This is another story I wrote a while back – it can probably be dated from the first section. I could have updated it but decided it was fine as a period piece. I felt it was a powerful idea but was never really happy with the ending, so comments are welcome.
Mightier than the Sword
I sat poised with my fingers over the brand new keyboard about to commence the destruction of this phoney peace. The bright colour screen was blank but waiting to be filled with my words of power, words that would restore the proper order of things in Ireland, Bosnia, Palestine, Korea and other playgrounds of man’s true nature. The gigabyte hard disc, memory unfilled as yet, would soon receive my sentences on human folly. I knew that what I wrote would be noticed, the weasel compromises and timid negotiations would soon be seen for what they were and the conflicts would recommence.
The ‘phone by my side beeped and I picked it up pressing the talk button as I did so.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t,” the breathy female voice repeated over and over again. I demanded to know who was speaking but the negative commands continued. I flicked the phone off and slammed it back down on the desk. I was annoyed at the disruption of my chain of thought. I got up from my chair and walked across the study to the hi-fi unit and switched on the radio. A booming beat drummed out from the four speakers and a rasping male voice sang in a monotone
“Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” The words rang in my ears until I thumped the off button and the drone of distant traffic once more provided the only noise. I returned to the chair at my desk shaking my head at the noise they called pop music today. I looked out of the window beyond my new computer, seeing the garden lush and colourful in the clear spring sunlight, birds fluttering and tiny movements under bushes, but saw only the ultimately unsuccessful struggle for survival, competition for food and the impulse to reproduce.
An airliner roared overhead drowning out the moan from the distant motorway. I glanced back to my screen. The power was welling up inside me again, the power to influence, the power to restore hatred. I held my hands over the pristine keys. I began.
My fingers rested on the shiny bakelite keys of my smart new portable. With a clean sheet of paper in the carriage I was ready to start. This was the article that would stir the country, destroy the weak socialists, bring support for a strong leader who would ensure that true Englishmen would fight. The general strike a few years ago had almost ignited the conflict I desired and in Germany a new leader was gaining popularity proposing my ideas. With my power of writing England would respond and once again expand its empire.
My attention was caught by a noise in the busy street outside.. Amongst the sound of clattering hooves, creaking carts and the grumble of automobile engines, the sound of a gramophone playing in some other apartment drifted to my open first floor window. The Charleston beat was familiar but the high pitched voice repeating “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t, don’t do it,” over and over again was irritating. I got up from my chair and pulled the window closed and drew the thin curtains shutting out the cold clear spring sunshine. My calm was restored and I returned to my chair. I made myself comfortable once again composing my opening phrases of exhortation before resting my fingers on the appropriate keys. I began.
I sat at my desk, my new Waterman’s fountain pen filled with ink resting between my fingers and poised over a clean sheet of thick paper. The words were in my mind ready to spill out, words that would galvanise the country lulled by the peace in southern Africa. The old queen was dead and Great Britain too was content to rest. But my pamphlet would restore the empire building spirit and place the country in direct conflict with those that sought to steal our colonies. My words would do it, I was certain.
My concentration was broken by the sound of the newspaper vendor in the street below. Amongst the cries of the cab drivers, the whinnying horses and the bustle in the shop doorways, it was strange that one voice should stand out but his unusual refrain “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,” penetrated my mind. The repetition gnawed at me till I was driven to put down my pen and rise to thrust the sash window closed. I turned away from the bright spring morning and returned to my writing desk. A moment of composure, then the words came flooding back. I lifted the smooth gold plated pen. Its fine nib touched the paper. I began.
The beam of bright spring sunshine shone from the narrow window behind me and illuminated the new sheet of paper that rested on my writing stand. I sat stiffly on my stool, a new goose feather laden with ink in my hand. The paper was yellow and not as smooth as velum but it represented the future. A future where the mills would produce sheets of paper faster than skins could be tanned and stretched, a future which would heed what I was to write.
I paused to scratch at an itch. Even after all these years of false piety I was still unused to the feel of the habit. Now my time had come. The Tudor tyrant was dead and his son’s connivance with the Pope to marry his deceased brother’s wife would soon be shown to be the seed of disunity in the land. A disunity I would foster and encourage until once more two sides would do battle.
I paused with the quill halfway to the paper. An unfamiliar chant was pervading these monastic walls. Unconsciously I translated the repeated Latin phrase of the distant chorus.
“Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,” The very strangeness of the plainsong unnerved me and I rested my quill in its inkwell to rise and push closed the oak door of my cell. In silence once more I seated myself and picked up my quill. The paper awaited my words and I felt them coursing through my veins, words that would pluck at hearts and minds. The point touched the yellow sheet. I began.
The spring sun was already hot on my bare back as I knelt in the sand, a freshly pressed role of papyrus before me. In my hand I held a newly cut reed, charged with ink. The life bringing river flowed almost silently behind me and ahead I could see the creamy white truncated pyramid of the Pharaoh’s tomb with the hordes of slaves working on it like restless ants. The thought of the ruler filled me with disgust, a disgust that would be turned into signs on the papyrus, signs that would be seen and noticed. Soon the gods would be set against each other, invaders would come and this moribund civilisation would tremble and fall. I had the power in my symbols to make it happen.
