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SHORT SHORT STORIES
A tiny hedgehog rose slowly out of the sea of darkness
and began to grow, bigger and fatter,
and its spines started to glow and turn gold,
and the dome of darkness lifted but the hedgehog swelled faster
lighting up ballooning space
till it burst and the golden arrows of its spines
carried germs of hopeful life in all directions.
The earth was formed by a dart from its neck.
Some say we’re directly descended from the hedgehog,
others from the fleas that rode it
out of the original slime.
The top of a high mountain on planet earth was the head of a bald god.
While people were kind to each other his mouth was shut.
At the first sign of meanness his lips curled to show little white teeth.
Then came murder and he tasted human flesh.
Soon his teeth were stained with the blood of cruel people.
More and more were drawn in flocks to death between his jaws.
Finally the head became so greedy he swallowed the whole human race down his black throat
and sank into the mountain.
Now there’s another chance to be kind.
The cosmic lungs work constantly, air in air out, over periods of millennia.
Sometimes the exhalation is formless or smells bad.
Once after an especially deep breath planets flew out and colors appeared
and creatures with heads and limbs.
In one corner of newly inflated space on a cool blue ball a race of giants was born.
They knew they wouldn’t be there long and they laid out grassy roads
for the feet of a woman they dreamed.
She still walks there though most eyes can’t see her.
The black witch moth, ascalapha odorata,
strayed from the safety of night
and spread her magnificent wings
– arabesques and scalloped fringes –
on a house wall.
A child looked and screamed,
its mother attacked her with a broom,
ascalapha soared up through the darkness
aiming for a haven in the moon.
Beyond earth’s atmosphere her spherical red eyes
swelled and glowed like furnaces
took over her body and shook it
till it burst into fiery space;
her furry legs, proboscis, patterned strips of her wings
sailed on as comets.
When God was young and sturdy and liked to dress in green
he used to laugh at the picture people had of him,
ancient and ponderous with a long white beard.
Then he grew into the picture.
He preferred to spend his days sitting down
and his memory started to fail him.
Pretty thoughts he had for cheering people up
would slip his mind and sometimes come back
but too late.
Once he had an inspiration, a way to stop cruelty,
but he fell asleep and on waking he’d forgotten.
Centuries later the thought came round again.
He looked at the scene below him and saw there was
no way to put it in practice.
“Pity”, he thought. “Now I’m too tired
to fix anything.”
And he shut his eyes.
On a mountainside near a village was a cave
where centuries ago a woman saint
was said to have attained jada samadhi,
Against all dread and piety two brothers
heaved aside the rocks that closed the entrance
and saw before them a barely sheathed skeleton,
sitting cross-legged, with motionless, moist eyes.
Slowly they approached, Younger said to Elder
‘I dare you to touch between her legs!’
Elder, with a sickly grin, groped and withdrew his hand.
‘It’s gristle,’ he said.
A sound like a sigh of pain filled the cave
and they fled.
That night Younger heard Elder on his pallet
sobbing and whining, finally quiet.
In the morning he went to wake him and lying there
was a young and lovely woman, breathing serenely.
Younger scrambled up the mountain; in the cave
the stiff and wizened figure of his brother
sat sightless and between his legs
a cylinder of gristle lay inert.
To overcome his fear of the sea
the boy defied bigger and bigger waves, diving through them.
Sometimes he was flattened and winded, twice he broke ribs.
He was given the chance to be a surfer and, always cradling his fear,
he rose to become a champion.
One day he was riding the biggest wave he’d ever faced.
Instead of breaking it carried him up and up
till at its crest he looked down the other side
and saw a fall into a heavenly land of meadows and tall trees and sweet streams
and a house where a childhood was waiting for him.
Fresh from her crimes she often sat
in front of the triple mirror on her dressing-table
studying herself full face and in profile
reflected ad infinitum in the side panels
wondering at her intact beauty.
On a bad day she saw a smudge at the bottom
of the image on the left.
At first she couldn’t focus it, then it spread
took over the face in that frame
darkening and sharpening her features
gazing back at her motionless until in fright
she told it to go away and it sneered
and surged up from the bottom of the mirror
releasing black claws…
Ernst was obsessed with stepping into the future.
He travelled an ellipse beyond the speed of light
to catch time unawares, but when he returned to earth
he found himself in the past.
He had parts of his brain reduced to photons
but his days became a bad trip round the status quo.
He tried meditation, poetry, art,
and his feet remained firmly planted in the now.
Finally an experiment that only he
and a neurological genius could follow
carried him to the cutting edge of the present
where billions of intersecting possibilities
smashed him to zero. A victory of a kind.
