a million penguins

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Okay - that's it. Stop writing and put your pencils down.

We're now locking everything down here though we might pop in and out again to tidy up. There will be new posts, including this one appearing on the wikinovel blog and we will keep comments open there for the time being.

In the meantime - on behalf of Penguin Books and De Montfort University, thank you to everyone who has contributed to the wikinovel experiment - watching this unfold has been a hugely interesting experience and one which we hope you have all enjoyed.


Admin@penguin


(Please note: The novel has been divided into sections again to prevent overload!)




Contents

[edit] Further sections of the Novel

The novel has been divided into sections for ease of editing:

Section 1 - below

Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Section 5

Section 6

Section 7

Other Versions, Lists of Characters, etc., are viewable here

[edit] Before the Fall

With a word it begins ... the sound of clicking keys and the smell of wet fur fill the room. Möbius strips made of banana yellow construction paper and Scotch tape are scattered haphazardly across the floor. The chief monkey, careful not to slip and fall, ambles from desk to desk collecting papers before pasting them slowly and deliberately into a gigantic scrapbook. He scratches himself, enjoying the sensation. If he had been able to read, as he once had been, he would have read something similar, or perhaps completely different, to the following.....

[edit] Dark and Deep ......

The deep waters, black as ink, began to swell and recede into an uncertain distance. A gray ominous mist obscured the horizon. The ocean expanse seemed to darken in disapproval. Crashing tides sounded groans of agonized discontent. The ocean pulsed with a frightening, vital force. Although hard to imagine, life existed beneath. It's infinite underbelly was teeming with life, a monstrous collection of finned, tentacled, toxic, and slimy parts. Below its surface lay the wreckage of countless souls. But we had dared to journey across it. Some had even been brave enough to explore its sable velveteen depths, and have yet to come up for precious air...."

Tony took a deep breath and paused from his writing. He was focusing on his deadline. "Deadline" - such a harsh word, like the walk of the damned, or the equally damned proof of sobriety with a pistol aimed at your temple. Tony was a writer. One of thousands. He was also 46 years old, paunchy with a body like a doomed hillside and a slightly receding hair line. He had acne scars like a moonscape, and a gentle introspective expression that belied his time in youth as a once promising football player.

Jim stood at a distance and surveyed the scene. He could see Tony writing as he sat in the computer in the Internet Cafe. He was tapping away with two fingers at machine-gun speed. If only he had purchased that popular typing tutor software so many years ago, he would not have this cross to bear. Sadly, his poor grasp of prepositions had led to many computer related mishaps. He couldn't help but move closer and observe. He saw the words "once promising football player" and immediately imagined the 'V-shaped' form of this man's torso - Wide shoulders, narrow waist - running onto a field somewhere deep in his memory. Jim imagined it was 'gridiron' that he was referring to, even though this sport was not overly familiar to him. Jim had a habit of referring to sports with anachronistic terms. He insisted on calling basketball 'roundball'.

The sad truth was that everyone thought Jim was kind of an ass. Also, it didn't really help that he hung out in an internet cafe. Jim noticed people. He loved to take in what he saw. Here, Jim thought to himself, is a man who is strong in character, firm in beliefs and yet, stifled somehow,... with a faint air of melancholy. Jim made a mental note of all these things and continued his own writing, trying unsuccessfully to erase the image of football tights and palm slapped buttocks from his already wandering mind's eye.

Walry squeezed out a huge glob of ultramarine onto his pallet and added an equal mass of titanium white. Swirling these around together carefully with his knife, he created a variety of beautiful blue shades . With his manbearpig hair brush, he began to cover the canvas with great sweeping motions.

"What are you doing?" Jim asked, startling the poor walrus, who upset his tripod and canvas and spilled everything onto the sandy beach. Wiping his face with his kerchief the proud walrus set his cap back at the proper tilt and solemnly proclaimed, "Writers write. Painters paint!"

Inu, a young reader, didn't realize that he was witnessing great writing: instead, he remembered the last book that he read, "La insoportable levedad del ser" by Milan Kundera. He was in love with the story, especially because the author explained why animals can find happiness and why humans don´t. Animals live in circles, so they return to the same place, but men live in straight lines trying to reach something too idealistic and lofty so they lose much on the journey in fretting about and anticipating the future instead of experiencing the quintessential purity, innocence, and timelessness of the only thing they tangibly have, the irrefutable "here and now."

Suddenly, something extraordinary occurred to Inu. It was so bizarre that he wondered if it could possibly be true. Perhaps this was the key: Animals live in circles, humans in linear progression. Perhaps then, if a person could live with the circular structure of this text, if they could truly be at peace with its serpentine narrative devouring its own tail, and its refusal to serve up pre-packaged understanding, then perhaps they were on the path to a meaning that humans, for all their self laudable wisdom, had lost. Someone once said that "the language of 'God' is poetry, metaphor, and parable" - which are all open-ended in their meaning and interpretation, refusing to be pinned-down to the finite. Perhaps the inner meaning of this existence cannot be prised open by linear thinking, or black-and-white statements. Inu read on, but this time he didn't continue from where he left off, but closed his eyes, thumbed through the pages, and randomly chose any selection to continue ....

[edit] Brain Food

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day... a swim, perhaps, but not a walk - for Artie was a whale, a humpback whale, to be precise,at least in these moments. It was a sunny day, and Artie would have worn his sunglasses, but being a whale meant he didn't have ears, which made it difficult for his sunglasses to stay on. No matter, he thought, at least he was young and strong. He reveled in the feeling of the water - jumping, splashing, rolling, frolicking. He wondered what it must be like for beings that weren't whales; it was a hard concept to understand, and thinking about it made him feel a little dizzy, but Artie liked to think - and eat krill. Not necessarily at the same time though.

