Sunday, October 30, 2016

INTERVIEW: No Gods, No Masters: Living Dangerously with Al Namrood

An interview with one of the finest Middle-Eastern Metal bands in the world - Al-Namrood.  Straight outta Saudi Arabia, this band risk real-life beheading with every album they release.  Now that's commitment!  Written for Heathen Harvest, and barely edited at all by the overworked and rarely thanked Sage Weatherford.

"No matter who your favourite black metal band is, they are playing it safe compared to Al Namrood.  Recording anti-Islamic metal in Saudi Arabia, these three metalheads (Mephisto, Humbaba, and Ostron) risk very real punishment if they are ever discovered, and have to keep their musical lives completely hidden under fear of death.  No matter how tough Glen Benton thought burning an inverted cross into his forehead was, it pales into silly (if painful in the forehead region) nincompoopery compared to the life-or-death concerns of Al Namrood."

No Gods, No Masters: Living Dangerously with Al Namrood

Saturday, October 29, 2016

FICTION: Another Excerpt of 'Beef'!

In exciting news, 'Beef' was accepted into the Green Reads collection, a website dedicated to ecological- and/or environmentally-themed books!  To do so, I had to submit an excerpt - which means you get to read another excerpt of the novel before you buy it (if, for some inexplicable reason, you were still dillydallying).  Woohoo!

Read the excerpt here - and GO EARTHLINGS GO!

A Really Quite Lengthy Excerpt Focusing on Both Character and Vat-Meat

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

FAQ: The Trouble With Dick



These questions are about the short story “The Trouble With Dick”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.

Blackwell, Blackwell, Blackwell.  I’m very disappointed in you.  Where to begin?
Sorry.  I really am.  Is… is this about the names?  Or the ending?  Or all the silly synonyms for “arse”?  Or-

All of the above.  Okay, first things first: the names.  Dick?  Fanny?  Balzac?
Right, well, let me say firstly that this isn’t directly my fault.  Not directly.  I was finding myself coming up with terribly bland white-culture names for these characters, and I wanted to see what other people would come up with, so I put out a call on my Facehook page for people to give me some names, one male and one female (I know, I know, genderised names are a terrible idea, but let’s face it, most of us actually have them).  And I thought to myself, I’ll just use the first two that I get, whether or not I like them: it’ll be like this cosmic “faith in the universe” kind of move, a “death of the author” collectivist ego-obliteration move, a good proper “I am a conduit” zen artist chaos magick thingie.  And the two names I was given first were, sadly, Dick and Fanny.  Now, I never told anyone that I’d use the first two names I was given, so theoretically I could’ve backed out and chosen any on the list, but that seemed like bad art, so I stuck to my unspoken guns.  Dick and Fanny it was.  And, when I looked at it, the story did begin with the as-yet-unnamed couple having sex, so Dick and Fanny was oddly appropriate, Dick being a synonym for penis, and Fanny being a synonym for vagina (in Australia and England, anyway – in North America it’s a synonym for arse, which could very well still be sexually appropriate, given the diversity of the sensual cavorting mentioned early on in the story).  

(For the record, Dick and Fanny was followed quite closely by Joseph and Mary and then Kanye and Kim, so, really, I was quite lucky to get Dick and Fanny so quickly.  Other suggestions were: Erik and Delilah, Eunice and Harambe, Miranda and Benny, Reginald and Harper, Cormac and Joan, Sarnai and Khulan, Chester and Mia, Percy and Gwenda, Joji and Merida, Sharna and Russel, Queenie and The Rat, Terence and Charlotte, Charlie and Rose, Buster and Joan, Janu and Pia, Paris and Hilton, River and Phoenix, and the haunting Lashante Jobob and Zyrel McBumpkins.  Then of course I also was given the excellent Sam and Sam, Jo and Jo, Charlie and Charlie etc.  But, like I said, Dick and Fanny were first.)

Balzac, however, is entirely my own work.  And damn it all, I’m 100% proud of it.  It still makes me laugh out loud.  Anyway, what are you, the name police?

No.  I’m not the name police. I’m not even sure there is such an organisation.
Well.  Good.  Because if there was, that kinda thing would be hard to enforce-

What about the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages?  They could be considered the name police, couldn’t they?
I suppose so.  Yes.  Fine. 

