Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Aftertaste

The following is an excerpt from The Aftertaste by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Yeshchenko Publications in March 2009

Clenching my tongue between my teeth, I bite down. I feel nothing.

I pad the tips of my fingers together. Completely numb.

The poison is now firmly and irremovably in my body.

The position of King’s taster seems like unskilled labour. One held by an illiterate dolt whose only marketable talent is shoving food into their hole then dying. Many would happily perform this service. After spending a lifetime subsisting on turnips and other roots, the role appears like a pass to the greatest of restaurants even if evening ends with the ultimate bill.

However, the position is taster and not eater. I live off onions and roots most of the days and eat small portions of the King’s provisions in preparations. I learn of poisons, their flavours, their effects and wait till they may have run their course. There is studying, researching, education, and praying that whatever tiny amount of poison ingested does not murder me along with the ruler.

If the sword of Damocles hangs above the head of the sovereign, then a smaller portion of it hangs above the taster.

Resisting the urge to pick up the plate of fruit and smell it, I speculate that the poison is foxglove. Its sweetness is hidden amongst the dessert.

As a foundling raised in an Abbey my ambition was to be a priest before being stolen away to my higher calling of taster. If poisoned, rather than die alone, I always swore to say nothing and let the venom advance to the King that held me like a shield before him.

Well, now the reckoning arrives and there is little concern for the King. My only want is to hang longer to my life.

“Physician” I cry “I am numb!” this sounds like ‘I am dumb’ as my lips and other extremities grow heavy “I detect poison.”

The Doctor runs close. He peers into my eyes, lifts my lips, strokes my gums, and pats the mat of my hair as if purchasing livestock.

“Your Highness” he announces “Your servant is in good health and well being. At times the pressures and demands of tasting can overwhelm the thoughts. Taster’s minds can become unsettled and they find pollutions where there are none.”

The King begins to chuckle “I often fear for my life unfoundedly. Taster, this is the price we pay for being great men.” Then he laughs to cheer me.

The King’s fool then begins to eat his hat and declares it fouled. The room cackles.

“Your Highness, if I may take for a bleeding?” requests the Doctor “His humours are out of sorts. It may be possible for him to return to his duties. Please enjoy your dessert.”

The Doctor takes me to his chamber and lies me on the table. He prepares the bowl and razor for the letting.

Previous bleedings left me weak as a mewling newborn and I already feel so frail I can’t imagine what I will feel like after the operation.

The Doctor brings out the rags to catch the blood.

Some people even die in bleedings as the evil spirits in them do not escape and grow angry. I pray.

The Doctor brings the razor across my wrist in a savage slash. The Doctor is calm as he does this. In fact he seems happy.

Bleedings are not usually this violent. I don’t know how to perform a bleeding and in my studies of poisons there was no training in balancing humours. However, one does not need to be a surgeon to know what will happen to man who is cut too deeply.

The gashes seem more likely to do me in than any imagined poison. By why would anyone want to kill me?

I am so disoriented I forgot who I am. The reason to kill the taster is obvious. So he cannot inform the King. The portion is not enough to kill me so bleed me to death before the King stop consuming his venom.

My voice is weak but I murmur to the Doctor. “I am not the King”

“Ahh” whispers the Doctor “But the King is unbalanced. He is too sick with bile to lead and when the King is sick so is the Kingdom.” He leans and lacerates the razor across the other wrist.

“Taster” comes the bellowing voice from the doorway. “How are you? I came to see that my loyal servant is good spirits.”

There is a false ring to the Monarch’s concern. He expresses concern for my health but he has not done this for any other servant. Once the drummer fell to the floor in pain from a toothache that later killed him and the King called him rude for bringing a sombre tone to the evening. He only wants to know if we are both poisoned.

“Sir, the physician has attacked us with foxglove” I speak soft as a confession.

“He is quite ill in his mind. Everyone is very vigorous.”

“Then watch me die. It will not be bad thought that kill me. I will vomit, then lose my bowels, and then convulse. If I am wrong then lose nothing in this wager except the hour spent observing me. If I do any of these things, eat charcoal. It is not pleasant or regal but it will absorb the poison.”

“This is the sound of a raving madman” Says the Doctor.

