Jots & Tittles

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Force- flash fiction

The Force

After the presentation on child sex slavery and ritual sacrifice - it was time for tea and biscuits. Jason chose a pink wafer as his mind reeled with the abducted six year old, her eyes...No. Move on from these things.

The other delegates at the “New Religious Movements” gathering clustered amicably, this was reassuringly familiar territory.

Whatever next? Adrift, Jason turned left, where stood the tweed jacketed lecturer from the University of Dumfries. His presentation had been excellent. His quiet, compassionate brogue had delivered balanced conclusions and avoided sensationalism.

“Hello, do you have a faith? Jason's question, in other contexts unnerving, was here a valid opener. “Jedi”. Was he serious? A moment of incomprehension, before he saw the lightsaber flash in the lecturer's eye.

“Your presentation was a tour de the force, if that's the expression”.


The lecturer proffered his warm, dry grip.

At that moment a middle aged lady flapped over, shawl spreading purple tentacles as she went for the lecturer's hand, peppering him with praise. Doris ran an anti-cult group that rescued people from manipulative organizations. “Release” had been investigated several times for coercive deprogramming methods.

“Who do you represent?” She threw at Jason.

Deep breath. “I'm from the Father's House community”.

Doris's eyes swivelled like prison searchlights. “Oooh,” she cooed knowingly, “we've had numerous visits from ex-members of yours.”

Flinching, Jason looked back at the Jedi, but he had already averted his gaze back to the biscuits.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Thundering Legion

The storm began with gentle spots of rain, the flood with a trickle
of drops on a pillow- an Imperial guard in tears.

Disturbance in barracks is itself unremarkable. Soldiers are only mortal,
men of mere flesh, scarred in body and mind by wounds received and, more,
by cuts they've given to countless men, women; innocent children.
Bodies, pillages - pile up and weigh like lead upon their consciences.

No novelty, then, screams in dorm, cries of alarm, men sleep-fighting;
holding back a wall of enemies on their bent shields, buckling, yielding;
axes shearing them from rest, driving them back, back, back into consciousness.
The sleep of soldiers offers little respite from soul wounds, moral pain,
the still shrill, remembered cries of the long-ago slain.

But this one was strange. A veteran nicknamed "Wolf", savage as his name,
hard as nails, brutal rapist, killer - unfeeling as stone. Imagine how astonished-
amazed they were- to be woken by the sounds of this seasoned campaigner,
weeping like an inconsolable child in the dead of night.

Someone lit a taper. By its unsteady light, uneasy shadows gathered round his bunk,
shifting, uncomfortable, sensitized by the newness of the situation,
his incongruous sobbing. Through snorts and snot his story bubbled out-

- and before long the whole Imperial guard knew how the prisoner he'd been guarding
had brought this calloused brute to his knees: a tent maker from Tarsus
with an obscure history, a clever Jew, a citizen who'd appealed to Caesar,
stuck in the system, brought to trial on obscure charges -
something to do with his new atheism.

Most did not sleep that night. Some shrugged it off but many could not and,
as the top brass later worked out, that was the moment that the rot set in.

From the Imperial guard the word spread - catching, reverberating, multiplying.
"Weakening morale" the officers claimed. It spread like a "venereal disease",
"a cancer - sapping imperial zeal" they said, "diluting devotion to Caesar".

Others took it differently. The new creed questioned old loyalties, it
established new priorities, demanded real obedience. When the news at length
reached our Thundering Legion -trouble broke out. What was truth?
Was Caesar not lord? Debate rumbled in canteen, at watch, in tents:
what was worth fighting for? Even battle-tested relationships felt the strain-
A kingdom of peace? Then why were we at odds?

At length the new creed defeated argument, took hold, flourished.
Many converted. Songs and language mellowed and grew sweet.
Whoring, gambling, cheating almost ceased. Unbelievably, swearing all but ended.
The authorities were most offended. Questions were asked, matters came to a head:

The governor was informed; he called us to attention in the hall.
There, a brazier was set before a dumb bust of Caesar, a pronouncement made:
an offering of incense was required - to be given by all - a test of our faith,
a show of our devotion to imperial rule. The alternative stark:
high treason, courts martial - and death for our atheism.

The motionless ranks of armoured men grew yet more silent still.
Darkly glittering in uniform, glowering, grim, powerful- but hemmed in
by air thick, obscured, obnoxiously sweet- with the cloying odours of idolatry.
So easy to give way, came the siren-like, seductive, compromising call:
"What is the problem? Only a handful of incense after all..."

But there in that regimented, sober hall,
never before did I see- in all my years - a body of men more resolute,
more set in will and purpose - and ready for action.
Never, in all the fields of fire and blood we waded through,
hails of arrows, sickening sieges we withstood.
Brother soldiers stood together, united as one,
and each was each other's courage and protection.

Who it was dropped the first sword I know not, but a few at first-
and then with mounting, metallic roar - all shields, spears, weapons
were cast down - dashed upon the floor. Helmets, like broken metal shells,
spun and rolled and clanged - as conviction conquered tyranny in peaceful violent stand.

A cheer broke out! - our war cry; volleying, echoing, redoubling-
filling that place, as when the battering ram breaks the stubborn enemy's gate-
our ranks rejoiced before the venomous flame without a trace of fear.
Exultant, unbroken, untamed we roared- as a wild, lightning joy leapt between us all!

In a trice, the governor condemned us all to die: and die tonight we must,
on the bitter ice of this frozen lake. Not one of us will flinch, I trust.

Lucius, tell the comrades of the 13th and 10th this testimony true,
how your father took his place in the Lord Christ's army, and you-
forgive, if you will, my mistreatment long and sore. I knew not what I did before...
When this fight is done I'll meet you in a new land:
no more a feckless, restless soldier, but a better and a braver man.