Anyway.  As bad as the names were, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ending.  What the actual fuck?  You are a bad bad man.
Oh, come on!  The Shaggy Dog Story is a fine tradition in English literature.  Well, maybe not in formal capital-L literature, but as far as the annals of folk comedy go, the Shaggy Dog Story is a classic form of storytelling.  It’s totally due for a comeback.  I often feel like our storytelling is being restricted into one particular form by all these books and gurus and bullet-point lists on “how to craft story”, as though there’s only one way to do it, with all this “the inciting event needs to happen by page X” or “the character needs to grow and learn by page Y”.  It’s silly and straitjackety.  And worse, it homogenises what should be a vast vista of limitless diversity.  For me, this story was not about someone growing or learning or overcoming adversity or about arcs – it was just about the process of balancing selfishness against other people’s needs.  Dick (not his real name) has a problem, and he doesn’t even know what it is.  And he’s willing to make other people feel uncomfortable, and totally ignore their needs, just to make himself feel better.  That’s what the story’s really about – it’s not about what is actually wrong with his mudflaps.
    
And, even more importantly, the reader and Dick (not his real name) are in the same boat – we’re all in this together, wanting to know what the fuck is going on – we’re all sharing a journey.  And, like I said to people who’ve called me a “tease” (and even a “bastard arsehole cleverclogs”), it’s about the journey, not the destination…

Well, I still feel ripped off.
I’m sorry.  But seriously, there could be nothing more deflating and anticlimactic than finding out what was actually wrong with Dick’s fudge tunnel – what, after all that awkward human drama and uncomfortable selfishness, you’re after a medical diagnosis?  Are you really saying that you’d feel less ripped off if the story ended with “it’s an abscess” or “he had a fistula”?  I can’t imagine a greater disappointment than actually learning that Dick (not his real name) has levator syndrome or pruritus ani.   I really quite strongly believe that this tale is not actually about the specific condition of his camel-coloured calamari.  It’s not about what’s actually wrong with his William Shatner.  This is not a story about what is medically amiss with his-

Okay, fine.  Good point, well made, yada yada.
Thanks.

So, really, you’re saying this story has a deliberately lame ending, has intentionally carelessly-named characters, and is really just a string of ludicrous synonyms for “arse”.
Yes.  Nailed it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

FAQ: Home/Mercy



These questions are about the short story “Home/Mercy”, and absolutely contains massive hairy spoilers.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.

Okay, so that was pretty horrible.  How do you even get an idea for a story like this?
It’s not nice.  But it’s cheerier than the original concept.  The story behind this one is, I was going through a bout of fairly horrible depression as I sometimes do, when everything seems both empty and vile and my existence on the planet seems like a complete waste of time, and the story just sort of popped into my head as an example of the ultimate meaninglessness of truth and failure of positivity.  Perhaps it was the unhelpful chemicals in my brain, perhaps it was the unhelpful emotions I was feeling, but, either way, I liked the idea (ruefully, bitterly, cruelly), and so I jotted the idea down in my phone.  I have it here somewhere… ah, here: 23rd of May, 2014 – “Couple in love, guy asks her to swear she will put him out of his misery if he ever loses his physical and mental with-it-ness… they swear upon it. Seriously.  No nursing homes, no slow death in a place of strangers.   Old age hits, he loses his physical capabilities.  He forgets who she even is.  And as she’s killing him, he has no idea why, or who she is, or what he’s done to deserve it… Dies in terror at the hands of a stranger.    So, in the original concept, she totally kills him, and it’s pretty unequivocally fucked for both of them – killing your partner who has no idea why, and is just horrendously scared and shocked and upset and fighting you off, while you’re desperately trying to murder the person you love more than anyone in the world… Jesus fuck, what a fucking nightmare.   So yeah, when it came to take some of these ideas out of Notes on my phone and turn them into proper stories (I’ve got tonnes of ideas like this in my phone, but most of them just stay there), I was no longer languishing in the trough of existential Doom, and without the Horror of Existence crushing my every atom, I just couldn’t do it to them.  No-one deserves that level of horror!  Not even fictional people.  So yeah, I basically chickened out, and they didn’t have to go through with it.  And so the story actually went from being a representation of absolute crushing terror to some kind of expression of “love conquers all” or something.  An odd turn around, but a nice one.

Yikes.
You said it!

So you’re kind of for mercy killings, but in the end kind of against them?
I don’t think I’m anything in general – I’m more of a “case by case basis” kind of person.  In some cases, euthanasia is probably the best thing, in some cases it’s probably not.  That’s totally for other people to decide, based on their specific sets of circumstances.  I’m usually pro anything that lets a person decide what they want to do with their own body.  In the right circumstances, I’m even pro-suicide, which is a rant I drag out whenever I want to be really unpopular at dinner parties.