The last thing I see is the King biting tapping his fingers to nose. It must be numb by now.

There are dressings on my wrists upon awakening.

The King greets me with a sooty black smile.

“You Sir are a learned man. He says “It is a shame that such a nimble mind is over shadowed by an organ like the tongue. You shall be the apprentice to my new physician.”

There is a sense of burnt wood to my mouth. They gave me a smaller portion of charcoal.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Living History

The following is an excerpt from Living History by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Farb Press in March 2009.

The first member of the Civil War Re-enactment group to suggest other events was Jim.

Jim read about the lives of Frank and Jesse James after learning they were Civil War veterans.

He proposed a production of the failed Northfield robbery. Jim played Frank James and prepared for the part by reading several works by William Shakespeare and brewing applejack liquor. It was really good time.

From there the full imagination of the Civil War Re-enactment Group was let off the chain.

They began to recreate countless historical events. The acted out battles from the Boer Wars, soup kitchens from the Great Depression, even the Kennedy and Khrushchev talks during the Cuban missile crisis.

Slowly the recreations of military or even political events moved to entertainment. Jim was tall enough to play Dean Martin in re-enactment of a Martin and Lewis nightclub act. They did Elvis on Ed Sullivan, The Ramones at CBGB’s, Elvis Costello going off script and changing numbers on Saturday Night Live.

Based on an excellent impression, Simon put together a proposal to recreate Steve Martin on his Wild and Crazy Guy tour.

Jim was actually there. He was in high school and took Linda Gallo to the recording of the album as a first date. He bought her an official arrow through the head but both of them were too concerned about looking cool to try it on. They made some small talk about their upcoming final exams; both agreed the finals would be hard.

Steve Martin was too far way to see. He was a tiny white dot, like a distant star, cutting up in the dark. Jim laughed a lot more than Linda. At times he recited catch phrases along with Steve but there seemed to be no recognition of them from her.

During the show a scuzzy guy old enough grow a moustache like Freddie Prinze smoked a joint and stood in front of Linda so she couldn’t see. Jim tried to say something too him but the high guy gave him a thumbs up as he smoked and for that moment his approval seemed more important than Linda Gallo’s. He stopped speaking and smiled weakly at Linda.

They didn’t talk on the drive home and at the door Linda said “You sure have an odd sense of humour,” and “You are a good friend” For a moment Jim thought about shaking her hand.

The recreation was booked in a local community hockey rink. Simon did a very job on Steve Martin, white suit and everything, and most of the seats were filled with cardboard cut outs of audience members.

Jim coached Kate Dubois on how to be Linda Gallo. She maintained the bored look, the awkward pause, the strain to hear Steve Martin’s distorted tinny voice over the P.A. system.

After the re-enactment Jim drove Kate home in silence and at the lobby of the condo development she rejected him with the same offer of friendship.

Once inside Jim called her on his cell phone and told her it was perfect. For the first time a primary source verified the authenticity of a recreation.

From there the group rejected popular history for personal history. They re-enacted events like talent shows, fist fights, bush parties, and even a traumatizing session of spin the bottle.

Jim received a phone call from a man introducing himself as a hard core authentic re-enactor of General William Tecumseh Sherman. His voice sounded weary and brow beaten like he had seen too many theatrical representations of war.

“We are looking to stage a Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and we need more men to mount the campaign. Can you raise the troops, son?” He asked

“Well, to be honest we actually don’t do much in the way of Civil War Recreation anymore. We should update the website.”

“Joseph! Please tell me we haven’t lost you to the Creative Anachronisms. We don’t need good men sitting around drinking mead and playing a lyre.” His voice crackled like a phonograph cylinder.

“We actually recreate events from our lives.”

“That’s plum ignorant! You can’t keep working over the past. That’s not how Sherman won the war. You win with No Retreat and No Surrender!” Looking back Jim was not sure if he said Sherman or I.

“It helps us work out some stuff.” There was tone of whining to this that unsettled Jim so he added “Sir.”

“Work out what? Everyone had bad times. Hokum! You think it was easy having mutton chops in high school. Do you? Do you son?”

“No Sir.” Despite the’ Sirs’ and ‘Sons’ Jim was starting the wonder if they were roughly the same age.

