The Masquerade: A Contemporary, Rural Tragedy – Prologue/Chapter One.

 

PROLOGUE

He found himself in a place he had never been before – a barren white landscape stretching endlessly in all directions. Above him, the stars spun and moved, glistening, shining, showering him with a sense of wonder. They looked like a matte painting, merging into infinity – a canvas across the cosmos.

How long had he been traversing this empty, near-blinding tundra? Had it been moments? Hours? Had he been here for his entire existence – every other moment a fallacy designed to trick him into a sense of normality? He didn’t know. He only knew two things: his name – and that his only option was to keep trudging forwards.

There were no roads upon this desert of luminous white. No paths to traverse, no corners to turn. He had but one choice – to move on and hope to find a reference point – some idea of where – or, perhaps more importantly, when – he was.

He remembered nothing before the time of this infinite NOW; not where he had been, had done, or was planning to do. He remembered nothing but walking, aimlessly, without cause or direction.

Am I dead? He thought, knowing that perhaps this was a ridiculous notion under any circumstances. Is this hell?

Then, a piercing sound shot out across the desolate landscape, shattering the silence and tranquillity, like a rapist infiltrating a coma-ward. A voice that boomed and crackled, seemingly tearing through time and space itself: a voice from beyond the pale.

The landscape shifted, moving away, as he was sucked up into a vortex, leaving the white behind, entering the dark. As he did, he thought he managed to glimpse a lone landmark in this featureless expanse: A black, dilapidated cabin.

Gabriel Molyneux woke up in his moonlit bed, a comic book on his lap. He had fallen asleep while reading. Was it just a dream? Blearily, he looked up, just able to fathom a huge, towering figure in the darkness, looming over the bed, staring at him with unfiltered disdain.

He swore that, for a second at least, the eyes of this tower of a man were glowing the deepest of crimsons. Gabriel’s eyes widened in dismayed shock, as he began to understand where he was, what was happening, and – most importantly of all – what was about to happen.

‘Where’s my tobacco, boy?’ The figure asked.

‘You fucking what’ Gabriel managed to mumble, still trying to reconcile himself with his new-found location inside reality.

He knew though, even in this state, that if this was reality, and he was awake, that those were very poorly chosen words. Please tell me I’m still dreaming, he begged himself, desperately hoping against hope. Then the fist flew; and Gabriel Molyneux discovered – in the rudest awakening one could manage – that he was very much awake.

Chapter One Better The Devil You Know

In the South-West of England, tucked deeply away in the murky heart of Gloucestershire, lies the isolated and rural area known as The Forest of Dean. Long it has stood, a gaping black hole in time, a relic of simpler, humbler days. A time when farming dominated the landscape, when racism and bigotry were widely accepted, and where if a working day did not end with your body ravaged and soil ingrained within the very pores of your skin, then, frankly, you had not worked at all.

If you head down a main road and cut through the various villages, towns and hamlets that comprise this rural time capsule you’ll find yourself surrounded by very little, save for dense tree life and wild flowers. Stripped away are the concrete mastodons that pollute the dense concrete skyline of cities, replaced instead by a horizon of small and simple buildings, enclosed within a dense dome of nature. By day, the sheep of the local farmers can be seen walking both streets and roads – free to meander to their hearts’ content. By night, the other, less domesticated wildlife crawls its way out of the crevices; the wily fox skittles about underfoot, the fleetfooted deer hop around between the Wild Oaks, and the large and heavy wild boar crash around the undergrowth, destroying all they come into contact with.

It could be said that in the contemporary world – a world that runs at one thousand miles per hour destroying the environment around it in pursuit of increasingly more impressive architecture, never once stopping to admire what was already here and has been for aeons – an area such as this could be considered a lost utopia. A simple place redolent of a simpler time. Ideal for tourism and retirements? Certainly. Ideal for those lost years between adolescence and the discovery of destiny? Certainly not. Like all small and secluded communities, the Forest had issues. These issues were hidden away from the tourists, and seldom alluded to by the inhabitants themselves. Boredom among the local youths had led to a mini rebellion of sorts. Not one fought via slogans or violence; rather, this revolution took place in the shadows, through the use of narcotics and loud music. Whilst the party scene was primarily a fine, enjoyable affair in which no harm came to those who chose to attend them, the substances imbibed at them were not so harmless. The Forest had a very active drug scene. In the midst of all this chaos stood a small village. A village so tiny, you would be hard pressed to call it a village at all. The term ‘Hamlet’ may be more appropriate for such a place. The Hamlet’s name was Hallowed Fern, a name which seemed extravagant in comparison to the more mundane toponyms in the area, such as Cinderford or Pillowell. The true nature of the name may never be known now, forever lost to archives nobody ever bothered making. Or perhaps they did make them. Perhaps they were lost in a fire long-ago, a fire nobody now speaks of. Ask the elders of the village and they may relay what little they know. Traditionally this consists primarily of hearsay and speculation. One theory that remains consistent throughout, however, is the idea that the name stretches back to a time when this area was still alive with pagan custom. But speculation it must remain – the notion of ever being able to confirm such ideas is long foregone. Hallowed Fern consists of one main road – that heads straight up from a neighbouring village – and ends at the top of the Hamlet, alongside the war Cenotaph. Along this road stand roughly five hundred houses, tucked away in various locations on either side. Some are adjacent to the road, others form small estates tucked away behind these initial houses. Most are semi-detached; occasionally one stands alone. Traditionally, this symbolises a wealthier occupant. Hallowed Fern Primary School is situated beyond the houses, on the right-hand side of the road, and on the left stands the Pharmacy. Tucked away behind the Pharmacy there is a small alley that leads in a circle to the shop, allowing underagers who have purchased alcohol from this shop to sneak home unnoticed – avoiding the road and, by extension, any vigilant parents that may be surveying them. If you choose to head straight up the road instead, you’ll find ‘THE SHOP’ on your left. There was no need for creativity here. As the owners will happily tell you, it is the only shop in Hallowed Fern. At the top of this main road, opposite the shop, across the street from the school, stands the Hamlet’s only functioning bus stop. At the stop stand ten teenagers, babbling and laughing. Behind this babbling gaggle of people is a figure distanced from them. A figure with shoulder-length dark ringlets of hair, and hazel eyes as dark and deep as infinity itself. That day, there were new features etched on Gabriel’s face. That day, he sported a ridiculous purple bruise accentuating the outside curvature of his eye socket. His jaw was swollen, as though a grapefruit had grown within it – a grapefruit that was trying its damned hardest to escape. Nobody in the line offered sympathy or asked for an explanation. They noticed, of course – it was impossible not to. But they merely giggled behind palms and whispered cruel things among themselves.

The bus – adorned with the legend THEATRE BUS – pulled up, and all the waiting passengers piled on. Each showed the driver their pass in turn, and boarded the vehicle that will take them to the local College. Gabriel hung back, allowing the others to pile on before him. He’s never been a fan of crowds or lines; he is a man who likes to lurk in the shadows, doing his best to remain inconspicuous. Eventually, it was his turn to enter the bus. The driver’s name was David Mitchell, known simply to friends and relatives as ‘Big Dave’. The Big was entirely ironic – as Dave stood a whopping five foot six – and couldn’t have weighed ten stone if he swallowed liquid concrete. Dave had dreams as a youth. He wanted to be a pilot. All day, everyday, Dave dreamed sweet dreams of soaring through the skies in his personal jet. He dreamt of piercing clouds in a great crashing crescendo of noise and jet fuel, forever free to fly as he pleased. Unfortunately for Dave, these dreams never came to fruition.

Now, at the age of forty-six, he was a simple bus driver. He had a small house. Two bedrooms. He had a wife, Laura, who frankly had bored the shit out of him for the last twenty-odd years; but where the hell else would he find anyone at this point? Whilst she may only put out twice monthly for him now, and most evenings would feature at least one lonely trip to the bathroom with a laptop and a packet of Kleenex, that twice a month was more than he could guarantee elsewhere. ‘Better the devil you know’, his departed mother Susan always said. Having spent most of his youth labelled a wild dreamer, alone in his bedroom, gluing together model airplanes he’d saved his weekly pocket money for, Dave knew a thing or two about isolation and loneliness. It was because of this understanding he had a lot of time for Gabriel. Some might even say he saw a bit of himself in him. If he is anything like me, thought Dave, as the rest of ‘the rabble’ flooded onto his bus, May the good Lord have mercy upon his soul. ‘How’s it going Gabe?’ Asked Dave, checking the ticket – as Gabriel walked onto the bus and gave him his change. ‘You alright lad?’. ‘ ‘m ‘ine,’ Gabriel mumbled through his clenched jaw, causing Dave to look up in curiosity. As he caught sight of what used to be the left side of Gabriel’s face, he did an extremely comical double take and dropped the change on the floor. ‘Holy shit!’ exclaimed Dave, mouth damn near hitting the bus floor, ‘What the fuck happened to you?’. What the fuck do you think happened, you idiot? Gabriel thought to himself, It doesn’t take Colombo to figure this one out. Guess that’s why you’re a bus driver. With some extraneous effort Gabriel managed to turn his face into something resembling a twisted smile. In truth, it looked more like a grimace, and not remotely charming. Dave meanwhile, realising he had been gawping at Gabriel like an act in a Victorian freak show, proceeded to fumble around on the floor, desperately hunting for a stray ten pence piece. Finally he found it, and looked back up at Gabriel, trying his best not to show his curiosity or shock. ‘’m fine,’ Gabriel repeated.

He took his change from the driver’s slightly unsteady hand, nodded his thanks, and headed up the aisle. As he walked the between the sea of seats on either side of the aisle, people made their feelings towards him apparent. Every time Gabriel approached a pair of seats that had only one occupant, said occupant would place their legs across the seat and shake their heads at him. The shake was often accompanied by a glare of pure disdain, and if it wasn’t their feet they used to barricade themselves from Gabriel, it was a bag or a book. Gabriel was forced to walk all the way to the back of the bus, like some poor negro before Rosa Parks and her great stand against oppression. He sat alone on the back seat, staring out the window, watching the trees and scenery rolling past him. He was very capable of becoming lost in his own thoughts, and quickly did – shutting off the rest of the world. He could no longer even hear the whispers and giggles of his fellow passengers that were often at his own expense.

 The local college at which Gabriel studied was going through a renovation. The Royal Forest of Dean College had stood proudly for over sixty years, as archaic and rustic as they came. Unfortunately for history and sentimentality, the college had been purchased at the turn of the century and taken over by GlosCol – a larger conglomerate of colleges spread-out over Gloucestershire under a single corporate banner. Since the development, the college had lost much of its ‘small town charm.’ One thing that hadn’t changed was the small size of the classrooms. Small not just in physical size, but also in terms of the amount of bodies within them. Gabriel’s class of twenty-six was considered to be a rather large one. In the back of this classroom, tucked away in a dark corner, sat Gabriel. Whilst his classmates sat up attentively in their chairs, going so far as to lean over their desks to better hear the lecturer – prattling on about how This Is England was some form of time capsule through which one could view an authentic 80’s Britain – Gabriel doodled on a small scrap of paper. He drew a figure cloaked in black from head to toe. On his face was a mask. He created two other drawings; a figure with hair like snakes – and The Moon.

He smiled at his creation.

Yes, the Forest had a darker side, full of little problems and secrets. One of these problems was a generational gap. The elders of the community hailed from a simpler time, where certain laws and beliefs were less rigid, and the world was a much less politically correct place to live in. In an area like this, where hard work and graft on farms held prevalence over education and intellectual pursuits, the political landscape was very different. These old-timers, these relics from a previous era, held no fancy notions about racial or gender equality. A man worked, a woman cooked, and a minority was something to be both despised and ridiculed. Simpler times, they said – better times. One of these simple folks was Michael Saunders, a farmer of cattle and assorted crops. Despite being fifty-seven, years of fighting to manoeuvre large bovines, and ploughing the fields had left him with an impressively strong physique. At five foot ten, with a low centre of gravity, he was a stocky and powerful man. Like most farmers, Michael would often get into drinking in the evenings, after his wife – Elaine – had cooked him his beef. He had beef every night, and Elaine never failed to provide it. The few times she had, she received a quick backhand for her troubles, in the hopes she would remember never to forget it again. Michael was an assertive, domineering teacher, but his methods tended to yield results. He was no less assertive and domineering when it came to his son Jack. Like his father, Jack had helped out on the farm from a young age, and quickly became familiar with the nature of both cows and crops. However, unlike his father before him, Jack dreamed of bigger and better things. He discovered a talent for football during his youth; once scoring over one hundred goals for his Amateur team in a singular season; winning the ‘player of the year award’ in every age

category, season by season, between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Unfortunately for Jack, his father was a devout Rugby fanatic, considering football a ‘Poofter’s sport for ponces and homosexuals’. When Jack continued to defy his father’s politer requests to be done with the sport, he met with a severe injury one day, resulting in his ankle being crushed in a mysterious accident at home. Whilst he never divulged the true nature of this injury to anybody outside the house – besides his girlfriend Alice – both Jack and Michael knew how it had really happened. It involved an argument, a hard fist and a particularly heavy lump of beef being dropped on somebody’s foot. So Jack had a hard life – that was for sure – and regularly took a hiding from his vigilant father. There is an old adage ‘shit rolls downhill.’ In this case, the shit would be Michael’s fist. After crashing into Jack and performing its merry dance across his facial and various other features, it tended to roll downhill in the form of Jack’s fist connecting with whatever poor soul crossed his path that day. Jack, you see, had also become a rather large young man for his age, thanks to the farm work, and was distinctively more musclebound than the other nineteen-year-old lads in the local area. He stood by the college smoking shelter, holding Alice’s hand, waiting for his potential prey. Just last night he’d taken a royal beating from his loving old man for daring to ask him to stop referring to his mother simply as ‘wench’. Needless to say, his father was not particularly accommodating towards his 21st century ideals. Now he waited, one eye almost closed from the horrific bruise that encompassed it, staring (or squinting) across the sea of faces at the smoking shelter, waiting for just the right one to catch his eye. Then it arrived. He saw his victim and began to smile a sadistic smile. Gabriel was heading towards the smoking shelter, and judging by his face, somebody had already begun Jack’s work for him. Good. He liked a head-start.

