As the sun rose on another beautiful day in Flatland, I wondered, as I did most days, if this would be my last.
It’s not easy to climb onto a moving dragon. The take off was a series of violent lurching jumps into the air, followed by slow, forceful beats of the giant wings to send us soaring upwards.
I grabbed onto Vikchutni’s ear with both hands and held on tightly, my main goal being not to fall to my death—I don’t have many ambitions, but those I do, I pursue vigorously.
My body swung around wildly and I tried to use the momentum to get my foot onto the dragon’s neck, but kept coming up short. That’d teach me for skipping leg day.
Flossie tried to catch hold of me but every time my foot came near her, she ducked out of the way in case I kicked her off. It was like playing catch with somebody who kept saying, “Throw me the ball, throw me the ball,” and then when you did, they immediately ran away screaming. Which was exactly how Flossie played catch.
“Go higher,” I shouted into the dragon’s large, floppy ear which was full of fluffy hair, I noticed.
I don’t know if the dragon understood me, or if Flossie pulled him up, but he went vertical. With his neck more or less parallel to my body, I was able to wrap my legs around it. After quite a lot of faffing about that involved shouting at Flossie to move back I ended up just behind the dragon’s head with Flossie behind me.
“You can tell him to stop climbing now,” I said over my shoulder, or at least as far over my shoulder as I dared. I hadn’t ridden up front before.
“Ah can’t with yo’ in the way,” she shouted into my backside.
There followed a very awkward switching of seats that involved Flossie crawling over the top of me while I scooted backwards. Small, she may have been, light she most certainly wasn’t.
Once we levelled off and Vikchutni settled into a smooth glide, I continued my backward shuffle until I got to the nice, broad back. It wasn’t solid ground, but it was better than windwalking.
Jenny was sitting between Keezy and Nyx holding onto one of the blades and looking at me. It would have been nice if the look had been one of admiration for what I had just done to affect our escape, but I don’t think that’s how I’d characterise it. It was more of a ‘what the fuck was that?’ look. Which was fair enough—I felt pretty much the same way.
“You’ll be fine as long as you hold on,” I said to try and calm her down.
“I’m not scared,” she said defiantly.
“Where to now?” said Flossie as she came skipping down the dragon’s neck like she was jumping between puddles.
“Keezy, will we be welcome in Fengarad if the Intui are in charge?”
“They are one faction among many.” He was still in female form, but his voice was back to his normal gravel crunch. “But we would do well to avoid them.”
It would be tricky sneaking into Fengarad on a dragon.
I turned to Jenny. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen the others, have you? They aren’t back in Requbar, are they?”
“What are you going to do with me?” said Jenny. “The Queen won’t let you get away with this.”
“Yeah? Well, the Queen can suck a dick. She probably has a whole room full of them from her eunuchs.”
Jenny shook her head at me. “Eunuchs don’t get their penises removed, just their testicles.”
“Oh, just their testicles? That makes her seem much more reasonable. What were you doing leading an army, Jenny? How did you end up in Requbar?”
“Don’t shout at her,” said Flossie. “Yo’ can see she’s all confused.” When Flossie thinks you’re confused, you must be really confused.
“I know,” I said, “but we have to get through to her somehow.”
“I’m a servant of the Queen,” said Jenny, although she didn’t sound completely convinced about it.
“What she like, then? The Queen, what does she look like?”
“She’s beautiful,” said Jenny immediately, “and kind and just.”
Sounded like the kind of leader who got 97% of the vote, even if no one voted.
“What does she look like, though? What colour is her hair.”
Jenny stared at me. “I don’t… it’s beautiful, I know that.”
“Yeah, she really did a number on you. Maybe I can heal it.” I hadn’t tried healing brainwashing before, but you don’t know until you try. I moved towards Jenny.
She immediately backed away, which wasn’t very far since Keezy was sitting right beside her.
“If you force yourself on me, I’ll kill you.” She sounded very convincing.
“I’m not going to force myself on you. You’re the one who forced herself on me. That’s how we ended up together.”
“There’s no way that’s true,” said Jenny.
“It does sound unlikely,” agreed Keezy.
“I don’t know,” said Nyx, somewhat shiftily. “She might have strange tastes. It can happen.”
“No, it is true,” said Flossie, coming to rescue my manhood. “Ah was there the first night. We heard you at it in the tent. We were going to rush in and rescue you, but then we realised it were him that were crying.” My saviour.
“I was not crying!” The idea I would burst into tears just because I’d had good sex for the first time in my life is clearly ridiculous. Does that even sound like me? That’s a rhetorical question.
“Why would I choose to be with you?” said Jenny.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I’ve been asking you that same question since we hooked up.”
“And what did I say?”
“You said the heart wants what it wants.”
She pulled a face. “Why would I quote Woody Allen?”
“Because great weirdos think alike. Look, you don’t have to believe me, but at least wait until we find the others. You remembered Flossie, maybe seeing them will jog your memory. It would have been nice if seeing me had done that, but hey, probably would have given me a big head or something.” That something being a sense of self-worth. But then we can’t have everything.
“Fine,” said Jenny, slowly getting to her feet. “I’ll wait until we land, at least. No point doing anything crazy up here.”
She suddenly lunged at me. There was a dagger in her hand.
That was my Jenny, ever the resourceful nightmare. She had one hand holding the shirt on my chest, the other holding the blade to my throat.
“Really? Where are you planning to go? Down the other end of the tail?”
“Take us down,” she said to Flossie.
“No,” said Flossie.
“I’ll cut his throat.”
“Go on, then.”
This is what happens when you teach people how to be more pragmatic in the world. They start with you.
“I will cut his throat open,” said Jenny. She sounded like she was seriously considering it.
