My God is a Gun

My God is a Gun, translated into English in 2013 by the late Melvin Milo Melbern from a Spanish translation of an anonymous and untitled Quechuan text, is an anomaly in the history of translation.

My God is a Gun


For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart


Preface

My God is a Gun, translated into English in 2013 by the late Melvin Milo Melbern from a Spanish translation of an anonymous and untitled Quechuan text, is an anomaly in the history of translation. The acclaimed original Spanish translation, Nuestro padre, la lanza (Our Father, the Spear), was provided by Jorge Paca, who is primarily renowned for his historical work on oral folk histories from Peru and Colombia. Melbern, an author first and foremost, is known in the translation community for his work on other esoteric discoveries such as Hammett’s Statement (a Cornish text dated 1919) and the apocalyptic Diaries from Beyond (which Melbern translated from English into Spanish).

The original untitled text, named by Paca after a line found near the conclusion of the text, is dated to have been written between 1880—1883 in the Tacna region of Peru. The text was originally uncovered by antique book collector Bernard Laurent on the 3rd of January, 2008, near the bottom of a bric-a-brac box at a West London car-boot sale, alongside such charity shop classics as Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

Melbern’s English translation differs from Paca’s celebrated (and considerably more linguistically and historically accurate) translation in a great number of controversial ways, and is considered to contain embellished elements not present in the original Quechuan text.

Despite the controversy and purported lack of understanding of both time period and cultural voice, My God is a Gun has the distinct reputation for being the only current official English translation of the text. Furthermore, in contrast to critical opinion, many well-regarded multilinguists have spoken of their affection for the text, and some fans of this unknown Quechua-Peruvian author’s lone work consider this to be the definitive version of the text; both historian Jonathan Bayer and journalist Kenneth Loveman have praised Melbern’s effort as a singular work that transcends traditional translation and achieves its own greatness as a piece of metafictional art (Loveman summed it up in the Observer thusly: “Melbern’s translation is only passingly acquainted with the original historical work; however, it is through this that it unfolds as a masterpiece of artistic translation that deliberately defies rational understanding and instead takes its aim directly at the human pathos.”); other critics, however, blasted it as the work of an exploitative charlatan and a confused, grandiose narcissist well past his prime, particularly after Melbern’s infamous breakdown on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2014, an incident that fellow author Miles Stone claimed as indicative of Melbern’s decline.

In the interest to the reader, I have supplied a number of endnotes; these detail the notable similarities between the translated text and Melbern’s own 2004 novel Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar, his most successful work both critically and commercially.

The additional English translations of sections of the Paca translation are provided by professors Joelle Luna and Dennis Birkbeck of the University of Surrey, to whom I give great thanks.


My God is a Gun

I

There is no beauty greater than that of the female soul—O, no, lo and behold, I found myself indebted to a wanderlust driven by that need, that fire, for the beauty of a Spanish woman, far from my tribe; salted meat I prepared for the journey, and I left in the dark, speaking not a word of my plans to my mother Saywa, and before long the hills and mountain trails were breaking in my stride, and after some weeks I reached occupied Tacna.

When I arrived in Tacna on the 27th of May, I could still hear the lost echoes of dead souls. Many had died in the city the night before, and weary guards stood stony in the streets, a few lone smiles that read not joy but determined and temporary victory. Despite the upheaval, the people of Tacna continued their lives, unsure of what would come next.

I had no money or goods to trade; I had chewed all of my coca leaves on the journey, and salted meat had little value of note. My cultural background in ceramics however led me to take residence with a contentious and somewhat melted man named Pedro Sciarra, a watchmaker who employed me to create glass domes for his timepieces. Rarely did I complete a project for him in one effort; more often I received diatribes for my work, and Sciarra was not above striking me if he considered the work of low enough quality.

Adjusting to the existence found in this city of labyrinthine streets1 oddly unpopulated and so distant from the huts and hillside abodes of my past life took many months. I spent all of the time not engaged in dome-assembly wandering the city lanes, speaking to no one but observing all. After some time, the faces of the individual shifted into one face with two genders. The further I looked, the less defined became the European face of the Spanish beauty I had seen in my dreams.

In the dust-ridden neighbourhood of Texcuana2 I found a small abandoned house, and I began spending nights away from the Sciarra residence. Only here did I start seeing the image of that Spanish beauty again; she stared into me as I slept, and once I even heard her name. I saw her face clearly now, as vital as the morning sun: her speckled green eyes flickered with an energy I felt familiar. But for all of these dreams, she came no closer to taking material form; and in time, I even forgot the name that she had whispered into my slumbering ear.

II

Sciarra took ill, and in facing his death, became a new man. I stayed by his bed and listened to him speak of God, and the rites he wished to have performed at his funeral. He asked me to find his only living son, and to deliver him a message, entrusting to me several pages of Spanish that he sealed in an envelope with watchmaker’s mould wax. In the last few days of his life, he spoke of the Trinity, and he spoke of his hope for forgiveness. He repented for beating me, and he entrusted me with the future of his workshop. I stopped visiting that house in Texcuana, and forgot entirely about the Spanish beauty who surely waited for me still.

Sciarra passed away through the night, and I found him staring inert at the ceiling, clutching his bedclothes. I could tell that his last moments had been difficult; and in his eyes, something spoke to me, words in a language I did not understand. He was buried as per his requests—a scattering of herbs left on his unmarked grave, his coffin nothing but a linen sack. I was the only attendee; I left the letter to his son on the grave, and said a word to the shepherd spirit to deliver his son to the spot, if he still lived. I walked from the grave, herbs and dirt falling from my clothes.

I tried my hand at watchmaking but fell short repeatedly and gave up. To fail to create a facsimile of time is known to corrupt, and with each mistake I could feel myself taken further and further away from the destiny I had ordained for the future. Each ripple contained within it ten thousand paths, and the hope of falling onto the right one began to seem small. Violence spread through the region, until news of new hostilities became ubiquitous. But for all of the war, I thought only of the flower-haired Spanish beauty of the flatlands.

