In the next few weeks I’ll be sending the layout of my new zine Kingdom of Dog off to press. Inside will be a collection of various short stories, in a similar vein to my old zine Doghead but perhaps with more focus on my own writing than other people’s. I’m not sure of the page count or price yet, such things will be made clear when the preorders go up in the next few weeks. For the mean time, please ‘enjoy’ one of the short stories that will feature inside the zine, an exclusive for SWNK.org.
More details when available.
He sat at his window ledge, smoking his third cigarette in a row. It was his usual solution to his usual problem. The deadline for next week’s cryptic was the following morning, and in time honoured style he had a good five or six conundrums to place before sunrise. It didn’t help trying to work around what had been going on outside for the last few days. Kids running about, wrecking the place, taking whatever they pleased and smashing anything they didn’t want. He couldn’t blame them really, but at that moment in time their hijinx were a little close to home and were fucking with his creative flow. Hence the third cigarette.
His attention was drawn to a small fox, a virtual lace handkerchief of orange and cream flitting about some bins. The little fellow (couldn’t have been older than a year) was darting about, timid-like. Its ears were pinned right back at the sounds in the distance that carried over the rooftops. Of flames buffeted by strong winds, of sirens and water cannons, of helicopters buzzing over the whole scene for observation and posterity. And the closer sounds too; the chatter of crowds shouting, glass breaking, metal crunching, footsteps pounding. The fox would determine a direction, only to be put off by one sort of threatening stimuli or another. In the five minutes he had watched the fox it had made almost no progress down the street, instead pausing, unsure, while it sniffed at a bin bag or weighed its options.
He stood in his ivory tower above the butchers shop, fourth cigarette now lit, interest now piqued by the scene below.
Amidst the order of the day, all rights and wrongs considered, he felt less interest, attention and empathy towards the violence on both sides of the city street, and far more of his thoughts with the frail canine, trying to find its place in the world which no longer made sense to it. He could have juxtaposed the morality of a fox that may take a hen’s egg with that of the boys that were currently helping themselves to apparel and electrical goods, but wasn’t prone to soliloqual debate.
From one of the various side alleys came a large group of boys, some girls there too, not one of them older than 16. Sunday night, they should be at home getting their rest for work or school, he scolded silently and from a great distance. It was of course common knowledge that there wasn’t a great deal of either in recent months. The long school holiday, they tried to label it. The long goodbye more like.
The fox had noticed the clamour, and instinctively turned. In a tragic Darwinian dimension the poor creature in a panic, or lack of internal geography, had backed itself between some boxes and crates. He secretly prayed to noone that the kids just wouldn’t spot the small, frightened creature. But spot it they did.
Kicking a sentient, contextually cogent human being in the head was one thing, but a fox, a wild, naïve, ignorant pest, was a different thing altogether.
He sort of willed the poor creature to find some sort of escape route, but through either panic or ignorance it couldn’t. A drink can fluttered at its flank to test its nerve. Was it a killer? Infected with rabies perhaps? No, in response to the aluminium clatter it sank to its haunches, chin now resting on its front paws. At the last possible moment – four boys in black almost upon the moment of violence – the fox darted straight between two of them. They roared in good humour, happy that their distraction was proving itself a challenge. A few more boys got involved and soon a half dozen figures were lunging and further disorientating the creature. One boy reached out and touched the foxes tail, which got a lurch of revulsion, a squeal from the girls, and yet more laughter.
Most heartbreaking to the casual observer was being privy to the exact moment the fox gave in. It laid once again on the floor, head poised to look his fate square in the eyes with an injured calm. It saw from the side where the next attack would come from and darted the kick of a white trainer with ease, but driving himself straight into the swing of another foot from another boy that drove straight into his ribs and unleashed a miserable, terrified scream. Noone was laughing anymore. The fox yelped with an innocence impossible to understand with cynical ears, and lay trembling on the floor in a pool of its own urine while the bored youngsters clinically finished what they had started with a series of kicks and stamps.
As he stared at the children throwing their Nikes and K-Swiss into the helpless creature, his mind shifted from the literal presentation of urban violence to something entirely more abstract. He began to think of the tufts of fox fur sticking to shoes and flayed out onto the pavement as a unique physical process. He began to consider the amount of force a human foot would need to connect with a medium sized mammalian body and cause the skin to split and break open. He wondered which force would be greater, to tear flesh or to break bones. He wondered whether a kick or a stamp would have been a more effective means of opening up the creature.
As the thought processes became increasingly detached from the retina of reality, so did his mind increasingly consider the dead animal as little more than a series of rational problems and puzzles. Certainly, he still saw the fox, and the context of violence around the poor creature, yet he also began to comprehend the spectacle on a much more transcendent level. A fox’s kidney made up perhaps 2% of total animal mass, its skin more like 30-40%. Now pieces of tarmac and gravel were certainly as much as part of the creature as its bones and organs. Should the gravel enter into the haemodynamic system of the animal the percentile proportions of the creature would once again change. The kidneys would become a discrete percentage smaller in scale, say 1.98% of the total. But by the same merit the fur; flung far into the air by a swift kick, now seen floating elegantly into pools of urine and refuse sacks, or the blood; softly running into various pavemental crevices, these volumes would change the balance of the fox further still, perhaps in favour of his original organs, or perhaps in aid of the foreign bodies nestling into his warm insides. Perhaps the gravel was acting as a sort of brutalist volumatic transfusion, redressing the balance of scale through sheer chaotic force.
As he considered the animal conundrum carefully, the pitiful thing became an amalgamation of numbers, figures, facts, words, colours, smells, memories, sounds, pain associations, experiences, knowledge of both folk and scientific nature. It became a living, now dying, map of life, suffering, death, disease, of the magnificent creational powers of natural science as well as the crushing hopelessness of the Natural Order. Beings built up only to be broken down at the other side without comment or ceremony. Life and death; as two shades of the same colour. Endless black and white.
He turned away from the broken little thing, curiosity well extinguished much like his sixth cigarette. He turned back to his crossword grid, empty spaces staring back at him.
‘canine takes the wrong turning at a medium pace.’ (7)
He smiled in spite of himself, as the city outside refused to die quietly.