Analysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’

A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843. Considered one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written, it is about the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who scoffs at Christmas and alienates all those around him in London. Many theatre, TV, and film adaptations have been made of the story over the years, including the much-loved version of 1951 (Scrooge) with Alastair Sim in the title role, An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler as the miser, a musical version (Scrooge) with Albert Finney in the title role, and a motion-capture version with Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the three Christmas ghosts.

As with many Dickens stories, A Christmas Carol is a searing indictment of the deleterious effects of 19th-century industrial capitalism in England; however, Dickens presents a sentimental, bourgeois liberal solution to the problem of Scrooge’s miserliness by changing him into a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist, giving generously to the poor, instead of proposing a more radical and lasting solution to class conflict, of the type Marx and Engels would propose by the end of the 1840s.

Here are some famous quotes:

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. –narrator

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

“Merry Christmas! [<<<a wish popularized in this novella] What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” –Scrooge
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

“God bless us, everyone!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

The novella is called A Christmas Carol because Dickens conceived of the story as song-like, its five chapters called “Staves”. The staves of a song tend to have a rather cyclical quality, in how the end of one stave leads into the beginning of a new one. This phasing of the old into the new will be a motif in the story.

The story begins with the emphatic declaration of the death of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner. This is significant in how Christmas, traced back to its origins as a pagan holiday based on the December solstice, is all about ‘out with the old, and in with the new’.

The winter solstice happens around December 20-22, and the European pagans believed that, because the Northern hemisphere faces furthest away from the sun at that time of year, the sun-god was dead, soon to be reborn, with the shortest days of the year to be followed by longer and longer ones. Replacing the sun-god with the Son of God, the Church replaced such festivals as Yule, and possibly Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, with Christmas on December 25.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Marley, Scrooge’s double, is gone. Scrooge is about to be reborn, as it were. As miserly as Marley was, Scrooge is too cheap even to paint over his partner’s name on the sign of their office (page 2). When visitors address Scrooge by either his or Marley’s name, Scrooge answers as if no mistake were made in calling him ‘Marley’; hence, the two money-loving businessmen are virtually indistinguishable.

Dickens compares the importance of Marley’s death at the beginning of the story to that of Hamlet’s father at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play: without that death, “nothing wonderful can come of the story” (page 2); the Danish king and prince have the same name, Marley and Scrooge have the same nature; and the death of the one begins the chain [!] of events leading to the delayed, but ultimately achieved, final heroic acts at the end of both stories.

The sun-god must die before he can be reborn, then gradually grow and warm the Northern Hemisphere in the next spring and summer. Life is a cycle of contradictions, the primary and secondary aspects of which change places in the development of all things. “We often speak of ‘the new superseding the old’. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe…In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing.” (Mao, page 158). The contradiction between greed and generosity will also result in a swapping of aspects, as will happen with Scrooge by the end of the story.

Scrooge is “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” (page 2). He keeps the coals to himself in his office (page 4), so poor Bob Cratchit, his over-worked, underpaid clerk, has barely a glowing coal or two at the fireplace by his desk. This is on Christmas Eve, seven years to the day of Marley’s death, and when the Northern Hemisphere is facing the farthest away from the sun, the sun-god dead and yet to be reborn.

Part of Scrooge’s meanness is his general misanthropy, reflected in his contempt for his cheerful nephew Fred, who insists on inviting Scrooge to his Christmas party, in spite of knowing his uncle will refuse to attend (pages 5-8). Next, Scrooge refuses to give to two portly charity collectors (pages 9-11), preferring to support the workhouses and other austere government-provided institutions, like the debtor’s prisons, the Poor Law, and the Treadmill.

Such government provisions are the worst kinds that the bourgeois state has to offer, and Scrooge won’t even give to charity, another bourgeois form of pity. The most charity he can muster is to allow Cratchit to have a paid day off on Christmas, and Scrooge does this only with a grudging scowl (page 13).

When Scrooge gets home, a suite of rooms once owned by Marley, he encounters the ghost of his old partner (pages 15, 19-27). This ghost could be said to be a parody of the risen Christ, for Scrooge is like a doubting Thomas believing he is hallucinating at the sight of Marley’s ghost from having eaten bad food. Only the ghastly sight of screaming Marley’s broken jaw, falling to his chest after his having removed a bandage wrapped around his head, frightens Scrooge into believing in Marley; this is like Thomas seeing  the stigmata and spear-wound in the side of the risen Christ before finally believing. Marley, like Christ, has harrowed Hell, and suffers from it.