Her return to my life had me renounce any further attempts at watchmaking, and I sold the Sciarra property and took myself to Texcuana to locate and purchase the property I had stayed in the year before, but the house had been razed. Wandering into the night, I drank from pisco from a flask and spoke to many denigrated denizens of their woes and passions. I slept in the bed of an older woman of Quechuan origin named Cuxi3, who spoke of food and farming as we made love upon the course sheets. And although I felt a fervour, I left in the morning before she rose.

I found myself wandering for some weeks, avoiding the streets at night to save myself from losing my small inherited fortune at the hands of dark-eyed knives. Through the markets of dust I walked, passing the dull-eyed camelids and the chromatic drone of the ponchos. I dressed in fine cotton clothing, not for the heat but for my waiting Spanish beauty, the one who got ever closer and ever further away.

III

Three nights after I heard the fox howl, my eyes set upon a woman. She had conquistador eyes4, flowing rust-flecked hair, a brimmed hat resting atop her head. She was not the Spanish beauty I had been seeking, I knew that; no, she could be nobody else but my own flesh and blood, my own family, my own sister.

Her yellow dress was a beacon. I moved with the wind towards her, to find out how she came to be; how she found herself here; how we had never known each other. But the crowds of like-faced folk churned, and as I pushed further into them, I quickly realised that I had lost sight of her. After catching one more glimpse of that yellow robe, a man took a step directly into me. I fell back onto the floor, sand in my eyes. Something happened, and I clutched at my side. Hands moved around my body, pushing into every pocket. Soon, I looked up to see the crowds of people with their uniform yet shifting faces staring down at me. I looked at my hand to see it smeared red.

My blood painted the sandy street. My fortune was lost. My sister had disappeared into the aether, and my last conscious thought was that I would never see her again.

IV

I spent a month recovering from my wound. When I slept, it was no longer the Spanish beauty that looked into my eyes; it was my sister. I thought of what I might say to her; what I might call her. I thought of many names, but there was no single one that felt natural. I had to find her, to draw the answers from our shared mouth.

I spoke to the Father, but he spoke not to me. God spoke to no-one; I was left out of the loop, alone but for the rain and wind5.

My doctor, Santos, discovered my history working for the watchmaker Sciarra and took me under his wing fixing his medical tools. I witnessed the many victims of the city, those unlucky enough to feel the blade dig too deep or who had deteriorated from the lash of time. Most did not survive. I thought on my luck, and how I would not squander this chance to atone.

All of my time away from the surgery was spent carefully wandering the streets, searching for my sister. I dressed in sodden rags, appearing so to be a beggar or leper. I played the part and kept my gaze toward the future.

Three hundred days passed, and in time I became a master artisan of medical tools. I crafted devices that saved lives and eased suffering, and I played audience to the increasing survival of the unfortunate folk who found themselves on the operating table. Santos and I eventually spoke of my future; his kind eyes followed mine and he nodded as I spoke of the sister I had to find. He was quiet for some time, and then told me that there would be a day soon when he would not see me again. I nodded.

The day came sooner than either of us could have imagined; to be precise, it was that day. Not long after our conversation, I took my leave to a local drinking hole that I had recently started to patronise. As I took my corner seat, she appeared at the door. She was wearing that same yellow dress as before, the same hat, and her eyes were still my own. She only looked briefly into the room before turning and going on her way; I got to my feet and scrambled out of there, leaving my alcohol to the dust and flies.

The streets clamoured with a resounding din of footsteps and mercantile. Through the tangled archways I moved, keeping the woman in yellow in sight at all times; I knew that this would be my final chance to reach her. I saw many infinite versions of us moving through the alleyways that we crossed, our forms blurring as I kept my true sister in aim.

Eventually, we reached the outskirts of Tacna. Lonely streets housing lonely homes, and it was as if we were the only living souls around. More cautiously now I followed, her seeming unaware of her brother coming to find her. O how near the truth was now—but I did not rush, I could not. The desertic flats now stretched out into the northeasterly valley, the hills rising up to meet us. Finally, we were the only ones walking.

I was but fifteen feet from her now.

‘What of you?’ she said.

I knew not what to say, but I walked still.

‘You do not mean me harm, lest I would already be dead,’ she said, and she turned around.

Indeed, those eyes were unmistakable; the sleek curves of her face, the parting of her hair; she was my kin, a perfect feminine mirror of my soul.

‘You are my sister,’ I said.

She smiled. ‘We have been living together in this city for some time. Why only now do you seek me out?’

‘I knew you not. If only I had.’

‘Let us keep walking,’ she said.

V

We walked in silence up to the crest of the knoll that I had traversed on my journey to the city. Finally stopping and turning around, we looked over at the place we had both made home; all was quiet, other than the chirping of insects and the occasional cry of the birds.

‘How long have you been here?’ I asked, finally shattering the illusion of silence.

‘As long as you have. We have found ourselves here again.’

‘Again?’

‘Indeed.’

She turned to me. It was as if I were capturing my own gaze.

‘What of our god?’ I asked, but knew not why.

‘My god is a gun6,’ she said, ‘and I am a bullet.’

I inspected her eyes further; I had seen them before somewhere, in some dream state or fugue of youth.

‘Have you forgotten me?’ she asked.

‘I apologise, sister, for I believe that is the case.’

‘Do not apologise; one of us was to remember, and I get to play that role this time. There is much that will come back to you: the many aeons we have spent together. We were there at the start, and we will continue even beyond the end, to even more distant and remote lands and vistas. We have seen every end of this earth a thousand times; we have never failed to meet. We are more than twinned souls, my old friend.’

She offered me her hand, and I took it.

‘Do you feel it now? That sense of being whole—and the forces that conspire to pull us apart. There will always be times when we must be apart, but we will find each other again, always. For beyond brother and sister, you are I, and I am you. We have always been one, and we have always been two. Without one, we could not have the other. We fit together as pieces of a jigsaw, as parallel paths in Sol’s Labyrinth. Every woman you seek is I, just as every man I have adored has been you. Reflection is an ideal; it is purity.’

