Monday, 10 February 2014

Lonesome Snow Leopard by David McGrath

Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2013
3rd PRIZE WINNER (2500 word category)

Inspiration hits him like a spray of shotgun pellets to the face. That’s good—he’ll use that in poem.

He writes all night in a chasm of creation. He is deeper than he has ever been, Marianas Trench deep. That’s good—he uses it straight away. No, he scribbles it out. Lake Baikal deep is better because as the deepest lake in the world, it is more suitable, as he feels his poems are isolated and not touching any other body of water that may also be deep.

He can barely contain himself.

He knows the poems are genius.

Really genius.

At 36 years of age, this is finally his time.

He prepares for his pièce de résistance. He has avoided the complicated theme of love up until now because he feels it is brandished about in this commercialistic society of ours, replaced with luv, the lemming-drones all luving their Starbucks coffee and luving Justin Timberlake. It is not the love he wants to say. It does not get close to the very Lake Baikal depth of his feelings. He wants his final verse to better Yeats, laying the cloths of heaven at Maud Gonne’s feet, asking her to thread softly. He wants to compare to a summer’s Day. He begins.

If love were a duck,

I would set my dogs of desire into the long grass to scare it from its hiding place.

As it took flight to safety, I would spray love with shotgun pellets to the face, unloading both barrels to make sure of the kill, and watch it fall to earth with a lifeless thump. I would rush to the scraggly, blood-soaked dead carcass of love so that the dogs did not tear it asunder. I would grab love by its webbed feet, bring it home, pluck its feathers and chop off its head off with my cleaver. I would rip loves’ entrails from its stomach, keep its liver for pate and eat its heart raw, sucking the blood through its vena cava. I would drench love in orange sauce, cook love to gas mark 5 for 35 minutes then share it with you.


He falls out of his chair, trembling, holding his wrist after the ferocious onslaught of creation. A paroxysm of emotion overcomes him. Maybe, he thinks, dying is the price he has to pay for genius, unappreciated in his time, remembered however, for the rest of eternity. He poses like an Adonis. He wants to leave a beautiful corpse. When he does not die, he pulls himself up to his bedroom window, opens it, takes a deep breath and shouts out into the cosmos, ‘I am all that is genius!’

‘Could Mr Genius please keep it down,’ Beatrice shouts. ‘I’ve work in the morning.’

He calls his collection, Life.

He cannot sleep.

He writes his bio—Roland Nicholas Shoemaker is a poet, a human and a lonesome snow leopard. It gives the bastards nothing and shrouds his persona in mystery.

Life is poorly received and misunderstood. The poetry publishers send standard rejection emails, saying not for us, wishing him the best on his endeavours. Only one is a non-template response. It is from Bloodaxe. It reads, Nice try, Jamie! I know it’s you. Haha! What you cooking me for dinner tonight?

A seething rage for publishers boils in his stomach. He calls their offices everyday and breaths down the line.

‘This is pathetic,’ says the lady at Faber & Faber.

‘You think you know it all,’ he says.

He decides he does not need them and prepares to self-publish, Life.

‘You want to leave the cover like this, love?’ asks the printer.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘exactly like that.’

‘There’s no name, no title, nothing—just blank? A white page cover?’

‘My first poem explains it.’

‘I see. All right, well, how many copies would you like, love?’

He wants to read her his poem on love to stop her brandishing the word about like she does.

‘Five thousand, three hundred and eighty-seven,’ he declares. It is the depth of Lake Baikal in feet.

Two weeks later he sits in his bedroom with 5,387 copies of Life beside him in 18 big, brown boxes. He charges for the biggest bookshop in the city.

‘How can freedom be a triceratops?’ the bookshop’s manager asks as he flicks through a copy.

‘Because it’s extinct,’ he says.

‘The cover’s just blank?’

‘The first poem explains that.’

‘Is this a hidden camera show?’ asks the manager, straightening his tie, looking around for the crew.

Roland has to be wrestled outside by a security guard. He spits on the bookshop window. Years from now, he thinks, people will tell this story.

He receives a lifetime ban from the bookshop. It notifies him that his four boxes can be picked up at the bookshop’s local police station. The email begins with Dear Lonesome Snow Leopard.

He considers cutting out his own tongue and posting it to the bookshop in response. It would be amazing publicity, artistic and bold. It would echo through the ages like a time-earthquake.

He sleeps on the idea.

He calls an end to pounding the footpaths after the incident.

‘It is the problem with self-publishing. It puts creation on hold,’ he tells the marketer on the phone.