Artie had breached the surface and was enjoying the sun when he saw a large shape out of the corner of his eye - blurred by the sky, hazy with seagulls diving and plucking silvery fish from the surface. It was a square shape, very different from the organic shapes he came across under the water. If he had ever seen a crate of bananas before, Artie would have realized that's what it was, but he hadn't, so he didn't. Instead, he blew some water out of his spout hole and dived. He would go look for some krill. They were much tastier than bananas! Or so he thought....

As Artie was diving the depths of the ocean, two much smaller mammals on a ship sailing across the ocean were discussing how to spell the word "banana." Larry and Fred were mice - not the clean, white pet-type but the dirty, vermin riddled, disease-carrying type.

"The thing is," squeaked Larry, "if you are a poor typist, the word 'banana' is one of those words that can be difficult to type. There is a tendency to type 'bandanna' or even 'bananna' - none of which is right."

"This is true," Fred replied. "I personally enjoy eating bananas but don't enjoy writing about them for that very reason."

Both Big Tony and Fred paused, gathering their thoughts.

"Besides," continued Larry, "who says the sense of being alone has to be omnipresent, and we have to feel weighed down by it? All said and done, 'being alone' is a feeling, and like all feelings it is supposed to be transitory, and it will pass, whether we like it or not - like a kidney stone, though less painfully."

Fred wasn't sure what he was talking about. The mention of bananas had made him hungry. He felt like a banana, or a banana split, or maybe a banana smoothie - or perhaps, at a stretch, banana pie. It was such a versatile fruit! He did a little dance - spelling the word "banana" out with his body - "B-A-N-A-N-A"! Larry, overcome by the excitement of his dancing companion, mirrored a few soft steps of his own on the other side of the keyboard, but his staccato terpsichorean shuffle only resulted in spelling out the letters N-O-M-O-U-K-L, which even spelled backwards, meant very little to either of them.

The ship sailed on leaving Artie to explore the aquatic depths. Larry and Fred mused deep into the night about bananas and what it actually must be like to be one.

[edit] Parallax Error

"Come in, come in. Please sit down."

Big Tony did.

The voice came from a rather tiny little man sitting at an enormous desk.

The writer realized that if he remained sitting, he could only see the top of the man's head as he sat at the desk.

This was office number nine, on the ninth floor of a completely unexceptional building on ninth avenue.

"I am pleased to present to you a wonderful project." The little man said solemnly.

"Really? What is it?" The writer replied excitedly.

"I want you to write a novel., I want you and as many others as possible to write an exceptional and unique novel, sharing the work on line."

"Wow. This sounds excellent."

"Yes. Make it great. Make it a literary masterpiece."

"I will do my best, sir." The writer got up to leave.

"One thing though."

"Yes, sir."

"Try to avoid references to sex, and try to avoid profanity."

"Oh, ... certainly sir."

The writer went towards the door.

"but remember, make it great!" The little man called out as the distance increased.

The writer simply nodded.

"Oh, one more thing. Try to steer clear of drug references. They are unsavory, and one would not want to have it appear we condone or support drug use by having any references to such things. Oh, and now that I think of it, don't make it too flowery or pretentious. And I don't much like self-referential elements. Oh. but, MAKE it Great. Make this the greatest novel of the twenty-first century. ....Oh.... and... that reminds me, try to avoid religious references. Ah... and if at all possible, don't make it too funny, or lateral, or way-out, or you may get accused of writing pulp fiction. ... Oh and....

Big Tony slammed the door.

[edit] Schrödinger's Copy Cat

Fluffy the cat was both alive and dead. It was a fairly tricky position for a cat to be in, but as Fluffy didn't know any better she didn't seem too concerned. Fluff’s treatment had attracted the interest of animal welfare and Schrödinger's ex-student, Mark Newton, had been interviewed several times. The problem was this. The only way they could determine Fluff’s wellbeing was to open the box and, in doing so, they could cause the wave functions to collapse. Fluff’s state could change from being both alive and dead to just being dead. It was too great a risk for animal welfare officers to take; the box had to remain closed.

Sometimes Mark wished he'd bought a pet turtle instead of a cat. Surely a turtle wouldn't be as much trouble? And turtles are completely self-contained. However a turtle isn't what was called for in his mentor's famous experiment (at least he thought it was an experiment). Yes, it had to be a cat.

His girlfriend, Gina, was beginning to wish she'd never met Mark, full-stop. In fact, she wished she'd never set foot in Copenhagen. In all probability there was an alternate universe where she hadn't met him. Unfortunately it wasn't this one.

She'd begun to wonder whether he was worth it several weeks ago when his pursuit of the so-called 'Perfect theoretical map of reality' began to turn into an obsessive holy quest. She was once enamored by her boyfriend's romanticized interest in the genius of Schrödinger, even though She could do without those brain-twisting thought experiments and she wondered if he would ever come up with something original. What withered her petals so badly, was his puerile, populist pursuit of codified Templar droppings that ensued as part of his process in discovering his stringy theory of everything. He was always embarking on a new project inspired by the latest pseudo-intellectual fads, one that would, somehow catch on, and make him as famous as his namesake. She found it all rather droll and disenchanting.

At least he had a relatively normal day job, as a fisherman and caterer. Gina sighed before hauling herself over to the pantry where, with no small measure of depression, she contemplated the miserable selection of food: smoked salmon, caviar and champagne. No biscuits for the caviar! She couldn't go on living like this.

She decided to order out - maybe that French cafe that had just opened down Tenth Street would deliver. She fully fancied a feast of four frog legs and French fries... oops, Freedom Fries, she thought, correcting herself in a rush of patriotism.