No need for invasive holograms,
there’s a more organic way, said the doctor.
That is, if you have the talent for it.
Hens can print eclipses on their eggs.
Pregnant women were often told
not to look too hard at monkeys.
An image can stream through your eyes
and be imprinted on your fetus.
You don’t want your child to resemble
your husband, it’s understandable,
so look long and hard at the face
of your platonic lover, feel all your yearning,
and he’ll be the father of the likeness.
She wasn’t comfortable in her kitchen.
Once she had enjoyed chopping and beating
even when she came back tired from the set
but now the machines did it all
timing and ordering each other
on the home circuit.
One day she decided to intervene,
to leave the porridge lumpy as a gesture,
and the mixer bit her.
It lifted its head and bit her.
Her hand swelled up, the venom rose to her head
and she ran out into the street
and bit the first passer-by.
So began the appliance pandemic.
People bit machines and people,
machines bit people and bit machines for pleasure.
She survived and discovered a repellent
in a Chinese market.
For some time his wife had been feeling unwell
but she refused his attempts to take her to a doctor.
In the butchers’ section of the market
he saw her looking uncomfortable, then desperate.
She held out her arms and groaned
and her body bloated and stretched like a balloon
and burst into flames that consumed her
and singed the carcasses around her.
When he could approach in the stench
he found nothing left of her
except hair and nails and a tooled carbon heart
glimmering like a dying firefly.
Siblings at a funeral parlor
were lamenting they had never had the courage
to ask their mother if their heritage
was cyborg or natural.
The coffin was still open
and fingers seemed to be raising from inside
the robe that covered her abdomen.
Fearfully they pulled it aside.
The dead white flesh was punctured
in a dozen places by screws
of a gleaming metal and round them
to their ascending tips were twined
tendrils of a living pea.
After the first wave of indignation
at the arbitrariness of gender and the distribution of organs,
when surgeons were ready for new challenges,
more people began to choose other incarnations.
Ants and cockroaches were excluded,
so for the time being were bats and eagles,
but Billy now Billa fell in love with a capybara
and determined to become one.
The shrinking and swelling of tissues
the application of hair
the growing of nail stock to form hoofs
took so long the object of her pains was dead.
She looked through her lustrous eyes at a little pig
the reduction of an Irish fire-fighter
and decided for love at a difference.
By the time most people were composites
of organic and artificial parts
the ones who refused had become outlaws
and were hounded as raw material
and as bad examples.
Noah on the run from vigilantes
cornered but aware that to his enemies
he was insubstantial
hid in a shower of autumn leaves
and escaped to follow the season
to an enclave of unregenerate beasts.
When Betty was thirty she was required to wear a placard
that listed all her relationships to date:
age, color, gender, time of duration.
Since she was a believer in variety
it was difficult for anyone reading her
to know how to approach her
so although she was very attractive
in an outsize feline way
she spent several years without company.
Finally in a back street one evening
a big yellow male seized her
and ripped off her placard and his own.
The relief was enormous, they realized
the warnings of the past are interference,
affinity may depend on smell alone.
She had booked her death date
thinking it gave her enough time
to see what she wanted to see
but not too much; the future didn’t attract her.
When the day came she wasn’t ready
and though she knew there was no appeal,
the jaws were programmed to recycle her body parts,
she pleaded with the technician to spare her.
He was feeling unusually kind that day
and offered her an exoskeleton
and as her flesh and bones were mangled
she slithered into a peacock blue carapace.
Now she sleeps under a rock
and climbs on to it to glitter in the sun
with the world clicking below her.
To lose her furious pursuers the tiny delinquent tigress
needed to change her identity.
Among the trees in the park she listened to the songs of various birds.
She was drawn by a sweet warbling and when a green and yellow bird
with blue tufts on its cheeks perched above her head
she took a rushed decision to convert.
Sitting on a branch she let the current of transition drain away,
then tried her wings in a short flight.
Then her voice; she felt how her throat pulsated
as the musical notes streamed out.
The louder the better she thought, and forced untried muscles.
The noise that came out was metallic, harsh, like a broken bell.
Surprised, she felt the sound absorb her, possess her, push her into the crack
until she went through it and floated bodiless in space.
So, this is what I’ve been, she thought, through all my disguises. What I am.
But what am I? Who am I? Do I exist?
All the people I’ve known, those I’ve cheated and hurt,
those I’ve loved, are they all inside
the same as me, nothing but air?
The question went on asking itself but the I that asked it,
denser than air, then suspended in air,
thinner and thinner,
was no longer there.
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