Seriously?
No, not serious at all.  I don’t go to any dinner parties.

This couple seem to fall in total crazy capital-L love really quickly.  How do you expect us to believe that?
Because that stuff is totally real. That’s exactly how me and My Loved One felt after a couple of weeks max, complete and utter head-over-heels soul-mate connection, absolute kindred spirit we-have-to-be-together-forever kinda feelings, intense emotional states of comprehensive certainty that well surpass any other feelings about anything else ever.  I think we’re particularly lucky to have had that, and it may be rare (what would I know – we met when I was nineteen, so I’m pretty much inexperienced at the whole “budding romantic partnership” caper) but it’s definitely a real thing.  I don’t expect you to believe it necessarily – but it is true.  Not only that, but that image of being in a vast blueish-black void with only each other, floating or falling, with nothing else existing in the universe but each other – that is also something we experienced.  And it does feel like home.

That’s nice.  For you.
Yes.  Yes, it is.

Are those quotey bits – the bits where you seem like you’re quoting newspaper articles about old people killing their loved ones – are they legit? 
I’m afraid so.  While researching the ideas behind the story (ie, googling stuff about old people killing each other – believe me when I say my search history is a frightening place to be), I found heaps of newspaper reports about exactly that, and it’s fucking heartbreaking.  Tale after tale of old people killing the person they love, or, even worse, attempting to and failing.  Eep.  Not a pleasant read, but essential – this shit is real, totally real, people are living this stuff, and we need some kind of “game over” option for people.  Assisted suicide, euthanasia, whatever it ends up being, we really need some socially-acceptable way for people to say “I’ve had enough”, and to just make it stop.  If someone wants out, that’s their right.  We shouldn’t be forcing old ladies to stab their husbands to death, or old grandpas to shoot their dear old wives in the face with a shotgun (or all the other non-gendered permutations of such a situation).  There’s got to be a better option.  Don’t you think? 

I… well, yes, I suppose so.
Me too.

All your stories are either about arses or genitalia or faeces or people dying.  Do you ever plan on moving away from this rather restrictive palette?
Not sure.  It’s not like I sit there going “okay, so what foul body process can I write about now?” or “okay, so time to write a short story about old people dying”.   I just write what seems like an interesting idea, and, being a fairly ordinary humyn, I’m interested in sex and death.  Because we all are, almost universally – and I don’t mean universally like “all humyns”, but “all organisms”.  Almost universally, organisms are interested in the broad area of reproduction, and the broad area of survival – you could almost say that the entire hystory of evolution is creatures fucking and/or dying, that’s what evolution is.  So it’s an incredibly uninteresting thing to write about, really.  There are a lot of goths out there who think they’re incredibly edgy being interested in sex and death, but honestly, it is actually the very most boring thing imaginable to be interested in.  So I guess, my work on arses and/or faeces is where I really shine.   Evolutionarily-speaking, it’s my anal prose that really stands out.  Niche baby, niche!

I’m just… I’m just going to go over there for a while.  Got stuff to do, um.
Oh.  Okay, sure.  I’ll just wait here then, okay?






Monday, October 10, 2016

REVIEW: Amalgamated - Amalgamated

The self-titled album from weirdo art-rockers Amalgamated.  Dream-like and surprisingly beat-filled.  Written for Heathen Harvest, and Sagely edited by Mr Weatherford.

"I think there are just so many other interesting things happening in the sound that the instantly accessible nature of the bold and brazen block-rocking beats doesn’t compromise the whole, but instead actually highlights the strangeness of everything else, contrasted so vividly against the solidity of the drums.  And it’s not like every track is some Beastie Boys hip-hop banger—really, it’s only about half the tracks that sport these massive beats, while the remainder churn and fizz and whirl and pulse with dense surrealist magick."

Amalgamated - Amalgamated

FICTION: The Trouble With Dick



Bodies entangled beneath this young woman’s doona, the tang of sweat and sex, the seemingly-endless combinatory possibilities of raw frenzied copulation – Dick1 couldn’t help but feel that things were going pretty well.
 