....James lifted the pen from his text. He wished his characters would grumble more than his stomach. "What in the world was happening?" George was supposed to meet him for lunch - or was that supposed to happen later? He couldn't keep track of things any more and wished he'd never shuffled those chapters. He paused, confronted by the uneasy feeling that he may have mixed different versions of the same chapter,.... "Ah, what the heck, they shed light on different facets of the story," he thought to himself. "As long as I never let the proverbial cat out of the box," he mused, mixing metaphors as he often did. "The universe would remain forever full of mystery and possibility."

[edit] Line Nine

Mary sat adjusting her files. She realized that she was unhappy - She had taken this job because she wanted to work in an area close to her heart, but it was clear that her boss had no interest in the reason the department existed. The phone rang and she picked up the receiver. "Department of Environment, Fisheries and Customs, Mary speaking."

Mary spoke clearly, enunciating each word distinctly. She was an excellent executive secretary, the picture of clarity and efficiency.

"Yes, Minister Wagenknecht is in. Yes, may I ask who is calling, sir?"

"Thank, You, Mr Mikhael... Oh, I am sorry, excuse me, " Mary stumbled. "I didn't realize that was your first name. My sincere apologies." She kicked herself for this oversight.

"Putting you through now. Please hold........" Mary pressed the paging button for her minister, Ms. Sahra Wagenknecht, Minister for the new Mega-government department with multiple portfolios, the kind which had been all the rage in the late nineties and now were beginning to unravel.

"Minister, a ' Mikhael ' for you on line nine. He declined to give his surname."

As Mary hung up the phone, not tempted to listen in to the call, which she could easily have done if she were THAT kind of person, she could not stifle a sense of resentment towards the Minister. She hid this well under a cloak of efficiency and carefully honed politeness. But Mary was quite put out about Minister "Ms Sahra."

"I don't know what she does with her time, but it obviously isn't anything about trying to stamp out the whaling industry. And our fisheries policy is a disaster waiting to happen! Why would a minister be in the department of Environment if she didn't care about what we are doing to the environment, to the whales, to our natural resources. Pathetic!" Mary was working herself up into a rare moment of outward annoyance. "And what is going on with this strange man she is happy to talk with, and her obsession with Customs procedures? There is a point where one can only do so much changing of well-established policies."

Mary remembered a report she needed to follow up and automatically picked up the phone, and heard Sarah saying the words "unimpeded" and "nano-toxins" before she realized she had unintentionally listened in to a private conversation. She was mortified and replaced the receiver as silently as a mouse.

[edit] Eden Mark II -

Ironically, it was Artie, himself, that Jim heard this evening, singing in the distance. It was Artie, although he had never laid eyes on him, who rescued him like some buoyant siren savior with alarmingly high pitched humpback squeals, from his first suicidal fantasy that included the color yellow and the quietly threatening edge of the assassin's crescent dagger.

[edit] Valentine's Day

Meanwhile, Artie's friend, Kim, was asking him why he hadn't got her anything for Valentine's Day. Artie was puzzled - he had forgotten all about Valentine's Day

"What is a Tomato?" Artie thought aloud. "A Tomato is red and also called a 'Love Apple', said Kim. "Love! Of course," exclaimed Artie. "That goes with Valentine's Day, which is what I was supposed to remember, and forgot.

[edit] Staying Afloat

Artie was feeling the strain of his overindulgence again. He had just finished his favourite food but was now feeling he had to sleep. Straining to stay awake Artie eventually sank into a deep sleep in the depths of the ocean. When he slept, Artie would often dream. The dreams were usually odd, and he wasn't sure why. In fact, he didn't even know what the dreams could mean which made it all the more strange. As he slept, he dreamed of murky waters.

The murky waters cleared and Artie could see the faint shadow of a wrecked ship in the distance. Swimming around it were giant prawns with teeth like those on a great white shark. He swam closer for a look to see why they had perched themselves on the upper deck. There was red liquid oozing out of the ships hull and it seemed to be attracting the wrong type of crowd. Artie grew fearful, as he could clearly see a giant octopus in mortal combat with a dolphin. The deck of the ship was littered with dead sea life. The red liquid was seeping all over the wreck. Suddenly Artie found himself floating upwards. The surface tension of the water was being disturbed. Familiar black creatures were diving in and eating his entire food source. It seemed there were a million of them. Artie could feel his stomach shrinking as the shoal of fish were voraciously consumed by these hungry little thieves. Then, as quickly as the splashing shadowy nuisances arrived, they disappeared.

When Artie awoke, he remembered the dream so vividly he told his friend Bella about it. Bella wasn't sure what the dream meant although she did explain that the little black creatures were penguins.

Artie also remembered he only really dreamed after eating piles of sardines before going to sleep. Maybe he should cut down on the late night snack! He didn't like the idea that his food source was being decimated by penguins, so his decision was to sleep afloat. He knew being on the surface meant he could scare away these creatures. After all he didn't want his dream becoming a nightmare. The very presence of them in any of his alternate realities, dreams, waves or not, was a horror more frightening to him than the deepest darkest waters of his most murky and loneliest sleeping moments. To ensure his sanity Artie thought he could call on his friends so that they too could help secure their food supply and chase away a million penguins.

[edit] Temptation

Chad had always hated Jim. It was nice to see that Jim wholeheartedly returned the favour. Chad suspected that their animosity flowed from the fact that they were, for each other, like an awful mirror held up against the skin, revealing every revolting pockmark and flaw. Jim was hard to endure. Chad felt himself becoming intolerant even at the first sight of Jim.