Our hands fell apart again. I nodded solemnly, and looked away from her eyes.

‘It is not our time yet, is it?’ I asked.

We stared out over the city. I felt the land expanding out before us, incrementally increasing in size, along with the rest of the universe. I turned once more to her, to see her before we parted again for another epoch.

‘I do not believe so, no,’ said she, said I. ‘There is much trouble to come before we are joined forever. We will realise our differences, and then our similarities. For it is not just our eyes that we are similar, just as our bodies are not the only way that we differ. It is only when order and chaos are at peace that we will speak as one. Until then, I will dream of you.’

She smiled, and Inti, the great sun, shone down on us. In the light, our forms were inseparable; two identical bodies, silhouettes without difference or conflict, melding in the solar incandescence.

‘We shall meet again, many years from now. One will give the other a sign; messages caught in the melee, scripture that only the other will discern. Let us take this chance and bury it here on this hill, and one day it shall find us again. When the call finally sounds, we will answer in kind, and after a decade has passed, we shall be together as one, for eternity, as one.’


Postscript

For those familiar with the lauded Paca translation, it is not difficult to see why Melbern’s ‘fictionalised’ version is so controversial; even the very name of the piece is a personalised corruption. But despite the artistic liberties taken (particularly) with the conclusion of the story, it is noticed that the final paragraph is incredibly close to Paca’s original translation, and despite the final sections becoming divergent to such a degree that the message is changed, Melbern finds a way to finish the tale with the same words, even with the context so vastly changed.

We know the reasons for those lines in the celebrated original translation, of course—the two separated siblings have discussed their return to the realm of the gods where they belong, but must first go their separate ways to attempt, perhaps futilely, to reconcile the brutally contrasting perspectives of their native mother and rapist, colonialist father.

The discovery in the original translation that they are half-Quechuan and half-Spanish makes the account primarily a piece of cultural criticism in the form of a tale, and until Melbern released his own version, that was exactly all the piece was: a primary text of somewhat novelty value, sought after by Peruvian and other Latin American scholars for their collections. Since Melbern’s translation was released, the story has taken on a life of its own; and particularly now, one year after his untimely death, it is being reassessed as one of his defining works.

Many theories abound about his personal changes to the story and the coincidental crossovers between the original Quechua text and Melbern’s own novel Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar, but I am not here to catalogue such conjecture.

Melvin Milo Melbern died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in his home in Oxford on the 3rd of January, 2018. He left behind a final novel, posthumously released this year, titled Woman Behind the Train, or Annotations Through Time, a dense, 1200-page odyssey-narrative of spirit-doppelgangers attempting to contact each other through time and space by leaving messages in the stars.

His other final work was his suicide note. It read:

‘My God will not punish me for this sin, as it is my God that has taken me out of this world.’


Endnotes

1: This marks Melbern’s first moment of erroneous translation: Paca’s Spanish translation describes the streets of Tacna as uncomplicated and bustling with life; moreover, the narrator is portrayed interacting with a number of townspeople (these conversational scenes provide satirical humour, showing supposed Peruvian stereotypes of the era). Conversely, Melbern’s Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar (hereafter referred to as ‘Jars’) is set in the city of Labyrinthia, a city in the lost Latin American country of Quelacicero. The streets are believed to shift in the night, making each new day subject to a sweeping clean of the slate and offering opportunities for constant adventure. As such, Melbern’s translated description of Tacna more closely resembles his own fictional work than the reality of the original text.

2: ‘Texcuana’ is not a real place, nor does it exist in the Paca translation—the area isn’t named in the original text, instead it is implied to be an abandoned hut or outhouse some miles outside of the city. Texcuana is, however, the metaphysical ‘locked cage’ that protagonist Atoc places herself in in the final chapter of Jars.

3: ‘Cuxi’ is the only name that remains the same from the Paca translation (for example, Sciarra’s name is Abracante). Cuxi is also the name of a minor character in Jars: coincidentally, both characters are described as older women of native origin. The similarities end there however, as the Cuxi in Jars is the distant half-sister of Atoc, as opposed to a brief sexual partner of the unnamed protagonist of My God is a Gun.

4: This oft-cited and infamous phrase is the focus of much derision from certain critics, who point out that for all of the liberties taken by Melbern, this shortsighted and insensitive description is the one that unveils him as an ugly, colonial-minded opportunist seeking to use a native primary text for his own means. The Paca translation of this line uses the word espíritu (a form of pun or reference to alcohol) in place of ‘conquistador’. If I may offer my own opinion, I consider Melbern’s reference to conquistadors and colonialism in this paragraph indicative of a deeper understanding and consideration of the original text, especially taking into account the original final reveal of the shared lineage of the Peruvian siblings — due to this, I see these critics as engaging in contrived controversy, and as such, cast doubt on their credentials.

5: This short paragraph does not appear in the Paca translation to any recognisable degree. It is, in fact, verbatim from a passage in chapter six of Jars; it is Atoc’s reply to her brother Tito after he asks her the fate of the magically enthralled apu Father Wind.

6: The title line, and what follows, is the most erroneous and controversial element of Melbern’s translation. Paca’s translation posits these lines as:

            Y nuestro padre?
            Nuestro padre es la lanza.

            ‘What of our father?’
            ‘Our father is the spear.’

This complete rewrite continues throughout the conversation; little of what the narrator and his sister speak is similar or even vaguely related to Paca’s version, and, as such, the entire outcome of the plot diverges onto its own path, as far away from the original outcome as possible, beginning with the revelation that the protagonist and his sister are the children of colonial rape.

Gone is the parade of gods that the siblings witness above Tacna, and absent too is the appearance of their mother. Of note to the reader is this: in the conclusion of Melbern’s Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar (published four years before the discovery of the Quechuan text), Atoc reunites with her father after the battle of the gods has taken the lives of her townspeople, only to discover her father is in fact Illapa, the lord of thunder, who set her off on her journey in the beginning with that portentous lightning strike.