“No, yo’ won’t. I know yo’, Jenny. Yo’ love him, for some reason.” Almost had my back, couldn’t quite make it all the way.
“I don’t love him,” shouted Jenny. “I have standards! Now take us down!”
Keezy grabbed Jenny from behind and yanked her back. The tip of the knife nicked my chin on the way out but it wasn’t as painful as her words.
“I do have feelings you know,” I said, rubbing my chin.
“No you don’t,” said Jenny and Flossie together. They looked at each other.
“She’s starting to remember,” said Flosse. “Give me that knife.”
Keezy had plucked the dagger from Jenny’s grasp. He handed it over to Flossie. She seemed to have had an idea, which was a concern.
“What are you going to do with that?” I asked her.
“Deep down, she’s still our Jenny. Yo’ can’t change who someone is on the inside.” She held the knife out, handle first, towards Jenny. “If yo’ want to stab him, do it.”
“Ah, Floss, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Trust me, she won’t be able to.”
Jenny took the dagger and looked at it. Then she looked at me. Then she stabbed me.
“Son of a bitch!” I yelled. Of course, I had expected her to take the shot and turned so she hit me on the arm rather than the chest where she’d been aiming. It still hurt like a motherfucker.
“Ooh, sorry,” said Flossie, wincing. “Ah was she sure she wouldn’t do it.”
I could have stopped it earlier but the truth was there was a chance it could have worked. The deep love she had for me would have made her drop the dagger as the memories rushed back into her head. That’s what would have happened in the Hollywood version. My life was more the Cricklewood version.
“Jesus!” I hissed as I pulled the dagger out. I let it fall at my feet as I healed myself.
Jenny, her arms held behind her by Keezy, watched me work my magic, her eyes widening. Was there some recognition there? It was hard to tell.
“You… you’re Colin… and you’re Flossie. Where am I? What happened.” She turned her head. “Keezy?”
He let go of her. “Yes.”
She bolted for the side. I was way ahead of her. She was going to jump, risking death rather than being held captive, but I took her down with a tackle my PE teacher would have been proud of. Actually, he would have been stunned, he never saw me do anything during rugby matches other than stick my hands down my shorts to keep them warm.
I landed on top of her and twisted her arm behind her back. Then I got onto my knees, turned and sat on her. “I guess we’ll do this the hard way. Ow.” My arm still smarted. I carried on healing it. “I really thought there was a chance you weren’t going to stab me, but I’ve always been an optimist. I mean, I would’ve expected it a hundred percent from Claire, but you, I thought I had a good thirty—”
“Claire,” said Jenny. “Claire’s waiting for me.” Her voice was hesitant and searching.
“Where is she waiting?”
“Dargot. I think. Who’s Claire?”
Another ruse? I didn’t think so. I was good at telling when she was faking it. No, not because I’d had so much practice, because I knew her.
I looked up at Flossie. “Dargot.”
Flossie nodded and ran to redirect her dragon.
“Get off me.”
“Even if you’re telling me the truth,” said Jenny, “do you think I’d be happy to be treated this way?”
“I don’t care.”
She didn’t know me, had no memory of liking me and had stabbed me. I didn’t mind. She may not have been with us willingly but it didn’t matter. What she wanted didn’t matter.
Truthfully, when I grabbed Jenny and forced her to do as I wanted, I liked it. The sense of control I had over her, the way I ignored her wishes and manifested my will over hers, it filled me with something I don’t even know how to describe. Satisfaction?
In any other context, my actions would have been disgusting. Treating women as something less than you, to be bullied and coerced as you please, is not a good thing. Unless you live in Newcastle, of course, in which case it’s just another Saturday night.
Obviously, I knew there was something wrong with Jenny. Perhaps the Queen had placed a geas on her, or she had hit her head and lost her memory like in a cheesy movie, or something I hadn’t even considered. In this world, there could be any number of bizarre reasons why she didn’t recognise me, and once I got her back to herself she would be grateful I dragged her kicking and screaming away from her new life as top bitch in the kingdom (queendom? femdom?), but I was no less aware of the primitive and seductive sense of ownership my actions instilled in me.
She was mine. They couldn’t have her, even if she thought she was willing. She was wrong and I’d make her see things my way. The correct way.
It’s disturbing having these sorts of feelings. It’d be much easier to pretend that’s not what was going through my mind, that I was purely acting to help her regain part of herself that had been taken from her. Like having to restrain someone during an epileptic fit. I might have to hold you down, restrict your movements, maybe even leave you with a few bruises, but it’s for your own good. Anyone can understand that.
But when I overpowered Jenny and used every ounce of my strength to ensure she knew just how useless it was to try and get away from me, a deeply satisfying sense of superiority flowed through me. If I wanted to, she couldn’t stop me.
I’m not trying to suggest that’s what being a man is, or that it excuses us from violent behaviour towards women. Just because we have base, primitive urges ingrained into us doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to play them out. A key feature of being human is the ability to evolve beyond our animal nature (Newcastle excepted).
Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it’s right there in the Bible. The tenth commandment says ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ass.’ Which doesn’t refer to God’s hatred of the gays, it means at some point in time men craved donkeys. Apparently, it was very high on the list. Top ten. But we took that deep yearning for burro companionship and cast it out, moved beyond it, because we’re better than that. Now, most Amazon wishlists are donkey-free.
We have within us the power to not be utter turds, even though we’re often sorely tempted, especially if we think we can get away with it. I recognised those desires within me. They were attractive and also repulsive. Pretending those feelings didn’t exist achieved nothing, it was what you did with them that counted. Nothing will convince you that you don’t want to live in Newcastle like spending a little time there.
“I promise I won’t try anything else,” said Jenny. “Can you get off me now?”
“Nope. I’ll be travelling first class. You’ll be going as baggage.” I made myself comfortable.