We left the shop with a new look and a new outlook. The look was Vader-light, and the outlook was whatever lie I told them it was, but things were definitely moving in the right direction.
I had also got myself some new togs, although the tailor had baulked a bit at my request, which he termed ‘unusual.’ I didn’t think it was so strange to have a parachute sewn into a jacket — although probably stranger in a world where parachutes hadn’t been invented yet. They already had flight so the sensible thing was to assume at some point I would be thrown off one at five hundred feet. You have to prepare for the obvious, by which I mean the obvious way life is going to try and fuck you.
He was fine with all the pockets and hidden compartment I asked for, but the giant silk canopy on strings was deemed impractical. I explained how it would stop me falling to my death, but the concept of air resistance against a large surface area didn’t really register.
The added complexities of my order meant it wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow, so I left the shop looking exactly the same as I went in.
Flossie was clearly the winner in all this, judging by the grin on her face. She had a new outfit on — I won’t bother describing it, lower your taste by two notches and add a bunch of girly colours and you won’t be far off — and a bunch of bags, mostly carried by Dudley.
He also was grinning like a loon. He hadn’t bought anything, he was just one of those men who felt like a success if their bird was happy and squeeing all over the place. It’s a slippery slope (not a euphemism) basing your personal happiness on someone else’s mood, especially when that other person happens to be susceptible to hormonal swings and roundabouts.
Still, if it makes you happy, even for a short while, why not? No doubt she would wear each specially chosen and wonderfully unique outfit once and then feel she couldn’t wear it ever again.
Women often complain that it isn’t fair a man can wear basically the same clothes over and over without drawing any notice, but a woman has to have a host of different dresses and looks even if she’s doing the exact same job as the guy. Which may be true, wearing a very eye-catching outfit regularly will draw comments, because it’s so eye-catching, unlike a boring suit. But it’s also true that most men will never mention it, most of them won’t even notice. Any snide comments will invariably come from other women.
The shopping spree at least meant Flossie wouldn’t be bothering me for a while. She didn’t even try to cadge a ride in the bedmobile, she went straight to the cart and climbed in, a distant look in her eyes as she imagined herself at a ball dancing with a prince waggling a glass slipper at her.
Caim and his entourage walked out with the air of men on a mission, although I would guess it was a mission to kidnap a few human rights activists and teach them to keep their mouths shut. There was something about men in black robes and capes that didn’t suggest a couple of light ales and a night down the bowling alley.
Rather than get back onto the top of my carriage, Caim followed Dudley and Flossie onto the back of the cart. Riding up top with the wind blowing hadn’t been very comfortable, apparently. And of course, where the master went, the padawan followed.
When I looked at it like that, the miserable young man with the poor attitude, all flowing capes and glowing sword that shot out of his hand, it was almost as though we were recreating the prequels to… no, best not think about it. Nothing good would come of it.
They all sat quietly in the back. It did look a bit odd, all these menacing men squeezed together on the back of a cart pulled by a rather sad donkey, but I think it proved that we were the good guys. Your evil demon lords didn’t go for donkey rides.
Damicar got on with them. He hadn’t bought anything even though I told him he could have whatever he wanted. He was happy as is.
I was just thinking how to change the mood — order them to cheer up? — when Damicar asked one of the druids about the lentil recipe they used.
“Oh, saffron? I never would have thought. Now that you mention it, there was a lovely colour to it.”
Within seconds the ice was broken and everyone was chatting away, discussing how they liked their soup prepared and little garnishes. I got into my carriage feeling a bit like that Woody Allen movie where he’s on a train full of quiet, bored people and he looks across to another train where everyone’s partying and having a great time. A very apt way to describe the discomfort that life constantly thrusts upon us. And also a very fitting example of how you can nick ideas from people better at making movies than you and get all the credit. Woody Allen, hip-hop OG.
We set off for the Church of the Shrine, me spread out on my moving bed like a starfish with ME, them yucking it up in economy class.
We were able to drive up to the entrance with no one to stop us. I was the law in this city. Well, no one would have stopped us in any case, the law being: do what you like, just don’t be too much of a dick (or if you are going to be a dick, make sure you kill all the witnesses). Same law as everywhere, really.