The two of them, throughout their short, shared-history, had a storied rivalry that was well known amongst their peers. Like most rivalries and silly long-term grudges, it began over something petulant. As children, Jack and Gabriel had frequently played together, exploring the woods and playing games. Childhood – for most people – is often looked upon with nostalgia and fondness. This stems from the fact that it tends to be an innocent time – a time of imagination, fun and games. Gabriel was known – among the village children – as the ultimate developer of games. His imagination knew no rival, and he could create full scenarios and characters; fleshed out like those in his favourite movies and novels. Throughout those innocent times, Gabriel was not just accepted by his peers – he was respected. Unfortunately, as time goes by – and people age – adolescence brings a new brand of confusing issues. Like jealousy. Gabriel’s imagination and position as ringleader brought him a lot of admiration and attention, and Jack would eventually grow to despise this. His home life was atrocious, neither parent having time for him, and now all his peers were interested in Gabriel and not him. He had become the Robin to Gabriel’s Batman. He was effectively a shadow. A nobody. The guy everyone overlooked. One day this became too much for Jack. They were out, as usual, playing their childhood games. This time, they were mythological beings, fighting for supremacy of the Lost Kingdom of Gadaral. The kingdom had been torn apart by a huge civil war, as the king, Rico II, had gotten his hands on an all-powerful ancient artefact, and launched an apocalyptic attack on the surrounding countries. Rico was portrayed during this imaginary war by Jack. The rivals to Rico were The Rebellion, a rag-tag army of renegades dedicated to standing against the evil and restoring peace to the land. The leader of this rebellion was Hellatrix, played by Gabriel. The plan was that, on the battlefield, against the backdrop of chaos and bloodshed, the two of them would settle this war. If Rico fell, the power of the artefact fell with him, and his army of undead (taken care of by the other twenty kids playing) would be defeated, and good would prevail. The fight was supposed to be a faux sword-fight, contested with light sticks from the Forest. Hellatrix was supposed to triumph. Rico had other ideas.

It is worth noting that even ten-year-old Jack was a large lad, towering over Gabriel. As the two met for the pretend fight, they did their traditional circling, followed by carefully thought-out dialogue Gabriel had provided; ‘So, we finally meet, Rico. You will pay for what you have done!’. Gabriel declared, rather convincingly. He’d always been a decent actor. ‘Not today, mortal.’ replied Jack, as convincingly. This struck Gabriel as odd, as Jack had always been an atrocious performer. ‘Your arrogance will be your undoing!’ roared Gabriel, before beginning his mock charge. ‘I’m not playing, Gabriel’ said Jack, just as Gabriel reached him. He had no time to rethink his charge, no time to stop. He had time only for his eyes to widen in shock, before colliding with Jack’s stick. Gabriel howled in pain, like a wounded Coyote, before dropping to his knees. Being only ten, he had little control of his emotions, and burst into tears; ‘Why the fuck did you do that?’ He wailed. ‘Because now everybody can see who the cool kid really is.’ Jack replied. Cold as ice. With that, he whacked Gabriel again with the log, this time in the ribs. A cracking sound, followed by an unholy screech. This time Gabriel dropped to his back. The twenty other kids stood in shock, all far too afraid to say a word, yet too mesmerised to stop watching or walk away. Jack rolled Gabriel onto his back, sat on his chest, and began to punch him repeatedly in the face. For a ten-year-old child, this was beyond reproach or recourse. It was an attack of pure rage and disgust at a world that idolises a thinker like Gabriel, and has no time for a hands-on guy like Jack. It’s no coincidence that several weeks before this attack Michael Saunders had taken to booze, beating Jack, and now all that pent-up rage came flowing out in the form of his fists. He beat Gabriel to within an inch of his life that day, resulting with him taking a stint in the local hospital. Jack got grounded for a month, taking the beating of his own life from his father. He, however, never received the NHS treatment Gabriel did – his father couldn’t risk his secret getting out.

Instead, he spent weeks at home, slowly recovering naturally, without the aid of medical intervention. In his eyes, this was Gabriel’s fault. His revenge for the pain Jack had inflicted upon him was this hell. He had used his father as a vessel, and wreaked his vengeance. Nobody gets the last laugh on Jack Saunders though, no sir, and from that day forth, he swore he would make Gabriel’s life a living hell for as long as he should live.

Gabriel clocked Jack long before he clocked him. After years of being hounded, harassed and hassled by the lad – like with his step-father – Gabriel had developed a preternatural ability to predict his presence. Trying to avoid his eye, he slunk towards the far corner of the smoking shelter, and smoked his cigarette. Keeping his eyes on the floor, he did his best to avoid making eye contact with his nemesis, but this was proving difficult. Throughout his smoke, Jack hadn’t taken his eyes off Gabriel once, even to the neglect of his girlfriend, Alice. Alice was another part of the problem. She was extraordinarily beautiful, one of those rare faces that make-up makes worse as opposed to improving. Despite this, Jack had his eyes fixed on Gabriel; and whilst Gabriel tried his damnedest not to look, he couldn’t help but look up intermittently at her magnificent visage. Like a siren luring a sailor to his doom, her mere presence called out to him. Love would be an insanely strong choice of words considering their limited interaction, but a fire burnt within him for her. A fire that, due to Jack, he could never allow to burn as brightly as it might have. One of these sly glances would prove costly, as Gabriel selected exactly the same moment to look up as Jack. Their eyes locked, and Jack grinned a toothy sparkly-white grin. Gabriel tried to look away, but it was much too late for that, as Jack was now strolling towards him. Oh fuck, thought Gabriel, here we go again. ‘Gabriel, old pal, how’s it going?’ Jack smirked, dropping his cigarette on the floor, and stubbing it out with his foot. ‘What do you want from me?’

‘Come on Gabe, don’t be such a sourpuss!’ Jack’s response had that disgusting false-niceness that people put on when talking to a child. Coupled with his beaming grin, it was a disturbing scenario. Gabriel merely stared at him in response; a stare of distrustful disdain. ‘No need to be hostile, man. I just want a cigarette is all.’ Gabriel stared directly at the cigarette Jack had just crushed underfoot. ‘What makes you think I’ll give you one?’ ‘Cos, if you don’t,’ Jack said, still through that Cheshire-cat grin, ‘I’ll give you more bruises to add to your collection. Interesting choice of hobby, that.’ Gabriel stared at him, striving for fearlessness, but the nervous movement of his eyes betrayed him. ‘And who put the bruises on your face?’ Jack adds, twisting the knife, putting salt in the wounds, ‘Your Daddy?’ The crowd began to separate, sensing the upcoming hostilities. Alice, for her part, looked disgusted, as if Jack had gone too far. Gabriel just smiled; a wry, knowing smile. He looked up, and replied; ‘Like the bruises your Daddy put on yours?’ After a pause that lasted a second but felt like an hour, Jack gave his response. This response came in the form of a furious headbutt that cracked Gabriel’s nose, causing it to erupt in a crimson geyser. Stumbling backward, Jack kneed him swiftly in the stomach, emptying him of all wind, and dropped him to his knees. He took the pouch of tobacco that fell out of Gabriel’s pocket, and placed it within his own. ‘Amber Leaf?’ Jack looked at the pouch in disgust, ‘You fucking pikey.’ He stood over Gabriel, rolled and lit a cigarette, and breathed the smoke into his face. He flicked the cigarette to the floor, next to Gabriel’s face, before walking back towards the smoking shelter and taking Alice by the hand. As they walked away, Jack laughing to himself, Alice took a look over her shoulder at Gabriel. An unmistakeable look of sympathy and concern. She seemed to realise what she is doing, looked nervously at Jack, and when sure he hadn’t noticed, she flashed

Gabriel one final lingering look of apology, before she headed around the corner, hand in hand with Jack. Gabriel was left alone, writhing in agony, before a hand appeared out of nowhere, offering to help him up. He looked up into the eyes of his best friend; Michael Brown. He took the hand and was slowly lifted to his feet.

 

‘WAKE UP BOY!’

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In Between Worlds

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I awoke, today, in a place I had never seen before; a place with which I am, or was, at the time, entirely unfamiliar with. It was a small, derelict cell, with little in the way of noticeable decour. The walls were grey brick; the most boring of all potential colour schemes, a disgusting monument of nothingness and an insult to the imagination.
I found, on the floor, across from the bed on which I was laying, a notepad and a fountain pen. I found it peculiar, as I couldn’t quite fathom why anybody would leave  such a glorious thing. In a place as boring, as tedious, as monotonous and despicable as this, few things can bring joy to a soul quite like pen and paper. Perhaps I shall compose an epic poem? Though I find that hard to believe. Why would any art that is worthwhile come from a place like this? How could it, when the mind is crushed by an oppressive, regimental souring of the senses. If grey bricks are your muse, perhaps it would be a blessing.
Alas, mine they are not. I am a child of the stars, of the oceans, of the fields and the forests. I love little more than the feeling of a fine wind upon my face, of the sun beaming upon my skin, basking me in the blissful radiance. Here, any poetry I produced would be strangled, any art crushed and mangled before the violent hand of boredom. My imagination is not into which you can escape from the dark; it is a portal, vibrant and beautiful, but one which requires keys, such as happiness or glee. Boredom to me is like poison to the rat.
I digress, here I am, finding myself in a mysterious cell, the nature of which I as of yet have no idea, and I find myself rambling about the cursed decour of the place. I know not what date it is, nor what day it is, nor, more importantly, why on Earth I am here. I remember nothing of myself, save for my love of the natural world all her delights, not even my name, my age, the face of my mother. Do I even have a mother? Of course, I must, for I am born, and, to the best of my knowledge, a human being of flesh and blood. I could be more, certainly, it is not out of the question, for who knows what worlds lie beyond those we can interact with on a sensory basis?
We could be but one of many universes, spinning infinitely on an eternal axis, only interacting during wonderful or calamitous moments.
At least I can tell, or at least accurately summarise, that, whomever I may be, and wherever I may be, I am the very least a being of a reasonably high intelligence. That is reassuring, as I do know that I am not fond of those slow on the uptake, or poor at academics. They are often nice people, but the inability to converse beyond that of a somewhat basic and primitive level can cause me no end of irritation. I remember this, if nothing else….this, and the rolling fields.
I could not date this journal, unfortunately, at least not yet, as, of course, I do not know what date it is. Worse, I know not even what day it is. Not that it is particularly important, but I do remember something about important about Sunday…perhaps I was due to partake in a party, or attend Church. Am I a religious man? Do I fear God? I do not feel that way, but, perhaps it will return to me. For now, I cannot rule it out.
Again, I digress to nonsensical ramblings of lost memories that do neither I, nor you, whomever may eventually receive this, any favours, for we are no closer to solving the mystery. Examining the cell gives little away; it is a cell, as classic as any cell one may expect. There is a horrifically uncomfortable bed, one lumpy item with the audacity to masquerade as a mattress, which does nothing to add to comfort; one stained privy that has not been cleaned, seemingly, for centuries. They have, at the very least, had the decency to hand me the necessities to clean myself after use, a thoughtful gesture, considering the circumstances. There is, placed far too close to the lavatory for any comfortable or practical use, an old, rusty, dilapidated shower. I am sure, before long, I will be forced to use it, for nobody likes to smell too diabolically if the opportunity to rectify the situation should show itself.
I waited, for some time, sitting on the cell floor, writing the above, before, finally, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching. Judging by the sound they produced, a sound of leather upon stone, I could theorise that the entire building was built of the same horrible grey stone. If not grey stone, stone of some description of the very least. I thought this to be a terrible idea, as why would one still build with such a cold material in this era? Why would they still deploy such primitive methods to build when those more advanced are at hold? Foolish, I say, the architect of this unknown hellhole should be fired. There’s a terrible draft, and with the stone floor, it was incredibly cold, and these thin, oddly striped pyjamas, and those terribly useless slippers, provided no protection from the temperature.
The footsteps grew louder, and, judging via the hard plodding they made on the stone floor, they were clearly the footsteps of a large person, more likely a muscular gentlemen, though I suppose it could equally be a fat woman, or even a muscular woman. In this day and age, where women worked and were paid on equal terms, it would not be out of the question for them to work in an environment utilising such primitive cells.
All I could see, at first, on the outside of the bars than contained me, was a terrifying and disorientating darkness. There was a small torch, right outside my cell, just out of reach, and provided the interior with light, as well as a small circle of wall around the source. The circle was, of course, grey. Beyond that circle, I could see nothing but darkness.
Then came to my attention a glow, somewhere in the distance, and I could theorise that my cell was directly in front of a large and long corridor. Judging by the small size of the flame at current, it must be a long corridor, stretching on for some considerable distance. Potential escape, it would appear, would be a difficult and tedious task.
The glow grew larger, as it came closer, and closer to my cell, until it was mere meters away, and I could see something peculiar. There were no other cells down the corridor of grey stone, merely blank walls stretching on and on for as far as the darkness would allow me to see. Now, I must confess, there could be other cells beyond the reach of the light, which wasn’t particularly impressive. To my irritation, though it was perfectly understandable, the light moved with the bearer, so only segments were available for a limited duration of time, and I had been transfixed by the torch, and missed most of the journey down the corridor, as I was not paying particular attention to the walls.
I could see though, as things stood, that the walls for at least fifteen feet or so down the corridor held no doors, no cells, no bars. I was all alone, at least for that fifteen feet. I could also see now the bearer of the torch, and my first guess had been correct.
This man, if he was a man, stood at least seven feet tall, and was potentially seven feet wide; though, he carried no fat, and seemingly had muscles sculpted from granite. He wore armour over his chest, but not his arms, which struck me as bizarre, and had gauntlets upon his wrists. His legs were coated in armour, as were his boots, and he wore a helmet that covered his face. All of this, it would appear, were sculpted of some form of ebony, and explained why I couldn’t make him out as he made his way down the corridor; he was entirely black, from head to toe, and only the torchlight provided any colour, as he and the walls were not doing their part in the slightest.
It struck me as peculiar that he would be wearing armour, but, it had also struck me as peculiar that I was in a cell, so I suppose it had simply been one of those days of peculiarity that we all suffer from time to time in the cycle of life.
The guard stared at me, and made no utterance. After a period of time that had reached the level of being uncomfortable, I decided to engage him first, perhaps breaking the tension and segwaying into light banter. I was, sadly, mistaken.
‘Good sir,’ I asked, as politely was possible, ‘Do tell me. Why am I here?’
The guard said nothing, so I decided to ask again.
‘Sir, perhaps you did not hear me, so if you will excuse me, I shall repeat myself. Why am I here?’
‘You know why’ came the reply, and the voice, I must confess, was terrifying. It was devoid of any warmth of care, and was almost a mere parody of a human voice. It startled me so, that at first I could not reply.
Once I had regained some composure, I did so;
‘Excuse me sir, but I do not, or I would not have asked.’
‘It is not my place to tell you what you already know.’
‘Sir, I must stress my sincerity; I do not have the slightest clue.’
‘Then, I am afraid, you must remain In the dark.’
‘Sir, why will you not tell me?’
‘I have already told you.’
‘Wait…what exactly do you mean?’
‘I have already told you. I tire of this conversation. I came to bring you food.’
‘But sir, you have only a torch with you.’
‘Do I?’
I looked down, and, to my utter surprise, I found he was now carrying a silver tray, with a covering upon it, and a glass of water balancing precariously.
‘I stand corrected. Many apologies.’
‘That is quite fine.’
‘Are there questions of mine you may answer?’
‘Perhaps.’
‘Could you tell me one thing?’
‘Perhaps.’
‘What day is it?’
‘Tuesday.’
‘And the date?’
‘I answered one question. You asked for one thing.’
Unfortunately, he was correct. That was indeed the parameters under which he had agreed to divulge some information, at least for today, and I decided that it was not wise to press further for now.
‘Thank you for the food.’
The guard nodded, and headed back down the corridor, torch in tow, lighting the way as he went. A portrait of darkness that lit all before him, a walking juxtaposition of ideologies, an enigma as true as my own.
The dinner was, shockingly, not the worst I had ever indulged in. Roast beef with a mysterious and alarmingly thick gravy, that only slid down the plate upon tilting due to the will of gravity, though it desperately tried to defy known physics and climb back up. That, coupled with the mash potatoes, complete with lumps of both potato skin and hair, created an ensemble that did not have me salivating in anticipation, but was more enjoyable than expected. Perhaps I had not eaten for some time, and was ravenous, caring not for flavour and taste? Perhaps it was simply better than the eyes would suggest? Either way, the milk was warm and sour, spoiling things somewhat.
Though I knew not if it was day or night, I felt heavy and full after my meal, and decided to take a nap upon the lumpy mattress. Perhaps, I hoped, sleep would restore my faculties somewhat, and some memories of importance could creep back into my memory banks.
Despite the uncomfortable nature of the traitorous, lying whore of a mattress, and the pillow that may as well have been a sandbag, I feel tired.
So, for tonight, or today, I stop my writing.

