Saturday, January 29, 2011

This week I have been mostly rejected: by the Sydney Daily Telegraph

Now, rejection is something which occurs to me as often as a daily bowel movement, but this didn't stop me entering the Sydney Daily Telegraph short story competition a couple of weeks ago. As a firm pessimist I anticipated the Telegraph would disdainfully thumb their noses at my attempts at fiction, and I got a great deal of satisfaction when I was proved correct.
But were they correct to reject my story about a time travelling chicken? Without a doubt yes, but I thought I'd post it here for your perusal anyway.

Which came First?

‘Hang on a minute, the cock hasn’t crowed this morning’.
Steve Jones said this to himself in the shower as he massaged his ample, fuzz coated belly with a soapy lather.
The cock crowing was a daily occurrence at Steve’s country manor; in fact you could set your watch by it, but before we continue Steve’s investigations into its absence, we must first clear up a few details about the protagonists involved in the events leading up to this absence, namely; Steve, his wife Cheryl, her lover Doctor Cedric Stevens, and a chicken named Gary.
Steve Jones was the drummer in a Genesis/Phil Collins tribute band, not really his choice, but it was the only gig going in the small country town he lived in.
80’s ubercheese was the soundtrack to his evenings, while the harsh clucking of fowl rang in his ears throughout the day.
This was because he supplemented his meagre income from the band breeding chickens and selling their eggs.
Steve loved those chickens, enough to name them in some cases. Gary was his favourite.  She was a well fed, boisterous character, who Steve felt displayed distinctly more lovable qualities than his wife Cheryl.
Cheryl, contrary to Steve’s wishes, resented the small wage brought in by these flightless birds and quite as any reasonable person should, she despised the so called ‘music’ of Phil Collins.
She had been forced to take a job as a cleaner in the miscellaneous research laboratory a few miles from the town to help pay the mortgage of their house.
It was here she met Doctor Cedric Stevens.
Cedric represented everything that she wanted in a man, he was tall, well groomed and had impeccable hygiene. He also was absurdly wealthy.
Cedric had had a major breakthrough when he had invented an obscenely addictive condiment know mysteriously as the ‘secret recipe’. This unholy substance had become the subject of a bidding war between several fast food giants due to its ability to render the most foul tasting mulch delicious to the palate.
Any unfortunate individual who tried the stuff was overcome with an irresistible urge to consume. This discovery, while swelling the already well stuffed coffers of several Phil Collins loving CEO’s, and having a disastrous effect on the health of the general population, also made Cedric rich.
But the Doc craved more, he was an intelligent man, he wanted to be infamous for something more than being responsible for the ballooning waistlines of Joe public. He wanted to make possible the impossible. He wanted to prove in reality what had thus far only been imagined possible in the minds of Science Fiction writers. He, Cedric Stevens, was destined to make time travel possible.
He devoted all his spare time to working in his laboratory in pursuit of this goal , thus, starved of female company, he couldn’t resist when Cheryl’s lonely but ample bosom came knocking.
Now, the fruit of his labours was finally about to ripen, he had created a device capable of opening a wormhole, a tunnel through space-time.
It was a Thursday evening when things went drastically wrong for Cedric.
Steve was in the Black Swan pub, performing with his band, while Cheryl, lying in Cedric’s bed entirely naked save for a pair of yellow rubber cleaning gloves, came to the realisation that to the increasingly aloof Cedric, she was just a bit of rough, a tension buster, a passing fancy that would be forgotten as soon as his precious experiment became a success.
The decision was made; she would hit him where it hurts. 
Dressing quickly, she descended the stairs to his private laboratory. Here she found Cedric hunched over his invention at an uncharacteristically messy desk, caged in deep thought.
She walked over to him, and whipping the small delicate cube that was the focus of his attention from under his nose, ran through the front door, into her car, and drove off into the night.
Caught unawares Cedric floundered outside, tripped on the doorstep and landed with his face in the mud, distraught.
On returning home, Cheryl grabbed the cube from the passenger seat, exited the car and feeling her self-respect in tatters, opened the door of the chicken coup and threw the cube at one of the other boons in her life, those godforsaken chickens.