The band had been mega lame, but meeting Fanny2 had been amazing. They’d just clicked straight away, both kinda brash and critical and open and snarky about the world in general and the band in particular, and they’d laughed, lightly touched, flirted incessantly in the beer garden while that terrible band had cockrocked and posed loudly in the bandroom.  Not only was she funny as all hell, she was fascinating like a good book that you just want to keep on reading, and she was not even a bit shy or whatever, and she looked seriously amazing.  Really looked him in the eye when she spoke, and when she spoke, you knew you had to believe her.  She was not shitting you, Dick knew it in his guts.  She was real, and kinda addictive.  And really easy, like it all flowed, not even a hint of awkward between them.  He kinda knew he was in, it was one of those things you could kinda just tell from pretty early on.  And after a few more drinks, sure enough, Fanny had asked if he’d wanted to come back to her place for a few billies, and Dick had been more than delighted to do so, even though bongs were not really his thing and seemed kinda unhygienic and a bit gross really when you thought about it, all that stagnant thick black water etc.  When they got there, her housemates were out, and they had the place to themselves, but, after getting all hot and bothered on the couch, they’d moved to her room and entered into a dark salty world of voracious drug-fuelled pleasure, like seriously full-on hedonistic body-melding no-holds-barred gymnastic sexual fireworks, like the most explicitly intense twenty-person orgy condensed into just two bodies – it was that fucking good.

So it came as even more of a shock, contrast-wise, when Fanny stopped doing what she was doing to him and made a muffled gasp, kinda backed away with widened eyes, and said, “Fuck, what’s that?”

Dick, slick with perspiration and almost levitating with pleasure, took a few moments to register what was happening.  He opened his eyes, and saw Fanny’s shocked and repulsed expression in the orangey lamplight.

“What?”

“Have you had that… looked at?” she asked, visibly sickened. “Like, I mean, professionally?”

Dick gulped.  He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

“What, what’s wrong?”

“I really think you should see a doctor, get it looked at.”

He looked down at himself: everything looked normal, as far as he could tell.  What was she talking-

Fanny’s phone rang, loud in the sudden deflated silence.  Desperate for distraction, perhaps, Fanny answered it.  A moment of silence.  Then panic.

“What?  Fuck off, what?  No!  When?”

Dick could feel it all slipping away.  As she started shaking her head, eyes welling up, Dick had another look down at his groin: no, everything shipshape down there.  What the fuck was she-

“Fuck, shit, I’ll be right there dad.  Is it bad?   Okay.  Fuck, oh, dad.  I’ll be right there.”

She hung up and looked at him with shiny wet eyes.

“I’ve got to go.  You’ve got to go.  It’s my mum.  She’s been hit by a car.  She’s… Oh fuck fuck fuck.”
Fanny wiped her face on a towel quicky and started stepping into her clothes, swearing tersely under her breath, eyes wide.  Dick was kinda frozen.

“Oh.  Shit, I’m so sorry,” he managed to say.  “Hope she’s okay.”

Fanny was like the fastest dresser he’d ever seen.  Undies, bra, pants, top, whatever that jacket thing was, socks, boom; he’d barely managed to sit up straight and she was putting on her boots.

“You’ve gotta go, seriously, please, this is an emergency.  Fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

“You want me to come with?” he asked, slipping on his jeans and rummaging on the floor for his shirt.

“No, I’m okay, fuck, I’ve just...”

He slipped on his shirt.  Tried to hug her, but she was not really into it.  He put his shoes on while she grabbed her shit.

“Hey, um,” he said, “were you talking about my cock before?”

“What? No!”

“So, okay, was it-”

“I have to go.  Please.  This is fucking serious.”

“I know, but-”

She stormed out of the room, and Dick followed her.  They swapped numbers quickly, said she was sorry, that she’d had a fucking amazing time, but she had to go, that she’d love to get together again some time, bye – and she was gone, just a squeal of wheels and a grunt of engine heading to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, and Dick walked to the tram stop and didn’t know what the fuck to feel.

*****

When he got home, he tried to have a good look at himself in the bathroom mirror.  Everything seemed normal.  He closed his eyes and tried to be mindful and present and stuff, see if anything felt wrong.  Everything felt just fucking dandy.  Seriously.  Not even an itch.  Okay, well, now he was itchy, but that was psychosomatic, wasn’t it.

She said it wasn’t his cock, he knew that much.  He borrowed his housemate’s hand-held mirror, tried to see if it was something on the underside of his balls.  Nothing, no rashes, no lumps, everything looked normal.  As far as he could tell: to be honest, he’d actually never seen the underside of his ballsack before, but he was pretty sure that’s how it had always looked.  Fuck!

“I really think you should see a doctor, get it looked at.”

Her voice, her shocked expression, kept gyrating around and around in his head.  What was she talking about?  Like really, what the fuck?  Everything was fine down there.  Wasn’t it?  What if it wasn’t?  But it was, wasn’t it.  Wasn’t it?

*****

He googled “scrotal deformities and illnesses”.

Jesus christ.  He’d never do that again.