Tuesday

Today is Tuesday, if what the guard told me last night holds any truth to it, and already these four walls,, the monotonous nature of which, is denting my sanity, and causing me an immense amount of claustrophobia and panic.
I tried to write a poem this morning, as I was still under the distinct impression that, perhaps, I had been a poet previously. My memories are still yet to return to me, so, for now, all I have are theories. Theories which must be vigorously tested before one can either consider them fact or fallacy. Ergo, this morning, I tried to write a poem. I have named it, sarcastically, and with utter disdain, Grey Bricks.

Grey Bricks
I see nothing, but the grey,
The mundane, humdrum vibrations,
A frequency, one wishes not to hear.
Curse you, the grey tormentor,
Sitting there, upon the wall,
Screaming at me, you fiend.
I sit here, in the morning,
Is it morning? I do not know.
Grey bricks, are all I see.
Before me sits, the bricks of grey,
Grey bricks, damn these bricks,
These bricks of grey…these bricks I hate.

As you can envision, one would imagine, from my slapdash prose and lack of any form of structural writing, I am probably not, nor ever have been, a poet. Though, one must confess; in such situations, in a scenario like this one, locked in a cell, nothing but grey for inspiration, no memories upon which to draw, it does not provide a sufficient conduit for artistic aspirations.
I wager neither Robert Browning nor Dante himself could conjure anything of worth in such a place like this. Or, could it be said, that a true artist rises above his environment, and can create the magnificent from the mundane and trivial?
It struck me then, that perhaps poetry was indeed not my previous endeavour. Perhaps, I thought, I was merely a philosopher? With all the deep and intricate thoughts of the poet, of the artist, but without the talent to convey such ideals? Then I read my own journal, yesterday’s entry, and thought that was not entirely true. Certainly I display a talent for writing, if nothing else.
Whilst my thoughts may, now, be scattered, I think they are conveyed in a manner that some may consider entertaining. Though, it could be a consequence of arrogance. Maybe I was a mere servant, or, though it pains me to say, maybe no better than a common barkeeper? I could very well be clutching for a significant past that, sadly, never existed.
I received two meals today, an improvement on yesterday’s solitary offering, suggesting I must have woken up earlier. Without a clock, nor a window, any concept of time is lost to me. I assume I write this Tuesday, yet, I have no way of knowing with any degree of certainty. It could be Wednesday already, and I could have already passed that mysterious hour of witchery when the clock hands meet, and the world seems to momentarily stand still.
Breakfast, or lunch, depending on what it was supposed to be, came the same as the meal did Monday. A singular guard, carrying a torch, arriving down the dark corridor. Again, when first they arrived, the torch seemed to be the only thing they carried, and, again, the silver tray seemed to manifest from nowhere.
I took the tray, as I was desperately hungry, and began to wolf down the offering of overdone, slimy eggs, supposedly fried, smelly bacon, and sausages of a meat I would be terrified to attempt to identify. Yet, it filled my stomach happily with a complete satisfaction and glee, and the taste was not as bad as I had feared. I wished, truthfully, to interrogate my guard once again, seeing if they would provide me with another scrap of information. If they told me just one fact, one a day, over a period of time, I could piece the mystery together.
Alas, they had already departed. My stomach had betrayed me, and my gluttonous need to feed had cost me a chance at a question. I scolded myself with a great fury, knowing that now, not only was I without a question, but the rancid aftertaste of the meat products suggested I would soon become very well acquainted with my toilet.
I was entirely correct with this hypothesis. The worst part about a toilet in a cell, is there is nothing to grab onto when answering the call of nature, and nature’s call is particularly violent.
As my rectum seemingly exploded, as though some alien entity were forcing itself out, I had a momentary flash of white, and was hit by a great dizziness.
In this white, this moment, I saw something; A woman, a beautiful woman, running across an open field. She called out a name, which I could not make out, and ran towards me with her arms outstretched. We embraced, and fell to the floor in this manner. I kissed her, passionately, and she whispered in my ear ‘The doorway is opening. We’ll be there soon.’
Then, I was back upon my toilet, in my little grey cell, with no idea as to what had just transpired, or who this woman was. I only know that she was utterly beautiful, and had a face that displayed nothing but kindness and warmth.
I felt a poem grow within me, and had taken my pen to write, when the familiar sounds of footsteps down the corridor grew louder, and I could see my old friend, the glowing torch.
This time, I would not make the same mistake as last. I decided to converse with the guard, not even displaying surprise on this occasion at the manifesting silver platter – which, in this instance, was a meal of beans, rice and what I guessed to be chicken, but resembled no chicken I had ever seen. Before beginning to feast, I turned and engaged the guard in conversation.
‘Good sir, may I ask another question today?’
He looked at me with an expression I could not decipher, for his face was covered by the ebony helmet. He said nothing.
‘Sir? Am I allowed?’
‘You have already asked a question.’
‘Good sir, you are mistaken. I am yet to ask my question.’
‘You already asked a question. You asked if you could ask a question. Is that not, in itself, a question?’
I stood, open-mouthed, stunned. It was. By all the Gods above, it was! How could I be such a fool? Not even tricked, fooled or hoodwinked: a victim merely of my own idiocy.
I turned to him, and decided, desperately, to try and push my luck;
‘Sir, it slipped my mind that my inquiry maybe mistaken for the question. It was my foolishness, yet, may I not be shown mercy and tried again?’
‘Look around you.’
‘Excuse me?’
‘Look around you.’
I had no idea, at the time, what these words meant, yet I decided my best chance was to play along with his game. I looked around myself, studying the walls; depressingly, they looked the same as they had all day/night, and had undertaken no metamorphosis towards grandeur.
I looked back at him.
‘I see only my cell.’
‘Does this look like a place that would offer a home to mercy?’
‘No sir, it does not.’
‘There is your answer.’
With that, he began to walk away;
‘Sir, sir, please return!’ I yelled, somewhat humiliatingly, like a beggar hunting unsolicited charity.
He did not return. He did not even acknowledge that I had spoke.
I was left deflated, and hollow in spirts; that poet as far from myself as ever had been. I felt like a torn tyre; flattened, and without use.
I sat, began to pick at my miserable dinner.
I sat alone.
I felt no more desire to write.

Wednesday

There is a rat in my cell. I know not from where he came, though I can wager a good guess he snuck in through the small, rodent-sized hole in the wall. A hole, I am sure, was not there previously. Yet…maybe it was. Maybe in the landscape of grey bricks, endless, monotonous landscape, this hole that had always been there. Though, surely, I would have noticed. Surely, in my desperate desire to seek out anything in that monotony, I would have spotted such a hole.
It would have jumped out at me; would have screamed ‘Look here sir, look right here, we have something different. Instead of an absence of colour, we now have an absence of wall itself!’
Either way, I hadn’t noticed..until now.
Until he poked out his tiny, rodent head this morning, as if it scouting the area. Seeing me, clearly, as not much of a threat, out he came, scurrying across the floor. What was peculiar about this particular rat was that he was not of a classic ‘ratty’ colour; he was not a dirty beige, brown, black, grey or even red; rather, he was of an offensively vibrant purple, with a head that seemed to glow green.
He looked at me, from across my cell. Not as if I were a threat, as such, but more a curiosity to him. Is that why I’ve sunk to, in my this depraved and disgusting cell? Am I now so pathetic, so harmless, so helpless, that not even a rat would find me intimidating? Why should it?
In an area such as this; a cold, stone cell, the human mind will quickly collapse upon itself, a supernova of consciousness, caused by the crippling, depressing, stagnant surroundings.
Here, however, a rat would thrive. A rat would thrive anywhere.
In the land of the dilapidated and desolate, the rodent is King.
He kept looking, and looking, and looking again. I couldn’t place blame at his paws, for he had nothing better to do. Neither did I, truth be told, and so I found myself looking also.
For some reason, that, within the context of the memory itself, almost worries me, this little rodent looking into my eyes seemed to spark my remembrance, and I found myself no longer in the cell, but in a field.
The field was beautiful, as are most fields; endless luscious green, stretching on for mile upon mile, everywhere you look a joyous, vibrant, beautiful green. After the three days of grey, this green was perhaps the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Or, at least, it was for a few minutes…before she arrived.
She, who had taught me love. She, who had taught me beauty, comfort, happiness and all that which accompanied these jovial feelings.
She had come into my life at a time I cannot currently recall. All I can recall, is that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and ever would see. Perhaps not objectively; in fact, I’d wager she wouldn’t win a beauty pageant, would never grace the cover of a popular magazine…and yet, to me, she was the most beautiful thing the world had ever seen, that biology had ever conjured up.
Fuck the Pyramids; this was the epiphany of human creation.
Her name…sadly, eludes me; though I feel it began with a ‘C’. Christina? Chloe? Carla?
It’s hard to tell, really..so for now, I’ll call her merely ‘Mrs.C.’
Mrs.C came to me in the field, arms outstretched, as I sat there playing with the grass and the flowers.
She smiled, and beckoned me towards her. As if she were the piper, and I a mere child, caught up in her hypnotic, mesmeric sway, I came. (And not merely outside of my trousers, though she was never to know this. Ejaculatory fluids are not a woman’s best friend.)
The two of us danced in that field; lost in one another’s arms, eyes, our very souls dancing together through the ethereal nothingness, heading towards happiness and meaning…completion of dilapidated souls, trampled upon by life.
As we danced, we left the field. We danced upon the treetops. We danced upon the Moon.
We danced through galaxies, past stars of many descriptions; red dwarfs, white dwarfs, even stars yet to be categorised, we saw them all. And we saw that they were beautiful, and she was beautiful, and, while we danced, even a creature as wretched as I felt beautiful.
And then she was gone. I was back in my cell.
The torch was coming, and the rat was gone.
The guard appeared, as per usual, though as I had already eaten twice today, at least, I think I had anyway, I gathered this was my dinner or supper meal.
I was not mistaken, for this time the silver tray held Sausages, mashed potato and a thick onion gravy that smelt rather mysterious. Onion could certainly be smelt, yet, there was a chemical tinge to it I found less than appealing. I couldn’t quite pick out what it was, exactly, but it was certainly far from appetising.
Determined not to repeat yesterday’s mistake, I addressed him directly, promptly, and without question;
‘Sir, I believe I have a question for you. I also believe you’re entitled to answer.’
‘Do you believe, or do you know?’
This threw me off for a moment. What on Earth could they mean? Could they ask questions themselves? Did that count as my question? I decided to take the safest possible course of action.
‘I know.’
‘Good. Then ask.’
‘Thank you, sir. What is my name?’
‘What do you think it is?’
Again, this threw me momentarily. What did they mean by that?
‘I do not remember.’
‘Then that is your name.’
‘Look here, good sir. Idonotremember is NOT a person’s name, and it certainly is not
mine!’
The guards expression could not be comprehended through the ebony armour, but via the way they had cocked their head, I could envision they were giving me an expression of exasperation.
‘That is not your name. You do not know your name. Thus, your name is nobody.’
‘I did not ask, Sir, for what I believed my name to be. I asked what my name is!’
‘And your name, currently, is nobody.’
‘That’s not fair! At the very least you could have told me what my name was previously.’
‘Then you should have asked.’
‘I did.’
‘No, you asked what your name is, not what your name was. Had you asked the latter, I’d have told you.’
I lost my temper then, I must confess. Perhaps it was the pressures of these days of isolation. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition between this agony and the ecstasy I had experienced momentarily while in the company of Mrs.C…whatever it was, I finally snapped.
I began to shake the bars of the door while screaming;
‘Give me back my name! Give me back my name!’
The Guard merely laughed.
‘Your name is nobody. Your food will get cold. Nobody likes cold food.’
With that, he laughed again, a laugh that sent an icy chill down my spine, and he left, the torchlight following down the dark, dark corridor.
I threw my food tray at the wall, in anger, screaming as I did so.
I watched the rat begin to gnaw upon my sausage, loving every second of it.
Despite my anger, my fury, my frustration, I was still a slave to my biological urges. My stomach was rumbling with hunger, so I crouched down and began to eat my dinner off the cold, tiled floor.
I sat there with the rat. We both ate together.
One could say it was romantic.

