jingled but they may as well have been tied around someone else. Someone far away.
“John Clay had this idea, that if he wore a
well-known symbol every day, people would sooner associate him with the brand
than with the symbol’s original placement. Being a street fundraiser, playing in a band,
writing a music blog, running a YouTube channel, trying his hand at stand-up
comedy – you get the picture.”
you wore it all the time? That sounds crazy.”
was that craziness that brought him to your grandma’s attention. Stopped him being just a lodger in her
picked an attention seeker to merge with Boleraam. Figures.”
someone with the audacity to think himself above others for a worthy cause. The perfect martyr, with similar daddy issues
to Boleraam. Wearing a face he couldn't
escape ... Yeah. Don't Florence and
Steve ... They don't talk about me at all do they?”
her head with a humourless grin across her face.
there's a piece of furniture in your house with all the juicy details?”
make more sense when I hear them out loud.”
the wise one.”
you a favour.”
doesn't like the sound of his own voice?”
really mean ones like to speak through others.” He had a silly thought about
doing the place up. The human in him could be so foolish, till he
remembered himself. He nodded to the Navy blue umbrella beside him:
go. Get to work, Object Girl.”
objects, I think I know why you’re losing your powers. The front door gave me the idea.” Vicky sat
on her knees, all her weight resting on her calves, “Your power comes from the
Dilf’s bowing down to you in Village Po. What if Village Po has been
are the strongest race in all of the Oma. The only thing they fear
“– Is you, I
know. But what if the gods figured out that Village Po is the source
of your strength? Surely they’d gang up on the villagers?”
“No, no, no,
we sacrificed Village Loha. The gods thought they destroyed Po an age ago.”
go pay Ungumpo a visit.”
survive. So long as my life’s not in any immediate danger, the Dilfs
will have to look out for themselves.”
“What if …”
was a something in there.”
I know you know what you’re doing but are you sure you’ve thought this through?
She’s got a kid and –”
for the world, Vicky. It’s the only
way. Now hurry, it’ll be dark soon.” He watched her kneel
before the umbrella, dutifully picking the item apart. His mind revisited
the first evening of the New Year, the night at Steph’s flat, item after item
failing Vicky’s approval. The mission interrupted by the pattering
of tiny feet.
Vicky did warn me, thought Spiderfingers, but Gideon being a
light sleeper didn’t matter. Saved us
having to wake him up.
That evening, Steph jumped off the bus two
stops early. The skies had cleared and, though her left shoe had taken on
water like a sinking dinghy, she didn’t let the squelching sensation of every
second step distress her. All her classes had dragged but finally, at
long last, she was free of being Miss Tent. Once again, Steph,
lost in a deranged world, headphones blocking out the city, as recorded stories
spewed from her Dictaphone. She felt relieved to discover Rumple’s voice
intact; the recording so crisp and so clear.
sparked over the proposed emancipation of mortal-kind …” He might have been a
dangerously ill man, but Steph had been languishing with writer’s block for six
months now. No, she decided, I’m not going back. She
fumbled for keys at her front door. I’ll take cabs to and from Milo’s.
He can afford it. She shuffled inside, dumping her coat and bag in
the hallway as she did so. Fatigued and sore, she headed straight for her
bedroom, experiencing detachment between herself and her fingers as they
punched out a cancellation text to Milo. She intimated that she was too
tired for ‘rule-breaking’.
no Ninja Sex tonight.” Her face sank into the pillows, her head mere
inches away from her automated storyteller. The smooth comforting feel of
her religious garb swallowed up her eager hands, enfolding them as she fought
against the slumber. A swift epiphany snaked between her ears,
planting a decision inside. Enlightenment as a cell, which split, and
grew, and grew, the division nurtured by its mother, so consumed with
The Babushka Doll Stories are my
invention. She said the
words out loud:
Babushka Doll Stories are my invention.” … as if the expression would deliver
its unstoppable emergence into the universe.
The Babushka Doll Stories “are my invention.”
guidance, the genre would die; the stories would limp misshapen across the
malnourished tongue of a tramp, a lost soul whose broken mind conjured
re-worked Greek myth with all the abandon of a mad scientist. There
was no god of chaos! Spiderfingers would baffle rather than entertain
listeners with his pretentious and frankly confusing stories. She herself
was no stranger to smothering creative efforts with ego. She could still
see her last writing effort on the dresser by her bed. Unthinkingly, she
unbound her hands from the folds of her clothes, stopped the Dictaphone, and
cradled the stillborn. Another night’s post mortem commenced:
Steph’s environment reconfigured itself to a
whole new level of evil. All about her lay instruments that didn’t belong
on any patch of workplace. They were eager to be tripped upon, minded,
moved from this place and that. All these fucking leads and monitors,
angering Steph. Machines and whatnot, they swamped the horizon; camera’s
and lights and those white umbrellas used to create special lighting for a film
shoot, they lay everywhere, devouring valuable space. The area designated
for gym equipment and school gym users – i.e. School children – was sacred. So
Steph waited by the side.
think it’s a bloody disgrace.” voiced Leonie, eyeballs popping out at the
“But if I’m
going to be on television Stephanie, you must, must be honest with me.”
Leonie moved to face Steph square on, her massive hands riding her hips.
T.V worthy.” nodded Steph, more than a little fatigued that Leonie’s ridiculous
floral affair had again, demanded reassessment, it being the fourth and
hopefully final change for today’s filming of ‘Skool Daze’.
look cool as ever!” nudged Leonie.
