J Bov Explodes Rhetorically


The Boatman

Slowly, oh so slowly, the boat inched across the grey river, propelled with deliberate strokes from its grim captain’s pole.

Matthew peered over the side, staring into the murky waters, he flexed his fingers and was about to reach out when the boatman spoke.

“You can look, but I wouldn’t touch it if I were you.” He said, his deep voice reverberating through the wooden bench Matthew was sat upon.

He withdrew his hand and shoved it and its brother into the pockets of his jacket.

“That’s probably a better idea, yeah.” The boatman noted.

Matthew looked back the way they had come, seeing that the boat left no ripples in the surface of the water, and that the ferryman’s pole didn’t drip when it was lifted. This would have struck his as very odd, but he found himself feeling particularly accepting of most things right now. On the shore behind them he spotted people wandering up and down, some with their head in their hands, some just shuffling forwards while staring at the ground.

“Excuse me, sir.” He said to the captain. “What are those people doing?”

“First off, my names Charon,” The tall figure pronounced his name as ‘care-uhn’, “And those people are the poor buggers that couldn’t afford the boat ride.”

Matthew nodded.

“So they just walk up and down the bank for a hundred years. After that I can take ‘em free of charge.”

“Why a hundred years?” Matthew asked.

“Because ‘rules’ is why. I don’t make ‘em, I just follow ‘em.” Charon intoned.

After a while Matthew began to get curious again.

“So why can’t I touch the river? What river is this, anyway?” He asked.

“Look, I’m not saying you can’t touch it. I’m just saying it may not be the best idea. It’s Acheron, the River of Woe. Touch it if you like, but I’m not helping you if you do.” Charon kept his gaze centred ahead and kept up his slow, rhythmic rowing.

Matthew’s hands withdrew into his pockets yet again, and he shifted himself on the bench to make sure he was as far from the water on all sides as possible.

“Just be glad we’re not on the Pyriphlegethon and keep your hands to yourself. I’m not a bloody babysitter, I just drive the boat.”

For a long while nothing more was said. Matthew observed the landscape around him as Charon propelled them slowly down the river. Occasionally the boatman would point something out, in the manner of a tour-guide.

“”That’s the Cocytus.” He would say, pointing out a stream running alongside the river they were on. “Further down it meets the Acheron here in the Stygian Marsh.”

“Stygian?” Matthew parroted.

“Aye, ‘Of the Styx’. That stream there flows out of it, see, before it drops back into Tartarus, the Pit of Torment. Now there’s a bloke you don’t want to piss off. Nasty piece of work.”

“I thought you said it was a pit?” Matthew was confused.

“Yeah, he’s a pit, too. Lot of folks down here are a bit like that.”

Silence for a while, then;

“And this here’s the Acherusian Lake.” Charon told the air ahead of them.

The boat drifted gently out of the river mouth into a vast, dark lake. The waters were as still as the river had been, but looked much deeper. Charon was still talking.

“This is where most folks spend their time, waiting to be reborn.” He made an expansive gesture with his arm, holding the ferry pole in the crook of the opposite elbow. His hand swept all the way down until it was in front of Matthew’s face, palm up.

“It’s also where I ask for my payment.” He ended with a greedy grin.

Matthew fiddled about in his pockets a bit, jingling change noises filling the air.

“What do I owe you?” He asked.

Charon thought for a little while, staring off into the distance, then he seemed to make a decision.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got an obolus? A danake? No, nobody ever does these days. Where are you from again?”

Matthew indicated that he was from Ipswich with the appropriate apologetic air.

“English, right. So conversion rates and inflation make it… hang on.” He tapped his fingers on his pole as he counted in his head. “Eleven pounds.”

“Eleven pounds!? That’s daylight bloody robbery, that is.” Matthew was aghast.

“Well, you can afford it. It’s not like you’ll need it when you get where you’re going, anyway.”

Matthew rummaged through his pockets, muttering to himself. Eventually he fished the required money from his wallet and the surrounding debris in his pockets. He thrust it toward the boatman with a huff.