Thursday
The rat spoke to me today. I swear, if I hadn’t heard it myself, or seen it happen before my eyes, I would scarcely believe it.
He crawled out of his hole, at a time I assumed to be morning, as the day’s first meal was yet to arrive, and scuttled across the floor a few feet. Then, he stopped, and turned to me.
‘Hello, friend.’ Said the rat.
I looked at him, for some time, in bemusement. Unsure as to whether that had just happened, or my isolated, socially-deprived brain was toying with me, deluding me into a sense of having company in this dark and dinghy cell.
I had no idea how to reply, so I continued to stare, seeing if he’d again speak.
He did.
‘I said hello, friend.’
This time, I decided I had little choice in the matter. It’s not everyday one comes across a rodent with the prowess of speech, and it seemed somewhat foolish to make the most of it, whatever it meant.
‘Hello’ I replied, giving a bashful and confused wave to accompany my words.
‘You’re in a bad place, friend.’
‘I am aware. This decour is hideous.’
The rat laughed, an odd-sound, as he was so small it sounded more like a series of sneezes than a laugh.
‘Grey, grey, all is grey, grey tomorrow, grey today.’
‘Indeed. Did you think of that yourself?’
‘Yes. I am a poet, didn’t you know?’
‘A rat poet? I’ve never heard of such a ludicrous scenario.’
‘Here, all madness is sense, and all sense is madness.’
I looked at him for a while, unsure of how to respond to that, and, while I did, he scuttled towards his hole. As he reached the opening, he turned back to me.
‘When the time comes, use the door. It will open for you once.’
I meant to ask him what exactly he meant by that, and to which door he referred to, but he had gone, leaving me alone in the cell again, now more perplexed and bemused as ever.
A talking rat? I have surely gone mad. Perhaps that is the nature of this cell? Perhaps I am not mentally stable, and this place, this derelict hellhole, is an asylum?
This seemed unlikely. It would make little sense to place the insane in a place of such disgusting decoration. These grey bricks would send even the most rational among us into the welcoming arms of madness. This could well be the worst place imaginable to send the mentally unfit.
Yet, do we truly care? Have we ever, as a people, truly cared for the mad among us? Have we not always treated them with contempt, disgust and disregard?
I sat there for some time, contemplating my fate, and I must have fallen asleep pondering, for, when I awoke, there were two meal trays waiting for me in the room.
I investigated; croissants and milk in the former, a sandwich in the latter. Breakfast and lunch. I breathed a sight of deep relief, as I hadn’t missed dinner, and, as an extension, I hadn’t missed my daily attempt to pry some information from my captives.
I sat there, for some time, in the cell, waiting; fortunately, both croissants and sandwiches are light, and easy to digest, so I ate both, saving a scrap for the rat.
I put it by the hole, and, within moments, it had disappeared.
‘Thank you’ came a voice from within.
‘You are most welcome. Now, could I hear more about this door?’
There was a pause…I thought he may not reply. Then, he did;
‘When it opens, head through it.’
‘Kind rodent, could you not elaborate on this?’
He laughed, and disappeared into the hole, scurrying away, his little paws clap-clapping on the stone.
Unsure as what to do now, I sat there for a while, considering everything and anything.
I searched the recesses of my mind, desperately trying to piece together who I am.
Thus far, I knew only a handful of things; I was a prisoner. My name was unknown. I am most likely not a poet, but certainly intelligent, and with a gift for prose. I also remember her….Mrs.C…the woman of my dreams, the only woman for me.
I saw her again, now. Another memory:
We sit together, on a beach, the waves cascading up the sand, covering our feet in the cold, blue joyous water. We are holding hands, and eating Fish and Chips. It could be any beach, anywhere in the country. It doesn’t matter.
What matters are us; her and I, hand in hand, feet basking in the blue, enjoying our food, enjoying one another.
She turns to me and says something.
I cannot remember, or hear what it is.
I shake my head, for reasons I do not understand.
She looks irritated, put-out. In a temper, I presume, she begins to march towards the sea.
I remember yelling at her, as loud as I could;
‘No, don’t. The tide will take you! Come back!’
She keeps walking, heading into the blue, never looking back.
A large wave crashes, she falls, she lands in the blue, she floats.
Into the sea….
Away from me.
I found that the effect of this memory was to draw tears from my eyes. I had to move away from the notepad for some time, as my salty tears were threatening to ruin the pages.
‘My God,’ I said to nobody, alone in my cell.
‘My God.’
Was she…..no. No, I cannot think like that. I cannot believe that.
I have to believe she’s out there, somewhere, waiting for me.
Waiting for my return. A smile on her face, arms open in embrace.
The paradigm of beauty.
This memory must have lasted some considerable time, for, there again, was the Guard at the door; torch and silver tray in tow, staring at me with that vision of Ebony.
I looked up at him, nodding tentatively, and he slid my food through the door.
Sausage, mash and gravy. Again? Do these people have no originality? No sense of a menu? Selection? Rotation?
Erection?
I am not sure where the last came from, maybe I am a poet. Maybe I’m frustrated. Maybe the phallic nature of a sausage is reminding me of my own deprivations.
Either way, I turned to the guard, determined today to get it right;
‘Good Sir, I have my question for today.’
He gestured at me with his hand in a ‘go on then, say your piece’ manner.
I took a second to compose myself, and to get the wording exactly correct.
‘Good Sir..I must ask you today….’
I trailed off. How do I word this? These guards are tricky, they need to be handled with thought and precision.
He gestured at me, twirling his finger in a “hurry up” motion.
‘Sir….what do you plan to do with me?’
He laughed then, a horrific and horrible laugh.
‘Sir….answer me, please.’
He nodded.
‘We do not know yet. We have a few options.’
‘Such as?’
He laughed again. It was a horrible sound, as the laugh reverberated around the Ebony helmet, sounding metallic, and considerably less than human.
‘Perhaps we will donate your body for medical research. We have to know how you did it.’ I gasped.
‘Did what?’ I inquired.
‘That would be a second question, prisoner. You know the rules.’
‘Good Sir, you cannot dangle such a carrot and expect me not to bite.’
‘We decide when you bite, prisoner.’
With that, he began to walk away. My mind was racing, frantically.
Medical research?
What?
That can only mean… death.
Death for me.
Death for my body.
Death for my dreams.
I did not eat that night. I gave it all to the rat. I merely sat, stared at the wall, and thought of Mrs.C.
The waves upon her feet,
Her hand upon mine,
Or souls upon one another.
Our essence mingling, basking in the waves.

Friday

This morning/afternoon/evening – I’d surmise it was afternoon, and I had overslept, as, when I awoke, there was a cold bowl of oatmeal laying upon the silver tray, and, say what you want about the dinghy, monotonous cell that I had made my home, but the food was always to temperature, if not to quality – something peculiar happened.
The Rat spoke to me.
He came, as he had the day before, crawling out from his tiny little hole, and scurried across the room. I’d decided to leave the cold oatmeal, as it is one meal I simply cannot take unless warm, as cold it tastes too much like gravel and dirt. I may be hungry, but I refuse to eat like a slave.
He nibbled upon the Oatmeal, heartily enjoying it, wolfing it down one tiny bite at a time. As he were heading back to his own cell of sorts, he turned to face me.
‘The door will open when the time is right.’
I looked at him, eyes wide-open in amazement, head cocked to the right.
‘Excuse me?’
‘The door will open when the time is right.’ He repeated. I say he, because while I had not undertaken the odious task of examining his genital region, the voice had an unmistakable masculinity to it. It was high in pitch, but certainly had male tones.
‘What door?’ I asked, deciding I may as well ride with this odd scenario.
This garnered no reply, the rat merely scuttling back into his hole, leaving me sat upon my bed in quite a state of disarray.
What on Earth had he meant? The cell door? Was it to open at a certain point, and that was my only opportunity at escape? It was yet to open since I’d been here….not even once. Not even for a singular moment.
It then struck me that I was discussing this internally as though it were a realistic possibility, as opposed to an unfeasible probability. My information had, afterall, come from a rat, a creature never considered among God’s more honest. That said, was there any recorded history of a rat ever lying? Not that I knew of.
As far as I was aware, this was the first time one had even spoke. Ergo, it would be somewhat unfair of me to write off an entire species as dishonest when the reality was they’d never had a chance to defend themselves. Until now.  It was a week, it seemed, for inexplicable scenarios. The week of the weird.
I decided, then, that I would find no further joy in deciphering the rat’s message. I turned my focus then to the far more troubling statement made by the guard the previous evening.
‘Perhaps we’ll donate your body for medical research?’.
This had been reverberating around my cerebrum like a pinball all evening as I tried to make some tangible sense of the situation.
It sounded ominous, certainly. I, as far as I knew, though of course my memory was less than spectacular, had never offered myself up for such a service. Certainly not while still living. I was not opposed, per say, to the furthering of medical knowledge via a body I likely would no longer need in the next world, and, yet I felt at this moment I was not ready.
Of course, there’s also the trivial matter that I am very much alive, meaning his words could have meant one of two things;
Either that I was doomed to this cell until I died of old-age, at which point they’d take my body and perform who knows what experiments upon it….
Or, and this is certainly the worse option, they planned to kill me here, themselves. Neither option, I must confess, seemed particularly enthralling to me.
That said, I have no doubts that after enough time in this wretched hole they are keeping me contained in, I’d almost certainly welcome death.
They’d find me in a Month’s time, with my hands wrapped around the bars, holding them, shaking them, screaming as loud as I physically could;
‘Kill me, oh guards. Rip my soul from this wretched body, and release me from this turbulent existence!’
That day, however, was a considerable distance away. As it stood, I fully intended to escape my cell one way or the other.
Starting, perhaps, with the opening of this door the rat spoke of.
Something else struck me then, something else he had said;
‘We need to know how you did it?’
It was futile to even consider this; if I could not remember my name, could not even remember Mrs.C’s name, the one I love above all others, how the fuck would I remember what I did? The only theory I could surmise was that whatever I had done had led to the breakdown of my memory.
Still, the question lingered, like the odour of a broken toilet; What exactly had I done?
I need to get out of here..I need to escape. Perhaps if I felt the wind in my hair, and sand between my toes I could regain a sense of self. Of who I am. Of what I am.
I could see it then, as clear as if it were truly happening before my eyes; I and her, sat alone on the beach, holding hands and lapping up the waves.
She turned to me, with her magnificent eyes of the brightest blue…I could never forget those eyes, how could I? I could lose my entire mental faculties, my head separated from my shoulders, left as nothing more than a meandering stump lost the ethereal darkness…and yet, I would never forget those eyes.
She turned to me, and I could not hear what she was saying, but for a single word;
‘Bruckstorn’.
It had appeared, at least, as though she had mouthed several words before this. It may have been wishful thinking on my behalf, but then again, who needs to wish when one knows the love of his life? Regardless, I am confident she said ‘I love you’, before another word I could not make out for the life of me, followed by ‘Bruckstorn’.
I could only surmise from this that Bruckstorn were my surname. It sounded to my ears like a name of nobility and wealth; a regal name, for a regal person. Was I a noble before being trapped in this tumultuous hell?
I decided to await the guard…and spring him with another question. I went over it in my mind, endlessly turning it, like a vast vat of butter being churned.
The clomping sound came down the stairs, leather on stone, and the rays of the torch illuminated the corridor. Today, I would waste no time with social niceties. Today, I would cut to the chase like a dagger piercing the skin of confusion.
‘You sir’ I declared, not asked, as he reached the cell door.
He looked up, revealed his silver tray, a trick that had, by this point, grown less impressive, and was, in fact, rather tiresome and played out. He cocked his head to the left, like a dog.
I took this as a recognition of my words and continued on;
‘You sir…listen to me. I know that I’m intended for medical research…but what I do not know, is why I am here. So sir, I will ask you, in no uncertain terms, and by all the Gods above you shall satisfy my curiosity!’
He laughed; that cold, muffled laugh. Echoes in ebony.
‘So be it.’ He replied, ‘Ask what you shall of me.’
‘My question, Sir….is this….what exactly, details included, did I do to land myself here? I know you people do not know how I did whatever I did, but I know you know what it was. So divulge me, foul swine!’
He laughed again, but, to my surprise, he responded;
‘You peeked beyond the veil and saw that which you should not see.’
‘What veil? What do you mean?’
He laughed, that cold, callous laugh.
‘Enjoy your meal, prisoner.’
He left at that, and I was left myself, with nothing but my thoughts and my meal.
Sausages and mash again. Did they have no menu here? Did they just recycle meals, over and over and over, endlessly, in a loop? Maybe I should suggest a renovation of the restaurant tomorrow?
I ate the food, most of it, and used the last scraps to coax out my rodent friend.
At least, I surmised he was my friend…he’d not given me any reason to doubt him yet!
He scuttled out, predictably, and seemed to enjoy his scrap of sausage. I decided to test his mental faculties. I knew he could speak, but could he understand me?
‘Young rodent…my friend…could you tell me…do you know what I did?’
He looked up, curiously, still nibbling the sausage.
‘Do you have any idea? Any at all?’
He cocked his head to the right and replied;
‘Peek beyond and the mind is blinded.’
‘Excuse me?’
‘The mind is blind. Watch for the signs.’
With that, before I could respond further, he scuttled away, heading towards his little hole of happiness.
I sat there, on my bed, for some time… thinking…considering.
And I saw myself, in my mind’s eye, with Mrs.C; poking through a curtain between worlds, and heading to a place we did not know.
Beyond the veil.