“Where is this going to end? You going to re-enact what you did last weekend? What did you do?”

“Uhmm, we re-enacted an air band contest.”

“A what? You can’t re-enact a re-enactment. You’re not making anything happen for you because you’re too busy with what happen to you before.”

“I guess we could re-enact a really good re-enactment.”

“You’re not hearing me son!” and the man dressed a soldier from 1864 told him “Stop living in the past.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

101 Wizard Jokes

The following is an excerpt from 101 Wizard Jokes by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Provocation Kids Books in March 2009

Q: What was the Wizards favorite Beach Boys Song?

A: Help Me Wand-A

Q: What held together the Wizard's majic book?

A: The Spell binding

Q: What do you call a wizard from outer space?

A: A flying sorcerer

Q: Why did the wizard go to the hospital?

A: He had a staff infection

Q: What did the wizard put on the no parking sign?

A: Violators will be toads

Q: What kind of car does a Wizard drive?

A: A Ford Hocus Focus

Q:What kind of Coffee is preferred by most Wizards?

A: Maxspell house

Q: What does a wizard say for is special flattening spell?

A: Pressed - O!

Q: What does a wizard use to conjure up an atom?

A: Eye of Nuetron

Q:Did you hear about the wizard that could only predict sad fortunes?

A: He used a crystal bawl?

Q:What Wizard hangs out at the beach?

A: A Surfer Druid

Q: Where does he go surfing?

A: In the pacific potion

Q: Who was the Wizard's favorite actor?

A: James Gandolf-ini

Q: What are popular names for Wizard's babies?

A: Al Chemy for Boys and Necro-Nancy for girls

Monday, February 16, 2009

Overheard at a Victorian Dinner Party

The Following is an excerpt from Overheard at a Victorian Dinner Party by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Gamfield’s Sweatshop Press in March 2009.

“I hear my chimney sweep lost another little boy”

“Oh it’s so dreadful. The little boys covered in soot. I always give their masters an extra penny and a piece of fruit to pass on to them.”

“I wish the government would do something. The Parliament should step in and demand a better way to clean chimneys. When they come here I just want to cry. They stare at me with those huge eyes and their blacken faces as they climb in. I just think why can’t someone come up with a better way.”
“It’s actually a good opportunity for these children. Without this job they would have nothing. It doesn’t seem like they get paid a lot to us, but for them it’s a lot of money.”

“I bet those chimney boys make more than their parents ever did at the poorhouse.”

“It’s better than the alternative. I’d rather be a chimney than peddling my wares to buggers on the street! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“Some chimney sweeps treat the children very well but you never know which ones. They could just as easily be the kind that lights a fire while they are in there to get them moving. It’s too hard to tell. I just go with the cheapest now.”
“I heard the Queen had a boy stuck in her flue and left him to die.”

“What else can you do? It’s not like you can knock down the whole chimney and pull him out and you can’t let the chimney fill with soot and set the house on fire.”

“It’s true you have to think of your family and their needs.”

“I know I can’t afford to knock holes in my walls but you would think someone as rich as the Royal Family could do better.”

“I don’t want to think about this. We are here to have a nice evening. Let’s talk about something more pleasant.”

The host hoped the boy would stay quiet.

High up in the smokestack David gave up on struggling. He rested his face against the cold bricks.

He listened to people below, and waited.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No Man's Land

The following is an excerpt from No Man’s Land by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Blighty Book in March, 2009


After killing three men I wanted to die.

It was the Battle of Ypres and I shot them, one of them right in the face as he ran across No Man’s Land. After killing the first one, other soldiers told me it would get easier but it never felt better seeing German corpses lying in the mud.

I deserved to die and started making crazy mistakes to make it occur. I was first over the top and once pretended to drop my helmet.

After Gary murdered Edward I decided to stay alive and find out why.

I grew up in the Okanagan, worked in an orchard which made me a farmer even though nobody ever thought of me that way. I still lived off the land. Raised as a farmer I never met anyone like Gary or Edward.

They were Brits. Really pommy sorts from England. Edward was rich, born rich and never earned a penny of it, and Gary was a servant in their house. They were both ordered to fight by Edward’s father who served in the Zulu wars in Africa. Neither of them even thought to say no.