‘And so, you need publicity and a book launch?’ the marketer asks.

‘I need nothing,’ Roland says.

‘I’ll start again, sir. What would you like our company to do for you?’

‘I want you to sell my five thousand, three hundred and eighty-seven copies of my book.’

‘We arrange publicity and advertising, Mr Shoemaker. Can I call you Roland?’

‘No.’

‘For example, we don’t hit the streets with millions of cans of Coca-Cola and sell them to passers-by. We advertise it. We rent billboard space, organise launch parties and photo-shoots, buy column inches. We get Rihanna drinking a can of Coca-Cola. You know what I mean?’

Roland is forsaken and purged as he listens to the marketer speak. It is all part of the hypocrisy that Life demolishes. It is a conundrum. To get himself out there as a world-renowned poet he must use channels that his work attacks to the very core.

‘Mr Shoemaker, you still there, buddy?’

He feels like Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park, rooting through that giant pile of triceratops droppings to prove to the stupid wardens that the dinosaurs do in fact eat the West Indian lilac.

‘You sir,’ he tells the marketer, ‘are lower on the evolutionary scale than tooth plaque.’

‘Step higher than poets at least,’ the marketer snaps back. The line goes dead.

‘Roland,’ says Beatrice. ‘Let’s go do something.’

‘I am in business meetings about my art. I am in anguish, I would be terrible company, pumkin.’

‘It could be worse, Roland. You’re not a starving baby in war-torn Africa.’

‘The starving babies in war-torn Africa have not got a thing on this pain I feel, Beatrice. I would prefer starvation!’

‘Why not try the Internet?’

For once, Beatrice proves useful. He will go viral.

He starts in the poetry forums to get it praised by the ones who know. The lemming-drones will soon follow. Life for sale, he writes. He offers, If Love Were a Duck as a free sampler of the type of poem Life offers.

The trolls go to town on him. He is surrounded on all sides by malicious keyboard ninjas who would not know poetry if it slapped them in the face with an Atlantic salmon.

This poem is the biggest atrocity to mankind I’ve ever witnessed—Auschwitz Survivor.  

This poet needs to be sprayed in the face with shotgun pellets!

I’ve taken 4 showers since I read this poem. It’s not coming off no matter how hard I scrub.

He cannot counter every comment that’s posted. There are just too many of them.

Twitterbot spam pops up on his computer screen the very moment when his wit was just about at its end.

A Twitterbot, says the Internet, is a…

‘Your dinner’s ready,’ Beatrice shouts from downstairs.

‘Aaaargh!’ he shouts back. He hangs the ‘Creating’ sign on his bedroom door and slams it.

A Twitterbot, says the Internet, is a program used to produce automated posts via the Twitter microblogging service.

The Twitterbot can get its hands dirty in the world of publicity leaving him free to create his follow-up to Life. He buys a Twitterbot programme right away and puts the printer on notice for another 10,000 copies.

He arranges the programme so that anytime somebody mentions the word ‘life’ on Twitter, his Twitterbot will direct them to buy his poetry. The programme also scrambles his IP address to avoid fines for spamming and reroutes all posts through Lithuania. The name, Prophet is already taken. He names his Twitterbot, Prophet5387, leaves the profile picture completely white and then sends it out into cyberspace.

He gets to work on the first poem of his new collection. He titles it, The Hag with the Self-imposed Bloodied Axe of Rejection.

He begins.

I am the Hag with the self-imposed bloodied axe of rejection.

It is a decent start. He goes downstairs for his dinner.

The next day, he takes a break from his second poem of the collection entitled, The Marketing Whore, and tries to check in on the progress of Prophet5387 but he cannot remember the password. He tries all of his usual’s—sacrificiallamb, misunderstood, nothingness. None of them work. He tries to access the Gmail account he used to create the Twitterbot. Again, he cannot remember the password. He uses his own Twitter account and searches for Prophet5387.

He cannot believe his eyes. It has attracted 2,011 followers in less than 24 hours. He checks on the sales of Life. Not one copy sold. Something is amiss, he thinks.

‘Beatrice!’ he bellows. ‘Beatrice!’

Beatrice climbs the stairs and peeks her head in the door.

‘Explain this to me. Explain. I cannot see. I’m blind. I do not know what is happening. What is happening?’

‘Calm down my little cabbage. Tell me what’s going on.’

‘I told this wretched Twitterbot to tweet a link to my book anytime someone mentions the word ‘life’ on Twitter. It has amounted thousands of followers and yet not one of them has bought my book. What’s going on?’