Saturday
My day began with the influx of more memories; a chance to grab, blindly, in the dark, what was, and bring it to the what is now.
On this occasion, it was no beach, nor was it any field with which I am familiar with; it was an old, dilapidated house, sitting in the deepest part of some Swamp I can only assume to be from the Southern United States. The adornments were cobwebs and the decour was ripped out of nightmares.
Nightmares that I have, thankfully, entirely forgotten.
I remember only this: that to think of these images of debauchery and desolation, images I gratefully could not conjure within my mind, merely to think of them through the foggy haze of lost recollection, is enough to saturate my soul with a deep, unnerving sense of dread and trepidation.
I remember now that I entered that house, that I found something…
A curtain.
A curtain to another world.
All I remember after that was an unfathomable juxtapositon of darkness against a bright, bright white landscape. A landscape haunted by a Cabin….
I remember no more. Truthfully, these memories came to me last night, while I slept. They could well be a dream, but something about them renders it unlikely….they filled me with a sense of knowing, of recollection, of having been to those places within my waking life, and having experienced them personally.
There are other worlds than these.
Perhaps I saw what no man, no living man, should ever see.
Do I know too much? Is that why I am here, trapped in this monotonous prison from whence I cannot escape?
It would seem likely.
Why? I remember little, if anything. Not enough to do any damage at least…especially if these beings that have me captured are not entirely of the physical realm. What damage could one confused poet do to such beings?
Little if any..
Unless…I am no poet. What if I am more? An alchemist, with the keys to gold, or perhaps a sorcerer trying to find his way home? It is highly improbable. Any sorcerer worth even the weakest of salts could surely conjure his way out of this predicament. Perhaps physically manifest upon the other side of the cell door, ready to do battle with the forces that contain me.
This is, of course, all hypothetical, and without any semblance of  a tangible and useful plan of action.
Why I’m here, it hardly matters right now. I have more pressing issues at hand…primarily, how do I leave? Can I leave?
With these memories/thoughts/fabrications fresh in my mind, I tucked into breakfast, saving some for the rat, hoping to coax him out of his hole.
No coaxing was necessary.
No sooner had he smelled the scraps of porridge, which I can only hypothesis smelt considerably more pleasing to him than it did to I, he was out of his hole, faster than you could state it. He assaulted my scraps with a vigorous delight, and looked up at me with his tiny, black, ratty eyes.
I smiled at him, and nodded my head. Eat rat…I said, with gestures alone, eat full and ascend.
He cocked his head at me, and proceeded to stare at me with those eyes.
‘Hello, little rat,’ I said, ‘How are we today?’
He said nothing, but appeared to do what no rat I have ever seen in my entire had done before him…..
He smiled; ratty teeth on display. I smiled back, awkwardly.
‘Do you have anything to tell me today?’ I eagerly inquired in what I hoped was a friendly voice.
He laughed. A squeaky laugh, akin to a dog’s chew toy.
‘Please speak, little rodent friend, for I have much desire to hear from you.’
He nodded his furry head, gently, and pointed towards the small jug of water provided with my breakfast.
‘I cannot, my friend, for I am parched. Without it, I cannot drink until my later meal arrives, and I do not know how long that may take.’
He began to head towards his hole, instantaneously, without thought of recourse.
Alarmed, and perplexed, I leaped across the room like a panther, grabbed the flagon of water, and poured a small amount upon the monotonous grey stone of the floor.
He walked over and took a few licks, before shaking his head, seemingly dissatisfied, and attempting to leave the room once more. In desperation, I poured half of the flagon’s remaining contents upon the stone floor.
He nodded, lapped it up for a several minutes. Once finished, he sat backwards upon his tail, as though he were a human upon a chair, and spoke five words, words I felt were ominously significant;
‘Stars align. Doorway….be ready.’
‘What do you mean?’
He said no more. I decided that may well have been all the information regarding what was happening that I was likely to get, yet, with more than a hint of desperation, I asked one more question;
‘When?
The rat said nothing for what was likely a minute, but felt like a year, a decade, an entire age within the confines of this damned cage of mine.
Finally, he replied;
‘Tomorrow.’
With that, before I could ask another thing of him, he ran into his hole and vanished.
It didn’t take a particularly intelligent figure to assume that he was not returning, if not today, until dinner time at the very least.
So I sat and pondered upon what he had said, cross-referencing it with my recollections to see if any form of sense or pattern could be found there.
To my delight, and utter horror, there was.
Dimensions open…..tomorrow…between worlds.
These words would haunt me for the next few hours, perhaps days…
As a matter of fact, I have an inkling they will haunt me for the rest of my waking days, however long or short they may turn out to be.
Tomorrow…dimensions open…
A curtain between worlds?
An opportunity to head, once again, beyond the veil?
To escape?
Was this prison of mine even upon the Earth I once knew as home?
The plethora of potential answers to this latter question resonated throughout my mind, reverberating like an explosion of conscious thought, desires and, most of all, fears.
I had a feeling I wasn’t in Kansas anymore…that I’d followed the White Rabbit to a wonderland of sorts from which I could, potentially, never escape.
One question bothered me above all others…
Why?
Why had I done this? Why condemn myself to this fate?
What drove me to do such a thing?
Then I remembered the beach…Mrs.C…and it all made sense. All clicked within my head.
I began to cry.
I remained this way; sat upon the cold, hard floor, crying to myself, basking in my own foolish idiocy.
Until dinner came.
The guard arrived, prompt as ever, torch in hand, illuminating the stone with a red glow as though it were hell itself, and he the angel of death, sent to haunt me.
He arrived at the gate, and, as was the norm, the silver tray appeared from thin air. This trick had become noticeably less impressive as the days had droned on.
Now, it was no more impressive to I than seeing a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. Mundane and generic. Nothing but cheap parlour tricks to amuse, disorientate, or terrify the weaker minded among us.
As he slid the tray across, I decided today not to ask, but to taunt.
After a week here, it was time to flip the script on these ethereal ebony bastards.
‘Thank you, kind, generous sir, for this voluptuous meal of mine.’
He cocked his head in response, as the rat had done.
Confused?
‘I’m sure, if the culinary delight to which I have been accustomed to within here is any stick by which to measure this particular meal, I shall enjoy this heartily.’
He laughed; that hollow, ebony, laugh formed of cruel malice and nothing resembling the heart or soul of a man.
‘For it will be my last.’
This addition stopped the laughter dead cold. He looked at me, head no longer cocked, and, I swear, dear reader ,that this is no fabrication, his eyes behind the helmet began to glow a bright, hellish red, as though the torchlight were now placed within his visor.
‘What do you mean?’ He inquired.
‘I mean this will be my last meal here, Good Sir. Was this lost in translation?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I told you, Good Sir. Are you perhaps slow as well as well as partially death?’
‘Malicious worm with tongue of lies!’ the guard practically screamed, ‘To what madness do you refer?’
‘No, no..only one question, remember?’
He pulled a sword from a sheath on his side, a sword of Ebony, and began to point it towards me, as if it attempting to intimidate.
I must confess; It was terrifying. Were I not privy to the knowledge that there was more to life than life itself, that consciousness does live on in the spaces between worlds we mostly fear to tread, I would have been petrified.
As it were I laughed.
He waved the sword around like an insane caveman waving a stick. He practically jumped from foot to foot in rage, all the time waving the sword, until it collided with my cell bars (Forcing me to recoil due to the horrific noise that ensued), bounced back, and hit him square in the face.
I couldn’t help myself. I laughed. Oh how I laughed. I laughed in a manner I hadn’t done so in longer than I could remember – though it’s worth noting that isn’t a fantastic reference point, as I could barely remember yesterday’s events.
‘I see you’re handy with a blade, Good Sir. Nice to see somebody facing up to their responsibilities’ I added, hoping to finish off the day’s events with further entertainment. Having been trapped within the claustrophobic confines of my desolate cage, surely no person with a soul could begrudge me some fun at this point?
‘Ask. Your. Question’ the guard stated, slowly, deliberately, having re-sheathed his sword with utmost embarrassment.
‘What can fly but has no wings?’
‘….what?’
I knew it, that this line of questioning would stump him, consequently providing me enough time to gloat at his confusion.
In a place such as this one, small victories are priceless.
Yet, against all logic, he responded, after some consideration;
‘A cloud.’
I must confess that I, myself, was temporarily rendered near-mute by his ability to formulate such a logical response.
‘I….Sir, that would be a correct answer.’
His response was merely one word;
‘Recognise.’
With that, he left, and my attempts to turn the table had somewhat stalled. Now, the table was moved, certainly, but not entirely flipped; it stood on the side, somewhere between where it was and where it was headed.
I sat down, and consumed my dinner ravenously, knowing I would need all the energy I could muster for my future endeavours.
Sausage and Mash…
Who would have guessed?
So there I sat, consuming my food, considering the monotonous nature of both my cell and my cuisine. When all things are considered, do not most of us enjoy a monotonous life? Do not most of see the same walls, same food, same experiences everyday of our lives?
Was it worse to be in a cell with no choice, or outside of the cell, with a choice, yet making the same decisions, continuously, on a loop, doomed to a cycle?
That, my dear reader, is a question thinkers superior to myself are yet to answer.
This struck me as funny, so I began to laugh.
Tomorrow…I’m out of here. No more grey walls…no more monotony, no more fucking Sausage and Mash!
Oh how I laughed.

SATURDAY

I write this, my final post, with a shaky hand and an unsteady heart….
I have been beyond the veil. I have seen that which no mortal man should see; unfathomable dimensions, shapes and swirling masses beyond the infinite cosmos, outside of the reaches of our known perceptions of time and space…
Figures…figures in the mist..creatures that lurk not in our world, or there world, but in the gaps between, that should not exist, and cannot be placed.
Words cannot do justice to what I have just experienced, and I find it nigh-impossible to reconcile my thoughts into anything comprehensible…but I will try. I must try.
People must know…that life…is not what they think.
It’s a dream. The dream of a fool dancing in delight at our confusion and disorientation.
This entry will be short…significantly short…as they come for me. I can hear the marching on the stone now, see the torches as they arrive.
The rat was right. The goddamn rodent was right.
I have no idea when, what time, or how, but it happened. I had just finished breakfast? Lunch? At this point, frankly I care not for the efforts of distinction.
What I care for is that, before my very eyes, and to my utter, utter bemusement, a gap appeared in the walls of my cell. A swirling vortex of sorts, looking much akin to how physicists describe a wormhole.
It opened, I looked upon it, and it sucked me in. It is worth noting that I had no conscious choice in the matter; it merely happened. One second I was staring, next I was swirling, around and around, through the vortex, heading to a place I could not describe.
I cannot explain what happened next….faces….face in the dark. Colours and shapes, distortions of normality that a mortal mind was never supposed to face, let alone understand.
I swirled, and I span, and I twirled, and I ran.
Oh, how I ran.
And I saw her…and I saw the beach…and I finally remembered.
Mrs.C, the love of my life, the glow that keeps my heart from falling into darkness and crumbling to tepid pieces….
She died on that beach. That is why I hunted for what lay beyond the curtain. Fool I was! Ideas of resurrections and reunions in my mind.
How little I knew. What is dead cannot return. One can only join them in the never, sacrificing themselves in the process.
After swirling past the beach, through the vortex, through all I saw, I found myself outside of what appeared to be a school.
I ran to the car park, the ebony soldiers marching ever after me, and desperately banged against the window of the first vehicle.
‘Help me!’ I screamed, most likely terrifying them in the process. ‘Help me, please. I need to leave. Save me. Oh save me please!’
They looked upon my visage with a stony expression of contempt and confusion. They shook their head, gently.
‘I do not know you.’
‘You do not have to! Just…save me, Jesus God fuck, save me. Please!’
They turned away, like Judas from the Lord, and shook their heads again.
‘I do not know you.’
Then…then they came, approached the car, grabbed me.
‘Is this person bothering you, sir?’ The Ebony monster asked.
‘Yes. I do not know him, yet he attempts to ride my car.’
‘This man is a wanted villain of the worst kind’ responded the soldier. ‘I shall gladly remove him for you.’
‘Thank you,’ responded the car driver. ‘That would be most desirable.’
It was then I noticed something truly perplexing about this driver….his eyes….red. As red as blood. Crimson.
The soldiers grabbed me, they dragged me back. With my newfound knowledge of the next world, I knew I had no chance of survival. I knew my goose, as they say, was cooked.
I did not plead.
I did not argue.
I let them take me where they will, as they might, however they saw fit.
I’ve seen things…
Cosmic figures, lurking in the dark. The gaps between worlds. The spaces in the never. That which should not exist, and by all physical judgements does not.
I’ve seen things….
Things I should not.
They come for me now.
Torches aglow.
I leave this notepad, in the hopes that someday, somebody, will discover it.
Will discover what I have found.
And stay away…far away…turn back and run.
Some things are not meant for mortal eyes.
Oh Mrs.C…Mrs.C, how you mean the world to me.
And now, I’m just dust in the wind,
Doomed to blow away,
Lost forever in a moment.