Marley’s ghost is also like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who has suffered in Purgatory, a temporary Hell: both ghosts tell the respective protagonists of the difficult but necessary things they must do to redeem themselves and their world. Scrooge, like Hamlet, is rich, and therefore, powerful; he’s also a reluctant hero, like the Dane, with a long list of personality flaws, yet with much potential for good.

Marley tells Scrooge of the three ghosts that will visit him, three ghosts that will effect the redeeming transformation in him–beginning, middle, and end, a kind of Trinity, or Trimurti, in themselves (more on that later). Then the ghost goes to a window, Scrooge following (pages 27-28). They both watch the pitiful spectacle of a homeless mother holding her baby, trying her best to keep it warm. Ghosts of men like Marley are out there, too, trying in vain to redeem themselves for their lifetimes of avarice.  One of them, one Scrooge is familiar with, cries at being unable to assist the woman and her child. “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.” (page 28)

That is the end of Stave One. Stave Two begins with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, a paradoxical-looking character, both young and old-looking at the same time (page 32). A bright light glows about his head, yet he has a large candle extinguisher for a cap. As a ghost of the past, he represents the old brought back new again; his is a light that has been snuffed out before, and will be snuffed out again. The old must die for the new to be born. This ghost, showing the creation and growth of the miser in Scrooge, is Brahma just after the leaving of Śiva.

As the ghost shows Scrooge the shadows of his Christmases as a boy and a young man, we see how Scrooge came to be the miser that he is. His father seems to have been cold and unloving to him, so he’s been a lonely schoolboy; and only on the Christmas of the first shown memory has his father finally warmed up to him, to have him come home (page 41). It is plain to see that a negative father imago has already been built up in young Ebenezer’s psyche, with his little sister, Fan, as his only good object relation for the time, to compensate for the psychological damage his father has done to him. Still, she will die after bearing Fred, and Scrooge will repeat the same cold relationship with his nephew as his father had with him. This harsh relationship is more fully developed in the 1951 movie.

Scrooge prefers wealth and gain over “dowerless” Belle, his girlfriend from a poor family; though he’s never said it to her, his preference is too obvious to her to ignore, so she chooses to “release” him, knowing a “golden…idol has displaced” her (pages 50-51). This preference, of the pleasure of owning money, over people is an example of failed object relations (i.e., ‘object‘ = a person other than oneself), as Fairbairn once observed: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140)

When we fail to get the love we truly need and crave, we replace it with the shoddy substitutes of money, drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol, etc. Scrooge’s rage and regret over discovering Belle’s marriage to another man, as well as their large litter of children, a rage expressed in his snuffing out of the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past, underscores the reality that, deep down, it’s love and relationships, not money, that Scrooge has longed for so badly.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, “a jolly giant” in a green robe with a holly wreath around his head, is seen by Scrooge in a room full of “turkeys, geese, game, poultry,…sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings”, chestnuts, apples, oranges, pears, etc. (page 59). All of this plenty, food that preserves and maintains life, represents the living reality of now; as the previous Christmas ghost was Brahma, this one is Vishnu. He shows Scrooge the lives of ordinary, working class people, including a miners’ cottage (pages 78-79), sailors during a storm at sea (pages 79-80), and, of course, the Cratchit family (pages 67-77). Scrooge is touched to see the love in this family.

He is especially moved by Tiny Tim, a sweet boy one couldn’t dislike if one tried, one who is a sick cripple. When his parents show their fear of him dying, Scrooge feels an emotion he surely hasn’t felt in years: compassion. All those US politicians who refuse to allow single-payer healthcare could do well to see the millions of faces of the sick proletariat who can’t afford the healthcare they need, all those Tiny Tims who are being ignored.

At the end of Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Present, two filthy, emaciated children are discovered to be hiding under his robe, sitting at the ghost’s feet. The boy is Ignorance, the girl is Want: Scrooge is warned to beware of both, but especially to beware the boy.

How many of us fetishists of commodities fail to beware the boy? We eagerly buy the latest smartphones, electric cars, etc., ignorant of how the cobalt needed to make them is found; this cobalt has been mined by children “in the bowels of the earth” in the DRC. The corporations that exploit this labour either claim ignorance of how they get their cobalt, or claim they’re taking measures to solve the problem: should we be buying their claims of innocence?

