Month: March 2013

Dr Zeno’s Pigs – opening to the novel

Dr Zeno's Pigs

The opening to a novel which is a spoof of the film ‘Apocalypse Now’.

_________________________

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, to be a pig

Sometime in the future

________________________________

West Riding

Two feet splash through dirty shallow water as a young man in his twenties flees for his life. He struggles to stay upright as his feet slide on stones beneath the water. Soon he is out of the river and onto the safety of the bank. He tries to keep on running but eventually loses his grip in a marshy field. He stumbles to the ground, breathless.

The sound of the helicopters are louder, closer. He looks around to see if he can see them. With all his strength he struggles to his feet and tries to keep himself upright and moving.

The helicopters approach over a distant hill he has recently scrambled over. If he is to get away from them he needs somewhere to hide. He looks around; to his left a pine forest offered what might be his best chance of survival. It was a fifty yards away, his heart sinks, it seems miles away. He takes a deep breath and yanks himself into action and heads for the security of the forest. After a few yards he falls over, picks himself up but is soon on the floor again. He attempts to get a foothold but slips back into a pool of mud.

The helicopters close in on him. In the distance he can hear dogs bark; they approach from the opposite side of the field.

He picks himself up, crawls over a wire fence. He staggers toward the comfort of the trees and slumps against a giant pine. The ground is wet but he is too tired to stand or crouch. He slumps to the floor and prays they do not find him. To his left the dogs bark louder, to his right the sound of a helicopter which hovers above the fence where he entered the forest.

A line is thrown out of a side door of the helicopter and four armed men in red jumpsuits drop to the ground. They immediately see their prey and close in.

The young man is too weak to put up any meaningful fight and is grabbed by two men. Within minutes they drag him along the floor and throw him into the back of the helicopter. The side door is quickly closed as the helicopter takes off.

________________________________

      After thirty minutes in the air the helicopter makes a low level approach toward an eighteenth century country house. It flies over a high metal perimeter fence and then over armed guards who control access to the house. As the helicopter comes into land in the middle of a court yard men and women in medical uniform rush toward it. The young man, now unconscious and strapped down to a stretcher, is off loaded and taken into the house. One of the female medical staff inserts an intravenous drip into his arm.

Once inside the building the unconscious body of the young man is moved to an operating trolley and pushed quickly down a corridor; on both sides are rooms which hold pigs in aluminum pens, only one pig to a pen. The rooms are bathed in white light, clinical, spotless. The staff who work in these rooms can often be heard muttering, ‘you can eat your dinner off the floor.’ There is not a single piece of dust, dirt or blood on any of the surfaces.

The young man on the trolley is quickly wheeled into Theatre One where a team of surgeons and nurses wait for him.

The leather straps which bind him are undone and in a single move he is moved from the trolley onto the operating table.

A tall unshaven medical assistant looks at the young man’s medical notes, ‘the kid works as a lawyer’ he says, then flicks through a couple of pages of the medical notes.

‘A lawyer doesn’t need a heart,’ says the surgeon, who then makes a few hasty cuts into young man’s chest. His hands move with the speed of a butcher in a shop. His bedside manner would not have been out of place in the days of Roman Britain. No one in the room is under any illusion that the health and safety of the patient is important.

There is the sound of cutting and then a long squelch; finally the surgeon’s blood smeared hands pull out the young man’s heart. The surgeon smiles as he turns to the nurse with the beating bleeding heart firmly in his hand.

‘Get this on ice immediately.’

She moves confidently toward him but suddenly trips and falls into the back of the surgeon. The heart flies out of his hands and spins through the air like an American football. It seems to fly in slow motion; spins, turns and unfortunately loses height.

In his haste to regain a grip on the heart the surgeon knocks over the bag of ice which is there to keep it at a regular temperature. Other members of the medical team also slip on ice cubes.

‘Catch it,’ screams the nurse.

The surgeon pushes one of the male nurses out of the way so that he can get to the heart.

‘Leave it to me!’, he yells to his subordinates.

The heart flies for a few more yards before it lands with a soft squelchy noise on the floor. In his haste the surgeon slips on a stray ice cube and falls on top the heart squashing it completely. The male medical assistant lets out a cry of despair, a nurse screams.

Oh no, oh no, oh no…’ whispers the surgeon as blood trickles from his cut mouth.