Unbeknownst to Chad, Jim actually liked Chad. Naturally Jim made pains not to show it. In fact, Jim was a born 'reactor.' He would often reflect back to people their own behavior. If they were acting in a nice and charming manner, Jim would echo that action. He more than imitated it, he felt that charm and niceness and fed it back. Sadly, if a person was rude or abrupt or harsh, Jim would, like a frightening chameleon, reveal that ugly side too.

The worst argument Jim ever had was with Chad. Chad was becoming more and more disgusted and outraged by Jim's responses. He would have been horrified if he knew the truth: the outrageous and horrific behavior he hated was Jim giving back exactly what he was getting himself.

Jim decided there and then that what was wrong with this world was that it had forgotten or at least was not practicing the golden rule: "do unto others as you would have them do to you." The major problem of today appeared to be that people would do precisely what THEY liked, but then would object strongly to others in pursuit of their own ends.

The most contradictory example of that was a time when Chad and Jim were (let's say not friends but at least) enemies at a truce. Chad became violently angry when a person he was going out with had been discovered to have been cheating on him. Chad almost killed Jim when he found out that Jim knew. Chad confronted Jim with this awful revelation. Jim simply replied, "Why are you so angry and hurt. You cheat all the time on your partners and that's okay. But if they do it to you KAPOW." Kapow indeed - Chad knocked Jim to the ground with a single swing.

Darkness, and a ringing in the ears .... Jim woke up in the dark, in bed with

[edit] Nine Curious Things Before Breakfast

"I'll make a deal with you," said Jim. "What is left of the cordial, in exchange for the two nudes above the downstairs fireplace."

George, Jim's brother, was in a thoughtful mood.

"Well?" Jim asked George as he pondered the ream of paper in his thick fingers.

"The cordial does have a certain hypnotic effect. And they are majestic and beautiful, but..." George began slowly, carefully choosing his words.

"But... always with the buts. But what??" Jim was never known for his patience.

"Well, it's just..... How can you mix a story about a whale with a spy genre and expect to get away with it."

Ji

George, known affectionately as 'nerdy' for his love of the Romantic Poets and his flowery windswept nature, laughed unaffectedly at this. "Ah, well, you got me there. But, I knew you would catch them and cut them out. Jimmy, you have to lighten up. You take yourself too seriously, mate." George looked at Jim with those big, vivid green wide eyes and patted his shoulder softly.

"You know," Jim said weakening. "Every time I write about the whale, I picture YOU with flippers!"

George flinched ever so slightly, unsure if Jim was saying that to hurt him or as the flippant sign of affection that he actually hoped it to be.

Jim went back to his serious side again. "George, if you must know, the whale is a counterpoint to the human brutality of social order. The whale - majestic and innocent, playful and peaceful, is so sharply contrasted with the harsh, addictive, violent and dogged reality of the lives of the other storyline -with Carlo, Mark, Gina and Sarah and the likes. One can't help but notice the different environments. It makes me wonder why we don't all go to the sea, rather than splashing around in the muddy, stale shark infested waters of this urbane polluted puddle of sludge we call 'the city'."

But, of course, Jim was being romantic about the 'sea.' Any sailor would tell him that, although they loved the sea, it was a capricious lover, as likely to drown you as nurture you. No old salt would long for the deep, cold, airless embrace to which the ocean so generously beckoned the unwary and the unfortunate without a little wince of fear over her power to turn the tides to a blackened fate.

[edit] Fascination

Chad Thompson had the hard, blunt name typical of action novel protagonists and it had served him well in his adventures so far. He intended to keep it. He had tried variations - 'Chad T', 'Thomson, C' and 'The Big Chad' but none had worked. For now, he was sticking with 'Chad Thompson'. He wondered what his next adventure would be. An urban setting would be novel, he thought. He'd taken on all the other clichéd locations - vast, snow-capped mountains, harsh, lifeless deserts, tropical beaches with blue waters and women in bikinis - so maybe it was time to explore the urban jungle.

And then, an email arrived. It was titled Top Secret. He opened the email, checking over his shoulder to make certain that no-one was watching. He could never be too careful. He had learned that the hard way, in one of his previous adventures, when his blond companion had turned out to be a spy. He would never make that mistake again. Whenever he finished making love, he would rise from the bed and phone for a dozen roses to be sent to their work, making sure they were marked from "a colleague". Better safe than sorry, he reflected to himself. Thinking wasn't his thing, action was.

He needed to decide what to wear on his upcoming adventure - he needed something that would allow him to blend in - but something that would also show off his arms. That was very important. He flexed one bicep, and kissed its round mound. He repeated with the other arm. And then, the first again. Chad had one tattoo directly below the shoulder of each arm and he was often obsessed with gazing at them, as if he expected that the images would change, somehow, under the random influence of some bizarre mystic editing. On the right arm, he was adorned with the gray and black prison style caricature of a wise guy mouse with a cigarette in his mouth. His gloved left hand grasped a particularly ratty looking tail. On the left arm, was the bright yellow, gaudy image of a banana on top of a boldly printed, curved and capitalized script of the phrase "DON"T MONKEY WITH ME!" It seemed like an eternity before he could drag himself away from those images and his own body, which made him more resistant than the women in his life, he reflected wryly. He wondered what exactly 'wryly' meant.

He began to pack his bag. High-tech gadgets that would help him out of tight squeezes? Check. Items that seemed pointless but would prove important in an unexpected way? Check. Products that would allow him to fulfill his product placement obligations? He checked it off on his to-do list on his new (insert product placement here).

He left a note for his house-keeper, telling her that he been called away on a business trip, and that she should make sure she watered his plants, especially his Venus fly-trap. He was sure there was a double-entendre in there somewhere, but it wouldn't come, so he ignored it. Which reminded him - he needed to perfect some new snappy come-back lines - lines he would use when he had sex with villains in a variety of gruesome ways. Maybe he would use the time on the aircraft to work on them. Perhaps he could try them out on the airline steward? He started to grin wryly, but managed to stop himself just in time, nervous about doing too many wry things in one morning.