We now find ourselves back where we started on Friday morning, with Steve putting on his thick brown dressing gown after his shower and, concerned with the absence of the cocks crow, ambling into the garden to check on the chickens. He was shocked to discover an empty coup.
‘What!?, Where are they?’
Steve ran to the coup and looked through the mesh.
Not a sign, it couldn’t be foxes surely; there would be blood, evidence of murder.
In desperation he unlatched the door and poked his head through into the interior of the coup.
He was falling. Dressing gown billowing.
Then pain.
He was in a patch of what seemed to be blackberry bushes, outside the mouth of a cave located in the side of a small cliff face.
He gingerly stood up.
He’d fallen out of nowhere. He looked up to where his downward trajectory had began and saw a shimmering opaque sphere in midair slowly decrease in size until, with an audible popping sound, it disappeared.
Confusion enveloped him.
He heard rustling from the other side of the bushes. Instinctively he ran to the only thing that resembled a safe haven nearby, the mouth of the cave.
He crouched in the velvety darkness, his heart pumping at such a velocity it felt as if jets of hot blood would come bursting from his ears.
A group of wait...women appeared through the foliage. They were squat, broad jawed and uncommonly hairy, their breasts hung limply from their chests.
Steve recognised these figures from his days as a schoolboy, trudging around the Natural History museum.  Eager to catch a glimpse of the more impressive dinosaur skeletons on offer, he had skipped past the manikin’s sporting the garb of early man giving them only a cursory glance. But was this them?
It could be one of those tribes in South America thought Steve in exquisite panic.
He mulled on this for a few seconds. But that doesn’t explain anything....
Then one of the group glanced toward the cave mouth and grunted.
 Steve, unsure if he’d been seen, ran into the dark depths of the cave and crouching low, felt a tingling sensation running through his legs and his face begin to flush.
His ears strained to pick up any hint of movement in the cave.
Scenarios raced through his mind. What would I do? He visualised himself in liquid motion, fist connecting with the square masculine jaw of one of the prehistoric women.
‘I’m no fighter’ he whispered under his breath. The thought of the last time he had hit someone jerked into his mind. 13 years old in the school playground, it had been a hot summer’s day, Bernard Collins was the boys name, he was dead now, drove himself off a bridge.
Minutes passed. No silhouette obscured the skyline visible through the cave mouth.
Then Steve heard a sound, a faint clucking sound from deeper inside the cave. He recognised that sound. Getting up off his haunches he moved toward it warily in the darkness, arms outstretched.
‘Gary?  Gary is that you?’
It was Gary. Sorely wounded from the fall he had taken when exiting the wormhole he had dragged himself into the cave to die.
Steve gently picked him up and breathed in the distinctive smell of his frowzy plumage.
He moved closer to the cave mouth to shed some light on Gary’s injuries. It seemed as if he had broken his leg.
‘Christ I’m glad to see you Gary, where are the others?’
Gary clucked on meekly, unmoved by the situation.
The thought crossed Steve’s mind that he had died and this was the afterlife, maybe you could be reincarnated at any point in time and he’d come back as a barely evolved man.
Barely evolved, that was a joke; this version of man was infinitely more resourceful. I don’t even know how to start a fire, how am I going to catch something to eat, I’ll freeze to death tonight, have they even discovered fire yet? Have they invented the wheel? If so could I hire a cab to the nearest town?  Sweet Jesus what am I going to do?
First things first, I need to establish if I’m still me. I’m still wearing my dressing gown which is a good sign. I doubt you’d be reincarnated in the clothes you were wearing when you died in your previous life.
The thought began to concern him, a lifetime spent wishing he was someone else and now he was panicking, praying to a god he doubted the existence of that he was still homely old Steve Jones.
He walked further into the light in complete disregard for the ramifications of being seen and disrobed; he looked down at himself:
Still wearing the faded chequered boxers his Mum had bought for him ten years ago.
Still had the skinny scrawny legs and the gelatinous paunch which gave him the look of a child’s under modelled play dough representation of a man.
 Sweet relief.
He retreated back into the protective darkness of the cave to think.
Wormholes. Cheryl had mentioned that that Doctor where she worked was researching them. Tall bloke, smart haircut, could have sworn he had an eye on Cheryl at the Christmas party, didn’t look like he had a shag in him though. Cedric.... that was his name wasn’t it?