________________________________________________

Washington DC, USA

      Three thousand air miles away the Stars and Stripes flutter in a warm breeze. The White House, a strong emblem of a great nation, stands proud and defiant since the day it was built in seventeen hundred and ninety-two. A symbol of absolute power which has been ready for anything which the cruel world can throw at it.

Inside is a conscientious President who serves his country well, who meets Triumph and Disaster and treats those two impostors just the same; though during the last few months he is not quite as fit as the American people have been led to believe. His future, his life, now firmly rests with the efforts and medical help from a friendly nation. He is a man in need of a new heart …

An ill looking President Rush in bed. He looks older than his fifty years of age. He is know as man who thinks like a forty year old but moves like an eighty year old. Two nurses help the President sit up. One of the nurses straightens his pajama jacket, he doesn’t like her fussing and gently pushes her away.

A Black American, Tina Johnson, mid forties, runs into the bedroom clutching a piece of paper. She has been close to the President since the first day of the Primaries. She looks worried. In her haste one of the heels on her shoes breaks. With great difficulty she tries to prevent herself from falling onto the President’s bed but fails. The President and his two nurses wince as Tina hits the foot of the bed and slumps to the floor.

‘Mr. President, we have a problem,’ she says, as she pulls herself off the carpet.

‘Tina,’ barks the President, ’the whole world has a problem.’

He grabs at the television remote control by the side of his bed and presses a button. The widescreen on the wall flashes into life.

‘You’re going to watch the news?’ Tina asks, ‘when did you last have a briefing?’

‘This morning but I didn’t like what I heard.’

A newsreader, with a Texan accent and a grim expression, brings the American public up to date: “Today the World is in panic as the Human Heart Virus spreads” booms out from the television set.

A gasp rumbles around the President’s bedroom.

‘Damn it!’ The President shrugs, then throws a book at the TV.

A fast paced montage of images from around the world are shown on the news programme accompanied by stern matter of fact reporters from various locations.

A young female reporter dressed in a bear skin suit struggles to keep her balance in a snow storm and shouts into her microphone,”in Alaska today it was reported that an Eskimo who was fishing by a hole in the ice cap had a heart attack and fell through the ice.”

A male fresh faced reporter in a smart suit stands by the London Eye and delivers his piece to camera, ‘many dealers are going down with heart problems and the stock market is crashing……’

‘Not much change there…’ mumbles the President.’

The news programme cuts back to the studio presenter, “The heart virus is believed to be caused by the wheat in bread, millions of people could be affected.”

People burning bread in India appear on the screen.

The President cries out, ‘Enough, enough …’ he turns to Tina, ‘call a meeting in the Situation Room.’

________________________________

         The oval shaped desk which dominates the Situation Room is surrounded by men and a few women. A couple of the men remove their jackets, they look like they have only had a few hours of sleep between them; one or two of the women, all heels and skirts, stagger into the room as if they just got out of bed.  A White House photographer works the room grabbing all the public relation shots he can get. Most of the men have discarded their ties, many of them have furrowed brows, worry lines are in sharp focus. One of the women thinks about adding a touch more make up but decides it can wait. Briefing papers litter the desk, glasses with water are scattered around files marked ‘Top Secret.’ The TV screens which adorn the walls are all black save one. On the wall opposite the President’s seat a large screen shows a twenty-four hour news feed from World News Channel. On the screen a news anchor reads news no one wants to hear; the TV sound is off.

The President drums a fast beat on the table with his fingers, a slight exasperated look on his face. A Doctor enters the room, slightly embarrassed that he is late. He gives a childish smile to everyone in the room before making his way to the head of the table.

‘Late again, Henry,’ the President smirks, ‘you’ll be late for your own honeymoon.’

The doctor quickly opens his medical bag and takes out a stethoscope. The President opens his pajama jacket and the doctor listens to his heart. You could hear a pin drop then the silence is broken by a crash as one of the men knocks over his glass of water. The President gives the offender a stern look. The doctor continues to listen.

‘Sir, you’re all right for a while but try to take it easy.’

Tina enters the room. She has changed her clothes and looks a million dollars. All the other women hate her. She carries a large folder and has several documents in her hands. One of the men gives her a certain look. She knows what he wants but is not prepared to sacrifice a single kiss for a mere West Wing speech writer.