After he asks her if she is happy to see him again, she shakes her head, and says: ‘My father is a spear. He offers only death, and I shall not grasp him.’

Although she tries to destroy Illapa for putting into play the dark, world-changing events that have taken place, she ultimately sees her own face reflected in his eyes; with this revelation, she turns away from her father, and places herself in the locked cage of Texcuana, to be awoken only once all of time has passed.


References

Anonymous. (n.d.) Untitled. Translated by Paca, J. as Nuestro padre, la lanza, Bogotá: Pontificia Press; and translated by Melbern, M. M. as My God is a Gun, London: Faber and Faber.

Hammett, C. (1919) Hammett’s Statement. Translated by Melbern, M. M. London: Faber and Faber.

Inženia, Ï. (1937) Diaries from Beyond. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

McCarthy, M. (1963) The Group. New York: New American Library.

McEwan, I. (2001) Atonement. London: Jonathan Cape.

Melbern, M. M. (2004) Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar. London: Sahnow.

Melbern, M. M. (2019) Woman Behind the Train, or Annotations Through Time. London: Sahnow.

Wordsworth, W. (2015) ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’, in Gill, S. (ed.) Selected Poems. London: Penguin, pp. 61-66.

Chaos Rains, Chapter 3: Godspeed You, Black Emperors

In which the party combat a local menace, and uncover betrayal and subterfuge.

Chapter 3: Godspeed You, Black Emperors

Our heroes awoke refreshed, feeling stronger than before. They headed downstairs and made acquaintance with Toblen, proprietor of the Stonehill Inn, a well-built and honest man who seemed interested in the party and their dress, identifying them as adventuring folk. He told them of a trouble that had swept the town of late: that of a street gang, known as the Black Emperors. He asked them for their help in ridding the town of the scum. Toblen’s wife, Trilena, chimed in that the thugs had recently killed Thel Dendrar, the fishmonger, for standing up to them, and that shortly after, Thel’s family (wife, daughter and son) went missing. Samp and Finch said that they’d think on it. Toblen thanked them, and told them not to worry about payment for their last night’s stay.

Harry convened with the party in the inn and talked to them on the topic of Trout Rockefeller. He said that another of the Rockefeller brothers should also be there, but he hadn’t arrived; Harry said that he feared the worst. They also spoke of the Black Emperors, Harry again mentioning his ally Spyro Herzog, and his disappearance; LARP officials often helped towns by governing them until they develop enough to hold their own elections, and this was Herzog’s role until his disappearance. Harry believed this gang may have kidnapped or killed Herzog. The party resolved to face the Black Emperors, and uncover what they could. Harry offered what information he knew: that their leader was named Happyslap, and that the gang was rumoured to have a high turnover rate; however, there could still have been over a score of them in total. Harry then mentioned that he would be speaking to the temporary acting townmaster, Harbin Wester, soon, if the group wanted to join him.

The party informed Toblen that they were going to put a halt to the Black Emperors’ illegal activities, and Toblen said he’d happily give them free lodging any time at his inn as thanks. Finch smashed a good old morning pint of ale, on the house.

They walked through the quiet town, and other than them, only children seemed to feel brave enough to wander around and play their games. They saw market stalls in the town square standing unattended, some with rotting fruit and vegetables upon them. Also canon is the fact that there were great amounts of animal excrement on the ground, and that sometimes it was necessary to trudge through it to reach a given destination.

So the party entered the townmaster’s hall, one of the few double-story buildings in the town. There, Harry confronted Harbin Wester, an unusually short, entirely bald man. Wester seemed confused, and incompetent; Finch chastised the acting townmaster for ignoring the problems that the Black Emperors were causing, but Wester remained aloof. Harry then grabbed the small man by the collar and informed him that he was no longer acting townmaster, and that he, Harry, would be taking over. The terrified Wester claimed to just be a simple banker, unable to deal with blade-wielding thugs, and happily renounced his brief townmastership.

Harry offered the party a sum of 200gp to deal with the gang issue. The party spoke of future plans to perhaps kidnap a puruk to discover the location of Cragmaw Castle. They then adjourned their meeting, the party setting off to deal with the Black Emperors, with two leads to follow: Darran Eldermath, a half-elf and ex-LARP associate that Harry knew some years back, and Halia Thornton, overseer of the local FARM (Farmer’s Association of Regional Mercantile), who Harry said not to entirely trust for reasons ambiguous.

The heroic band set off to the FARM building. On the way, they noticed an old, crumbling manor on a small hill at the north end of the town. They reached the FARM headquarters, and were introduced to Halia Thornton, a well-dressed and well-mannered woman with dark hair and dressed in finer clothes than many of the other townsfolk. She was pleased to hear of their decision to take down the Black Emperors, and offered them a further 100gp to kill the leader of the gang and return with proof.

She informed them that the gang hung around at the Sleeping Giant tavern, drinking and likely swearing; they had also been seen hanging around at the abandoned house, Tresendar Manor. Samp seemed worried that but three men could take on the whole gang, but Halia assured them that the heroes seemed much better prepared for combat than the ragtag ruffians that comprised the gang.

Halia spoke of one last thing — that of a political alliance. If the LARP-aligned townmaster, Herzog, had indeed been killed, then there could be possibility of the first town election, if the people requested it; she asked for the party’s support, and said they could speak of this matter at length later.

Our heroes left Halia at the FARM. Finch concluded that the best course of action would be to go to the gang’s drinking hole, capture one of them, and “torture the shit out of them until they speak.” The grand hero band made their way to the ramshackle Sleeping Giant; outside, stood four human ruffians, wearing grimly black hooded cloaks. As the party approached, one of the thugs hawked a lug of spit onto the ground.

“What the fuck do you want, eh?” said the ruffian.

“We’re looking for Happyslap,” said Samp.

“Why in hell would you want to be doing that, then?”

Finch speaks: “We’re thinking of joining up.”

The ruffian looked amused, looking to his friends with a snort, and another lug of spit

“You bunch of weirdos? Are you for real?”