“Listen, just let me off on the bank here, I’ll walk the rest of it. Charging a bloody fortune for a boat ride, it’s ridiculous.”

With a shrug Charon gently bumped the boat into the bank and let Matthew alight on the shore. As he pushed back into the mouth of the Acheron he could hear Matthew still grumbling away to himself.

“Bloody rip off for a boat ride. Wasn’t even that interesting. Eleven quid!? I’ll give it to you, but you’ve not earned it. Didn’t even have sandwiches, and god forbid I get a cup of tea, eh?”

Charon shook his head, pocketed the cash somewhere in his ragged clothes and began the long, slow journey back up the river to collect his next fare.



God of the Grid (Re-upload)

(This is a short story that I had previously uploaded here, but taken down because I submitted it elsewhere. They didn’t want it, so back here it goes.)

Strike that, I’ve sent it somewhere else now, so it’s down again. We’ll see what happens.



A Conversation

Stephen awkwardly shifted the green beans around on his plate as his wife’s friend Susan continued to speak.

“It’s just awful, the stuff that goes on down there. Drugs, murder, prostitutes.” She was saying.

Stephen made a suitably disgusted noise in response.

“I heard,” Marjorie, Stephen’s wife, began, “that you can get hold of anything off the Ban-List down there if you know where to look.”

“Ordering crimes a la carte.” Bob, Susan’s husband, chuckled at his own joke through a mouthful of fish. “See, ‘cos the Ban-List is like a menu for them.” He went on to explain. Susan giggled.

Stephen stopped moving the tasteless, grey beans around and looked up.

“I know I shouldn’t say it, but I wouldn’t mind trying some of the stuff on the Ban-List.” He intoned.

“Stephen!” Marjorie’s voice cut the air like a knife.

“Nothing extreme!” He quickly added. “But I bet those ‘crisps’ things were pretty good. They sound good.”

His wife and their guests stared at him for a moment, their plates forgotten, until Susan, tentatively, as though disarming a bomb, asked a question.

“Where have you heard about them? Other than the name on the List, I mean.” She said, quietly.

“A bloke at work.” Stephen’s reply was instant. “A bloke at work was saying they were like very thin strips of potato…”

“Potato julienne?” Marjorie cut in.

“No, more like… leaves. But fried, and covered in salt. Sometimes flavoured, too. He said you could get ‘crisps’es that taste like cheese, and onions.”

“Disgusting.” Bob snorted into his wine.

“And how did he know about them?” Susan prompted.

Stephen considered his next words carefully.

“I think he’s had them. I think he’s gone into the Ciphers and got some and eaten them. I told the Overwatch my theory during the inspection at the end of work. They said they’d ‘keep an eye on him’.”

“Bloody good job Lord Oliver added them to the Ban-List, if you ask me. They sound awful.” Bob postulated.

For a long time everybody ate in silence, staring at their plates intensely until;

“They want to put them all in jail. Every one of those Cipher scumbags.” Bob huffed.

“Don’t be silly, Robert.” Susan smiled at him.

“Well, they want to put soddin’ great gates on the front of it and keep them locked, then. Just use it as a prison itself.”

“Now, Bob, they aren’t all bad. There’re innocent people in there who are just unlucky.” Susan looked patient. Almost as if she’d had this conversation before.

“Well, they can get out and then we’ll lock it up and forget about it.”

“You can’t just ‘get out’ of the Ciphers. It’s where you end up when nowhere else in the world wants to put up with you.” Stephen told his now empty plate.

“Stephen, please…” Marjorie placed a hand on his arm, for comfort or restraint. Probably both.

“No, it’s ok.” He sighed. “My parents spent the last years of their poor, miserable lives down there. They put me up for adoption, so I never saw it myself, thank God. But they did.”

“Sorry mate, I didn’t know.” Bob apologised sincerely.

“No, it’s ok.” Was all he said.

Bob and Susan left quite quickly after that and, after shoving the plates into the dishwasher, Marjorie went to bed. Stephen poured himself a whiskey and told her he’d be up soon.