Tina approaches the President.

‘Sir, the heart which had been reserved for you has…met with an accident.’

‘What the hell happened?’

‘They gave it…’ Tina puts on a brave face, ‘to a young British guy by mistake.’

The President looks exasperated, ‘So, get it back….’

‘They tried that…’

‘And?’

Tina shuffles on her feet and prepares herself for a critical blast from the President then thinks it might be better to withhold the truth.

‘You don’t want to know the rest.’

The doctor steps forward with a sense of urgency.

‘Sir, a better option would be a transplant of a pig’s heart.’

At that moment an overweight man clutching an extra large salad sandwich breezes into the room. He looks deeply harassed, no tie, shirt sleeves rolled up, a cigar tucked behind his ear.

“Robert!’, the President smiles as the tie-less man grabs a seat, ‘Thank God you’re here. Give me all you’ve got.’

Robert breathes deeply, he slowly gets his breath back then hesitates.

‘Sir, the supply of pig’s hearts….’ Robert clears his throat and takes another breath, ‘the pig’s hearts for transplants has run dry. All the pigs in the USA have been affected by a clinical malfunction …’

The President slams his right hand hard down onto the table. All the White Staff jump as the President’s hand hits the desk.

‘So, fix it!’

‘Sir, they’re working on it.’ Robert shuffles the documents in his hand and passes a piece of paper to the President, ‘my guys have located a good source of pigs hearts and heart stem cells. They’re held by a Dr. Zeno …..’

The President glances at the paper, looks up at his staff, ‘where the hell is West Riding?’

‘England,’ replies Tina.

The President passes the paper to the doctor who then hands it back to Robert.

‘Robert,’ the President stands and paces up and down, ‘is this the best the CIA can come up with?’ He turns on the doctor.

‘What about Gorilla’s hearts you were playing around with? You did the first transplant two years ago…what happened to him?’

‘Well, it didn’t quite …’ stutters the doctor.

The President holds up both his hands, ‘Stop! ‘I’m tired of hearing about failure.’

The President looks at his CIA Chief.

‘Robert, you had a lab in Argentina messing about with Kangaroo hearts …’

‘Don’t ask Mr. President…..’

The sound of a door slammed shut somewhere in the West Wing highlights the intense silence of the Situation Room.

Robert moves close to the President and whispers, ‘Sir, we should ask the British for help.’

The President looks Robert in the eye and hopes for a sign of reassurance which isn’t forthcoming. He then beckons Tina to come close.

‘Tina, politely ask the Brits for their pigs and don’t mention the Revolutionary War.’

The President slumps back into his chair. A silence. No one wants to speak.

Tina breaks the silence, ‘let’s assume …they won’t play ball.’

Robert stands up, ‘that’s right, we won’t be able to just walk in and get them.’

‘Then we do it our way! The American way!’

With a single look Robert hints that he needs to be elsewhere and clears up his documents. The President waves him away.

As Robert reaches the door he receives an order from the President.

‘Robert, get a guy over there quick. A top man. Delta Force, a Navy Seal, someone who will get a result.’

‘What do we call the mission?’

Everyone in the room looks at the President apart from a few of the men who look at Tina.

The President thinks for a moment then …

‘Operation-Pump Blood.’

____________________________

___________________________________
to be continued …..

Hearts and Minds – opening only

The complete story is 11,000 words. Will post the whole piece later.

This is not a story for under 16s.  

____________________________________________________
 
The guitar lay on the floor from the night before,
She moved a little closer and we kissed a little more.

It was an obvious rhyme but it was funny and easy on the mind; it also threw a complimentary nod to the past tunes of Harrison and Orbison. He played it: G, E minor, then a D major7. The chord progression was simple, it worked.

David moved toward the window of his apartment. Saturday night, the rush was on, cars bumper to bumper roared down Marlborough Road. Nothing is going to stop them, the drivers roar on to a car park, any park near a bar, theatre or restaurant. He should go out.

The city was always more alive from a distance, vibrant. Down at street level it often failed to deliver, at times it was simply mediocre. A city always waiting to get there, always waiting, waiting.

He moved away from the window and picked up the guitar again. G major – D7 – Em; it sounded better. He sang to himself.