Leonie was a
bright beacon of jollity in the foggy sea of Palmer’s Green. With the
mind of a teenage anarchist, Leonie spent her days avoiding her pupils and
practicing her incredibly amusing impersonations of the senior staff. Best
of all, she had accepted Steph as a friend almost instantly, with no questions
asked. She never mentioned Steph's clothing either, but once compared it
to Batman’s cape. She was completely tactless despite herself. And
Steph loved her for it.
how long do you think I would go down for if I strangled Henry Thomas?” Leonie
whispered, her hand cupping her mouth in mock conspiracy.
“In a sane
world you’d be given severance pay for mental anguish and a trip for yourself
and a loved one to the Caribbean,”
Sake! The irritating and cacophonous chit-chattering of children, a sonic
disruption Steph had never adapted to, it swelled around her. What little
comfort her headphones afforded her dispersed with the arrival of Charles
Stephenson: the world’s most hated T.V presenter surely, decided
muscular, good looking in that boring angular faced way, he showed her to the
chair she’d answer his questions in. His knowing elocution and love for
unnecessary word choices made her want to gag. Steph didn’t want to
believe most television presenters were self-serving egotists with a slippery
clench on the rung of reality, but here was retired footballer Charles
Stephenson with his perfect teeth and toothpaste advert smile. Does
he smile like this in his sleep, she wondered. Steph felt there was
something to tell. A something she wanted to tell everyone, all those in
the building and for quite some time too but somehow reckoned the conclusion
had no place coming out of her mouth, let alone grow up tall and slender.
An athlete of a thought, a notion going crazy on the laps it ran in her
brain. The mad idea couldn’t stay in and wanted out. Steph’s lips
curled a little before the blurting. Out shot her track-star: “I quit.”
want to do this anymore?”
looked about nervously, half smiling.
that?” asked Charles.
“Yes, I can
and I have. I quit. This is me – quitting.” Steph caught the
eye of Mr Stickler, whose face was attempting to fire off his beanpole body.
It wanted to rocket to the moon.
Miss Tent, this show needs you. Think of the children.”
She pointed to
the veil covering her face, “Mr Stephenson, you and your camera people need
racial diversity. You see the niqab on a white woman and you’re thinking
think that’s –”
“– You want
viewers and they want Soap Opera and these kids need education and I need –”
Steph couldn’t speak. She held it in for favour of, “– I need to quit.”
stairs Steph sauntered. In fact, she strutted. Out into the
playground, already texting Leonie, that if she could collect her stuff from
the staffroom? Steph would not be returning to Palmers Green. She would
live her life another way. So, she ran out the school gates believing in
freedom and the power to create.
she wrote herself sassy, combative, but never losing her cool. Imagining
what Milo would say and do had been the basis for her character. The
made-up woman in her prose never chose the same life-bungling options that
real-life Steph might. Her creation handled her damage with Bruce Wayne
proficiency. Parental void transmogrified into a super-heroic
returned her notepad to the cabinet and with a huff, she rolled onto
the bed’s other half. She locked eyes with the figurine under the bedside
lamp. There he postured, posing with hands on hips, the perfect rendition
of a square-jawed-super-powered-do-gooder: Danger-Man, a seven inch
Play-Doh character that Gideon had moulded for her. Her biggest present
yet. His pointy red hat disproportionate enough to render him susceptible
to toppling over, which annoyed her somewhat since the slightest disturbance
achieved his fall to the carpet below. Gideon had worked so hard on him
and in such a short space of time too. The results of his labour would
have to be encouraged.
“You have to
sleep next to Danger-Man, mummy.” He would say. “The snake in his head gets
lonely and he can be your friend in your sleep, mummy.”
I’ll have a snooze before calling him. She rolled back over. A
mistake. There lay her bad writing. Even with a grammar clean-up
and a bolstering of the description, Steph could only see the hollowness of her
tale. The promise of a healthy narrative, broken, for the sentences only
managed to deliver nothing but a lifeless husk. No true heart to the
briefly considered resurrecting Wigloo but how could she trust him? The
creature had failed her all those years ago, to a classroom full of
prepubescent critics no less. Wigloo the Space Monkey was a useless
minion to a defaced goddess, one that couldn’t fill the barrenness inside her.
She was forced to make-do with the oft elaborate daydream: Come
to life novel-version me. Come kill the original and take over. Her
attention was drawn once again to the Dictaphone; the charming voice of her
crazed storyteller. She pressed play:“The more followers you
have, the greater your power. And you need to be powerful to protect
had a wild-eyed talent, such a fantasy world far more involving than her own.
She felt her mind open, his words snuggling into the crevice her subconscious
provided. Her eyelids became heavy, absentmindedly pretending that her
son’s figurine would slice the bad writing out of her. Leave it to
Danger-Man, thought Steph, lazily, reaching out to stroke
the smooth existence of the Plasticine watchman. Her eyelids closed
before rapidly opening.Closed, then
open.Closing … a slight opening … Danger-Man
and his pointy red hat … then … closed.Shut firmly, her awareness trundling down, down, down into a strange,
N E X T T I M E I N S P I D E R F I N G E R S
climbed over hilltops, scaling monolithic mountainsides, splashing silently
through forded rivers. It sped across rocky valleys, through peculiar
blue vegetation. And all the while, Steph could see the shadow of a great
dark creature, stalking them through the velvet night.