I don’t know Gary’s job at the house, maybe he was butler or a manservant or something but neither understood once he hit the battlefield he wasn’t at work anymore.

Edward still asked Gary to do things. Gary shined his shoes and made his bedroll and other menial tasks. When the mustard gas blew in you could counter the effects by covering your mouth with a urine soaked rag. The big joke told around the unit was that Edward asked Gary to piss on his rag for him.

When Edward joked it was the worst. Edward joked like he had something to prove. He told horrid gags about the unclean brothels in France or killing Huns. These jokes were of such poor taste that soldiers who might die that evening where offended. And everything with Edward was Hun this or Hun that. He took such delight in saying the word, as if he was afraid we might forget which side he was on.

It wasn’t even clear what the joke was sometimes. He would just talk about the graphic end of Hun’s life and start guffawing. It was clear he never killed anyone yet.

When nobody laughed his eyes darted over to Gary who belted out a rehearsed belly laugh.

The mud and the rain and the bullets continued. Edward took it worse than the rest of us. At one point his feet were rotting in his boots and he smelled of wet leather and dead skin.

Things got tense between him and Gary. Gary stopped shining his boots. He told Edward to shine his own god dam boots.

Edward started crying. “I don’t know how” he blubbered.

“You’ll figure it out” said Gary and tossed the rag at Edward “We got bigger problems, like not dying.”

The last day Edward was alive he asked Gary to check his rifle, asking for his approval.
We went over the top that day, ran across No Man’s Land and took another trench.

I was the only one that saw it.

In the grey space between the trenches, Gary ran up behind Edward, lowered his gun, and stuck his bayonet into the back of Edward’s knee.

Edward dropped.

German bullets made his body jump. He may have managed to scream once. Gary kept running to the trench.

There was too much death. Bodies decayed in the mud. Women stumbled on landmines. Whole cities exploded and poison gas tore up your lungs. Now our soldiers were killing each other.
I didn’t care if I lived anymore. I killed three men.

I made it to the trench after Gary. Dropped in and stood on the plank beside him, then grabbed him by the neck.

“I know you killed Edward. You murderer, bloody murderer”

“I didn’t kill him. They killed him. They did it”

“They killed him but you murdered him.” It was distinction that made sense then. I started climbing out of the trench. I held the bayonet close to Gary’s chin and pulled him up with me.

“You’re coming with me”

“You’re going to kill us”

“We deserve to die” I think I was out of my mind by now.

“Tell me why you killed him or we all die” The German knew where we were now and bullets were landing in the mud with soft thuds.

“He asked me to” shouted Gary.

“To kill him?”

“No, to injure him. He couldn’t fight any more. He couldn’t take it and he wanted something that would take him back home.”

I climbed back in to the trench. That seemed to satisfy my crazed mind.

“And you did it. You still think of him as your Master don’t you?”

“No, I always thought of him like a little brother.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Little Scadobia: an oral history

The following is an excerpt from Little Scadobia: an oral history by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Tasaday Press in March 2009


It is rare to watch a culture fade from existence from the window of your local Tim Horton’s coffee shop.

In fall of 2008, a Frames of Mind retail outlet (a big box store devoted to picture frames and other picture displaying sundries) opened on the north end of Toronto’s Walker Street. The development required the levelling of 4 city blocks. Those four city blocks housed the last remnants of Little Scadobia. Little Scadobia was possibly the most unique ethnic neighbourhood in Canada. It also remained one of the most marginalized despite its ability to provide visitors exactly what they looked for.

Before the wrecking balls struck I had the pleasure of meeting the long time residents of Little Scadobia and preserving their stories

The 1950’s

The first wave of Scadobian immigrants arrived in post war Canada and sought out the cheap housing of Walker Street which once housed a mercury thermometer factory and was considered toxic even by 1950’s environmental standards.

Soon Little Scadobia was established.

Maria: The thing I remember the most about growing up in Little Scadobia was the food and the music. There was always someone cooking in the kitchen and singing. Mamma would always be making up great big plates of hot dogs, but served Scadobian style with mustard. Mamma sang all sorts of Scadobain songs while she cooked. Scadobian songs were just popular songs. ‘Whatever you liked’ she explained. The Scadobians had their land and traditions stripped from them so long ago there were no Scadobian folksongs left. We just sang a song with Scadobia in our hearts and it would become Scodabian music. In our house a lot of Frank Sinatra was Scadobian.