Amongst the cries and groans that reached me from the vast building site I heard one repeated moan. Was it a slavemaster or a slave I wondered. Whoever it was, the words travelled across the sand to me, “don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it”, the monotony of the appeal transfixed me until I was forced to pick up my papyrus roll, reed and pot of ink and move to spot where the sound was drowned by water rushing noisily into an irrigation channel. Once again I settled down and soon felt the power welling up inside me. I saw the symbols in my mind. I recharged the reed with ink and touched it to the sheet. I began.
I hefted the lump of chalk in my hand, contemplating the smooth blank wall of the cave before me. The warm spring sun penetrated from the opening providing light for me to work by. By my side a stick of charcoal and a pot of red earth mixed with fat awaited my use. And what use they would have. The image I had in mind would fire the passions of the tribe. I would show Inga our leader, cowardly retreating from the path of the mammoth and his brother stealing the best cuts once the brave hunters had made the kill. When they saw my pictures the tribe would be split between Inga’s supporters and those who saw him as a false leader.
My ears were always alert for danger but I barely heard the everyday noises of birds and animals that came to me deep in the cave. However one birdcall pierced my concentration. Its repetitive squawking seemed to say to me,
“Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” I found myself unable to start my work while it cackled. I put down my chalk and went to the entrance but there was no sign of the unusual bird. I threw a rock into a tree and sent a flock of fowl into the air screeching. That drowned out the single caller.
I returned to my blank rock face and picked up my chalk. Yes, I felt it, the power to control my people’s hate and fear. The rock touched the wall. I began.
I was seated at a desk carved from a single piece of basalt, wrapped in dull coarse robes. A single dim oil lamp suspended above me cast a yellow glow over a blank sheet that lay before me. A long thin white pen rested in a groove alongside an inkwell that was filled to the brim with ink. I stared at the sheet for some time, wondering, till I looked up to see where I was. I looked into a darkness broken on all sides, above and below, only by dim lanterns that illuminated identical small desks over which figures sat hunched, scribbling furiously. Each writer seemed isolated in the gloom, alone in his thoughts and words, while between was nothingness. The nearest to me was too far away to see what was being written and they receded until they were just faint red dots. There was no ground, no sun or stars, not even sky. Was this even space, I wondered. I looked back at the blank skin in front of me and the pen and ink ready to use, but no words came into my mind.
A strong deep voice called out of the blackness.
“What shall I write?” I replied.
“The future of mankind,” the voice boomed.
“What future is that?”
“Watch,” the voice commanded. The darkness was rent by a blood red light and all around me images appeared of man fighting man, woman fighting woman. Clubs, spears, swords, muskets, pistols, machine guns, weapons of every form ever devised, killed and maimed. Bodies fell bleeding and torn, dismembered limbs and spilled guts filled my sight. Fires raged, bombs fell, mines exploded, mushroom clouds rose, and still the conflicts went on. I covered my eyes with my hands to hide from the scenes of death.
“Why?” I demanded.
“Because I command it,” was the reply that rang in my ears, “What is written will be, and you will write. My power will be your power. When you write of hate and destruction and conflict it shall be so. Write now in the blood of your people, with their bones, on the skins of your fellows, by the light of their burning fat.”
I parted my hands and looked up and the scene around me had been replaced by another of even greater horror. On my left, naked corpses hung on hooks thrust through their bowels, blood dripping from cut throats and ripped genitals into pots like the one on my desk. To my right shadowy figures carefully stripped skin and flesh from bones on gore soaked slabs. Above me skins of every shade and size hung from lines and cauldrons rendered the fat, while below other figures chipped and whittled at bones.
“No,” I cried, “this isn’t what life is for,”
“What is life but a preparation for death? A death that I decree.”
“No! Life is an opportunity for love, to create. I won’t condemn my people to this fate.”
“You refuse to write,” the voice thundered.
“Yes,” I replied fearfully. “I will not write about fear and loathing, murder and destruction.”
The voice seemed to choke and splutter.
“You forsake my power, the certainty of publication, the knowledge that readers of your writings will obey your will,” the voice seemed to be weakening.
“Yes,” I said growing bolder, “I want to write about the struggle for happiness, for co-operation, for life.”
“Then go! You are not mine,”
I sat poised with my fingers over the brand new keyboard about to commence my article of praise for the peacemakers. The bright colour screen was blank but waiting to be filled with my words, words that would encourage the restoration and maintenance of order in Ireland, Bosnia, Palestine, Korea and other places of conflict. The gigabyte hard disc, memory unfilled as yet, would soon receive my sentences on human wisdom. I knew that what I wrote would probably not be published things being what they are but it felt good to write them.
I looked out of the window beyond my new computer, seeing the garden lush and colourful in the clear spring sunlight, birds fluttering and tiny movements under bushes, seeing new growth and the birth of new life.
An airliner roared overhead drowning out the moan from the distant motorway. I glanced back to my screen. The words were in my head. I held my hands over the pristine keys. I began.