I swear upon my un-named soul that every word here is true.

They come….

Yours,
The Unknown Poet.

Alien:Covenant (2017), a Review

Alien_Covenant_Teaser_Poster

Director – Ridley Scott

Writer(s) – John Logan, Dante Harper

Starring – Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup

Alien, and the immediate sequel, Aliens, are unquestionably masterpieces of Sci-Fi horror, blending the two genres in a way no other film has managed, at least with that much skill, since. It is the quintessential space-based monster movie franchise, unfortunately dipping in quality after the third installment. When the originator, Ridley Scott, announced his grand return to the franchise, with 2012’s Prometheus, expectations were high.

Unfortunately, it fell short; collapsing under the weight of ambition and seemingly never settling on exactly what it wanted to be. It left us with more questions than answers, and a majority of the audience bemused. Alien:Covenant had a chance to right the wrongs, answer these questions, and restore glory to the once formidable franchise. For the most part it succeeds, easily sitting as third best entry in the franchise, yet, it suffers from a few similar issues, and an overwhelming sense of ‘Been there, seen that.’

In 2104, the crew of the colony ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet, Origae-6, with some two-thousand colonists and a thousand embryos on-board, monitored by an upgraded android resembling the earlier David, named Walter. While en route, a neutrino shockwave severely damages the ship, killing its captain and waking the crew from stasis. As the crew repair the damage, a radio transmission is intercepted from a nearby planet. Against the objection of Daniels, the ship’s terraforming expert and acting executive officer, acting captain Oram decides to investigate, as the transmission is human in origin, but the planet is supposedly lifeless. They soon discover they’ve placed themselves within the midst of a nightmare, as a cinematic icon returns to the hunt.

Prometheus appeared to infuriate fans predominantly via the enigmatic nature of the plot, and what appeared to be hollow promises. It marketed itself as an exploration into the origins of the beloved and dreaded Xenomorph, and that of the mysterious Engineer from the original Alien, known then as the Space Jockey, yet raised more questions than answers. Covenant mostly succeeds in answering these questions, but perhaps goes too far the other way.

If part of your intrigue, like my own, lay in the mysterious nature of the creature itself, causing you to spend hours imagining how such a beast could ever have been spat out by evolution, those days are over. Covenant tells us absolutely everything we need to know about the birth of the iconic monster. The over explanation could be considered to strip the Xeno of its mystique and fear-factor, yet, this explanation is the very point of these movies, so to consider it a flaw seems unfair. If you’d rather not know, my solution is very simple. Don’t watch it

Covenant does, annoyingly, raise its own set of new questions. Normally this could be considered a criticism, but, as we have been promised two more of these at least, it’s worth waiting to see how they answer them before getting annoyed. What is irritating though, are the questions from Prometheus the film still doesn’t answer. Particularly in regards to David’s actions, yet I cannot go into the nature of these actions without spoiling the film. Safe to say, he performs a major, world-changing action, and your first question will almost certainly be ‘Why?’.

While the film works incredibly well as a thought-provoking and existential Sci-Fi epic about the creation of man, the creation of life, and the role of God in creation itself, the film was marketed primarily as a horror film, and here it falls flat. I say flat, yet, I imagine a lot of casual cinema-goers will find it scary enough, but any horror aficionados, particularly fans of the original, will find they’ve seen everything before. The sequences are rushed, devoid of suspense or build, and feel more like fan-service than obligations than labours of love.

In fact, the entire third act is terribly rushed, and the film is incredibly hamstrung by the inconsistent, and, at times, downright poor pacing. The first act seemingly goes on forever, the second is perfectly balanced, and the third is rushed and wasted.

The original worked so well because of the slow hunt. The Xenomorph was a stealth hunter, stalking from the shadows, using your imagination to mortify you alongside it’s terrible visage. Here, the beast is more like a domestic house cat, full of potential to be a predator of the shadows, but running around in the light like a harmless fool. Both the Xeno, and the newly introduced Neomorph, are almost background characters. They provide the horror, but only in very short bursts and are rarely the central focus of the narrative. It’s a bizarre use of an iconic enemy, particularly when deployed by the original creator.

That said, the Sci-Fi Elements themselves do work, and the film is brilliantly cerebral. A lot of broad and deep themes are covered, with a backdrop of murder and mayhem. The script is bizarre, working fantastically when dealing with these themes, but failing  miserably when attempting to garner sympathy for the human victims. It’s a testament to the film’s lack of ability in this department than the two most emotional scenes happen between two androids, and between an android and a murderous biological weapon. When the secondary Alien threat is more compelling than the central protagonists, you have an issue.

That’s not to knock the performances, though. Everybody floats between good and great, and do the best they possibly can with the material given to them to work with. Waterson and McBride are particularly impressive, but nobody gives a terrible account of themselves here.

The star of the show, without doubt, is Fassbender. His David is quickly becoming one of my favourite cinematic villains of all time; a genius, ego-centric bastard with a God-complex and a sickening liking for developing bio-weapons, not even afraid to commit genocide at the drop of a hat. A complex and a mesmerising performance, it’s almost impossible to drag your eyes away whenever he dominates the screen with his towering presence.  He’s almost, if not equally, as impressive as Walter, who provides both his double and opposite. The dynamic between the two is incredible, and the scenes between them are, by some distance, the film’s best, the two serving as a twisted reflection of one another.

The mirror theme carries into the main narrative as well, creating the film’s poetic genius that almost justifies the weaknesses. The creator is destroyed by the creation of the created. If that sounds deliberately ambiguous, that’s because it very much is. I want you to go in blind, but, when the moment comes and this quote clicks for you,  you’ll see what I mean.

The ending also manages to leave you intrigued for a sequel, which, considering we know where the whole project is heading, is very impressive. Going in to it, my thoughts were ‘How on Earth will they get another two films out of this?’. By the time I left, I was willing to sign up for another ten, despite the film’s major flaws. When your audience switches from ‘yeah, this wasn’t great, I never need to see another one’ to ‘I NEED to see the next’, with a scene lasting under ten minutes, you know you’ve done well.

If you’ve seen any Ridley Scott film, you know two things are guaranteed; a fantastic score, and incredibly gorgeous visuals. I’m glad to say he doesn’t fail here, and, this may be his most beautiful film since Blade Runner. It resorts back to the grey, murky lighting and filters that has become such an iconic look, whereas Prometheus ignored this with endless gloss and sheen (thought it certainly looked beautiful), Covenant embraces the franchises roots. Sometimes, you could argue it’s perhaps too dark, as almost nothing can be seen. Yet that just allows for deeper immersion.

While some may, and perhaps quite rightly, accuse Scott of having lost his story-telling and artistic talents at some point during his career, nobody can claim he’s lost it visually. Regardless of what you may feel about Covenant as a whole, one cannot deny that, visually, it’s a work of cinematic genius, and the score is also incredibly good; dripping in ambience and atmosphere, with an instantaneously recognisable Sci-Fi flavour.

While Alien:Covenant is never in danger of even coming close to matching the undeniable brilliance of Alien or Aliens, which, honestly, isn’t a surprise, when one considers just how good those two films are, it still has a lot to be impressed by; particularly the lofty ambition, the addition to the mythology, the fantastic visuals and score, and a hypnotic villainous performance by Fassbender. Hampered by a poor script, and a rushed final act, it is a great piece of Sci-Fi cinema, if a disappointing addition to the horror genre, with the iconic Xenomorph being sadly wasted. That said, we get two Fassbenders, and even a Fassbender Vs Fassbender punch-up, so, swings and roundabouts, right?

 

Final Rating  – 3.8/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

Reflections Upon The Loss of Self

 

Sometimes I wish, that you,
Would just die;
For then, your absence,
Would be not from choice,
But dictated by the hands of fate.

Two years, since the fact,
Two years I’ve searched;
To replace, to upgrade,
Such a rare slice,
Of divine rarity.

Why now, even now,
Do I cry for you?
Why do you haunt me so?
That eternal invader, intruder,
Of my subconscious, my love.

Now joy, emotional discourse,
Alien concepts to me;
A disconnect, between man,
And I, alone stand, an anomaly,
In a sea of mediocre clones.

Was I, born of this world,
I do not comprehend?
Or did I fall, from the barren depths,
From the outer cosmos?
An Elder One without kin.

You, you humans see,
With eyes and feelings;
I, the gelatinous mound,
Of tentacles and malice,
See only through red.

I am, the colour red,
In a world of black and white;
None but you, could provide,
Clarity; part my darkness,
With your ethereal light.

Two years, to most,
Enough time to heal;
That only applies, to those who feel,
For I feel nothing, but the loss of you.
Can’t you see?
Can’t you see that I’m lost without you?

Joshua Moulinie

Blair Witch (2016), a Review

blair witch.png

Director – Adam Wingard

Writer – Simon Barrett

Starring – James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Valorie Curry

When the original The Blair Witch Project hit cinemas in 1999 it was nothing short of a revelation. Whilst it was not the first film to ever deploy the found-footage style of film making, it was certainly the first to garner this much mainstream success and critical praise, changing  the face of the horror genre, and leading to hundreds of copycats all attempting to emulate that success.

The beautiful thing about this belated sequel is that nobody knew it was coming, as hype had been built for the mysterious The Woods, which was touted as one of the scariest films for years. It was only late in the day we discovered that The Woods was, in fact, a Blair Witch sequel. With no time for cynicism to kick in, the film rode in on a wave of hype. For the most part it delivers, managing to be both an atmospheric experience and a worthy successor.

In 2014, James Donahue finds a video containing a supposed image of his sister Heather who disappeared in 1994 ,near Burkittsville, while investigating the legend of the Blair Witch. Believing she is still alive, he heads into the woods, accompanied by friends Peter Jones, Ashley Bennett, and film student Lisa Arlington, who wants to film the search and use it as a documentary. Locals Talia and Lane join them, telling them that the Blair Witch is very real, and to be very afraid. Predictably (in a good way), weird shit begins to happen and all hell breaks loose.

The found-footage format is seen by many as a lazy way to make cinema, and, in many ways, that is a completely accurate statement. Gone is the need to worry about great cinematography or fancy editing techniques, as the format simply does not allow for this to happen. Instead we get a raw and visceral experience, devoid of any frills or window-dressing. For some genres this simply wouldn’t work. In the horror genre, however, it thrives.

This is because it allows a much more intimate experience. We see through the eyes of the hapless victims, which allows us to feel much closer to the action, whilst also means our vision is as restricted as the characters, so we never see the antagonistic force before they do. We feel every moment of terror as if we ourselves were facing it. It’s an immersive experience, and, when done correctly, can be absolutely terrifying.

In that aspect, Blair Witch works wonderfully for the first hour. It understands the basic idea that, in horror, it’s often the imagination of the audience that will conjure up something more terrifying than the screen could possibly replicate. I’ve often said that human beings aren’t afraid of the dark itself. Rather, they fear what may live inside the dark, as the imagination tries to fill the blanks. It’s known commonly as ‘The Less is More effect’ and it almost always works sublimely.

The director, Adam Wingard, demonstrated his understanding of this in the wonderful horror anthology film VHS, and he again proves it here. Everything is implied, little is shown. We are left to imagine, for the most part, what’s happening. Our imaginations running wild in fear. It absolutely heightens the experience relying not on terrifying creature designs or over-use of gore, but, instead, our own primal anxieties and fears.

Unfortunately, the film won’t be as impactful to those who remember the original clearly, as a lot of the story beats are similar. Fortunately, I’d long forgotten the ins and outs of the first and consequently this felt fresh to me in a stagnant contemporary horror scene. That said, if you do remember the first, or are a super fan, it probably won’t work as well. You may well get the dreaded feeling of ‘Been there, seen that’, which is a damn shame.

The format itself, annoyingly, doesn’t always makes sense. Occasionally we get first-person shots that are impossible within the parameters of the film. We’re shown, clearly, that only three characters at maximum carry cameras. Yet, every character gets a first-person shot at some point, completely dismantling the illusion. It’s as if the director forgot the basic rule of filmmaking, the idea of remembering where every character is in relation to one another. It’s a small issue that only cinephiles and critics are likely to spot, and your casual film-goer certainly won’t notice, but it does shatter the illusion for those with a sharp eye.

The ending is also problematic, as they undo a lot of good will by showing us The Witch herself, which , sadly, is a massive let-down. It’s only a fleeting glimpse, but it was completely unnecessary and kinda disappointing and spits in the face somewhat of what came before it.  The final scenes are also, frankly, naff, trying to be extremely clever and bring the first film into play, but ending up as a bit of a confusing mess.

It also features two massive moments of stupidity from the surviving two characters which would seal their fate, which could be attributed to the fear overriding their common sense, or, if you want to be more pretentious, the idea that they’d surrended to their fate. This only works though if you, the audience, decide to interpret the scene in a certain way, and the most common reading will almost certainly be that it was just a stupid idea.

In terms of performances, everybody does a good job and are mostly convincing. As the lead, McCune is asked to carry the emotional gravitas of the story, which he manages more often than not, and he’s very convincing during the segments where he conveys terror. Callie Hernandez is also particularly good as Lisa, putting in a authentic and believable performance throughout. Sadly, the rest of the cast falls a little short, but none are particularly bad or even approaching terrible.