*****

After some consideration, Dick was pretty certain that it wasn’t his groin.  Maybe it was his arse?  After all, they did try out a whole lot of positions he didn’t usually do.  Maybe, while Fanny was down there doing her non-standard sexual thang, she caught a glimpse of something abnormal about his poopchute?  The more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed.  After all, although he kinda knew his groin like the back of his hand (he’d spent a whole lot of time getting acquainted with it in his adolescence), his arse was basically a stranger to him.  He’d never once seen it.  He’d felt it with his fingers only rarely, and never with much analytical purpose, more of a quasi-conscious itch rectification than any proper information-gathering reconnaissance mission.  Maybe his anus was hideous, deformed, differently abled?  What did he know?  Maybe it was mis-shapen, horrifyingly atypical?  Or maybe it was diseased, some disease he’d lived with for so long that he was just used to the symptoms – if he was brutally honest with himself, did he really feel right down there?  Was that really how it was meant to feel?  He clenched and puckered a few times, trying to gauge the correctness of how it felt, but gave up, sighing heavily – how could you tell what was right and what was wrong if you were so used to the wrongness that the wrongness felt right?  For fuck’s sake!  This was really stressing him out.

Deformity of the anus.  Great.  Just great.

He tried the two-mirror thing again to get a good look at the suspect area, but it was almost impossible to get the right light levels in the bathroom, small cramped sharehouse as it was, and he was having a great deal of difficulty working out the perfect combination of stance and angle: when he used two hands to part his buttocks, he had no way to hold the handmirror, and had to angle his body a very specific way, and then his torso cast shadows on the very area he was trying to observe.  If he held the handmirror in one hand, he had only one hand left for buttock-parting, and a lopsided view emerged, the limited visibility further reduced by angle and cramp; besides, no matter how he contorted, there was just no way he could get the exact view he was craving, with the magnification required-

Magnification!  That was it.  He was a fucking idiot!

With his phone, he took the photo he required: in fact, he took several, with each hand.  Thank fuck.
Pulling up his pants, Dick examined the arse-pics.  Nothing.  Nothing that he could see, anyway.  The pics were dark and maybe a little grainy, sure, but his date appeared perfectly normal. 

Nothing wrong with this hairy winker, thought Dick.  What the hell?  Making a spreading motion with his fingers, he zoomed in on the offending orifice. 

It all looked fine. Didn’t it?

Didn’t it?

*****

The thought of calling Fanny occurred to him several times over the next evening.  After all, confronting her about what exactly she had meant was really the only way to move forward with this whole situation, but he knew she’d be busy with her run-into mother or some shit, and so would be much too focused on attending to injuries or whatever to give him even a short pithy direct kind of answer to his very specific questions, even though it was really kinda her fault that he was in this situation in the first place, seeing as it was her who’d decided that whatever ailment from which he was suffering required the urgent and immediate cessation of really quite pleasurable sexual activities in order to announce said ailment in such ego-deflating and hardly at all romantic or sensual terms, and so really he’d be well within his rights to call her up right now and demand answers and maybe even berate her verbally for putting him through all this in the first place – but no, he didn’t, because he was a nice guy, and didn’t do shit like that.

Instead, he went to bed.

But he couldn’t sleep.  Terrible thoughts about the integrity of his sphincter clouded his mind, and filled him with simultaneous dread and anxiety.  Because what if there was something intolerably flawed about his chocolate starfish?  What if there was something he needed to get checked out, medically-speaking?  What if he was suffering some dire defect of the bunghole, and didn’t get it checked out, and then, a few years down the track, was leaving a trail of thin trickling faecal matter everywhere he went just because he’d been too scared or toxically masculine or plain old stupid to simply go to the doctor and get it checked out by a professional trained in such matters?  What if whatever he was suffering from led to some sort of full-blown anal anarchy later on, some terrible swollen roidal ungodly mess that could only be controlled with nappies and constant application of cream and some sort of jerry-rigged harness or something?  What if his whole hindquarters erupted in a foul prolapsing of abdominal matter, some heaving shuddering slick sadsack of pinkness and bile, like the world’s most unappetising giant doughnut? The thought was almost too much to take.

But on the other hand. 