What if it is a wormhole I’ve fallen through? I saw something; it could’ve been a wormhole. I’ve read about them a little but I’d have no idea how to open a way back, and how did it end up in our chicken coup?
He felt a bitter taste well up in his throat which signified the onset of self pity infused tears.
‘What am I going to do? What possibly can I do?’ choked Steve to the ambivalent Gary.
He began to think of Cheryl, she’ll be waking up soon, she’ll think he’s upped and left without saying goodbye. Things between them hadn’t been great over the past year or so, they had soured ever since Steve had persuaded her to leave London and move to the country.
She resented him and he knew it, and lately he’d stopped caring.
But now he cast his mind back, the happy times, the best of his life had been spent with her.
To say his heart ached as he reminisced was a misnomer; after all, his heart was just a muscle in a cavity, but he was wracked by wave after wave of regret and bittersweet nostalgia for their time together.
Everyone’s relationship went through a bit of a trough. I’d give anything to see her again, I’ll do everything right from now on, we’ll move back to London, I’ll get my old job back. Please God, just send me back and I’ll be forever grateful. I’ll never commit another sin as long as I live, I’ll stop watching porn on the internet, I’ll never masturbate again, I’ll stop trying to shoot the neighbour’s cat up the arse with the air rifle, anything, just give me a sign everything will be okay.
He surprised himself, he’d always classed himself as an atheist but now he was avidly praying to God for the second time in the space of a few minutes.
It was desperation I suppose; a miracle of divinity was the only way to reverse this miracle of science.
Apart from Gary his only link back to his home was his mobile phone, which he happened to remember was in his dressing gown pocket.
He took it out and laughed to himself as he stared at it. No reception.
This device, one of mans outstanding achievements was entirely useless here; without the trappings of the modern world it had no practical purpose whatsoever.
After the battery died there would be nothing to sustain it.
The tears came now, in gushing rivulets, hot against his cheeks.
He spent the rest of the day watching from the cave mouth in trepidation. Apparently they had discovered fire; he saw a plume of smoke snaking upwards into the overcast sky.
As he watched the smoke ascend a thought sprung up in his mind; the only way I can survive is by approaching them, by befriending them. My life is in their hands.
As night fell he retreated into the safety of the cave and despite his crippling fear and despair, sleep crept up on Gary and himself like a thief in the night.
Cheryl came to him in his dreams, as she often did, her thick long red hair falling across the marble white shoulders, speckled with freckles, and they were together, just like the old times, the sweet, good, old times.......
Steve awoke with a start, it was cold, his dressing gown was gone, and so was Gary.
He crept to the cave mouth and in the harsh light of day was greeted with the sight of a primitive man and woman, the woman wearing his dressing gown and holding the wounded Gary under her arm.  She was pointing to the cave mouth as her barrel chested companion trudged toward Steve, a heavy wooden club in his hand.
Steve knew this was it, as he backed away he stereotypically tripped on a stone and lay prone beneath the advance of his early ancestor.
It is said that when death approaches, your life flashes before your eyes, but as the burly example of early manhood lifted the club above his head ready to strike the deathblow, Steve didn’t see just his own life, he saw his son being born from the womb of that woman wearing his dressing gown, the woman who had come to him in the night in the guise of Cheryl, he saw his grandchildren and great grandchildren, he saw himself being born, the whole glorious circle of life, and a sudden realisation stunned him.
He was descended from himself, his life hadn’t been in vain, his purpose was clear now; he was always destined to come back here, destined to impregnate this woman, destined to be the father of a son who would help to spur on the evolution of man. Steve Jones was in fact an epically distant relation of himself.
As this epiphany occurred, as Cheryl woke to an empty bed, as Cedric stared bleary eyed and dishevelled into the bottom of a glass containing the detritus of several gin and tonics, Steve glanced at his beloved chicken Gary, held hostage under the hairy woman’s arm, and with a knowing smile and a nod he said:
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

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