It’s hard to gauge the script, really, as it attempts to be as natural as possible and replicate authentic human reactions. Consequently we get a lot of goofing around early, and a lot of ‘Fucks’ and heavy breathing when things get more heated. It makes sense, and it is believable and convincing, just somewhat lacking in sparkle.

Wingard does a fantastic job in the director’s chair, proving that VHS was no fluke and that he has a talent for unsettling and audience. He coaxes strong performances out of all his actors and his use of sound is sublime. The sound in particular is responsible for a large proportion of the terror. It is continuously unsettling, with very subtle whispers piped in for maximum pant-shitting effect. Unfortunately, he fucks it a bit with the aforementioned poor understanding of his own format.

Blair Witch is certainly a far superior sequel to the previous one, Book of Shadows (2000), which was the absolute drizzling shits. This is a mostly effective horror flick that manages in partsto be genuinely terrifying, whilst remaining unsettling throughout the run-time. Unfortunately, it takes liberties with the format and the ending takes a nosedive. Still, a great horror experience, and Wingard looks like a talent for the future.

 

Final Rating – 3.8/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

 

 

Passengers (2016) , a review

 

Passengers

Director – Morten Tyldum

Writer – Jon Spaihts

Starring – Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishbourne

From the fabled Hollywood Black List; a list of screenplays considered of the highest quality, yet still unproduced; Jon Spaihts Passengers, completed in 2007, finally came to fruition via Sony Pictures, with The Imitation Game‘s Morten Tyldum attached to direct. Starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, two of Hollywood’s biggest names and easily a potential dream combination, and with a director of that pedigree from a script with this much hype, big things were expected. Sadly, Passengers is shockingly generic.

The starship Avalon is transporting over 5,000 colonists and crew in hibernation pods to the planet Homestead II, a journey taking 120 years. Thirty years into its journey,  a malfunction awakens one passenger, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). After discovering he’s awoken far too early, and consequently spending a year alone on the shipe, Jim contemplates suicide. Until  he notices Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her pod. Her video profile reveals she is a writer with a humorous personality. After obsessively learning everything about her, he struggles with the moral decision of whether or not he should awake her. The rest is shockingly predictable.

The premise is a strong one, with plenty of scope for exploration, and an intriguing hook that made for a very enticing trailer. Unfortunately, Spaihts takes the easiest and most predictable route throughout the script, riding that lazy road all the way to an ending that could have been ripped from one of those awful love novels everybody’s Mum reads.

If you go into this expecting a thought-provoking Sci-Fi, perhaps musing on the nature of humanity, or even the nature of love or isolation, you’ll be sadly mistaken. What you get, unfortunately, is a glorified love drama with extremely troubling undertones that merely takes place inside a spaceship. And those undertones are truly, truly disturbing. This is a male fantasy of the worst kind, glorifying manipulation and voyeurism, with an awfully dated justification given at the end.

The science is ropey at best, capped off with a slingshot around a star that would have undoubtedly caused them to boil alive as they get extremely close. We also get quasi-scientific jargon aimed directly the lowest common denominator. This includes such terms as ‘Magnet boots’ and an extremely unique take on the laws of gravity.  They also show us Jim doing technical science stuff, but don’t trust us, the audience, to possibly understand it, so make no attempts whatsoever to explain it.

Insulting us, the audience, doesn’t stop there however. Passengers includes that classic cinematic sin where the protagonist declares out loud a key plot point that just happened, even though he’s alone in the room and there is nobody there to listen. Implying we the audience are far too stupid to possibly have figured it out via camera work alone, even though cinema has been conditioning us to do this since it began, so Jim literally spells it out for us. It’s condescending cinema at it’s very worst, and frankly I often felt like my intelligence was being not just insulted, but viciously abused.

The dialogue isn’t just expositional and condescending, managing to also come stuffed with as many generic love-drama quotes as possible. All the classics are here; from ‘You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen’ to ‘You can’t leave me. I can’t survive without you’. It’s as if, when writing the screenplay,  Spaihts decided not to waste time and effort doing actual writing, and instead fed a super computer with every soppy romance ever written, coupled with the words ‘And space stuff’ and this was what it shat back out.

The film’s biggest issue though, by far, is the aforementioned disturbing nature of the narrative. Whilst we could probably all sympathise somewhat with Jim’s loneliness, his decision to unplug Aurora is downright despicable, and arguably one of the worst acts a cinematic character has ever done. He doesn’t simply kill her; he rids her of her entire plan for the future, all her hopes and dreams, with no other reason than to quell his own sense of isolation. It’s inexcusable, and unforgivable.

Now, the film does acknowledge this, so some credit is due. Unfortunately, the ending completely undoes it. If you want to go in blind, ignore this next paragraph. SPOILER ALERT.

She completely forgives him. Straight up. After struggling for a few days, the deus ex machina of the ship itself being set to self-destruct causes Jim to heroically save the day, and for her to realise she really loved him. It’s problematic for obvious reasons, reasons I don’t feel I need to explain in 2017. Simply put though, it’s OK that he saved her from a life threatening situation, so she decides to ignore the fact he completely and utterly ruined her life just to seduce her. It’s moments like this we realise we still need feminism.

They also don’t really go all the way with a lot of potential themes. Jim, for example, spends a year alone in space with absolutely zero human contact. Yet, other than feeling depressed, he’s pretty much fine, and quite quickly gets over any potential madness caused by the insufferable isolation. It’s almost as if this was aimed more at the romance market than the Sci-Fi audience, and consequently the writer was too afraid to take these themes any further, merely presenting an almost Disneyfied version of events. It’s a true shame, because it could have been something special.

Now, it’s not all bad. Pratt and Lawrence give great accounts of themselves and do, arguably, the best they possibly could with what they had to work with. There is a believable chemistry between the two, and it never feels contrived or fabricated. Lawrence is certainly the stronger actor of the two, however, as Pratty unfortunately falls a bit short when asked to display intense emotions. He’s got some incredible charisma and a natural flair for comedy, but he still lacks the gravita to bring balance and emotion.

The visual elements are also mostly good, other than some less than spectacular CGI, and Tyldrum does nothing in the director’s chair to disgrace himself. He, again, does pretty much the best he could with the film, yet it’s hard to gauge just how good a director he is, as the script hinders him somewhat. His direction is fine, whilst never doing anything particularly great or awful.  The score is solid, accompanying the piece fine whilst never overshadowing the action. You won’t be humming it down the streets when you leave, but it’s serviceable.

Passengers is a great idea poorly executed, hamstrung by clunky expositional writing and a fear of truly pushing the ideas to their natural conclusions, whilst patronising the audience all the way. A film without a clear audience, as it’s effectively a romance drama masquerading as a poignant Sci-Fi, and will almost certainly fall flat with audiences of both genres. It also manages to be a disturbing celebration of voyeurism, manipulation and Stockhold Syndrome, which is troublesome.

 

 

Final Rating – 3.5

 

Joshua Moulinie

 

 

 

 

 

Wrestlemania 32, a Review

wrestlemania-32

Wrestlemania is the grandaddy of them all. The showcase of the immortals. That one night a year when wrestling transcends itself and becomes a legitimate cultural powerhouse. Wrestlemania 32, which I will always call it, despite Vince McMahon’s odd obsession with dropping the numbers from the title in recent years, was marketed as the biggest ‘Mania of all time. In terms of attendance figures, inflated or not, it was. 101,000 people in total, though only 80,000 apparently paid, packed into the AT & T Stadium in Arlington Texas, setting an attendance record not just for the WWE and Wrestlemania, but for any Wrestling event held in North America. So, while it was the biggest of all time, was it the best?

In terms of pageantry and theater, it was, without doubt, the best Wrestlemania ever. The stage was incredible, the entrances beautifully over the top, and the sight of the incredible crowd certainly lent weight to proceedings. Annoyingly for Vinny Mac and the Big E Machine, injuries threatened to derail the event before it transpired. Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, John Cena and Randy Orton were all on the shelf, meaning the company had to really scramble to put forward a card worth watching. Whether they succeeded or not is a matter of subjective opinion, and here’s mine.

(I will be, primarily for time and fairness, not covering the pre-show. Does anybody really care? Either way, I don’t, and this is my review. So we’ll stick to the main card.)

INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEVEN MAN LADDER MATCH

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Contestants – (C) Kevin Owens Vs Sami Zayn Vs Dolph Ziggler Vs The Miz
Vs Kalisto Vs Stardust Vs Zack Ryder

Winner – Zack Ryder

We kicked off ‘Mania 32 with the customary clusterfuck Wrestlemania ladder match. This year, as with the previous incarnation, the Intercontinental Championship was up for grabs. Of course, Ladder Matches at ‘Mania aren’t a new addition, particularly for the Intercontinental Championship. We all remember the timeless classic between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon at ‘Mania 10. Add to that the history of TLC and Money In The Bank matches, and, by now, it’s pretty much a tradition.

As is also tradition, the match delivered, and was a fantastic high-octane way to start the show and get the crowd pumping. Narrative coherence was left at the door, as any sense of storytelling was bypassed, and this was pure car-crash television. Bodies flew, injuries were suffered, and a good time was had my all. A particularly memorable, and brutal spot, saw Kevin Owens damn near murdered by a Sami Zayn tigerplex directly on the spine of the ladder. There’s no faking that, that was spine on spine contact, and that must have  fucking hurt.

My only real gripe with the match is the choice of winner. Whilst there were seven competitors, and the winner being a shock certainly feeds into the idea that anyone could have won,  sometimes the obvious story just makes more sense. The build up had been heavily focused on Owens and Zayn. The champ, and his biggest rival. It made all the sense in the world for Zayn to win, and precisely none for Ryder. Sure, it was a nice moment for him, and he probably deserves it for his dedication, but it was rendered obselete by The Miz defeating him the next night on RAW. Other than to give Ryder a heavily manufactured ‘Wrestlemania moment’, the choice of victor was ultimately pointless.

Fun match, poor booking.

Rating – 3.5/5

 

AJ STYLES VS CHRIS JERICHO

Aj styles vs Jericho.jpg

Winner – Chris Jericho

Every Wrestlemania, no matter how poor in general, we are guaranteed at least one ‘workers match’. This is, typically, when two of the best pure in-ring talents in the company are given a decent amount of time to ensure ‘Mania has at least one iconic in-ring contest. This was Wrestlemania 32’s workers match. Chris Jericho, one of the greatest in-ring performers (and character actors) of all time, going up against the man who most consider the best in-ring talent in the world today in A.J Styles. It was particularly exciting as most never believed they’d see Styles in a WWE ring, let alone in a high-profile match at Wrestlemania. Surely Mr.TNA would never cross over? Well, TNA’s loss was WWE’s gain, and after getting one of the biggest pops of the modern era in his Royal Rumble debut, Styles was a megastar.

The match, while possibly the best male contest on the card, still seemed to suffer from the curse hanging over the event in general. All the elements were there for a classic, but something was just off. It’s no lie to state that, as great as he is, Jericho has lost a step in the last couple of years. He is, of course, a victim of circumstance, and can’t possibly be blamed for this, but nevertheless it is a fact. Consequently, if this match had happened even four years ago, it could have been a five star classic. As it stands, it was a decent match, and for Styles at least, an impressive way to announce yourself on the biggest stage of them all.

It wasn’t as quickly paced as you’d expect from the two, and, whilst only a reasonable 17 minutes, unfortunately feels a bit longer on repeated viewings. It’s fine, nothing awful, but there are a few noticeable timing issues. Primarily, if I’m being honest, these are down to Jericho much more than Styles, but it still detracts from the match at the whole. It’s a good match that could have been a great match. The choice of winner is also baffling. it made all the sense in the world for Styles to win his Wrestlemania debut, and, to a lesser talent, this loss could have severely impacted his momentum. Luckily, he was fine, and remains one of the bigger names in the company, and is now a former WWE champion. Still, he should have won here.

Good match, but not great, and questionable booking.

Final Rating – 3.5/5

THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS VS THE NEW DAY

league-of-nations

Winners – The League of Nations.

There is so much wrong with this match it’s almost beyond comprehension. Whilst the idea of these two teams facing eachother is sound, in theory, as The New Day were, at the time, the biggest face tag team, and League of Nations were supposed to be the biggest heels. Unfortunately, theory doesn’t always make fact, and in this instance, League of Nations were not as over as a heel team as WWE seemed to think they were. In fact, they weren’t over at all. Nobody cared. I mean it. Nobody. That seems like a hyperbolic statement, but it’s entirely factual. There didn’t elicit boos from the crowd, rather, they received a complete indifference from an audience who simply didn’t care about them.

In theory, then, we had the biggest face team vs the biggest heel team. In actuality, we got an extremely over New Day against a team nobody cared about. Then, just to put the cherry on the shit sundae, the WWE, in their infinite wisdom, decided it would not be for the Tag Team Championships. This, of course, telegraphed the ending, and it became embarrassingly transparent that League of Nations were going over. So we had a situation where the most popular team in the company were almost definitely going to lose to a team nobody cared about, and, consequently, nobody cared.

Now, the match did have one highlight. New Day’s entrance was fantastic. Seeing three grown men bust out of a giant cereal box in front of 100,000 people while dressed as DragonBall-Z characters would never get old. Shame the match was a ten minute waste of time. Fortunately, it would be saved after by a group of retired wrestlers….

Poor match. Poor booking. Poor everything.

Final Rating – 2.5

Stone Cold, Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels kick the shit out the League of Nations, interact with New Day

stonecold

Then, something exciting happened. Wade Barrett got on the mic (no, not that), did his British menace thing, and then dropped the obvious cue line you’ll ever hear; ‘No three men in history can beat us.’