[edit] The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Meanwhile, across town, Jim was staring despondently at the first draft of his novel. "This isn't going well" he thought. There were far too many banana references, for a start. No one cares, or wants to read about bananas anyhow. Maybe I should be trying to find a cure to cancer, the wart virus or devise a way to save the whales. Something worthwhile. He began to wonder why he started his novel with a quote from Sun Tzu and whether or not something would reflect in the eye of a mouse. He doubted it, but it was a critical piece of imagery. Not that he knew imagery from a bull's foot really, but he knew even less about plot details and thematic concerns.

He sipped at his banana smoothie in contemplation. He was happy with the way the character Chad Thompson was turning out. A real sly shit-eating grin kind of guy! Much like himself, Jim reflected. Only he pictured Chad to be sunburned, while he himself was pale as Greek marble.

"Jim," the bartender said, "There's a banana for you, on the dessert table. Oh, and a fall."

Jim started. Did the bartender mean the fall of man from the garden? The fall of human civilization as we know it? 'The Fall of the House of Usher?' Or a fall that resonates with the echoes of a much deeper horror? The fall of ourselves through the vortex of an unutterably impersonal mouse hole.

Jim pushed his wine-stained manuscript away and looked at the bartender, raising his left eyebrow. "Oh! A call" Jim finally cottoned on. "For me?... but everyone knows not to call me here."

"They're calling your cell phone. How would they know you're at the bar?"

"Of course," said Jim, nodding meaningfully as he took the phone out of his pocket. Life had been so much better when they thought he was anywhere. Now he'd probably have to pretend to be somewhere anybody would want to be.

"Hello" the voice echoed on his tinny cell phone, "Is that Woolly Jeanette?" Why would someone think he was with his Auntie? Now nobody would wanna be there.

"No, this is Shiny Jim."

The caller hung up in Jim's' ear. This angered Jim. It wasn't a good idea to make Jim angry, as many had found out to their detriment; he had a propensity to make wild accusations and write about them adversely in whatever fiction/fantasy he would be working on at the time. Jim took a deep breath, held it, and then exhaled his anger away. He reached into his pocket and drew out his wallet. Searching into it, he found only a few pennies and an expired credit card. He knew he was supposed to have cut it up to focus on what he was going to do, but the hollow in his stomach just wouldn’t let him. A man could be many things but not without his black card, expired or otherwise. He was hungry. Unfortunately he only had enough small change to order the margarita. Luckily, his adopted pleasure-withholding mantra allowed him to make such sacrificial choices. If he was honest with himself, though, he was actually starting to get some strange enjoyment from doing so.

"Sortez de mon lit de fleur!, or "I never wear a watch, because it just reminds me that I'm another second away from my death" his teacher had told him long ago. Unlike Artie, who dreamt in Latin but thought aloud in English, his teacher thought in French, and thought (wrongly) aloud in English. Initially, he'd been annoyed with his teacher's random sayings - these kinds of white boy Zen statements that had little impact on him, except giving him some great headaches - but he seemed now to understand this strange circular logic, especially since he bothered to translate the saying into some clarity. "By withholding pleasures, one heightens the enjoyment of that which comes naturally. But withholding pleasure too long can result in problems, not to mention constipation. Wasn't it Voltaire?, another pale faced Frenchman" he remembered vaguely, "who wrote a whole treatise on how constipation can be traced as the source of many infamous wars throughout human history?"

Shaken out of his reverie by the voice on the phone acknowledging his pizza order, he checked his wallet. He'd pay exact change of course; no tip, no nothing. Jim was a sneaky son of a bitch. Everyone knew that. Just like Chad Thompson. He decided that it was time for Chad Thompson to get into some real trouble - time for him to show his chops! He picked up the manuscript, wiped the rosé away, and dryly and mechanically resumed writing.

[edit] A Meeting with the Author

With a faint but noticeable creak which suggested that this once proud building has been falling into a state of disrepair, the unsightly wooden door which stood at the front of the Neo cafe in Riga opened ever so slowly in a rather ominous manner which would have made the bravest souls somewhat apprehensive at the thought of what one might find within the run-down building. Chad Thompson stepped confidently through the narrow door frame. As he took a few steps forward into the seedy restaurant, his eyes quickly narrowed as he began scanning left and right and taking stock of his surroundings. Almost everything in sight looked suspicious but he did his best to pick out the especially suspicious things and commit them to memory. The room was really neither dark nor light, as though there were plenty of light bulbs turned on but each one seemed to be having the life slowly sucked out of it by the unpleasant atmosphere that permeated the establishment. The walls were painted a hideous shade of green which matched all the cheap furnishings. As Chad Thompson turned his gaze to the bar, he was struck by the glare off of the shiny bald head belonging to the man seated on the tiny bar stool. It seemed clear to Chad that the man at the bar could be trouble. The man at the bar seemed to be far too at ease for someone sitting at place like this one. Anybody that could be found in this sort of dump that appears even halfway calm is either very dangerous or very stupid and if the man at the bar was the latter then he wouldn't have remained unharmed in even the short amount of time that Chad Thompson had been making his way through the crowd of lowlifes that frequented the Neo Cafe.