Jarod: I just remember playing stick ball. My father joked that stick ball was our national pastime.

Frankie: There was a lot of prejudice then. People treated us like nothing. If you said ‘ I’m Scadobian’ they would laugh in your face and call you stupid and say that you weren’t even from a real country, or that you spoke gibberish, and that we had to be putting them on or something. There was just so much ignorance about our culture. A joke in Toronto went ‘How many Scadobians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None please, we would rather you didn’t shine the light on us?’

Lisa: The prejudice went both ways. We weren’t allowed to talk to anyone outside the neighbourhood. From a young age I was told not to tell outsiders about us, about our ways. They wouldn’t understand and we just wanted to be left alone. I think that had to do with our history. As Mama and Papa told it the Scodobians got beat up a lot. They were the victims of a lot of wars so naturally there was a tendency to withdraw. So many times I would ask something about a holiday or food or something and they would say ‘we don’t know. That information was lost when So and So invaded. Anyway, it was made very clear I was never going to date outside of the neighbourhood.

Mickey: Secretiveness also hurt us. We weren’t allowed to talk about Scadobia with anyone outside of the neighbourhood but we also wound up not talking much about the country at all. Most of second the generation guys. We don’t even know where Scadobia was on a map

The 1960’s
The cheap rent and feeling of remove from the rest of society attracted groups of hippies to Little Scadobia in the 1960’s and 1970’s

Nick: Oh man, that place was just the best. The rent was next to nothing, you got cheap hot dogs at the Scadobian cafe and they would sing these Scadobian folksongs that sounded just like the psychedelic stuff I dug then.

Melanie (formerly Starshine): They were such a proud race of people. It really made me humble you know, it was really an honour. They showed me a picture of one of their revolutionaries from the 1800 and he just looked so stoic. I put his face on silk screen and the red on black made him look even more profound. His spiritual eyes and strong wide moustache. I started making a good living selling those shirts, enough to pay for the loft and hot dogs. I made some money, yes, but I think in a small way I also restored some dignity to the Scadabian way of life.

Andrew: to be honest I did even know I lived in Little Scadobia. I mean, it pretty small and really only talked to roommate. I think I remember there was hot dog stand though. The guy there would sing Beach Boys songs.

The 1980’s

In the 1980’s Little Scodobia had its only real brush with prosperity. A small outlet front began selling Scadobian folk art and landed a large contract with a national coffee chain to sell traditional Scadobian Snow Globes.

Edward: Those snow globes were gorgeous. I discovered the first one at a 2nd hand store in Scodobia. I mean, it was one step above junk collected from the trash. The woman told me it was a traditional snow globe. The bubble represented the fragility of the Scadobian world. She told me to come back in a few days and she would have more.

Lydia: The globes were just beautiful and they would take requests of who you wanted to be in them, Santa, The Queen, one of them even had Duran Duran in there. It was still very traditional though

Carl: Of course after the contract was landed with the Coffee chain there wasn’t enough skilled Scadobians to meet the demand. I think there was actually only 4 or 5 Scadobians left then. So they set up workshop that was operated by older Asian ladies that could still produce these things effectively and yet also traditionally


As the snow globes were recalled due to mercury toxicity, Little Scadobia fell into even harder times. As a response the only ever Scadobian Cultural Festival was held in 1995.

Simon: I was in University then and it seemed like a really important thing to do. I had always heard how Scadobia had been under attack for so many generations. I thought organizing a festival like this would let them reclaim their culture and hold it up

Margret: The festival was so much fun. We took a lot of popular songs, Chemical Brother, En Vogue, Oasis, and really Scadobianized it. It was a great culture that way. It was designed to adapt. We also took a lot of Buddhist ideas and Scadobianized them into the festival. It was freeing to realize that it wasn’t just music. You could do it to anything.