I asked her to go the cinema
I asked her to a dance,
Perhaps I was getting too old for this,
But I thought I’d take a chance.

He burst into laughter, rolled back onto the bed:

I said I’d take her to paradise, after I’d finished my gin.
I wanted to see her naked but she said, ‘ it was a sin!

He lay there for a while, looked at the shadows on the ceiling; then leapt off the bed and grabbed the guitar once more.

He played a C then G and a move down to a D.

Maybe they’re getting in the King’s head
All the rebels are hanging by a thread
The King wants to see them all dead
While he takes their daughters to his bed.

Too serious.

He pressed record on his iPad and played the chord sequence on his guitar: G major – D7 – Em.

He looked up at the clock. Time for work.

The wooden frame rattled as he slammed the door behind him. As David walked through the reception area he glanced up at the a security camera. Last week someone on the radio had said you appear on three thousand security cameras every day in London. He thought, maybe they don’t know about the one in his apartment block. So, perhaps that should be three thousand and one.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

A sea wall, a rust red iron sea defence, footprints in the sand, a couple on a park bench, small boy on a cycle, a girl in a rock band, naked man on a painted canvas. The images flashed by on her computer.

Emma was tired. Six hours in front of a screen was enough for one day. She picked up a glass by her side and downed the last of the Rjoca. Perhaps one last view of the slides. She flicked through the photographs for what must have been the the twentieth time. The sequence looked fine but she decided to drop the image of the naked man on the canvas. Too obvious. The client might also have a heart attack. At last the images were in the right order.

She knew what the regular clients wanted before they turned up at her studio. This job was a new guy. She was keen to make his presentation the best he had ever seen. Having seen what he had previously accepted from other photographers she had little doubt that he would like her quick fired montage of photographs.

The phone rang. She took the call. Emma grabbed a pencil and scribbled on a writing pad.

‘What shoe size? Dress size? Hair? Eyes?

It was a client she had worked with many times. A woman who had been in business for twenty years, five years with Emma as her photographer. She always started the phone conversation by saying that she wanted something ‘different, stylish, new, off the wall’. Then she would turn up on the day of the shoot and slowly strip away all the ‘off the wall’ ideas and end up with the same PR shot she had accepted for the past five years.

The same could be said of most of her clients; whenever they turned up at her studio, whatever they had said on the phone, would have been changed and the shoot would take twice as long. Never, almost never, did any brief arrive complete from the one discussed on the phone. Change for the hell of it, change for the sake of change, change as a sign of incompetence. She was tired of her clients ….. but they paid her bills and the mortgage.

The list of changes finally ended, the client seemed happy. She’ll be with Emma next Tuesday. Of course, it would all change by the day of the shoot.

Emma closes the image gallery on her computer. She runs downstairs to the studio floor, checks the electronic flash, changes a camera lens, steps back from the camera and looks at a loosely arranged set. It was far from inspiring. Maybe she should shoot something else. Perhaps phone the model, tell her to not to turn up. She could head for the city or take the afternoon off and grab a few shots of the Olympic Park.

A woman shouts from the top of the stairs.

‘Emma!’

‘Down here’.

A young woman steps down the stairs. She is tall, six foot, long dark hair.

‘Why have they sent you?’.

‘I’m the best you can afford’, replied the woman.

‘I asked for someone who is five-four, you’re six. I need blue eyes and blonde, you’re green and dark’.

‘I’m close enough…’, said the woman.

Emma laughs.

‘Coming to dinner?’, asked the woman.

‘Can’t. I have a real model coming for a casting’.

‘You’re too reliable’, said the woman, ‘tell them you’re sick’.

‘Ok, can I send the studio bills to you?’.

The woman moved close to Emma and whispered in her ear, ‘you work too much’. She kissed Emma softly on the cheek. ‘If I see an underfed model in the street I’ll tell her you’re ready for her …’, the woman laughed. She then looked at the Bill Brandt nude which was proudly displayed on Emma’s studio wall.

‘You never shoot me like that’.

Emma smiled, ‘I know’, she said, ‘It’s been done so, why repeat it?’

The woman turned and clambered back up the stairs.

See you in the Bleeding Heart in ten’.