The man at the bar sat with his back to him, apparently drinking and taking down notes on a small pad of paper he held in front of him. Chad Thompson had been forced by the life he had led to become quite proficient at interpreting body language and it was clear to Chad that the man at the bar was perfectly at ease even though Chad couldn't see his face. After trying for a minute or so, Chad Thompson found himself unable to figure out what the man at the bar was probably writing. However, Chad was probably not very well suited to figuring out something of that nature since he was unable to understand why people would want to write anything at all, especially since there was so much to do! All the blows life had dealt Chad over the years had rendered him ill-suited for introspection. Chad Thompson cared for nothing that wasn't something he could feel, something genuine, something visceral, something to stimulate the senses.

Naturally, Chad had soon developed an overwhelming desire to create trouble. Not much time ever went past without Chad experiencing a similar desire. It was as if his life had spun out-of-control to such an extent that chaos was actually sort of soothing and comforting to him. With a mischievous gleam in his eye, Chad marched up to the guy with the shiny bald head sitting at the bar and tapped him firmly on his shoulder.

Jim felt a tap on his shoulder. His subconscious overpowered all other areas of his brain and convinced itself that the pizza had arrived with nourishment for his hungry body. Turning around, mouth watering with Pavlovian anticipation, he extended his hand, with the exact amount of change required sitting in the center of his palm and ready to be exchanged for a hot, delicious pizza. Sadly, it slowly became clear to Jim that the strange man standing before him most definitely wasn't the pizza guy. Jim was a simple man of simple tastes and the fact that the man standing before him wasn't about to give him a pizza seemed to be a crisis greater than the sinking of the titanic and the bombing of Pearl Harbor combined.

Still, even though the man standing in front of him was not about to give Jim a pizza, it was someone who felt strangely familiar to Jim. Jim was unable to recall where he knew him from. Still, though, it was obvious to Jim that the man was trouble. He always did his best to stay out of it, but Jim was extremely good at spotting trouble wherever it might be.

Chad Thompson snatched the paper from Jim's hand. 'What is that? Some kind of crazy hieroglyphics? What does this even say?"

"I am writing down answers." Jim said solemnly

Chad Thompson frowned in consternation. "To what?" Chad asked with frustration.

"Questions" Jim replied as though that completely covered everything and smiled a smile that made the Mona Lisa's look dull and ordinary.

Chad Thompson stood their staring and trying to see if there was something he was missing. He asked Jim a few more questions about what he was writing but apparently Jim had decided to say everything he felt like saying.

The matter grew in Chad's mind until figuring out what this was all about seemed like a matter of the utmost importance. Chad Thompson completely forgot the shady transaction he had originally come to the Neo Cafe to arrange and spent the whole evening trying to work out in his head what Jim had meant and why it mattered to him what Jim meant. When Chad Thompson left the cafe several hours later, Jim was still sitting at the bar and scribbling his strange writing diligently. Chad Thompson went home and had nightmares about a giant pencil trying to stab him. For many nights after this, Chad went back to the cafe looking for Jim but never saw him again. Chad realized that he sensed that Jim understood something about life that he did not, some crucial secret that remained a mystery to him. The quest to grasp these aspects of life soon began to consume him and take top priority in his daily life. Chad quickly grew withdrawn and strange. Quicker than one would have thought possible, Chad went through all his money. Matters were worsened further by the way in which the extent to which Chad threw himself into this quest looked like it had left Chad unable to earn any more money. He wandered the streets begging each day. People passing by him on the street seemed to always give Chad food and money for meals so he never seemed to experience physical hunger despite running out of money. However, he was never really asking for food or money from the strangers who were walking past him on the city streets. Chad was actually begging for answers, for some sort of meaning that could be attached to life and that seemed to be in short supply.


[edit] All You Need is some Mysterious and Ineffable Thing

"So a community can write a novel?" Jim looked up with a skeptical expression.

"Yes, but only a humorous one."

"And only if they put all the new stuff at the start, and the old at the rear"

"It is true. Although we all know the gravity of the human condition, I promise you it is humor that is shared by a community. We respect serious authors who write great globs of sad and dramatic prose because the natural inclination of us all is to laugh."

"Oh come off it." Jim objected, but he was starting to wonder.

"This will ONLY work if we move it into satire and humor," George insisted with great emphasis. Oddly, he said this as though someone actually cared. "Can anyone explain why there is a bias against humour as opposed to melodrama or suspense genres? Life is full of all these elements, but it seems that 'tears' trump 'laughter' every time. But don't worry, 'Romeo and Juliet' is more popular than 'As You like It' or 'Summer Night's Dream' so even Shakespeare felt the pointy end of this debate. No wait, I correct myself: The critics always love 'Romeo and Juliet' better than 'Summer Nights Dream' but I reckon the audience might feel differently. In fact, isn't 'Much Ado About Nothing' actually 'Romeo and Juliet' with a happy ending??...." George was almost frothing by this time.

Instead

"Yes" Jim screamed angrily, "but Laughter is the panacea for the pain of the human experience, just like apathy is the icing on the tractor and pepperoni is the topping on the pizza when someone orders pepperoni and they get the order right. Dude, laughter is, like, one of the only true opiates that makes us recognize our humanity and take bold pleasure in it, or some junk. That and a few other things, like singing to trees and picking daisies in the sunshine."

"Still," George dully continued because he was too much of an idiot to end this boring argument "some serious things have to be formulated seriously, man. Seriously, they seriously do. I'm serious!!! Otherwise, they will seriously lose their sobriety and not be serious any more. Some things should reach our minds unadulterated. Yeah, I'm a big shot who knows words like that one. I seriously am."

At least, that was George's take on things. Jeez, he was sure fond of his shiny little glass eye that he periodically took out to scare strangers. It wasn't so much the ghastly wasted void in his skull that scared strangers. Rather, it was the eye that they were drawn to. The shiny little glass eye, doubled as a crystal ball, one that displayed the strangers fate!

