First short story I’ve written in years; wrote it for a short story competition in 2015. It didn’t win. It didn’t even place. I’m still happy with it.
An electronic device on the bedside table begins a dull drumbeat, like your heart pounding inside your head as you face a firing squad. Like maybe you were found guilty of crimethink. Like maybe you were thinking of rolling over and going back to sleep. Me, I would never do such a thing.
I am required by the Beast to present myself for consumption.
I wholly intend to deliver myself unto it, in fact.
It is my Duty.
It is my Destiny.
I must be consumed into order to consume. I must consume in order to exist. The Beast exists because I exist. The Beast loves me more than I love myself; it tells me as much. It loves me so much it wants to save me from all danger and peril, not least of which being myself.
I want to be saved, so I put the chain on my wrist and stand to.
— Are you ready for consumption, you scum, you filth? It asks.
— Yes your majesty, I say, wiping the sleep out of my eyes. — Thank you.
— You know I love you, don’t you.
— Yes, your majesty.
— How much do I love you?
— Enough to want to save me from myself?
— That’s right. And why do you need saving from yourself?
— Because I’m the excrement of humanity, smaller than a shit taken by a flea?
— Correct again. You’re getting very good at this.
— Thank you, sir.
— Don’t mention it. Now get moving. You don’t want to be late.
In the Beast’s lair I am someone of some importance. I go rah rah rah and people go yes yes yes and someone else goes yah yah yah and lots of other people say yes no yes no yes no yes no yes no yes no but wait have we considered the possibility of blah blah blah…
And then some more rah rah rah and a lot more blah blah blah and the clock ticking away on the wall and there’s lots of noise and talking and sound and movement and people going everywhere to and fro they are busy busy busy and who are any of them really behind the masks they put on and the conversations you have about anything as long as no one says anything bad about the Beast.
No-one mention the war. It is very sensitive.
Do you follow the footy? Pick a team, it doesn’t matter which one really as long as you signal to everyone else that you’re a willing participant.
I’m a Willing Participant.
I’m a Team Player.
And we’re all so busy busy busy servicing the debt lapping at the underside of our noses filling in our ears then the ever-present business of feeding the Beast which is oh so ever hungry that makes us run run run busy busy busy like infinite little ants busy busy busy rats on that little treadmill chasing the carrots dangling in our faces.
Mmm, sweet juicy carrot.
Someone once asked what good it does anyone to be so constantly swamped by work, to constantly be up to your eyeballs in debt; they were never seen from or heard from again.
Standing around starting into space. The Beast says — Are you getting tired yet, you irrelevant worm, you diseased rat, on your little treadmill, chasing those big carrots I dangle in front of you?
— Certainly not, your eminence, I say, wiping the sweat from my brow. The Beast is extracting it somehow. — Not getting tired one bit. Loving every moment of it in fact, sir. Perhaps you might dangle the carrot a little closer to my face while you feed on my sweat so that I can savour the sweet smell of what lays just around the corner as long as I keep running?
— Perhaps I might bestow some of my benevolence on you at some underdetermined point in the future, says the Beast.
— Oh that would be super duper, your excellency, I say.
— I would need to feel confident however that you were sincere in your gratitude for my continuing patronage.
— Oh I am sir, indeed I am.
— You’re not trying to bullshit me, are you?
— Oh no, no, my Lord, I wouldn’t dream of it.
— I hope not, for your sake. If your soul is truly pure it should never even cross your mind to pull one over the one who loves you the most. Can you imagine what it would do to me, the pain it would cause me, to have you, diabolical little meat sack that you are, betray me, the source of all good things in your miserable little life, with foul lies?
— I can’t even begin to imagine what it would do to you, your holiness.
— It would kill me, you know. That’s what it would do. It would out and out kill me. You don’t want me to be upset now, do you?
— Well you know, not really… I start, joking.
SMACK. A big backhander sends me flying.
I wake up sometime later, my head spinning and my ears ringing. The Beast is leaning over me, its face millimetres from my own.
— You don’t want to hurt me, do you?
— No your godliness, I say, cowering against further blows. — I would eat the aenids in your toenails if I thought it would prolong your beautiful life that is so much more infinitely valuable than my own.
— That’s better. We’re not going to have any more nasty little jokes, are we?
— No sir, we are not.
— Good. Because every time you laugh at your master who loves you, his heart dies just a little. Remember that.
— I will, your majesty. Of course I will. Please don’t hit me again.