After making sure his wife was fast asleep, he went into the kitchen and grabbed a potato from the bag on the vegetable rack.

Then he opened the fridge and, in the dim light from within, filled a pan with oil, turned on the hob, grabbed the sharpest knife he could find and began to slice.

“No, no; thinner.” He told himself, quietly, before grabbing the salt from the cupboard.



The Evening I Met God

It was a pretty standard Thursday evening.

I had come home from work, eaten a chicken kiev and chips for tea and watched a repeat of QI on the telly. I was already lounging in a nice warm bath when I was visited by god.

“Greetings mortal!” Cried the great ball of light above my prone, soapy body.

“God?” I asked. “Are you God?”

“Oh please, I can hear you pronouncing the upper-case ‘G’. Stop it.”

“Sorry.” I looked down at myself then, blushed and hastily covered my shame.

God just hung there. I imagine if I could see his face the expression on it would have been bored and condescending.

“Oh right, yeah. You’ve seen it all before.” I chuckled nervously. “So, er… what do you want?”

God bobbed up and down for a few seconds, as though considering.

“You have questions.” He finally said. “Ask them.”

I opened my mouth for a second then closed it again. I did have questions, but now I could actually ask them I couldn’t remember any of them. It’s a little like when someone tells you to think of ‘any film’. Or rather ‘Every film’.

“What’s the meaning of life?” Poured out of my mouth before I could stop myself.

God just laughed uproariously. I sat, slowly stewing. After a few minutes the laughter died away.

“Classic.” God said. He’d probably be wiping a tear out of his eye if he had an eye, or a hand to wipe it. “No, something else.”

I racked my brain for a few more minutes. God remained infinitely patient.

“Oh, I know!” I shouted all of a sudden. “A lot of people believe that you created everything and evolution isn’t real. Doesn’t you coming to talk to me prove them right?”

“Certainly not.” God seemed mildly annoyed. “Why is it so hard for people to give credit where it’s due? How hard can it be to say ‘Evolution? Yeah, god started that.’, really? It’s not a case of one or the other.”

For a few seconds god seemed to be silently fuming.

“I thought it was a bloody good idea, too. Just writing it off like a bunch of morons. Pah!”

“God?” I ventured.

“Yeah?”

“I know I asked the ‘meaning of life’ question already, but can I rephrase it?”

“I don’t know, can you?”

“Why did you make us? All of this,” I gestured in a roundabout way, “but mainly us.”

God just hung there for a moment.

“It’s difficult to explain.” He finally told me. “Here, consider this; do you remember that ant-farm you had when you were young?”

I nodded.

“Why did you have that?” God finished, sounding satisfied with his explanation.

“So you’re comparing the earth to an ant-farm and the whole of humanity to ants?” I was incredulous.

“What? No, no, it was the ants I was interested in. You lot popped up when I wasn’t looking.”

“Oh.” I finished, lamely.

For a long time we simply regarded each other, then;

“God?”

“Hmm?”

“What’s my purpose?”

“To have a bath.” God answered instantly.

“But after I finish my bath, what then?” I asked.

“What were you going to do after your bath?” He asked in return.

“I was going to eat a biscuit and go to bed.”

“Then your purpose is to eat a biscuit and go to bed.”

“Do you have a plan for us?”

“There’s a plan,” God sighed, “but it’s nothing to do with you. Or anyone you’ve met, or heard of, or not heard of.”

“What?”

“The plan is all to do with me and couple of the other guys that very few people have met, and some that nobody has met, and others that nobody’s even thought of. The plan doesn’t involve you lot at all. It won’t affect you at all. Any of you.”

I just pondered for a moment.

“And the ants?” I asked, finally.

“Oh they’re part of it, yes. Well, bye.”

And with that, god was gone.

I finished my bath, ate a biscuit and was setting off to bed when I spotted an ant on the windowsill.

“Good luck.” I told it, with a wink.

I felt like a great weight had been lifted, and fell asleep with a smile.



[Removed, For Now]

There was a story here.

It’s gone now.