I climbed out with my clothes all wrinkled and my hair looking like a mess. It was instant bedhead in all locations for me. Fortunately, I was not the face of Company Colin, that honour went to Caim. He seemed to be in a much better mood after spending time in the happy bus. Which was good. If he bonded with the others he was less likely to turn on us and murder us in our sleep. I realise he might not turn on them and still murder me in my sleep, but that was why I had my bedmobile. Can’t assassinate me in my bed if my bed never stopped moving. Ah, you see, my genius at work once again.
After this was all over, I might convert it into a proper caravan and go off for a holiday. Everything I need in one convenient place, and always ready to go. Never mind a fancy home, this was the true Englishman’s castle.
The city was still a bit on the quiet side and not many people were around. We walked into the temple, through the gaping mouth of the skull-shaped facade, and were escorted into a large room with a big chair. I guess it was a throne room, but religious institutions aren’t meant there to rule over the populace like subjects of a superior being chosen by God to be his taskmaster. Only joking, of course they are. Why else would anyone bother building them?
The Fairy Queen was sitting there, surrounded by the dead bodies of locals inhabited by fairies. Just another day in the big city.
The body she had chosen to use was an odd choice. You would have thought a beautiful seductress to bewitch the minds of men would be the obvious way to go, not a giant haystack with legs. She was a big lass. But then, it just shows how our tastes get warped by outside forces. It’s a good thing black men like big booties and that marketing people never bothered to convince them otherwise. Racism at its most helpful. Thicc would never be a thing if it came from an affluent part of society.
“You have returned. Good. We have much to plan, much to prepare. Soon we will reclaim this land and bring back the old ways.
It’s never a good thing when people start harking on about the old days and how much better things were back then. Generally because they weren’t. Traditions are these strange chains used to tie people up, as though having lasted for so long is reason enough to last a bit longer.
People cling to the old ways. Not because they think they’re better, but because that’s the system that gives them a leadership role. Given the choice between a better life for everyone, and a better life for themselves, they invariably find a way to justify choosing themselves.
They’ll say they want to make a better world for their kids and their kids’ kids, but their actions don’t bear witness to their words. How you go about acting like a shit while insisting you’re a saint is one of the great achievements of the human race. Smokescreen altruism, a godly marketing tool.
Progress is bad. Freedom is bad. It’s bad for the people who are already doing well. When Muslims insist you don’t badmouth their prophet, it isn’t out of a sense of sanctity, it’s because they’ve seen what happens when you allow Life of Brian into the multiplexes. Suddenly, no one takes you seriously anymore and your priests have to explain why they’re living in palaces diddling altar boys.
I’m sure Christians are looking at the Muslims with jealousy. Getting to murder people who disagree with you out of righteous fervour must be great. So much easier to keep everyone in their place when you’re strapped with explosives.
I say Christians but that isn’t really fair. They’re hardly Christian in anything other than name. In fact, the last person to genuinely espouse the teachings of Jesus Christ was probably Mahatma Gandhi. And he didn’t even need to read the instructional manual, he made his own version. Got the same ending, too.
It’s not just religion where people skewer things to their own advantage. It’s a human thing, not a divine one.
Politics, relationships, business, any walk of life where you get to proudly state what you stand for also allows you to do the opposite and get away with it, if you’re willing to fuck over enough people. It’s why so many top people in any profession are sociopaths. Not caring pays big dividends.
“Great,” I said. “I look forward to going backwards. Have you changed something? It looks different here.”
“Yes,” said the Fairy Queen. “I decided to make some alterations.”
It’s the best way to passive-aggressively let your predecessor know you consider everything they did to be shit — redecorate. The walls had been painted, now that I took a closer look. Lots of green and orange. Gave it a culinary feel.
“Nice. Very fresh.” It would be rude to point out she’d made the place look like the inside of a carrot. And you know me, always thinking of other people’s feelings.
“We will be transforming the rest of this world shortly. It will no longer be a poorly run enterprise for the Visitors to treat with contempt. We are not to be ruled over or used as the subjects of dark experiments. We will be free, we will choose our own path, we will make sure the services provided by our manufacturing industries are promptly produced and fairly priced.”