Finch got right up in his face, grabbing him by the collar and almost lifting him off the ground. “You try me and see if I’m for real, boy,” the icy-eyed mercenary hissed.

The man coughed, and laughed, as Finch loosened his grip on the man. “Hah. Yeah, you’re alright, you are. Not bad. Sure. How about we take you down to the basement there at the manor, and get you some of these nice black cloaks?”

 

 

Thus they set off with this amicable cur — name of Dunjonbhoi — and one other recruit, a young man, to the supposed secret base of operations of the Black Emperors.

“Can we call you ‘Dunj’?” said Finch.

“Yeah, ‘Dunj’ is fine, people call me ‘Dunj’ ” said Dunj.

“How about just ‘Dun’?” said Samp.

“I mean… that’s less common,” said Dun.

Before long they were sharing a good old laugh, getting acquainted with Dunj. After some walking, they entered a dark passageway that led into the hill under the manor. They entered into a large cavern with a deep crevasse in the middle, and two bridges that led over it. Dunj pointed at the first bridge and told them not to use it, as it was ‘fucked’. As they neared the second bridge, they heard a strange sound coming from the crevasse; an alien sound. Dunj said not to worry, it was just the ‘Nothic.’ An ’orrible thing — really fuckin’ weird — that Happyslap kept around.

“Meat… meat…” crowed the nothic, from down in the crevasse.

“How far away is Happyslap now, then? If I’m joining, then I want to speak to the leader,” said Finch, as they started to cross the bridge.

“You can’t just speak to ’appyslap. He’s busy. But, thinking on it, some cunt’s come into town, some lord, or knight fellow. Probably going to cause issues. How about, you take care of him, and then maybe you can talk to Happyslap.”

“I’ve met this ‘cunt’ you’re on about,” said Finch.

Meat… give me meat…” crowed the nothic.

“Meat? I’ll give you some fucking meat,” said Finch, and with that, he grabbed Dunj, who barely had time to utter, “What the f—” before he was pushed into the crevasse, his bones breaking on the rocks, being left at the mercy of the nothic.

The other Black Emperor, a green recruit with little combat experience, took a step back in horror, and he, too, fell into the pit, breaking his legs, and his jaw, and again, being left to the quick hands and mandibles of the unseen creature that stalked the crevasse.

Meat… thanks for the meat.”

They looked around them, and saw four ways they could go. They set off to where Dunj had said the common room was. They took the left hand path after reaching an intersection, and stood by the following door.

Behind said door, they heard thus wordes being spake:

“No! Please, don’t do this to me, I can’t take it anymore.”

The voice seemed familiar, somehow. Another voice uttered:

Do a backflip, you little runt.”

“Just kill me, I don’t want to do another backflip!”

I said, do a fucking backflip!

They decided not to enter, and instead turned from the door for time being, and approached the opposite door down the corridor. Samp kicked it in. Inside, was a common room, and four drunken men, all wearing the black cloaks of their gang, were sitting at a table, gambling. One man, seemingly the leader, stood up and questioned them.

“Where the fuck is Happyslap?” said Samp.

Thus began the battle. It was a quick battle, the Black Emperors drunk, sloppy with their attacks. Makoto defended himself with quick ease, parrying blows and striking out with his morningstar — he possessed a speed and finesse with the bulky weapon previously unseen by either of our heroes. Finch utilised his quick reactions to help Makoto block the strikes heading for him, then returned focus upon the young, drunk men, who the heroes otherwise quickly dispatched, and without mercy. They kept the leader alive, but only just — the man coughed blood onto the ground, clearly close to death.

They found out that this was the second-in-command of the Black Emperors — “for what it was worth.” He shewed light upon the ‘backflip room,’ which apparently contained ‘pigs.’ They asked him where Happyslap was, but he told them, mockingly, that he was probably gone by now, what with all the noise. Finch mocked him back, telling him that his friend Dunj was nothing but meat for the nothic now, and soon he would be too. The man didn’t have much else to say. Then he coughed one last time, and passed away.

They crossed back to the so-called ‘backflip room.’ Inside, they heard further protests and angry coercions relating to backflips:

“My shins! They can’t take no more backflips!”

DO ANOTHER BACKFLIP.”

They busted down the door, and in front of them, stood three puruks, all laughing at the misery of the poglin they had performing backflips. The poglin — none other than Blinky — saw the heroes and fainted with both fear and joy. Each puruk had a tiny flat cap upon its head; one of the puruks was taller than the rest, and looked to be incredibly rindy, and the one in the middle had upon its face a ruby-encrusted eyepatch. The party started discussing which one to capture, incensing the suspicious pigs and initiating the battle of the century.

The merry heroic band crossed blades with the greatsword-wielding pigs. The one with the thick rind proved difficult to take down, due to its thick skin, and the eyepatch-adorned leader-apparent of the trio dealt massive damage to all of our plucky protagonists, almost knocking Makoto unconscious. Finch eventually pierced the rind of the thick pig, spilling its guts all over the cold hard ground; Makoto dispatched the third one into unconsciousness with a blow to the pig-head; Samp then stood forward and unleashed a strike infused with divine energy, calling out:

“Divine smite!”

It tore the leader pig directly in twain, the two halves falling to the floor, bacon sizzling in the air. Thus the battle was over, and Blinky was saved.

Blinky seemed happy to see them once he awoke. He told them of his recapture by the puruks, who punished him for his desertion by the method of enforced backflipping; he had been backflipping now for almost a full day. Finch was interested in seeing one of these famous backflips, but Blinky refused. Finch thus intimidated him into it through threat of force: and so Blinky performed a backflip for their amusement, spinning in place through the air, and landing squarely on his coccyx; and thus he was happy to see the party no more.

The poglin said he could go with the party to Cragmaw Castle, and although he didn’t know the way as per se, he could help them capture a poglin patrol who might. The heroes decided to keep Blinky with them for the time being.