I talked to the last surviving Scadobian in 2004. He was in his late nineties and on an oxygen tank. As a result he spoke so softly that even those around him never heard what he was telling me, or maybe they just didn’t want to hear

“There was no Scadobia. We made it up. We were a group of Nazi war criminals. Held in P.O.W. camp outside of Winnipeg. After the war we served small sentences and moved to Toronto. This was the only land anyone would sell us. Of Course we were ashamed. We never wanted to say who we were. One day one of made up the name Scadobia, on the spot, when someone asked. We just kind of ran with it.

The history was that we had no border or homeland; it was destroyed by invaders, most of the culture too. It helped to explain the gaps in the logic. The best part was, after all we had done, we made up for it. We punished Scodobians with the most defeats of any nation in history. Nobody has suffered like the Scadobians.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

No Name Brand

The following excerpt is from No Name Brand by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Enki books in April 2009

On entry the shield cut out for 15 seconds.

The shuttle cabin was so hot that Bishop’s chest felt like a burnt, empty kiln. His eyes were dry. He blinked furiously. Sweat dripped off his forehead.

The shield resumed and the shuttle desperately restored itself.

“Hot enough for you?” laughed Calvin.

“No,” straight faced Bishop “but no need to turn it up just for me”

The shields dropped again. Critical alarms sounded.

Bishop’s sweat evaporated now. Every part of him felt dry.

Bishop looked at Calvin. His skin was red. His eyes were bloodshot pools and he gasped in shallow inhales as if that was all the searing air he could take in.

Bishop’s tongue swelled in his mouth.

He lost consciousness.

The shuttle landed itself on autopilot.

When Bishop came to Calvin was already overlooking the console. Bishop licked his cracked lips.

“The shuttle nanos are slowly repairing it.” Said Calvin,” It’s going to take at least a week before the communication is repaired enough to contact the ship.”

Bishop nodded. There wasn’t much else to say. The policy was for the ship to treat them as dead. In a week they would call and be picked up, simple as calling a taxi, but until then nobody would look for them.

“Okay,” said Bishop “But how long till we can get out of here?”

“Normally 4 hours but with all this damage it will take at least 55 hours.” Calvin looked bored already.

It was a lot of sitting. They joked, posed riddles, gossiped, researched the planet, got in an argument, and resolved it. They stared into space for hours. They reminisced about childhood.

The talked about what they were going to eat, then ate, and then talked about what they just ate.

Outside the shuttle was so thick with fog that the men stopped looking out the window for distraction. Then suddenly a figure staggered out of the white backdrop.

It lifted its long neck and turned its flat, featureless face towards the shuttle. Its mouth puckered a few times and the smooth pale skin over its forehead moved a little. Then it stepped back into the fog.

“Did you see that?” shouted Bishop.

The two men talked about it for 5 hours. This was going to be first contact.

As the repairs to the ship completed the men ignored the petty distractions used to entertain themselves and speculated relentlessly about the upcoming encounter.

When they finally stepped from the shuttle the fog lifted. Far down the embankment from the landing was a series of marshes leading to larger body of water. More aliens waded along the muddy shoreline.

It was wrong, potentially interpreted as aggressive, but Bishop ran towards them.

He shouted and waved and smiled. The aliens were hunched over; digging through the mud, hauling out fleshy globish sea animals and dropping them into clothe bags. The never looked up once.

“Hello! Greetings! Salutations!” Bishop laughed and smiled at them. There was no acknowledgement.

Calvin ran up behind him and placed universal translators over their chests. Slowly it took in the conversation between the aliens.

They spoke with low, guttural tones like they had no tongues. The translator took in the grunts and pieced together words.

“If I cook this with a sour sauce it will be delicious” said one

“Hello, I am honoured to be the first of our species to meet?” announced Bishop in their language.

“I find the sour sauce does not keep long enough” said the other alien.

“We are from far away.” Bishop sounded anxious now.

“The sour sauce has to be very fresh.” The aliens would not acknowledge either visitor.
Bishop and Calvin checked the translator. Everything worked. They progressed up and down the beach. Every attempt to communicate was met with indifference.

The Aliens worked quietly and efficiently. They talked amongst themselves and the men moved freely within them and listened to the mundane conversations.

Bishop tried harder to draw their attention.

“Helloooo” he sang out and waved his hands back and forth before their eyes.