 

I’ve taken it down here because I’ve submitted it somewhere else and I’d prefer it not to clash.

If you didn’t get a chance to read it here, sorry. Maybe you can again in the near future. Or maybe somewhere else. Hopefully somewhere else.

If you’d really, REALLY like to read it just ask me. I’ve got the manuscript knocking about on my computer still.

Fingers crossed I never put it back up here. That would mean good news.

J Bov.



Contraband

A part of Justin knew he’d been spending far too much time down here.

There’s a part of you that becomes accustomed to the low light, even to the smell, but you never fully adjust to the sense of dread kicked out by the dank, narrow streets in the Ciphers.

This would be Justin’s fourth venture to the squalid, labyrinthine sub-city that stretched under modern London. Gouged, scraped and built into the ruins and pits of the old city, it was condemned as England’s shame; London’s blight; a rotting in the foundations of the glorious glass and chrome capital above.

Justin kept his gaze to the ground and hurried on, past tiny one-room squats housing whole families, past food stalls selling dubious meats, past dead-eyed prostitutes and their shark-toothed pimps. There was one place he was trying to get to. One person he had to see.

He’d heard about it from a… well, not a friend per se, but a boy at school.

“Man,” this boy had begun, “this place in the Ciphers, man. They got what you need. The good stuff.”

Justin had nodded, excitement and fear in equal measures making his chest tight. He had noted the directions down in his Pad™ and thanked the boy, then he had never spoken to him again.

He pulled his jacket tighter around himself and ducked down one of the hundreds of identical alleys. He knew this was the one. His previous ventures here had taught him the way so well he could probably navigate it with his eyes closed.

He pushed aside the threadbare curtain hanging over the door and spied the proprietor of the now familiar establishment. A squat, withered elderly woman, her face hardened by long years in the awful underworld. There was nonetheless an almost disarming kindness in her eyes.

“Justin.” She wheezed. “Back so soon?”

Justin nodded, scratching his arm.

“You want the same as last time, yes?” She asked him quietly.

He nodded again, almost frantic.

“I’ll see to that.” She bent with a groan to look under the counter and continued rambling.

“It’s good. But you know that. Can’t get it in the Over-City no more. You know that too.”

She arose finally with a small oblong wrapped in cloth. Justin eyed it with something approaching lust, his fists clenched by his sides as he stepped forwards.

“Now,” as he went to grasp it she whipped it away, a cruel taunt, Justin thought, “You don’t let nobody Upsides know I give you this, right?”

Justin knew the drill, he just kept nodding and staring at the object of his desires.

She finally passed the block to him and gestured to the curtain behind her.

“You got an hour. Then you’re gone.” She intoned as he rushed into the back room.

He found his favourite corner, thankfully unoccupied, and sat in the old, worn leather chair he had adopted as his own.

His hands trembled as he unwrapped the cloth covering slowly, almost ritualistically, and breathed a sigh of relief as he uncovered exactly what he had wanted, what he had needed.

A soft chuckle broke him from his rapture as he glanced across the rather large room to another corner to spot a wrinkled old man almost giggling.

“Hello, Mr. Harris, reading Wodehouse again?” Justin ventured, with a smile.

“Justin! I didn’t notice you coming in.” Mr. Harris hefted the book on his lap so Justin could see the cover. It was Wodehouse indeed.

Justin returned his attention to his own business. He lovingly traced the inlaid words on the object he held.

“On The Road, by Jack Kerouac” he breathed reverently.

Out beyond the curtain he heard the old woman greet a new customer.

“Ah welcome dear. Tell me, how did you hear about the library?”



[Removed, For Now]

There was a story here.

It’s gone now.

I’ve taken it down here because I’ve submitted it somewhere else and I’d prefer it not to clash.

If you didn’t get a chance to read it here, sorry. Maybe you can again in the near future. Or maybe somewhere else. Hopefully somewhere else.

If you’d really, REALLY like to read it just ask me. I’ve got the manuscript knocking about on my computer still.

Fingers crossed I never put it back up here. That would mean good news.

J Bov.