He didn’t want to go to the doctor, some stranger, some know-it-all upstart fresh out of uni with her fancy white coat and all those letters after her name, he didn’t want some random sticking her fingers up his arse and poking around or whatever it was they were meant to do.  It was humiliating.  It was degrading.  And all because, what, some chick said he should get something checked out?  What the fuck did she know anyway?  After all, what did he know about her, really, if he was honest with himself?  Sure, she seemed nice, and she was fun to talk to, and was great in bed, but really, what did she know about diseases of the anus?  He doubted she was any kind of expert in procto-deformity at all, really:  bah, she was a massive bong-sucking stoner, that’s what she was, almost the very definition of “paranoid”.  “Who do you get your medical advice from?” he imagined someone asking him: “Oh, from random bong-heads”, he imagined answering.  Bah!  Never ask a cone-smoker for therapeutic assistance, that was almost like some sort of axiom, some kind of motto for how to live a good and healthy life.  What had he been thinking?  Plus, the lighting in the boudoir that night had hardly been what you call optimum for rectal examination, it had been fucking mood lighting, that’s what it had been, dim and dark and kinda sexy, but definitely not great for nailing specific rectal disorders.  Not the correct kinda lighting for duodenal diagnosis, basically.  But, lighting aside, how did he know that Fanny wasn’t a massive exaggerator, or even specifically some kind of long-term hypochondriac, the kind of person who sees medical emergencies in every winter sniffle?  Maybe she was the kind of highly-strung tightly-wound mental case who can’t piss without wondering if the colour or smell is right: maybe she was a hardcore pill-popping pulse-measuring malingerer, only ever one blemish away from dialling Nurse on Call.  Lame.  Mega lame.  Relax, Dick told himself, relax: it’s probably all in her freakin’ head.

(But he couldn’t relax. 

Because now it was in his freakin’ head too.)
*****

“You know I’m… I’m not really qualified to make that sort of call, right?”

Dick’s best friend Balzac3was extremely skilled in the areas of speedy mental arithmetic, recalling comprehensive actor-or-director-specific filmographies, and knowing exactly what beer would pair with precisely what cuisine.  He was not at all skilled at diagnosing diseases of the rectum.

“Come on, man.  You don’t know how hard it is to even ask this shit.”

Balzac ran a hand over his rapidly-thinning pate (he wasn’t old, just balding early) and made a face of grim distaste.

“I… I really don’t want to.  I mean, I’m, I’m sort of honoured that you came to me, in a way, um, but I’m really not, I’m not sure how comfortable, I’m not sure if I can be any real help here, in, in this specific case-”

“Please.  I need you, man. Please.”

Balzac gritted his teeth and squeezed air through them tersely, some sound between a sigh and a hiss.   
His place was nice, with big windows, and the room north-facing, so the thick wide beams of sunlight filled the room with otherwise invisible specks of dust.  The air was warm and the surfaces schmick and clean.  Every object was in its place.  The contrast with Dick’s own home could not be greater.  Dick watched Balzac grimace and prevaricate, could almost see his friend’s internal struggle, so clear and bright was this warm spring morning light.  It was the perfect light for revelation, and truth, and accuracy in the anal region.

“Man,” Balzac sighed, “I really don’t want to.  I just, I don’t think I can’t help you.  You need to see a professional, or, you need someone who knows what they’re doing, I’m really ill-equipped to diagnose, I mean, I don’t have the skill-set required-”

“Less talking, more prognosis,” Dick said, pulling down his pants and spreading his cheeks.

“Fuck man, seriously,” said Balzac, flinching, then resigning himself to the amateur proctology, “I’m, I’m not, I haven’t ever actually seen enough arses to know anything, I don’t feel I can… okay, wow, maybe… well, is that normal?”  He peered closer.

“Is what normal?”

“Well, I don’t know, I’m no expert, I’m not in the, I’m not a part of the arse-judging community,” Balzac squinted, crouching a little, intrigued, “but… well, maybe there’s something here, I mean, it might be something.”

“Something like what, man? Growth? Discolouration? Tag? Blemish? Cyst? Rash?  Give me a fucking clue, man!”

Balzac sighed deeply, hand again smoothing over his baldness, some kind of nervous tic.

“Fuck, maybe nothing!”

“Come on, you can see something, right?”

“I’ve got no idea man, I really don’t.  I’m, I don’t have the skill set, I told you!  I’m way out of my depth, my league, here!  If I say ‘oh it’s nothing’, but then it’s really something, then you’ll hate me forever – if I say ‘yeah, it’s something’, then you’ll be freaking out or whatever, but it might, it could be nothing!  I can’t… I just can’t do this, man!”

Dick let his arse go and pulled up his trackies, spinning angrily to face his follicly-challenged companion.

“Fuck man, that is really lame man, you saw something, just let me know.  Come on bro, come on man, please.”