Dickens was decrying the evils of 19th century industrial capitalism in England, and how these evils were causing suffering among the British working class, especially children. The contemporary equivalent of this problem is capitalist imperialism, which is exploiting the global proletariat, the millions of people who live in Third World countries like the DRC.

Dickens’s proposed solution in this novella was to have ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalists. This might be acceptable, to some extent at least, in First World countries; but it solves nothing for the Third World, where suffering was plenty acute even when Keynesian capitalism, coupled with better social welfare programs, was ‘kinder and gentler’ for the white Western world from 1945-1973.

The Ghost of Christmas Present actually ages and ‘dies’ at the end of the day (pages 89-91). This is appropriate, given he represents the living now of the current Christmas, a preserving Vishnu. The end of the current Christmas means the end of his existence.

Immediately after his demise appears his successor, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a mute spirit shrouded in deathly black who communicates only with hand gestures. As the previous ghost was of the living present (Vishnu), the final ghost is of a future of death and destruction…Śiva. Indeed, death looms throughout the shadows presented to an increasingly terrified Scrooge.

In the first of these shadows, some businessmen are seen discussing a recently deceased, rich old man (pages 94-96). None of them shows any sadness over his death. Typical capitalists: they have no more pity over the falling of a rival member of the ruling class than they would over the deaths among the proletariat. The more and more repentant miser clings, with an ever-loosening grip, to the hope that this spoken-of dead old man, one whose death is–if anything–celebrated rather than mourned, isn’t himself.

Another microcosm of capitalism is shown in Old Joe, a fence who profits off of stolen items, in this case stolen from the despised old man (pages 98-103). The capitalist meets his karma among the cackling leeches who get money from Joe for such items as stolen bed curtains and blankets.

In contrast to the apathy felt toward the dead old man, Tiny Tim’s death is profoundly mourned by the Cratchits (pages 107-112). Scrooge has no family to grieve over him: Fred and his wife are missing among the shadows shown to Scrooge; has the miser done something to end the patience of his long-suffering nephew?

Finally, Scrooge sees his austere-looking gravestone in an uncaring graveyard at night: his corpse lies there as lonely as the boy in that classroom in the first of the shadows the Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge. Fan’s spirit won’t come to comfort him now. Terrified into repentance, he promises to change his ways, and as we know, he grows into a generous man, buying a huge turkey for the Cratchit family, promising a large donation (including “back-payments”–page 121) to one of the charity-seeking portly gentlemen from the beginning of the story, and finally appreciating family and relationships by attending Fred’s party (pages 122-123).

After raising Bob Cratchit’s salary (page 124), Tiny Tim is given the medical help he needs, and Scrooge is now known to be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” (page 125) Kinder, gentler capitalists: this, apparently, is Dickens’s proposed solution to the socio-economic ills of “the good old world”.

In the parlance of our time–peak liberalism.

One wonders if the ‘generosity’ of the Bill Gates Foundation, or the Clinton Foundation, or anything Trump or Jeff Bezos are doing, is in any way helping the millions of people who die of vaccine-preventable disease or malnutrition each year, in a world where we’ve been producing more than enough food to feed the whole planet. Lots of money is spent on the military, to kill people, but not so much to help people.

Then again, Christmas is just a celebration of the birth of Christ, as opposed to his salvific  death. The day of the birth of Sol Invictus is only the beginning of the light, the birth of the coming warmer days. That Christmas Day of the redeemed, ‘reborn’ Scrooge is just the beginning of his new goodness, the ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist who, it is to be hoped, will inspire others in power to help the poor.

‘Kinder, gentler’ capitalists of this sort are far from enough, though, if social justice is something we are truly committed to. Eisenhower’s administration demanded higher taxes from the rich, but the US imperialism of the time also helped with the ouster of Mohammad Mosaddegh; then there was the coup d’état in Guatemala. LBJ wanted to build the Great Society, but early in his administration, the Gulf of Tonkin incident fraudulently involved the US in the Vietnam War, which would lead to bad feeling against him. “We [were] all Keynesians” under Nixon, whose administration used the CIA to replace Salvador Allende with Pinochet, and bombed the Hell out of Cambodia.