They woke up the unconscious puruk and questioned it about Happyslap and the location of Cragmaw Castle, but the puruk stood fast, knowing it would be dead soon anyway, and refused to give up even a hint of useful information, other than that everything linked back to this “Harrier Jet”. Samp then let the blood out of his throat and released him from this world.

“He’s gone to the great sty in the sky,” said Samp, poking the corpse with his sword.

 

 

They made their way back down the corridor, through the common room full of dead ruffians, through another door, until they found themselves at the door they suspected Happyslap to be hiding behind. Inside this room was what looked like a wizard’s workshop, which Makoto was able to rifle through to find some potion-making ingredients. Through another door, and they found a small bedroom/study, since vacated. Upon the writing desk, a quill lay, with fresh ink seeping from it, but they did not find what may have been written with it. They scoured a series of older letters, finding this one:

 

Happyslap, you fool:

I heard that there were going to be some new boys in town soon — probably Rockefeller contacts. Capture them, slay them if you have to, but get their maps to me post-haste. Make it so, Herzog.

From, Harrier Jet.

 

Our heroes mused on the revelation that Happyslag and Spyro Herzog were one and the same, Finch being concerned for Harry’s reaction when they had to tell him this. They raided Herzog’s treasure stash and found a secret passageway that led down, back into the main chamber. They continued to search the hideout, finding an armoury, where Finch procured a light crossbow. The crossbow was engraved with the name ‘Chekhov.’ Finch strapped Chekhov’s crossbow to his back, and they continued on their way.

They found a chamber that within contained a partitioned set of cells; in one of the cells were two women, and in the other, a young boy, all of them fitted with iron collars. Two men in black cloaks stood in there also, who moved forward with their hands on the hilts of their shortswords.

“Fuck are you lot doing here?” said one of them.

Sir Samp Sampington thus spake: “Look, you may not know this, but we’ve slaughtered every last one of your comrades, and your best bet right now would be to surrender, and keep your mouths shut.”

The Black Emperors eyed the party, whose weapons were clearly wet with blood.

“What happened to Happyslap?” said one of them.

“We slaughtered him like a dog,” lied the paladin, his voice deathly serious.

The two men took their hands from their hilts.

“Well, when you put it like that… erm, mind if we leave? You don’t mind, do ya? Great. Here’s the key, and er, farewell, and thank you very much.”

So our heroes freed the captured townsfolk, the family of the slain Thel Dendrar: mother Mernar Dendrar, son Lars Dendrar, and daughter Nilsa Dendrar. Nilsa, fair-haired and in her mid-to-late teens, was quiet, brooding; she didn’t say a word. Mernar thanked them, and after their collars were removed, they stayed in the cell area and awaited further instructions.

After making their way past a floor trap, Samp sent Makoto back to gather the Dendrar family, and they made their way forward. As they entered the next room, another door burst open, and three Black Emperors approached with their swords drawn, and asked the party who they were and what they wanted. Finch, taking no shit, leapt straight into combat.

The thugs put up a surprisingly good fight, with Finch almost being knocked unconscious in the fray. Nilsa, who had been keeping back, suddenly moved forward, revealing to have picked up a shortsword earlier — although still silent, her face boiled with rage over her dead father. She fought surprisingly well and was swift, parrying a strike from the ruffian she had engaged in combat, landing a good strike in to boot. However, she took a nasty hit to the leg, almost incapacitated from the pain; her mother screamed in fear.

Samp stepped between Nilsa and her attacker, knocking back the Black Emperor with an almost-fateful blow. Nilsa, uncowed but bleeding, moved forth again with her shortsword, and managed to skewer her attacker, slaying him, before falling to the floor with exhaustion. Finch slayed another foe, who fell to the ground, dead as a bastard. The final miscreant almost struck Makoto to the ground, but Samp, ever the protector of the endangered, stepped forward again and — “dodge this,” said Samp — knocked him to the ground with the pommel of his sword.

“Where’s Happyslap?” demanded the paladin. But the final surviving rogue had no idea; all he knew was that his friends were dead, and that he likely would be soon, too. He had never even met Happyslap; in fact, he’d been with the Black Emperor company but two weeks. His estimation of his own survival had been correct; Samp’s pommel came down again, ending his short life.

Nilsa’s mother chastised the young girl as Makoto tended to her wounds. The gathered heroes then spoke of what to do next; they debated interacting with the nothic again. Makoto explained what he knew of the nothics — that they were once mortals, magic users, who had been swayed by dark powers, and thus doomed to new, aberrant forms, driven to single-minded obsession. This tended to be reflective of their vices in life: greed, lust, pride, and the like. A wizard hungry for knowledge may become hungry for flesh in its new life.

They debated Happyslap — Samp believed him to perhaps be invisible, somewhere in the complex. They confirmed the location of the exit, which led up to the abandoned Tresendar manor, and then considered their options. Nilsa stood up, and spoke for the first time: she asked them to, if possible, find her father’s body, or what was left of it, which she had heard was still in the dungeon somewhere. Samp said they would try, and then ushered the surviving Dendrar family back home.

The heroes searched the room, finding a piece of parchment by the exit. It thus read:

 

Harrier Jet:

I must speak to you soon. Rockefeller has brought the Finch boy with him. You must help me — I told you of this, and have served you well, so when you receive this, send pigs to Sheoville with haste, or I may be doomed. Perh—

(It ended there.)

 

The party assumed it to have been written by Happyslap, and that this lost note was a sign of his flight from the hideout. They resolved to speak to the nothic, and took the long way around to the room with the dead puruks inside — they dragged one of the almost-humanoid pigs to the nothic in the cavern, and then they heard:

“You got meat?”

The nothic moved out of hiding, showing its bizarre, hideous form, its single eye glowing a sickly green in the darkness. It crawled up to see them better, its almost humanoid form hideous to our heroes’ eyes — it had notched, grey skin, and a wide, bloody smile.

“Oh, we’ve got meat,” said Finch, “a whole lot of pork.”

He bargained with the nothic — one item per puruk. He retrieved Thel Dendrar’s wedding ring, and then was invited to select two further items from a chest brought up by the creature, who was already salivating at the idea of so much meat. Finch perused the chest, his eye lingering on a sword within; a shining longsword of unique, bronze-hilted design, Dwarven runes on the blade. The nothic smiled an offensive smile.