I was with her until the last part. What exactly was her goal?
“There will be no more drifting through life without purpose, everyone will have their place and know it. This is our home, the once and future realm of Fairyland.”
As she finished giving her speech, a roll of material unfurled down the wall behind her, a flag.
It was red with a white circle in the middle, and three black lines sort of in the shape of a Y. It was vaguely reminiscent of something.
“That flag,” said Flossie, “Ah recognise it.”
“Oh yes?” I said, surprised the penny had dropped so quickly. It hadn’t.
“Oh ah. It’s the Isle of Man. I went there on holiday once.”
She wasn’t completely wrong. The Isle of Man’s flag had three legs joined in a kind of cartwheel — possibly the most surreal flag you’ll ever see — and the Y in this flag had a similar look, but that wasn’t the first thing that sprang to mind.
Fascism has always been about one person getting to have it their way, and lots of pride in your flag. How that one person manages to cling onto power even when it’s obvious they’re insane, I have no idea. It’s a bit like a kung fu movie where the guy’s surrounded but they only attack one at a time.
You might be sitting there thinking, go on, all at the same time, he can’t take you all on. But they never do.
I think it serves as a very accurate metaphor for how dictators keep their job. You can defeat millions if they only ever come at you one at a time.
“No,” said Caim. “I don’t like it.”
Death by faux pas incoming.
“Who is this?” sneered the Fairy Queen.
Caim suited up, his body quickly disappearing behind black vines and Angel Rose emerging from his hand. “It’s been a long time.”
“You!” The Fairy Queen didn’t seem pleased to meet an old friend. “You betrayed us all.”
“Betrayed you? I was the betrayed.”
“Hundreds of thousands of lives perished because of you,” said the Fairy Queen.
“They died for me, not because of me. They were the only true friends I’ve ever known.”
“And now their bones litter the battlefields. How proud you must be.”
I could see this going off the rails in zero seconds flat. I decided to hit the pause button. I just needed a moment to think.
Unfortunately, the Fairy Queen was not bound by my time-stopping skills. She was still active, as was the sword. Thinking fast, I pulled out my own sword and floated above them. While height was not necessarily a sign of dominance, you were certainly going to get laid a lot more if you were over six foot tall. Because women are very superficial. Men, on the other hand, we like breasts, we like bums, we’re open to women dressing up as a nurse or a schoolgirl — very broad-minded, us.
“Hey, let’s try to remember who the real monster is here. The only reason you can squabble over who gets to do what is because I decided this lousy shithole you call home isn’t worth my time.”
The Fairy Queen struggled to respond. Even if she wasn’t totally frozen, it was still hard for her to act, making it easier for me to have my say without being interrupted.
“I know what you’re going to say—” I had no idea, but I knew it would piss her off to say I did “—and I don’t care. We will do this my way, or I will send you back into the void and do it without you.”
The queen’s expression spoke volumes, and silently.
“How can you promise us both we can rule after the fighting is over?” said Angel Rose. An excellent question. This was what happened when you didn’t find a way to shut people up.
“I will give you the opportunity to rule, I’m not going to give it to you on a plate. There will be a chance for both of you, and a fair one with no one having an advantage.”
I tried to make it sound grand, but if it really came down to it, I was planning on flipping a coin.
“First we have to win, and we can do that if you all work together and do what I fucking tell you. If not, I can come here and cut you to ribbons without much effort.”
There was a lessening of tension as they realised there was no point fighting over land rights in a world where I called the shots. First, you had to make sure someone wasn’t pulling a massive joke on you.
“Now,” I continued, “we will gather all the forces we have and we will set out under my command to do what I decide. And the first thing we need is more people on our side. Most of the monsters have joined forces with Peter and most humans don’t want to fight. So our only hope is to find reinforcements from somewhere else.”
The sword and the fairy looked at me expectantly.
“We’re going to raise the dead. Every deceased being who ever kicked the bucket in this great land of yours just got conscripted into my army. So, tell me, where were these battles you had all those years ago? Because that’s where we’ll be recruiting.”