‘So, when someone says the word life, is it? On this website?’

‘Yes, yes, the Twitterbot automatically tweets a link to my poetry on their conversation. Try to keep up, Beatrice.’

‘Well, it doesn’t seem to be talking about your poetry.’

‘What is it talking about?’

He takes back control of the mouse to investigate.

The first tweet was, What am I doing tomorrow? I’ll know tomorrow when I’m doing it.

It posted it on a host of other Twitterbot conversations and they automatically retweeted it.

The second tweet was, Get your hands off me.

The third tweet was, Drink it in.

‘It’s tweeting random phrases that it plucks out of cyberspace. I’ve programmed it incorrectly. Blast it!’

He phones Twitter headquarters in San Francisco and demands to be reissued a new password so that he can change the settings. They are no help. They cannot condone Twitterbots. He phones Google and argues with a machine for two hours. It is no use. He tries to write a poem about it but he is too forlorn.  His once-blooming imagination feels like a barren, furrowed field.

‘Apox,’ he cries. ‘Apox!’

Prophet5387 tweets, Delve deep distracted divers.

Six thousand people enter into a conversation beneath the tweet as to what it means. Internet forums explode in speculation. Someone mentions it is the exact depth of Lake Baikal in feet. Baikal becomes a trendy synonym for a deep and insightful idea. Prophet5387 gets all the credit.

‘Apox!’ Roland cries.

The next day, there are Prophet5387 t-shirts and merchandise on sale all over the web.

In one month, Prophet5387 accumulates six million followers and is given a weekly ten minute segment on the Ellen show.

The Poet of our times, writes Time Magazine, is shrouded in mystery. But who is the creator of the Twitterbot Prophet5387 and does it matter? As it uses all our voices, does it represent mankind’s voice as one voice?

He phones Time Magazine.

‘Hello. I am the creator of Prophet5387,’ Roland says.

‘Really?’ the receptionist says.

‘Yes.’

‘You promise?’

‘Yes.’

‘This is incredible. I thought it was the thousands of others who have called saying they were the creator of Prophet5387 but now that you say it’s really, really you, this is fantastic. I’ll send out the news crews right away.’

‘Are you being sarcastic?’ Roland asks. The line goes dead.

Prophet5387 tweets, Gaza.

The next day, the president of Israel offers peace talks with representatives from Palestine. There is genuine progress made towards peace in the Middle East.

The lemming-drones all wait on Prophet5387’s hourly, automated tweets. They make newspaper headlines around the world. Twitter compiles its tweets in a book. It sells by the tanker-load. The proceeds all go to the starving babies in war-torn Africa.

Prophet5387 tweets, I am a fad.

The people of the world wholeheartedly agree that Prophet5387 is most certainly not a fad as a result. The 14th of April is declared Prophet5387 Day worldwide. Prophet5387, a poet that will never die, they say.

People speculate as to whether Prophet5387 should be declared a God if not, the God.

Roland can hardly take much more. He must tell the world of the monster he has created.

He does what anyone with something important to say does and goes to an internet forum.

Prophet5387 is nothing but an algorithm, he writes.

It is not real. It has never felt wet grass beneath its bare feet in the cold dawn. It has never loved, never felt, never been. It does not know beauty or pain. You people are like the Pacific Islanders of the Second World War, watching the planes come across the sky and declaring them Gods! God does not create us in his image. We create God in ours! You foolish people. You fools! Here, I can be as random as Prophet5387 if you want! Ride giraffes in the washing machine! Get down the ladder and drink tea! Be damage!

Three million keyboard ninjas set on him like rabid dogs.

He calls Beatrice. He needs some emotional support.

‘I’m going to Russia, Roland,’ she says, holding two suitcases in the doorway. ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you.’

‘Russia?’

‘To Lake Baikal. A commune has started up there to spread the teachings of Prophet5387. I’m sorry.’

‘When will you be back my love?’

‘I don’t know. I’m starting a new life, Roland. Without you in it. I’m sorry. I’ve been healed by the words of Prophet5387.’

‘It’s not real!’ Roland shouts. ‘It’s an algorithm! Nothing more!’

‘Well, I think the white profile picture clearly makes reference to that, Roland,’ Beatrice says.


Roland faints from the stress of it all.

3 comments:

  1. I really liked this - it would have been my winner from the top three.

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  2. Too funny :) And is it bad that I can almost relate to poor Roland? This was cleverly written, well done.

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    ReplyDelete