More will be needed to help the global poor than Keynesian capitalism with a strong welfare state (of the post-WWII sort inspired by the USSR and other socialist states of the 20th century), of the sort that existed from 1945-1973, and which helped only the First World proletariat. The Tiny Tims, and Ignorance and Want wretches, of today won’t be saved by the generous Scrooge of social democracy: perhaps a spectre (like the one that once haunted Europe) or two, or three or four–ghosts from the past to inspire new ones in the present and future–will replace all the Scrooges and Marleys, be they stingy or redeemed, with workers’ co-ops of Cratchits; maybe those spectres will bring that newborn baby of a sun of winter to a bright, warm sun of spring and summer, from the baby Christ of December to the Saviour in April.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Puffin Books, New York, 1843

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Lexington, KY, 2014

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

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‘Bloodsuckers’, a Surreal Horror Short Story

My name is Samir. I am ten years old, and I don’t know how many days it’s been since the last time I ate.

I do remember the bombs, though.

When they hit our house, I was with my parents and sister, trying to celebrate her sixth birthday.

I haven’t seen any of them since.

I haven’t eaten since then, either.

I don’t know how many days I’ve been in this hospital. I just lie on a bed, and the nurses have no food to give me. I have dirty bandages on my half-naked body. The blood from my wounds has stopped flowing, but other spots of blood, little red spots, drip blood from new wounds.

They are from the bites of the purple, flying insects.

They’re like mosquitoes: I’ve never seen such bugs before. They bite me, and suck out a little of my blood each time.

Do they put something in my body, too? I think they do.

I lie on my back, my head swinging left to right—not so much left, anymore, since I don’t like what I see in the mirror to my left.

My upper head has blown up into the shape of a giant, green-yellow ball. Much of my hair is gone. My skin is green-yellow, too. I look like an alien, or a monster. I’m like a skeleton with skin.

Did the bombs do this to my skin and head? When they hit our house, I remember something burning in my nose, eyes, and mouth. I was coughing, desperate to suck some pure air into my lungs—then everything went black; then I woke up here. Did I inhale a chemical from the bombs?

Or are the purple flies doing this to me, squirting some kind of poison into my body while they suck out my blood? I think that’s what it is.

I’m not sure if I’m awake or dreaming, but I see a TV, I think, on the ceiling. What a TV is doing up there, of all places, I don’t know; maybe I’m seeing and hearing things, because I think I’m awake.

Anyway, a white man in a dark blue suit is talking to me on the TV. He is in his fifties or sixties, I think, because he has lines of silver in his combed-back hair. He smiles and speaks with a gentle, kind voice, but his words don’t comfort me. They confuse me.

My stomach is grumbling. It hurts so much. Could someone please give me some food? Was I a bad boy? Am I being punished for eating too much at my sister’s birthday party? I’ll be good next time, I promise!

“You are being a very good boy,” the man says to me in Arabic (Wow! I didn’t know white people could speak my language!) “My name is Brian Oates, Samir, and I want to tell you that your sacrifice is bringing happiness to a number of worthy people in my country. You should be proud of your selflessness!”

“Am I…giving them something?” I ask Brian, who seems to be able to hear me. (Is this TV that thing they call ‘Skype’?) “I have…nothing to give. I’m just a…poor Yemeni boy. I only feel…as if someone is…taking everything…from me.” I begin to sob. “Where is my family? I want my mother! I’m so hungry.” My tears are the only wet my face has felt in so long.

“Well, some people would say you’ve had everything taken from you, but it’s only a point of view,” he says, grinning like a friend. “There are other ways of understanding what is happening to you. Alternative interpretations, other facts that are equally valid, if not better, explanations of what you’re doing.”

“There are?” I ask, hoping his alternative facts will ease my pain. I stop crying. I almost smile as I listen.

“Yes, of course there are. It is possible for many different realities to coexist, in the same place and at the same time. One reality says you’re starving and dying on a hospital bed, being bitten by insects. Another says you’re giving qapita, your life-force, so others may live better.”

Qapita? My ‘life-force’?” (Is that an Arabic word? I’ve never heard it before. His Arabic must be really good.)

“Yes, qapita, your life-force. Yemen isn’t the only country in the world that’s dying, Samir. Even we in the richer countries are running out of food and other needed things. Some people say that Big Business destroyed the environment, but that’s just their facts. Our facts say that too much government caused the problem. Too many rules took away people’s freedoms.

“Anyway, the fewer and fewer resources in the world are why we invented the purple bloodsuckers, which are taking out little bits of your life-force at a time, then we’re having them all flown back to Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, where we have the technology to turn your life-force, as well as that of millions of other poor people in countries like yours, into food and other necessities for us.”