‘Ok, you can buy me lunch’.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Alexis pulled a dress from the metal rack. Held it in front of her. Not short enough. She walked further down the long costume rack. She pulls another out another dress. Too boring. Several racks and dresses later she has found a one piece which matches her mood. White, medium length, suitable, fresh, one she had not used before. She slipped the dress into a large bag and walked toward the exit.

The receptionist saw Alexis as she walked through the reception. She looked at

the bag casually wrapped around Alexis’ arm and guessed what was inside.

The phone rang on the receptionists desk. She answered.

‘Fraser’s film hire’. She put her hand over the phone and smiled at Alexis, ‘make sure it comes back in one piece’, she said. Alexis smiled back as she walked out of the building.

She jumped on the northern line and headed home.

Her one room apartment contained her whole life, nothing had been left back at her parents house. She didn’t want to be like most of her friends who kept returning to their parent’s homes. When she had made the move to London she made sure there was nothing left behind to tug at her and drag her back home every weekend. Nothing was tucked away under the bed she still had there.

The white dress she has taken from her place of work hung on the back of the door.

She drank a glass of wine and finished off what was left of the pizza she had shipped in from the night before.

Her black t-shirt and blue jeans came off. Alexis sang in the shower. Her comb slipped easily through her long curly hair. Back in her living room she slipped on the white dress. Looked at herself in the mirror. She was pleased with the choice she had made.

Now with her small bag in one hand and phone in the other she was out the door of her apartment in less than an hour.

A black cab took her slowly into town. The driver had wanted to chat but she slipped her headphones over her head, ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ a piano riff and chords intro with a steady bass. It seemed to sum up her mood.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

The white dress now hung on wooden hanger inside a wardrobe. Alexis stepped out of the bathroom with a large cotton sheet draped around her. A man lay on the bed.

Alexis had always thought the reveal is all. She moved with an assured manner across the room. A large cotton sheet draped around her. She moved slowly towards the foot of the double bed, stood for a while. It wasn’t the first time she had seen him naked though it was the first time that she wanted him. It wasn’t her intention to soothe him to sleep. She didn’t love him, he knew it; she wouldn’t break his heart.

He looked at her, smiled; was impressed with her confidence. She looked like she was ready to go to a fancy dress party as a Roman slave. He thought she would have added sex and gore to any Roman party, absolutely credible as a slave who had been wronged and was out for revenge. She would easily have won first prize. There were a few red spots on her white cotton sheet. They looked like blood but he assumed it was red lipstick.

She leaned forward onto the bed.

‘Where has the blood come from?’, he smiled. ‘Brought stage blood with you?”.

She looked at the spots of red near her arm. ‘

No,’Alexis answered, ‘it’s real’.

‘You OK?’, he sat up quickly for a closer look, worried. It was only lipstick. He relaxed.

‘What’s the red lipstick called?’

‘Siren’, she smiled.

He lay back on the bed.

‘So, I have to do as you say or the Roman cops will turn up?’, he laughed at his own joke. Alexis didn’t.

She now swayed seductively as if she was on a club dance floor. She looked relaxed, in control, the look of a young woman who had just had her first affair. She was excited, a slight smile. She was high, high from sex not drugs. The cotton sheet almost slipped from her. She grabbed and held it.

‘The reveal is all’, she whispered.

A few hours later she stood at the foot of the bed. She had loved it when he had wanted her. She loved his eagerness, his desire. Now as she stood naked at the bedside he could do nothing. There was no passion inside him now. The novelty of her presence had expired.

She stood for a moment longer; picked up the sheet from the floor and stuffed it inside her travel bag. The sheet flopped gently on top of the envelope of cash he had given her. She moved back into the bathroom and dressed. She casually slipped the white dress over head.

Alexis left the hotel and made her way from Portland Place toward the Marylebone Road. Relaxed, calm, a slow walking pace; she could have been on her way to the office.

Three floors up in the hotel where she had been a dead man lay in a hotel bedroom. Dead in the head. Dead in the heart. Dead in his life. When he got home his wife would probably pretend to laugh at his bad jokes.

Alexis had been out for excitement, prepared to take a risk for sex. She had picked the wrong man. He had been boring. A businessman who could not release his mind from the his office.

In a bedroom on the third floor the man woke up, surprised Alexis had gone. He lay quietly on the bed. She was no longer in the room but her perfume lingered.

The following day Alexis went into work and the white dress was slipped back onto the rack.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Click here to read page 2