"Marbles is for looking through!", George exclaimed to his pet hermit crab, who glimpsed his fate of being crushed by a big fat buttery banana cake dropped straight from the oven this coming Christmas day.

[edit] True Story

Jim was just now standing at the corner of March and Kent Streets, Maryborough in sunny Australia. This address would mean nothing to most, but it was the tiny little bronze statue of a lady with a rather fetching hat and a cane with the handle in the shape of a bird that might have given people cause for thought. This old building featured that Victorian style that Jimmy had always loved and was sad to see had been replaced by so much glass in modern architecture.

This was the house where Helen Lyndon Goff, later known as P.L.Travers, was born, in what was then a bank building in Maryborough.

Jim was rather intrigued by the connections. It was thrilling and rather unbelievable that such a well-known author had lived in his home town before moving to England and becoming known around the world for her children's books, and her much beloved, Mary Poppins.

He had come to this point by walking through Queens Park, past the most beautiful old rotunda, (did they once call these things folly?). Ironically, this rotunda had been featured in the less-than-successful Kylie Minogue Movie, the Delinquents, which, by another bizarre coincidence also featured Jim's next-door neighbor in the bit-part as the red-headed prison matron.

Pleasant coincidences followed Jim throughout his life. He was still getting over the fact that his father had grown up in the, then, sleepy town of Cairns, next door to the man who later went on to write the Doctor Who theme tune. Jimmy's middle name, so his family always joked, was "But wasn't he/she British?" because that was the wide-eyed question he would always blurt out whenever these topics popped up.

Now, as Jim stood looking at this fictitious character of Poppins, next to the building where a woman who later transformed herself, complete with new identity, into its creator, he was struck by the fact that Mary Poppins, given her influence on the world, and how many people knew her, (despite being a figure of fantasy), was actually more real than he. Jim was fond of Maryborough, Australia. That charming town was a harbor immersed in its discreet fascination and wilderness. Mary Poppins, the celebrity from down there, taught him something. As the children Jane and Michael Banks in that story, so too we crave care and respect from others. In our daydreams we want to enter a drawing on the pavement and live our adventure inside. When we return - back from the fantasy, we will be more confident and optimistic too. Then we'll remember with nostalgia and gratitude that famous nanny, as well as this mysterious Great land of the south.

[edit] Right House, Wrong Road

Big Tony was a literary fraud. He wouldn't have described himself as this. In fact, he would have honestly believed the opposite. However, the moderate success he was having with the weekly serialization in a prestigious broadsheet, based on his apparent first-hand real-life experiences, was in marked contrast with the lukewarm reception he had received for his experimental, stream-of-consciousness "hallucination-vandal" poetry (as he had himself dubbed it). People were lapping up all this BS about the inside information he had personally received about corrupt Ministers of the Government. It was all a figment of his imagination....Or, at least he THOUGHT it was. The problem was, his addiction to strychnine sent him into extended periods of 'hyper-realism' (another self-deceiving euphemism for spending half the week completely delusional). He really couldn't say if he had ACTUALLY overheard two women in a bar talking about saving the whales, and how some cow of a boss was diverting funds into some offshore black market deals with money that ought to be helping the environment and protecting rare species. Maybe he had imagined it. But he was certainly lying about knowing this information first hand from friends of his, with whom he worked and socialized. People love fiction dressed up as fact, and he was just meeting a need. His information was racy enough to steam up a local rag, but vague enough to be unable to be slandering any real person. Or so he thought, but his mind was so cracked on strychnine that he was unable to realize just how poor his judgment was.

Mary was sitting having a quiet one with her best friend Cassey, in the Stalin pub. She was trying to keep her voice low, but she had to keep raising her voice to get over the sounds of the tribute band playing at full volume across the room.

"Maybe we should move somewhere else," Mary said uncertainly, as the strong odor of strychnine wafted over from some spaced-out scruff sitting in the cubicle next to them. (Jim lifted his pen from the manuscript briefly and looked over at Walry and George. "Does strychnine have a distinctive odor, or any smell at all??" Walry just shrugged and George gave a shake of his head to indicate a rare gap in his usually encyclopedic mind for trivia. Jim made a mental note to Wiki it later).

"This boss of mine is into something really shady. And the environment is suffering for it," Mary continued.

Cassey was also a great supporter of the environment, but she was finding it hard to hear. She had had a hard week at work and just wanted to unwind and listen to some loud music.

[edit] Questions Without Notice

"Well it is OBVIOUSLY referring to me!" Sarah shouted down the phone line.

"You tell me Mikhael! He obviously knows something."

Mikhael was trying to stay calm on the other end of the line, but he knew this was bad. How did he know, and how long before people start asking if Kim might be the minister so subtly referred to?? "Listen Sarah, I have done some checking. He is just a 'strychnine-stuffed-wanna-be' writer. He is off his head most of the time. I will eat my hat and never swim again if he has any sources at all. You know what? I reckon he is a lying little shit. He probably just made it all up to sell his pathetic lies!"

Sarah shook her head in disgust. "So, he made it up and just happened to hit the nail on the head? Great! All this work, all this planning and preparation to gain public acceptance. So many years of 'flying under the radar' and all for what? Just so that some flaked-out nut case can cobble together a story that just happens to be true and brings us all down?! Listen to me, get rid of the man. Get him out of the papers. Wait! Better still, offer him money. Promise him his supply of that stuff that is killing him. Pay him to change the story away from me and get him to join us. That's far better than liquidating him."

Mikhael nodded, which did nothing to reassure Sarah, who couldn't see down phone lines.

"And also, get Mr Dimitry to move on obtaining extra 'product.' Oh and remind him that we need them alive this time! We need them for our plan. As I said before, if this works, despite all the rubbish swirling around us, we will be able to operate unimpeded. That is the goal."