“You can…turn blood into…food?” I look around the hospital room. The other patients on the beds all have purple flies biting them, too. I don’t see anyone from my family among them, though.

“Yes, we can transform qapita into food, with the help of machines we have over here! It’s amazing what modern technology can do in the 2030s. We need you to stay alive as long as you can, though. As the bugs suck out your blood, they also inject a greenish-yellow blood substitute, to keep you from dying, so we can get as much life-force out of you as we can, before you finally die. By keeping you alive as long as we can, we are showing you how much we love you and care about you. You’re very important to us, Samir!”

“I am?” My stomach just keeps on growling. I feel as if my belly is eating me up from the inside.

“Yes, of course you are!” His smile reminds me of my mother’s: oh, how much more comforting she would be to me now! She would have her legs cut off to feed me! “Some say we’re using you and your people; but that’s only one reality. There are so many others to consider. We would say that you, Samir, are a hero, generously giving of yourself to people here that you don’t even know, as if they were your own family.”

A memory is flashing by my eyes at this moment: my mother, father, and me giving toys to my sister, and the wide-eyed joy on her face when she saw them. Two seconds later, we heard bombs falling.

“Why believe in sad truths when you can accept alternative ones, happy ones?” the white man goes on. The video on the ceiling TV shows happy white people laughing, dancing, drinking, and…eating! They are handsome young men, beautiful young women, enjoying a large banquet of food, delicious dishes covering a long table from one end to the other: chicken, vegetables, fruit, breads, noodles, rice, wine, juice, eggs, and so many others! A small drop of spit falls out of my mouth, the only wet it’s felt in a while. I reach up at the screen, hoping at least to touch it. My failing strength, and the pain in my arms from trying to move, means my arms keep falling back down on the bed with each two-second try.

“Can I…have some?” I say in a rough whisper. “I’m so…hungry.”

“Now, Samir, if you had some, there would be less for all the people in that party, wouldn’t there?”

“I guess so.”

Remember, you’re a selfless hero. You don’t want your own desires to spoil their happiness, do you?”

“No, I shouldn’t…be selfish.”

“That’s right. As I said before, happy realities are better to think about than sad ones. That’s why we in the West show only happy things on TV and in movies, to help people forget the troubles of the world. We never show our people the reality of places like Yemen—it would make them unhappy. Similarly, you should forget your sorrows and think of the happiness you’re giving people on the other side of the world, so I’ll leave you with this video of the banquet, and all the happy Americans here enjoying food converted from the life-force of the blood of heroes like you. Alternative truths, Samir! They will give you comfort. Watch, and enjoy!”

I’ve been getting light-headed. The purple flies are buzzing around my face. I’m too weak to swat at them, and the pain from moving my body is greater than the pain of their bites, so I mostly just let them bite me.

Their purple is glowing: is my vision getting blurry? Am I dreaming? I see purple balls of light floating in the air above me, then rising up to the ceiling TV screen. The purple balls seem to be changing into new food on the banquet table, when they touch the TV screen.

I feel bites, then I see the purple, glowing balls rise up to feed the white people. I see my shining life-force being taken up to the TV.

My stomach is growling louder now. It’s making my body shake. I look down at my chest: red spots of blood are everywhere. The purple bugs keep biting and flying up to the ceiling-TV. I can’t see my legs.

I look to my left and see myself in the mirror again: I’m all green now. I look like a rotting corpse! Also…where are my legs?

My bald, swollen head looks like a giant melon. Before the bombs, Mother, Father, my sister, my friends, and my neighbours all used to say how cute I was. What an adorable little boy, they’d say! What would they say if they saw me now?

I look down at my growling belly. I no longer have legs or a pelvic region. Am I dreaming? What I see can’t be real! There is a huge mouth where my belly should be. The mouth is like a huge navel. With the teeth of a tiger, or some wild beast, it is eating at my flesh above. Am I eating myself?

Below is too painful to watch, so instead I look above, a much happier place to be. The glowing purple balls are floating up to the banquet on the ceiling. They flash when they touch the TV screen, then turn into meat, bread, fish, and other delicious dishes.

The white people sitting at the table are smiling, laughing, and talking to each other as they bite into the food that was once my blood. The love they reflect to each other on their grinning faces, it’s like a big, happy family. Is my family up there, eating with them in Allah’s paradise? I hope they are, but I don’t see them anywhere: I see only white people, dozens of white people.

They’re young, handsome, and beautiful. They’re wearing nice clothes, unlike the filthy rags that covered the private parts I once had, or the bandages I have on my arms, or those I had on the legs I used to have.