“You want Talon?” it said. “I can tell you want it. It could bring you the revenge you seek. Two pigs for Talon.”

Finch made a deal with the hungry nothic: he would leave the nothic to reside in this place, and not speak of its foul existence to anyone, leaving all the meat of the slain Black Emperors, in exchange for Talon, and one item for each of the other party members. Makoto took a magical scroll, and Samp took several malachite stones.

The heroes left the way they came, into the cold, harsh light of day, Talon now strapped to Finch’s waist. They returned to the man Harry Lyndon, who asked them of what they’d found out about the Black Emperors; Finch informed him that their headquarters had been cleansed, but that Happyslap had escaped. Harry asked about the fate of his friend Spyro Herzog — Finch explained that he was not dead, but worse: that Herzog and Happyslap were the same person. Harry sighed, and said he had worried about that possibility; Herzog had always seemed slightly edgy, that there had always been something indefinable about him. But, he couldn’t think of why Herzog would do such cruel, unlawful acts. Finch expounded upon the link between the puruks and Happyslap, with Harrier Jet being the link; and that Happyslap had known of Finch and perhaps had some kind of agreement with Harrier Jet involving him, showing Harry the letter.

Harry asked Finch if he had any family; “not anymore,” replied Finch. Harry seemed troubled by all of this. He paid them their 200gp bounty, and thanked them for their service to the town. They then revealed Blinky was travelling with them, who Harry found disgusting, but agreed that he could be useful in finding Trout. Harry allowed for Blinky to stay in the cells on the ground floor. They then spoke of Halia Thornton, and her desire to have Happyslap killed: Harry, again, reiterated a mistrust of her, and her involvement in the running of the town. They adjourned, and the party left.

The trio of heroes went over to the Dendrar family home, and dropped off the ring to Mernar, who said that Nilsa was currently resting off her wounds. She thanked them for their great service to her family, and gave them all she had to give in exchange: information. She and Thel used to live in the town of Pylon, which was overrun by strange natural forces, forcing them to flee whilst Nilsa was but a babe. She says that if they were to travel there, they might be able to find one of her old family heirlooms, an emerald pendant worth a decent amount of money. If they were willing to find it, they could keep it for their own, or sell it, whichever they wanted. She thanked them again, and they bid her farewell.

They returned to the Stonehill Inn and Toblen hailed them with a pie and a pint, heralding them as true town heroes, with many of the other townsfolk coming in to pay their respects. They eventually made their way to their beds, enjoying a deserved rest after the day’s bloodshed.

 

 

Dungeon Master’s Postscript

From this session on, all but one of the sessions have been recorded in full. Whilst I won’t include every conversation and encounter in extreme detail (the sessions only get longer and longer from here), all details will be mostly true, and not reliant on memory alone (although I do make edits for clarity and consistency, from time to time). This is a longer session than the previous ones, and future installments will likely be roughly the same length (about the length of an average chapter in a book).

 

 

I Am Not Dead Yet

I stab myself through the head with a serrated blade, but I am not dead yet. The story continues.

I Am Not Dead Yet

A Novel

 

Chapter One

I stab myself through the head with a serrated blade, but I am not dead yet. The story continues.

 

Chapter Two

I am shot six times in the chest at point blank range in a corner shop holdup, but I do not die.

 

Chapter Three

Six cars run me over, one taking the time to precisely drive over my head. My brain meets the morning sun, glistening below my broken scalp. But yet I live.

 

Chapter Four

I feel the weight of the collapsing bridge bend my spine forward beyond repair, and the chord is severed. Hundreds die in architecture’s folly, but yet I walk.

 

Chapter Five

At the centre of the atomic blast, my flesh is stripped from my bones, and my bones are obliterated. This conflict has drawn a hellish landscape. My lungs are naught but dust, and yet I laugh.

 

Chapter Six

Civil unrest results in my clubbing. Every part of me is bruised green in the attack. I am set alight on live broadcast television, and not a soul dares to piss the flames away. People want change, and they believe my death is the answer. But they are fools, for I am not dead yet.

 

Chapter Seven

Society collapses. Shops are looted, families are wiped out on sight. Breeding is no longer viable. Humans cease to exist, returned to an absence far more pleasurable to any sane being. The earth returns to nature’s chaos, cruel and perfect. The sun lights up the sky, and the planet dies. But even in the vacuum of space, I breathe yet.

 

Chapter Eight

Even trapped in Pluto’s darkest icy depths, I do not freeze.

 

Chapter Nine

Beyond Pluto’s Black Sea is the Nostro, and beyond which lies sights unbound – Darlons dance a shadow dance, and the Wheel is turned. The inner workings reveal themselves only to those who watch carefully. Here in the Nostro, there is no light, no texture, no third dimension of which to perceive. But even in the Nostro, I see yet.

 

Chapter Ten

Shath welcomes me into the Conclave of Thirteen. Millions more die, and their torsos ride forever upon ashen mounts down the riverbanks of Hael. The banner of the Elder is raised, but still the Old God sings not. I hear Artemis and Hermes bellow their wretched, tortured howls, their aspects reduced to nothing but carnal pain, their days of gold long over. Upon my escape back to the Nostro, I am apprehended by those that Shath has sent, who are to right what is wrong. My spirit is torn through my mouth, and hanged from the Dog Star for all the Conclave to see. With this, the Elder is appeased: the Old God sings. The voice, serene, sweet, soulful, a touch of Al Green – it breaks my form utterly, and I am shattered to the Very Corners that expand for evermore. There is not a single atom left in my body, but I am not dead yet. The story continues.

 

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Drawing near to the end now. I’m ready for it. I think. Been waiting for them to come for me for a while now. It’s a nice room – not too cold, not too warm. Full air conditioning, what a rarity – and it’s quiet for miles around.