“Look.  I said I didn’t want to do this.  I’m just no expert here, I don’t have, I can’t tell you if… I just don’t know enough.  Okay?  I… go to a doctor or something if you really want to know, if you want to put, if you want to put your mind at ease, if you want to know solid facts.” He looked so pained. “I just…”

“Yeah yeah, you don’t know.” Dick clenched his fists. “Okay, well, fuck, thanks for looking.”

Balzac grimaced. 

“Well, you didn’t give me much choice, did you.”

“What?  You could’ve turned away-”

“You were, it was right there!  I was, you basically assaulted me with your anus-”

“Fuck off man, I was just asking for a little help-“

Asking? You slapped me in the face with that thing-“

“That’s what friends do, okay-“

“Friends don’t force their arseholes into their friends’ faces-“

“Whatever man, thanks for nothing, whatever!”

Dick stormed away, waving angrily at the air behind him, while Balzac made indignant stammery noises, and when Dick slammed the front door shut, it banged with exactly the right decibel level to suit the explosions of noise inside his head and heart.

*****

Fuck’s sake, thought Dick, brooding and angry and a few glasses into a bottle of spiced rum (mixed with creaming soda it was bloody delicious), fucking fuck’s sake on a fuckstacle.

He stared at the phone in his hand.  He kinda knew the spiced rum (mixed with creaming soda) wasn’t really helping him think clearly, but in a way it was, tearing down those damned social norms and giving him the courage he needed to just make the fucking call and get this shit sorted once and for all.

He dialled the number.  It was a number he’d never called before.

It rang for a bit longer than he wanted it to, and he was sipping again from his mug o’rum when the beeping stopped and he heard her voice, small, digital, breaking up a little from either bad reception or a broken heart (or both).

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Dick put down his drink quickly like he’d been sprung. “Hey, it’s Dick, we… met the other night.”

“Hey.  Thanks for calling.”

“Hey, no worries.  How’s… how’s your mum?”

The pause was too long for it to mean good things.  Fuck.

“She’s…” Fanny’s voice broke into quiet lost sobs.  She sniffed, tightened. “She didn’t make it.”

Oh great.

“Fuck man, shit, that’s terrible,” he said, reaching for his mixed drink.

“I don’t know what to do… I just can’t believe it, it’s like this really fucked dream, it’s like I…” She broke into sobs again, snotty and gross, even at this distance. “Thanks for calling, I really need someone to talk to, it’s… thanks.”

Dick rolled his eyes and tried to keep his voice sympathetic-sounding.

“Hey, that’s fine, any time, no worries, not a problem.”

“One day she’s there, everything’s normal, and then, the next day…”

“I know, it’s terrible.  I totally get it.” He made what he hoped was an understanding sigh. “It’s like, I had a similar thing, one day I thought everything was fine, and then, bam, I find out I’ve got something wrong with my… arsehole?”

“What?”

“I’m just saying, I understand, I’m in a similar position myself.  I mean, obviously it’s very different, it’s just similar in that one way, of thinking that everything’s normal and then-”

“Are you serious?  You’re seriously trying to compare my mum’s death with whatever’s wrong with your arsehole?”

“So it is my arsehole! Yes!” He fist-pumped the air.  “So, we can get back to your mum in a second, but while we’re on the topic-“

The phone was dead.  The bitch had hung up. 

Dick shook his head, staring at the phone with distaste.  He just couldn’t believe some people.

*****

(And she just hung up straight away when he called her back. 

Both times.  Unbelievable!)

*****

Dick flipped through the pages of the out-of-date yachting magazine without taking in a single thing. He sighed and dropped it hatefully onto a pile of uncurrent periodicals about celebrity diets or whatever.  A small child in the corner whimpered and sneezed.

He fucking hated doctor’s waiting rooms, fucking hated them.  They were annoying, lame, uncomfortable, filled with people who should’ve been home in bed, instead of spreading fucking infection and illness amongst the general public.  He was certain he was going to get sick from all this.  The sneezing kid looked his way, so Dick glared hatefully at her until she burrowed herself in her guardian’s chest.  Good.  Fucking sickly brat, keep your spina bifida or your shingles or your whooping cough or whatever illnesses children get to yourself.  Jesus.

As though it wasn’t bad enough that Fanny wasn’t talking to him any more.  As though it wasn’t bad enough that his best friend in the world wouldn’t even tell him what was wrong with him.  As though it wasn’t bad enough that he had this affliction, or ailment, or deformity, or whatever the fuck it was going on down there in the first place.  As though it wasn’t all fucking bad enough already, he didn’t need some diseased urchin spluttering all over him-

“Dick?”4 called the doctor, a smartly-dressed crisp-looking young Asian woman who barely reached his shoulders, “this way please.”