Cure Shawn Michaels’ theme song, and the crowd, and myself at home, losing our collective shit. Just as we’d gotten over HBK’s return, out pops old Mick Foley (To a noticeably lesser reaction.) Then, we got the biggy; Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Now, if you’ve ever watched a Wrestling show, you know what happens next. The young team who just won a big match kicked the three ageing legends about and cemented their reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

Like fuck. Stone Cold, Foley and HBK kick the shit out the League Of Nations. We get a Stunner, we get a Mandible Claw, we get a Sweet-Chin-Music. It’s all beautiful.

Then Foley and HBK dance with The New Day. Stone Cold, of course, doesn’t dance for anybody (He just sings for Vinny Mac. If that went over your head, I can only assume missed the Invasion Angle of 2001. Good for you. It was shit.) He drops a Stunner on The New Day. Good times are had by all.

One criticism of this segment I often hear is that the old guard buried the new talent. I hate to break this to these people, but The League of Nations were buried when they found them. This worked for what it was.

Rating – 4/5

BROCK LESNAR VS DEAN AMBROSE – NO HOLDS BARRED

lesnarvamborse

Winner – Brock Lesnar (Obviously)

There is a rule in storytelling known as Chekov’s Gun. It is the idea that, in narrative storytelling, any elements introduced must be essential and necessary, and anything else shouldn’t be bothered with. In short, if you show a gun, you use the gun in the story. Otherwise, you’re just a teasing Timmy. I think, now, we can rename Chekov’s Gun to Ambrose’s Chainsaw, as this match was much like that stripper that really doesn’t want to touch you; a massive tease that ends in bitter disappointment.

In the build up, we were promised a war, and all-out brawl, the brawl to end all brawls. Brock was a beast that ate men for breakfast and shat out crying children. Ambrose was crazy, and he’d use anything to win. Throughout the build, we saw him collect various tools, culminating with a barb-wire baseball bat and a chainsaw. What was advertised as a relentless war turned out to be more of a minor scuffle.

It started as Brock Lesnar matches do, unless he’s being murdered by Goldberg, as he went straight on the attack and sent Ambrose to the fabled suplex city. It was like watching an angry bear throw around a small child. In fact, watching Brock Lesnar suplex a man should be considered the highest form of modern art. It’s poetry in motion.

Eventually Ambrose got some shots in, and, after a few chair shots, we finally got our weapon that wasn’t a standard chair; a fire extinguisher. Which he then sprayed in Brock’s face, which apparently is the best way to defeat a raging beast, and got a few more chair shots in. Then he pulled out the big guns, and it all went to shit.

He licked the barb-wired bat, because he’s soooo craaaaaaaazzzzzyyyyyyyyyy. And then, I believe, got a single tame shot in to Lesnar’s back before being disarmed. As for the chainsaw, he pulled it out, failed to even start it, it was kicked out of his hands, and never seen again. That was it. Both weapons, weapons the entire contest was marketed around, got about thirty seconds of screen time.

Ambrose, after deciding he wouldn’t bother retrieving the weapons he spent weeks acquiring, then gets promptly laid out with an F-5 on a chair, and Brock wins. This colossal war we were promised was over in 13 minutes.

For the first time all night, WWE finally got at least one booking decision correct. Some say Ambrose should have won here, and it’s certainly true he had momentum, but the idea that Ambrose could slay the beast who ended Undertaker’s streak is, frankly, absurd. The right man won, but the match should have been a lot better.

There was one awesome moment though. Lesnar went to German-Suplex Ambrose onto a chair, but threw him so far he missed the chair entirely, and Brock himself landed on said chair. Consequently, Brock had to sell the chair shot. It was a moment of accidental brilliance.

Rating – 3/5

WWE WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP

Women's triple threat.jpg

(C) Charlotte  Vs  Sasha Banks  Vs  Becky Lynch

Winner  – Charlotte

Before this match even began it had an extra aura of legitimacy about it that had been sadly missing in women’s wrestling, especially in the Big E, in quite some time. These three females were not your atypical ‘diva’. Rather than be marketed on looks (though they are all very attractive women), they were marketed on in-ring ability.

To further add weight to the contest, former icon Lita unveiled the brand new Women’s championship on the Wrestlemania pre-show, a championship that would displace the horrifically sexist Divas Championship.  Featuring three of the fabled four horsewoman that put women’s wrestling on the map in NXT, and a brand new legitimate title, this had the potential to be an incredible spectacle. It didn’t disappoint.

The three women put on what was easily the best pure wrestling contest of the entire night. There was no hair pulling, no nail-scratching; this was a great 16 minute athletic contest that, while not quite perfect, outshone everything the male competitors did that evening, and proved that female wrestling can, and should be, a huge deal.

Even the entrances were great, Sasha Bank’s in particular as she was rapped to the ring by her cousin Snoop Dogg. Due to the nature of a triple-threat, none of the three dominated the others, and instead we got an even contest worked at a lightning pace, with Charlotte eventually picking up the victory by making Lynch tap to the figure-eight, after her legendary geratric father, Ric Flair, who despite his partying ways is somehow not dead yet, held Banks in place.

It was a perhaps disappointing end to a great contest, and perhaps in hindsight Banks, with her massive surge of popularity, could have, and should have, picked up the crowd-popping win. However, this did play into a larger story (Charlotte’s unbeaten record on PPV) and was the catalyst for the fantastic feud the two ladies had later in the year. The one thing that does hold this back from being rated higher is there were a few minor botches. Nothing spectacular, but enough to rule it out as a certified classic.

Final Rating – 4/5

THE UNDERTAKER VS SHANE MCMAHON – HELL IN A CELL

undertakervsshaneomac

Winner – The Undertaker

This was, by some distance, the most bizarre storyline going into the event, and possibly one of the most bizarre ever. For a company that once depicted an eldery women birthing a human hand, that’s saying something. Shane made his triumphant return on the February 22nd episode of Raw, interrupting Vince McMahon’s ‘Legacy of Excellence’ ceremony. He quickly informed his father that he was indeed back, and had some dirt on Vince that could cause major ramifications, and he wanted control of the company. Vince said he could have control, but on one condition: Shane had to face The Undertaker at Wrestlemania, in a Hell in A Cell match. Undertaker, for no good reason, agreed to this. Even after Vinny Mac referred to him as ‘my bitch’.

It was, to say the least, absolutely shocking. Shane McMahon, a 46 year old businessman, was going to wrestle The Undertaker, one of the greatest of all time, at Wrestlemania. It was pretty apparent to most that this was a desperate move by the company to fill the gaps left by so many injuries, so they just threw everything at the wall and hoped something would stick.

The contest itself was, for a lack of a better term, the drizzling shits. Once you got over the novelty of how entirely surreal the whole scenario was, the match quickly lost the appeal. Undertaker’s string of having the best match of year every Wrestlemania was clearly over, he’d lost a step or two, and he seemed lethargic. Shane, not a fully-trained wrestler, looked exactly that. He threw some awful MMA style punches, and the first twenty five minutes of the contest are a plodding mess. Then, this happened…

Shaneosplat.jpg

 

Shane McMahon, a human being and not a boneless aquatic species, launched himself off a twenty foot cell. Now, while wrestling is scripted, and most moves are very safe, this is not. It’s a minor miracle, at his age, that he didn’t seriously hurt himself. In terms of spectacle, it’s easily the moment of the evening, and something nobody will ever forget. I myself was sat at home loudly chanting ‘holy shit’.

Undertaker then picked up Shane’s splattered corpse and carried him to the ring, before dropping him with a tombstone. It was the definition of a one-spot match, a thirty minute build up to one moment of madness. In terms of booking, the right guy obviously won here. Shane going down as only the second man to beat Undertaker at Wrestlemania, putting him in a category with only Brock Lesnar, would have been insanity.

Final Rating – 3.5

ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL

attg

Winner – Baron Corbin

Now it was time for the traditional ‘We don’t have anything better for these guys, so shove them here and make it seem important’ Battle Royal. This used to be a pre-show thing with no consequence. Now, it’s dedicated to the iconic Andre The Giant, and, arguably, still has no consequence to it. Except now it had a featured spot on the main card.

It was your typical Battle Royal. A load of large men in a tiny space shuffle around aimlessly, trying to perform something that vaguely resembles a wrestling match. Eventually, after enough people fall over the top rope, we get down to handful of contestants, and a match breaks out. Unfortunately, this year we focused on Shaq and Big Show, so nothing remotely exciting happened.

While it was kinda cool to see Shaq involved, this odd idea WWE have, where a celebrity suddenly lays people out like they’re Hulk Hogan in his prime kinda ruined it. Shaq looked strong, and even eliminated The Big Show, a former World Heavyweight Champion.

Oh, and Tatanka returned, but wasn’t mentioned for a large portion of the contest. And Baron Corbin won, which I guess is a good choice, but who really cares?

Rating – 2.5

BRAY WYATT AND ROCK SEGMENT

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The Rock then proceeded to make one of the most elaborate entrances in the history of Wrestlemania, and boy was it cool as hell. He used a flamethrower to set fire to an effigy of his name, because he’s The Fucking Rock and he does what he wants.

After taking about fifteen years to make his way to the ring, he finally starts cutting a classic Rock promo, as only Rock can. You know the drill; Finally, The Millions, If Ya Smeeeeeelelelelelellellelelelll, etc etc. He’s then interrupted by my favourite wrestler, and the only person in the entire company who could hope to contest with Dwayne on the microphone, Bray Wyatt, and his Wyatt Family. He tells Rock that he ‘Plans to eviscerate you on the grandest stage of them all, maaaaaaaaan.’

After initially ripping Bray in classic Rock fashion, including mocking his Southern Accent and his use of the word eviscerate, Rock then gives Bray some genuine credit. He calls him, among other things, the most charismatic man in the company today, and an incredible talent, but, of course, reminds him he’ll lay the smackdown on his monkey ass. Bray, to his credit, keeps a straight face and shuts Rock down beautifully with the line of the evening; ‘You have no idea who you’re fooling with, friend’.

This led to an impromptu match between The Rock and Erick Rowans. Six seconds later, Rock is victorious, setting a new Wrestlemania record. Which is actually kind of cool, because nobody honestly expected a Rock match going into the contest and, while not great, six seconds is better than zero.

The Wyatts then look set to tear Rock apart, before John Cena makes his unexpected return, to the biggest pop of his entire career, and helps Rock clean house.

This, for me, was a fantastic segment. Seeing The Rock never gets old, and, considering his injury, this was the best possible use for Bray Wyatt. Some say Wyatt was buried, but that’s nonsense. Those compliments from The Rock were very deliberate, and the very fact Wyatt was allowed to go stick-to-stick with one of the greatest says a lot about the stock they have invested in him. The only person buried here was Erick Rowan, and, if we’re being honest, he hasn’t exactly got a lot of potential.

Also, Cena returned, which was good to see. People may complain about the guy, but, he’s noticeable when absent.

Rating – 4/5

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH

Triple HVsROman.jpg

(C) Triple H  Vs  Roman Reigns

Winner – Roman Reigns.

Wrestlemania 31 was supposed to be Roman Reigns’ grand coronation as the new face of the company. They’d spent the entirety of 2014 building it, but, when Daniel Bryan returned in January, everything went tits up. When Reigns won the Rumble at Bryan’s expense, and punched his ticket to Wrestlemania, he became the most hated man in the company. Suddenly this image of the noble warrior defeating the beast Brock Lesnar was compromised, and the fans bayed for Reigns’ blood, and cheered the nefarious Lesnar like he was Bryan himself. In the end, they had the veto the idea and use Seth Rollins’ Money In The Bank as a get out of jail card, and he absconded with the title and saved Wrestlemania.

So, a year later, the WWE had clearly learned absolutely nothing, and decided, as stubborn as ever, to try again. It flopped, majorly. Especially when they booked Reigns as the conquering hero, once again, by making him defend his title in the Royal Rumble match, peddling the ‘One Vs All’ narrative. Predictably, to everyone but the WWE, the fans hated Reigns more for this, and when Triple H, former public enemy number one, dumped him out of the Rumble, the fans cheered their asses off. When the fans are cheering a Triple H championship win in 2016 you know something’s gone horribly wrong.

What we got was a match nobody cared about. Everyone and their Gran knew Reigns was going to be crowned, and precisely nobody wanted to see it. In fact, at the start of the match, fans could be seen clearly leaving in alarmingly large droves. The message was clear – We don’t want this. The WWE then decided to make this match nobody wants half an hour, forcing us, the poor fans, into a fourth hour of Wrestlemania, which is torture on a biblical scale.

I’ve tried to watch this match twice, and both times I failed. One the night, I was barely awake, trying desperately not to fall asleep. The other night, I tried again, and I just can’t sit through the whole thing. It’s boring, it’s plodding, it’s heatless because nobody cares, and the eventual victory leaves you with no emotional response other than ‘Man, Reigns is a dick.’

It’s the worst Wrestlemania main event in at least five years, and guaranteed to frequent many ‘Worst main-events in Wrestlemania History’ list. Did the right man win? Probably, but he shouldn’t have been in the match in the first place.

Rating – 2.5

 

Finitione;

Wrestlemania 32 was an odd show, unfortunately hampered by injuries which left it in somewhat of a no-win position. Desperate attempts were pulled to make up for a lack of star power, but it just resulted in an over-stuffed show that, while it looked fantastic, wasn’t that entertaining to sit through.

The Main Event, which is supposed to be the biggest match of the wrestling year, was a dumpster fire, and the other largely promoted contest, Shane Vs Undertaker, wasn’t much better, relying on one insane spot to get over. The wrong people were booked to win, frequently, and the whole show was a bit of a mess.

Luckily, Styles Vs Jericho and the Women’s Championship match were both good contests that, to some extent, saved the show from an in-ring standpoint, even if the booking problems haunted that one too.

It wasn’t the worst of Wrestlemanias, it wasn’t the best of Wrestlemanias; it was just a Wrestlemania.

Final Rating – 3/5