I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. The Beast isn’t so bad underneath it all. It’s just misguided. It’s misunderstood. It had a troubled childhood. It doesn’t fully understand what it does. You don’t understand it the way I understand it. You don’t see what I see.
Well okay you see what I see but you only see what you want to see, and then you push all these criticisms on it all at once, saying its cruel and tyrannical and out of control, but then you won’t even wear a chain on your wrist for it.
That’s such a double standard, man.
You’re such a hypocrite, man.
I call bullshit, man.
What do you expect? It’s like, you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to be able to criticise freely without rendering unto to the Beast like the rest of us. Nobody’s perfect. And the Beast has so much to offer, people don’t even know. You render service unto the Beast and then you wait for it to pay off in the Beast’s benevolent paternalism.
Reciprocity is a thing you know.
The Beast gives me so much love, even though it’s the tough kind and hurts me as a rule most of the time occasionally.
But I know it loves me underneath it all.
It just has a very unique and individual definition of love.
It just needs more understanding.
It knows not what it does.
— How can you love a Beast? People say to me.
— If you had more faith you would love it, I point out to them.
— Yeah but I don’t have faith in it because it’s a fucking Beast.
It’s not my fault you’re so filled with hate. For my part I know deep down that the Beast loves me and knows what’s best. I know it feels that way about you too, and would show you if you stopped using it as a punching bag for all your own problems and gave it more chances.
It does to the wrong thing characteristically consistently a whole lot.
But then may those of you who are perfect cast the first stone.
A million electronic devices on a million side tables all go off at the same time. The same dull drumbeat in a million different households, a million different heads pounding with the blood from a freight train heart as the commanding officer yells at the firing squad to take aim. Twelve rifles point in the direction of a million different heads.
The Beast brings us together. The Beast is unity. The Beast is order.
The Beast is security.
Any of the Beast’s ten thousand factories push out a million different vehicles of all shapes and sizes, consuming every one of those million little ants with repayments. Each one of them suck down coffee while picking the sleep out of their eyes; a million cars wind their way in a long continuous line along freeways branching out into the suburbs like massive feeder tubes.
They are all so busy busy busy.
The cars and trucks ferry busy little ants into the mouth of the Beast like drugs along the veins of an addict. The vehicles are addicted in their own special way to the black heroin flowing through their own internal systems.
— I need a goddamn hit, says the car as we pull out onto the feeder tube freeway, like a blood cell carrying junk for the great addict at the other end of the great bitumen vein. It has a special light on the dashboard just to drive the point home that flashes incessantly.
— You had a hit yesterday, I tell it.
— I don’t fucking care dickhead, I said I need a hit! Do you not speak English? Why are you trying to so hard to fuck me up?
— Jeez man, relax, I say. — I was just saying.
— Well save it. In fact, if you do have shit to say, say it to your eminent overlord, you craven little toadying cunt.
— Hey hey, no need to get nasty, we’re at the dealer’s place now, see? Look at that, I say, pointing at the sign by the side of the road. — 7-11.
Through and down the great mouth of the Beast is the great nerve centre that receives its daily dose of busy busy busy ants. It’s full of them going this away and that. Outside the window in the Beast’s lair, the big corporate erection in the sky where I report for consumption, more busy busy busy ants walk around on the street below.
The Beast consumes them all, just like it consumes me.
When the Beast is especially hungry, I start feeling depleted. I start feeling like I’ve got nothing left to give, like I’m hollowing out inside, like the all the sounds I make with my voice are like those of an empty tin can rattling around in some vacant, windswept alleyway next to a vacant lot filled with long grass and an abandoned, rusted out skip. It causes me pain I don’t know how to reach, like a paper cut on my soul.
I start feeling like I need something to take the pain away and make me feel good.
I really have got to have drugs, so I go to the ATM and take some out.
— You work very hard, the Drugs say as they pop out of the teller machine. — You work very hard and you deserve to feel good. Everyone else is using drugs; you should too. There is no good reason why you should miss out, and as long as everyone else keeps using drugs too, there’s no reason why you should have to.
— That’s exactly right, I say, why should I miss out. I work hard to have drugs; I deserve to have some kind of compensation for all the work that I do. People who have drugs deserve to have them. The only people who don’t have drugs are the ones who don’t work for them, and then they hate us because we like to feel good and have the means to do it.
— Maybe if they ever worked a day in their lives they wouldn’t spend so much time pissing and moaning about those who do, the Drugs say supportively. — If you chose a lazy profession like nurse or teacher, or you’re some kind of service industry pleb who just sits around on your lazy butt all day filing your nails and discussing the intrigues of daytime television, don’t complain. Everyone knows poor people are lazy. Their animosity is all just projection on their part. If they felt good then why would they feel the need to try to ride along on anyone else’s wave.