There was no response.

He grew more desperate and screamed into their faces. His mouth was so close to one that spittle sprayed on its grey skin.

“Wake up” he shouted.

He was frustrated now. He shoved it. It fell into the grimy bog then stood up and resumed fishing its hands in the mud.

“Calm down” pleaded Calvin. “Control yourself for God’s sake.”

Bishop’s face flushed with embarrassment.

They stood in a defeated silence while the aliens dug quietly in the water.

There was no first contact.

Eventually the creatures trundled to their raft and piled in their belongings.

Not knowing what else to do, Calvin and Bishop pulled themselves onto the raft as well.

Bishop stared out at the soundless horizon as they sailed. Around him the translator told him about the everyday events the aliens discussed.

“It’s like they are in a different world” he said

“Its like we are ghosts,” said Calvin “I think maybe we died in that crash.”

Bishop wanted to tell him he was insane but couldn’t.

The raft pulled to the shore of a village. Huts and long buildings were made from the bones of enormous animals.

Bishop and Calvin walked through the houses. They moved past families eating, parents and children arguing, intimate couples, and sales transactions on the street.

“Are we dead?’ asked Bishop.


They turned. An alien stood behind them.

“You don’t exist yet” it said“You have no names. Our society understands the power of language. It feels the weight of words. Too much trouble of has come from people saying one meaning while others understand a different meaning. This is especially true when new travellers arrive with new concepts and new beliefs. We must preserve the meaning of words. Nothing, not a person, not a thing, not an idea, can exist until someone in my role gives it a name and then we all agree on what that name means.”

“How do we get a name?” asked Bishop

“What do you call yourself?”

“Bishop. Calvin.” He gestured to himself and then his partner.

“Bishop and Calvin” it said

The street erupted with questions and shouting as everyone saw these new creatures amongst them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Now Time Doth Waste Me

The following is an excerpt from Now Doth Time Waste Me by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Reckoning Books in April 2009

Julia sat in the lunchroom and leafing through the pages of Historical People Magazine.

“How can you read that trash?” asked Violet

“I just like the pictures. I always wondered what these people looked like.” Julia answered.

“I think it’s just wrong. The time paparazzi harass those poor people. No wonder Cleopatra killed herself. They won’t leave that poor woman alone.”

“But didn’t you find the size of her nose astonishing. That’s what all the fuss was about. Don’t pretend you don’t find this interesting. And that unibrow. Oh my” Julia let out a puff of disapproving air.” I mean I would be different if I could afford time travel but the media are the only ones that can. With time’s self correcting properties it’s the only way to make money off time travel. It’s not like you can go back and win the lottery”

“I think it’s dangerous.” said Lisa “All those time paparazzi mucking about. One is going to step on a butterfly and doom us all.”

“Can’t be done” said Julia. “Once time is set in motion it can’t really be changed. I mean, look at how many times they went back and arrested Jack the Ripper before giving up. Got away every time and killed those women. Just sometime it was a few blocks to the east. Not really that big a deal in the massive span of time.”

“ I still think it’s dangerous.” Said Lisa

“I still think it’s cruel.” added Violet

“Well if you don’t approve I can put it away” Julia started shoving the magazine into her hand bag.

“No, its okay” said Lisa and Violet in unison and all three burst out laughing.


William Shakespeare has demons.

They follow him through the streets of London. They spy at him from the corners of the taverns. They sit in the front row of the Globe and move their lips along with new couplets he wrote hours ago, like they lifted them directly from his mind. They dig though his garbage like feral animals. They shout his name and when turning to look, they blind him with a flash of light.

He cannot write with this hounding and without writing he will never be famous.

A demon follows him now. He looks like a man but lurches and crouches and peers through the stalls at him.

William stops for a pint and the demon follows him into the brew house. It sits at a bench, drinking ale, and never lifting his eyes from William.

William drinks. He is not a heavy drinker but now everything else seems so heavy. His writer’s block is heavy. His failure is heavy. The eyes of the stranger on him are heavy. His drinking might as well be heavy too.

Finally, he drinks enough courage to commit his plan.

William staggers into an alley, populated strictly by prostitutes and customers. He huddles into one of the dark corners where the prostitutes would work and waits.