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Drawing near to the end now. I’m ready for it. I think. Been waiting for them to come for me for a while now. It’s a nice room – not too cold, not too warm. Full air conditioning, what a rarity – and it’s quiet for miles around. It’s not my room. It’s far too messy. It’s far too neat. I can’t stand this silence. So bored of it. So bored!

There’s this word I’ve been trying to think of for weeks now, and I want to achieve this one last thing before I go. Waiting for a word. Waiting for the start of something new. Stand up now. Pace the room. Sit down. Pace the room. Pace!

There has to be a way to link this word to the present. I was jumping on a trampoline, in a sports centre, after school. No, no – that’s not it.

I was sitting in school, at some desk or other.

Scratched onto the desk were phrases:

            I was here.

            Get me out.

            I’m going to fail.

            Please let me die.

            Graham luvs Lucy.

It was during a test. Biology, or physics, or history, or geography. I did well. Sub-par for me, but I did well. Teacher walked past, checking to see if anybody had finished, even though they were supposed to put their hand up if they had. Maybe that was it, I don’t know. But Graham did love Lucy. They walked through the corridors together, perpetually, and probably still do. They made a fuss of each other on Valentine’s Day. It was actually pretty sweet. Florets, wrapped presents. Some kids thought they should just leave it for when they got home, but I thought it was sweet.

The wallpaper in here is disgusting. It’s not a colour I’d ever care to give a room in any house I owned. At least I don’t have to be here long. They’ll be here for me soon enough. The room is scattered with items: a stainless steel travel kettle, two lamps, a Bible, and for some reason an ashtray. There are ‘no smoking’ signs on the windows. I’m getting mixed signals. Good thing I quit smoking last week. I meant to do that earlier, and it’d have saved me all of this hassle if I had.

So last week I was driving home, a little faster than usual, when a homeless guy stumbled out into the road. There was a bit of a crunch, like I’d just hit a stack of extra-large boxes of cornflakes, and there’s this loud shout, so I got out of the car to see if he was alright. Turns out the crunch was just this big bag of luggage he carried around all over the place, people said he never took anything out or put anything in, but he always had it dangling off of his back. He didn’t sleep on it, or even rest his head on it – that’s what people told me. He wasn’t dead, but he looked a bit worse for wear. I apologised to him, and even though he was in a massively drunken state, he still muttered out:

“S’all right, yeah.”

He was a tough cookie, for sure. Nice guy. When my car collided with him, the first thought that went through my mind was that I had just killed someone. I can’t say I felt anything about it at first. When I discovered he was alive, I didn’t feel anything then, either. But when he brushed off the vehicular attack with such simple words, I felt grateful that I hadn’t killed him. Before then, I couldn’t have cared less, tell the truth. The whole scenario got me thinking…

None of this helps me remember this word, though. I haven’t got long, so I need to make sure I get this last little thing. I’m sure there’s some memory out there that’d just kick start my thoughts into a chain reaction that leads to this erstwhile piece of my lexicon.

Picking daisies in school. Best friends. Boyfriends. Summer evenings, fields. Rolling fields. Grass so green it looked like it had the contrast turned up digitally. Bales of hay as blonde and scrappy as my old dumb dog, that lanky old thing that lived to twenty-one and never learned to sit on command. Burnt toast in the morning that my brother hated, but I just couldn’t get enough of.

Not to say school wasn’t hell, I just don’t have time for those memories. Why waste precious time on bad things that will be irrelevant in an hour or two? I even have time for a cup of tea, I think. I have my bag on the bed. I rifle through it, taking out a couple of things, placing one on the desk and the other by the door. Pacing the room again. Making the tea, drinking the tea. Tea grew on me after a while, but for years I couldn’t stand it. I suppose you just have to find a brand or strain that agrees with you. The Trents next door drank all of those crazy herbal teas, but they did all of that kind of stuff. Not in my house, I’d only buy straight teabags from the local shop. But then eventually I was left alone in my house, and had nobody to deny other varieties of tea.

I sit down on the grubby single bed. The walls are too bare. It should never be this way – a room needs a personality. I take out a little pocket knife and carve into the wall, around knee-height and quite small:

            Holy motors make the world go ’round.

Time stands still for a moment as I look at the words. If it’d stand still forever then I would never be unhappy again.

It was only after me and my brother found the body did things start going wrong. It seems so long ago, and in reality it is. Many years now. But I think I could have found that body at any age and just accepted it. Maybe not the best reaction, but it was the one I had. I guess that was the start.

My brother and I, down by the riverside. The body washed up, bloated. Somehow its eyes were still open. It was propped up on a rock, staring at us. Took us a while to realise the person was dead. Seeing that once-human really struck me: it made me realise that I had no sympathy for the dead. I guess this line of thought isn’t proactive either, though; that word I still haven’t remembered won’t be found there. I’m pretty sure it starts with an ‘R.’ Three syllables – it shouldn’t be this difficult to remember.

The worst thing right now is the car that’s been running in the courtyard for the past five minutes. They won’t turn the engine off. The sound reminds me of the car my husband drove. That was before our crash. Before the driver of the other car had an argument with her family and drank a bottle of whiskey and started driving, swerving between lanes. Before our seatbelts jerked into place and bones were broken. Before the visits to the sterile rooms. Before the tubes, and the drips, and the sores. It was before the intermittent became the constant.

I guess she thought that she’d get away with it. The courts certainly let her. Well, eventually, she didn’t. This morning, she finally found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of four avenging wheels and the Devil’s engine. You should have seen her face.

But this isn’t helping. The last day of school: Antony charged up to the stage in the middle of the head teacher’s parting words. He made a fool of himself, gloriously so. It caused anarchy. Uniforms were burnt, schoolbooks added to the pyre. The police were called. There were no arrests at the scene; nobody knew what was going on. We weren’t violent, or violently treated. It was the last time that that many people I knew were that happy at the same time. You could feel it in the air: it crackled. It was our youth in full effect, and it was happening then, in that immediate moment. We had everything ahead of us, the whole world laid out in sweet chaos. Yes, I remember. I remember it all.