Glaring one last time at the sniffling brat, he followed the doctor to her small office and sat belligerently in the appropriate chair.

“So, Dick,” she said, smiling reassuringly and pressing the tips of her small fingers together as she sat in her own chair, “what seems to be the trouble?”

He explained.  She listened, nodding.  He explained a bit more.  She nodded a bit more.

“Well,” she said eventually, “maybe we should have a look then, yes?”

When he was suitably splayed, the doctor gasped, slightly too loudly.

“What?  What is it?”

“Wow,” said the doctor, leaning right in there, “I have never… hang on a second, please.  Don’t move.”

Craning his neck around, Dick saw the doctor leave the office.  Unbelievable.

He faced the front again, ran his eyes over the plastic anatomical models and artificial potted plants and friendly posters reminding people that when you get old you get all sorts of rank diseases and should spend half your fucking time at the doctor’s, bah.  Couldn’t she just have said what the fuck was wrong with him?  Is that really too much to ask?  Honestly, this shit was just unutterably lame-

“Here, have a look!” the doctor was talking in excitedly hushed tones, like a bird-fancier spotting a particularly rare nesting family of blue spotted whatevers.  Craning his neck around again, he saw three other medical professionals enter with his own doctor, creaseless and stain-free the lot of them, all eager eyes and white coats and fucking knowledgable demeanors, all of them rushing to his date like seagulls to a leftover chip.  Part of him was surprised they didn’t squawk.

“Ooh, wow!” one doctor said appreciatively.

“Fascinating!” said another.

“Have you ever seen one quite like it?” asked his original doctor, speaking without taking her eyes off the prize.

“Hey,” Dick said, trying not to explode, “can you please tell me what’s going on?  Please?”

“Sorry, Dick,” she said, sheepishly, kinda snapping herself out of her trance, “You’ve got what we call a something something something something something.”  The long words sounded like a cross between the contents of a medicine cabinet and a death metal album title, and basically didn’t really tell Dick anything at all, and he was kind of pretty much over standing like this with his fucking arsehole exposed to the world like a ceramic carnival clown’s gaping orifice waiting for a pingpong ball. In fact he was pretty much over being here at all, and he was most definitely over being the only person who didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with him and why wasn’t anyone telling him anything and what the living fuck was happening-

“Here, let me use this special camera,” the doctor said, setting up a screen in front of him and pulling out a long futuristic tubular attachment, all coils and plastic, “We normally use this camera for colonoscopies, but it should give you an idea of what we’re seeing.”

“You’re not… inserting anything are you?”

She laughed.

“Oh no,” she smiled warmly at him, and the other doctors laughed quietly amongst themselves, “We won’t need to.  Have a look, you’ll see what I mean.”

She held the device near his arsecheeks, and Dick saw them curving melon-like on the screen, crystal clear and kind of terrifyingly large, out of context.  Then, as she got closer to the area in question, Dick saw with an impressed kind of fear rising in him, how the camera captured every hair, every pimple, in such jaw-dropping clarity – it was like he’d shrunk, become some sort of pubic crab or body louse or something, and his whole backside was the Grand Canyon.  The doctor moved the camera slightly.

“Now here,” she said, zooming right in, “is the problem.”

And he saw it.

Clear as day. 

Clear as a bell.

Clear as the ace of spades.

Fear – and something even more primal and nameless and ancient than fear – sank into him like ink into fabric, filling him, every pore and every fibre.  It was almost too much.  His eyes bulged.  His heart raced, banging inside his chest like it wanted out.  He couldn’t speak.  His throat seemed to have completely dried out, like it had become, in the space of one heartbeat, completely arid, dessicated, lifeless. 

As he finally saw exactly what the issue was, with plasma-screen clinical precision, it was like a full body panic attack, like the world was closing in on him from all sides, like he was simultaneously weightless and impossibly heavy.  Forcing his lungs to work, he croaked, glad he was leaning on his hands and not standing unsupported.  He breathed.  He stared. 

Holy fucking fuckstacles, he thought. 

The doctors all shook their heads sympathetically.

“See it?” his doctor said.

He swallowed, scrounging up just enough salival moisture to quell the dryness in his throat.  When he spoke, it was a rasp, a gasp, a whisper.

“Yes,” Dick said, closing his eyes.


1 Not his real name.
2 Not her real name.
3 Actually, this one is his real name.
4 The doctor didn’t really say that. The doctor called him by his actual last name, with a “mister” in front.