The stranger, like a crab, scuttles into the dark alley. His eyes move back and forth. “He is looking for me in the shadows” thinks Shakespeare.

William draws his dagger and pounces. He knocks the stranger to the ground. One knee on the stranger’s chest, Will presses the blade into his neck and shouts “Who are you?”

From the blackness of the alley, prostitutes and their patrons scatter like birds after a cannon blast. William and the demon are alone.

“Who are you?” shouts William, pressing the blade harder into his neck, ready to puncture the skin.

“Nobody!” cries the stranger


“nobody, really.”

“You die either way. Reveal yourself and end with a weightless conscience.”

“You don’t kill me,” reasons the demon. “You aren’t a killer. You don’t commit murder.”

“I will kill you but first I will kill your children and bake them in a meat pie and force feed them to you.” The stranger is right. William is not capable of murder but he also wrote Titus Andronicus and talks a mean game.

“No, I know you never commit murder.” The demon calms down. The panic leaves his eyes.

The panic arcs from the stranger to William. “You know the future. What does it hold for me?”

The stranger shakes his head. William presses the blade enough to draw blood.

“Dammit!” It curses.

“Speak devil!” Orders William

“You become the greatest writer ever. The greatest. You change the way people speak. Students spend years studying your plays.”

“Flattery is devil’s greatest tool!”

“It’s true, also the Globe burns down and you leave a bed to your wife.”

“Why do you tell me this? That I sabotage my own future after learning this?”

“There is nothing you, I, or everyone else can do to stop it.” The Demon shrugs his shoulders and then casually adds “Greater than Chaucer.”

Shakespeare suddenly feels calm. He doesn’t care for writing. He hates it really. He only does it because it brings renown that labour can’t.

He loves everything about being a popular playwright except the actual act of writing. At his lonely writing desk he copies Marlowe as best he can and hopes that is enough to appease the groundlings.

Now there is no need to write. There isn’t even a need to think. He just sits back and transforms into the utmost wordsmith in English history.

Even superior to Christopher Marlowe

“I do not care if you are a demon, an angel, or something in between,” says William “If what you say is true then how do I thank you?”

“Smile” says the demon.

William smiles.

The stranger holds a small box in front of his face. There is a flare of light and the stranger runs.

Christopher Marlowe pours Ale down his throat.

“I cannot write.” He says and takes another deep drink “There are devils following me. Accosting me. Calling my name. One waited for me in the toilet, blinded me and ran.”
Shakespeare nodded in understanding of the dilemma

“How do you write?” asks Marlowe. “How do you write with demons amongst us?”

“I don’t write anymore.” Laughs Shakespeare. “No matter what I create; I am and will be famous. What do I care?”

“But the craft” stammers Marlowe. “But the art...?”

“That’s all secondary. I don’t really care for the art to be honest” explains Shakespeare.

“It’s all I care about” moans Marlowe. He takes another deep, searching gulp “and the demons took the art from me. I don’t care a whit for fame. I would be happy with them thinking someone else wrote the plays. I would be happy with everyone thinking I was dead. I want to write again.”

“Really?” says Shakespeare incredulously “I would be happy if I never had to write again. I only want people to think I am famous and clever and buy me drinks and quote my works.”

Marlowe thinks about their two contradictory ambitions.

“Maybe we can make an arrangement Mr. Shakespeare” and he lifts his mug in a toast.

Ricky looked at the magazines in the checkout line.

He could never bring himself to actually buy a copy of CSH: CRIME SCENE HISTORIANS but it was fun to flip through as the food got rung up.

His eyes darted across black and white photos of carnage. Of course, the time paparazzi could easily shoot colour photos but something about black and white made it seem more authentic.

Ricky looked at Julius Caesar, full of knives and blood soaking his toga.

He looked at Jesse James, shot in the back and lying bellow a picture frame.

He looked at the corpse of Christopher Marlowe.

“At least they guessed it was Christopher Marlowe” thought Ricky. “The dude got stabbed in the face. I’m surprised anyone knew who this was”

Ricky stared at the grisly photo and tried to recall who Marlow was. “Might have been a friend of Shakespeare’s” he thought “but I could be wrong”.
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