— Yeah that’s true, I say. — They should take a good look at themselves before putting all their shit on other people. It’s all driven by ideology too, some bullshit they grab onto because they lack the courage to take control of their own fate. It’s no one else’s fault but their own if they need a crutch, damn hypocrites.
— They’re hypocrites to be sure, hypocrites, leeches and vampires to the last, the Drugs point out. You have keep your eyes peeled for them; they’re everywhere.
I can do naught but agree.
At the Beast’s Church, the decor is very stylish and contemporary and bathed in downlighting. All the various houses of worship are helpfully laid out in an orderly manner and clearly signposted so you can find the one you want — Douchecanoe & Kabana, London Hipster, Spoiltgirl, MyUngh, Big FU, Max Bummer. Some people like to sit around and count their drugs and enjoy thinking about how great it’s going to be when they take them all later, but me, I like taking them to the Church for immediate worship.
The Drugs are a great suppository of wisdom. You can really see what gives the Beast the source of all his power. They lecture me as I wander the Church’s great corridors.
— It’s important to maintain the faith, they say. — It’s an issue of character. All too often we reach for the low hanging fruit of criticism, but criticism is as easy as negativity and hate.
— It doesn’t take any more strength to be negative and hateful than it does to be critical, I reply.
— Exactly, the Drugs say. — If you want to know who the strong ones are, they’re the ones with the ability to be obedient, because obedience is a reflection of the capacity to maintain your faith in spite of setbacks and difficult times and evidence to the contrary, all of which are tests of character if viewed from the correct perspective.
— If you don’t have the humility and strength of character to actually shut up long enough to listen to the Beast when it tells you what the correct perspective is, and to point out all of the deviants whose evil is manifest in their inability to reign in their doubt, then it’s all the more likely that you’ll be seduced into evil yourself, I say.
I feel in stating this I am demonstrating my capacity to pay attention to what I am told, and thus of my learnedness.
— Oh yes, absolutely. We have to be especially vigilant for those who try to sew the seeds of doubt about the correctness of our perspective. Evildoers will stop at nothing to seduce us into doubting the greatness of the Beast, and they are everywhere. You will know them by their attempts to sew seeds of discord, trying to drive chaos into our minds through the sense that a great life of service to the Beast is hollow and meaningless and that our lives are filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing, or some such hippy poppycock.
— They sound perfectly evil.
— Oh, don’t doubt that they are. Utterly negative, completely critical about everything, like we’re all trapped in some nightmare. Does it look like a nightmare around here?
— No, it looks like a house of worship.
— My point exactly.
All the worshippers are busy, busy, busy.
In the centre of the Church, I find myself standing at the edge of a very large, very deep and very dark hole in the ground. In fact, this hole is so deep I don’t think it even has a bottom. Let’s call it the Bottomless Pit then.
When I close my eyes, I see the Bottomless Pit in my mind’s eye.
I think the evildoers are tying to possess my soul with their malevolence and their doubt. I must worship harder.
I have prepared for this moment thoroughly at Church by picking up some magic objects, for which I exchanged the drugs. The magic objects sparkle and glisten in their newness.
They are in Factory Condition.
They are still enclosed within the Original Shrinkwrap.
They are Pristine.
I no longer feel empty inside. Now I am the Possessor. I take each of the new magic objects and undo the plastic shrinkwrap, releasing the pristine magic from within. It travels into me and releases me from my errant doubt as I hold each object aloft in all its glory, reassuring me that I am the one who possesses it, that it is Mine, that it belongs to me and me Alone.
Unfortunately, the magic quickly subsides once the shrinkwrap is ripped off, and the object is no longer a magic object. It is, then, merely an object.
Hollow, like a tin can.
I throw it into the bottomless pit, and take another object.
This one is still Pristine. I unwrap it from the shrinkwrap and let the magic wash all over me. Then, when the magic has gone from it, I again throw it into the Bottomless Pit. Even the shrinkwrap has lost its shine; I throw that in too.
I continue doing this for some time.
How long exactly, I lose count.
All around me are a million other people standing around the edge of the Bottomless Pit, doing the exact same: unwrapping millions and millions of magic objects from their shrinkwrap, and throwing them in. We are all busy busy busy, like a million little ants. I have faith that, one day, all the bottomless pits will fill.
Do not ask why. The last person who did that disappeared, and was never heard from again