Kim hung up without waiting for a reply. She picked up the paper again to compare the article, searching for anything that might alert people.

[edit] Everything Old is New Again

George was leafing through an old copy of the New Yorker. It fell open at a cartoon. He was fascinated. He stared at it for a long, long time. His jaw finally closed and he shook his head.

"What?"

"I had thought that the 'Far Side' cartoons were a thoroughly new phenomenon. Certainly the content is original. But the style, the parody, the dark edge. I thought this was so 'eighties.'"

"Well, isn't it."

"Not really. Take a look at the Addams Family cartoons in here. Not the TV series, the original one or two-panelled cartoons. Very dark, very sharp. Hmmmmm.... Take a look at Punch for that matter. What is it that they say about a society that fails to remember its past?" George said pensively.

In a dreadful break with tradition,(normally the earth shattering revelations come at the very end, - but where is the end in a circular text), Jim suddenly blurted out: "I think I know what the meaning of life is."

George, Walry and Big Tony all looked around at him with distinctly different reactions on their faces.

"Don't say it!" Walry cried.

"Why not. Don't you want to hear my theory?" Jim was dumbfounded.

"No," Walry insisted with his big green eyes glistening. "If you get it right, you will die and we will too!" Walry had always believed that if a person stumbled upon the meaning of life, they would be 'taken out' before they let the cat out of the box, or whatever the phrase was.

"Oh come now. How silly," George insisted. "As if we will all die. Anyway, even if he gets it right, there is always the possibility that he is totally wrong and therefore the existence of 'doubt' would surely save us."

Big Tony just shook his head. He thought these guys were all loopy. The acne scars on his face were brought into sharp relief by the harsh artificial light in the room.

Jim looked at Big Tony, and saw his face and said: "And your face is part of it, Tony."

Tony's ears went red. If Jim was going to make fun of his looks he would drop him like a ball. But no, Tony could see Jim was serious.

"What?" Tony said confused.

"Your face. It is scarred," Jim said.

"For goodness sake, why do people insist on stating the obvious!" Tony said with great irritation.

"No, no. I mean....you know what? I reckon you would have looked too beautiful if it wasn't for those scars. It makes you handsome in a rugged, earthy, real way." Jim explained.

Big Tony didn't know what to say to that.

"But anyway. The meaning of life is... LOVE. And not that irky, schmaltzy kind of love you see in the romance novels, real love (head and heart and all that stuff)" Jim announced with feeling.

"Right," They all said together, with great skepticism.

"Exactly." Jim said, not picking up their uncertain tones. "But as you can see, that asks more questions than it answers." Jim explained. "I think it is the centre of the meaning of life because it is the one thing that can last beyond the grave. It draws people together, its absence causes apathy and hatred and destruction. Life can't be about possessions because they can all go; it can't be about health, because it declines; it can't be about beauty, because physical beauty fades, it can't be about reputation because that can be destroyed, it cannot be just our jobs because he can get fired from them or have to retire. It must be about love."

"But love can end," Walry said. "People fall out of love all the time.

"Yes, but they fall right back into love again pretty soon, or they put their energy into 'loving' their work, or their car or any number of thing. But 'love' it is."

"Okay," Big Tony said, after some moments of stunned silence. "How do you explain the whales and the animals and the world. DO they love? Do they exist because of love?"

"Mmmmm." Jim pondered for a moment. "Well, all I can say is if we don't start loving our surroundings they are going to be destroyed by our lust for other things that eat up our resources."

With that, no one said a word.

[edit] The Half Lotus Begins to Flower

Mikhael was late for his yoga class. He rushed up the stairs, leaping two and three together, trying to make up time. He arrived at the gym, flushed, dripping with perspiration, breathing heavily. He quickly grabbed a fresh towel and a mat and let himself quietly into the yoga room. He was hoping no-one would notice, but he could see several of the women glance at him out of the corner of their eyes.

He sat down, relaxed and started stretching. Several minutes later he was in the middle of a blooming lotus move, when he heard something click. He first thought it was his back, but he soon realised that the click was something far more sinister. It was the click of a safety switch being removed - a man had just entered the yoga room holding a gun!

Mikhael gasped involuntarily and his stomach clenched. He lost control of his muscles and found himself stuck in the half lotus position. The gunman told them to freeze!, and Mikhael had no alternative but to remain in the half lotus position.

But he knew his body would beg his mind to instruct his limbs to, well, limber up before long. Coupled with the fear of losing continence, his thoughts returned to the the long-lost memory of the last woman he had dated in his previous life.

"What was her name again?" he mumbled to himself as the intruder's perfume mingled with his sweat vapors. He suppressed the urge to ask if it's Evening In Paris and instead tried hard to remember a name. Nothing going.

But he could recall she was the plump and pretty sort that guys like him bring home to their mothers to eat pie. And didn't he bring her home to his mother? Boy, weren't they a riot together?! When the woman intimated that she was an immigrant from a certain part of the world where all the ladies are Protestants, Mikhael's mom gave her guest's English language vocabulary a boost by correcting her right away in as polite a manner as possible between pussies. "Honey, I"m sure you're either too tongue-tied to say the word "prostitute" or my coconut cream pie is really that good."

The man begun to walk around the room. Mikhael could just see him out of the corner of his eye. He was dressed in grubby clothes, with a cap worn backwards, and he was wearing sandals with white socks. The horror! Mikhael began to tremble - what sort of man would wear white socks and black sandals - he was obviously some sort of psychopath.

Mikhael could feel his body start to cool down - he needed to stretch his muscles, get the blood flowing.

"Alright", the man said, "This is how it's going to work." Continued here: Section Two

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