Well, if I cannot have food, let the white people have it for me.

If I cannot have a family, let them be the family I’ve lost forever.

If I must be naked, let them wear clothes for me.

If I cannot have a body, let them have bodies instead.

If I cannot live, let me die so they can live.

I don’t want to be selfish. Let them be selfish instead. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

I feel numb, even where I still have a body. I look down at myself, to see what is left of me. I have only a head and neck now, a longer neck, almost like that of a giraffe; that mouth is still eating, chewing at the base of my neck with loud chomps. The mouth’s bloody, beast-like teeth seem to be grinning at me as they bite their way up my neck. There is very little blood, apart from the tiny dots of red that splash in all directions with each bite; the mouth must be drinking the rest of it up.

I don’t care. Let me die. Numbness means no more pain. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty anymore. My mouth is dry; everywhere I feel dry, if I feel anything.

I don’t want anything anymore. Let the white people do the wanting. The fight in me is over now. I accept my lot, my place in the world. It is the will of Allah.

There are truths other than mine here in Yemen. Happy truths in the West. Believe the happy truths. Forget the bad ones.

Two tears are running down my nose. It’s all right, though, everything is alright.

I love my white brothers.

I’m happy for them. Losing my family and my life doesn’t ma…

My Short Story, ‘Hot Sauce’, in the Horror Anthology, ‘Depraved Desires 2’

Screenshot 2017-08-04 22.31.39

I have a new erotic horror short story published in a horror anthology called Depraved Desires 2 (Volume 2), published by HellBound Books. My story is called ‘Hot Sauce,’ and it has a political subtext, allegorizing how, after rising in revolution against one’s oppressors, it’s crucial to protect one’s gains from counterrevolution, and not be distracted by one’s personal desires.

There are a bunch of great stories in this series, including ‘The Elk Woman of Friedland Woods: A Tale of Erotic Horror,’ by Jacob Mielke; ‘The Lifeguard,’ by Matt Payne; ‘Going Down,’ by Ken Goldman; ‘Black Dress Society Part 2,’ by M.J. Sutton; ‘Loves Embrace,’ by D. Norfolk; ‘June at the Hellfire’, by J. Stanley; ‘Love Bites,’ by Tim J. Finn; ‘Oven Picking,’ by Shane Porteous; ‘The Giant and the Lovers,’ ‘Between Heaven and Hell,’ ‘Cut the Raggedy Man,’ and ‘The Nutcrackster Suite,’ by J.L. Boekestein; ‘For Hire,’ by Becky & Lee Narron; ‘Red,’ by Marela Aryan Ballot; ‘Your Breath Is Mine,’ by Becky Narron & J.L. Boekestein; and ‘Desperately Seeking Bigfoot,’ by Jennifer Lynne.

All our stories were compiled by that great auteur, Bonny Capps, author of such books as Snuffed and Stranger. The cover artwork and design are not mine: they’re by HellBound Books Publishing. The Foreword was written by Xtina Marie. I want to thank both Bonny and Xtina for the opportunity to give my writing exposure here! Hugs and kisses to them!

‘Pills’, a surreal horror short story

“Here’s his address,” Max said, handing me a small piece of paper. I looked at it. “You know where that is?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Easy to find. But will this Pauly guy have what I need?”

“Of course,” Max said, waving his hand to reassure me. “Trust me. Tell him I sent you.”

I left Max’s apartment building. Walking on the street to the bus stop to catch the bus to Pauly’s place, I found myself ruminating on my life, and why I was hoping Pauly could…help me.

I went over memories of my life with my family, a dysfunctional bunch. My brothers and sister bullied me, the baby of the family. One brother used to spit on my face for the fun of it, laughing as I wiped the spit off my cheek; the other once pulled a chair out from under me when I was about to sit on it, so I fell on my ass on the floor, everyone else in the living room laughing at me, including my mom. My sister once made me do something that was…well…private…with her…

I twitched from that memory as I arrived at the bus stop. I continued going down bad memory lane, standing in the bus shelter and frowning.

My mother never cared how much my siblings hurt me. She made excuses for them instead of defending me. She was hurtful herself, always undermining my ability to develop self-confidence.

I’ll never forget the day my mother looked me straight in the eye and said, “The kind of things you’re good at simply don’t make a lot of money, Paul.”

I was twelve when she said that.

My high school grades weren’t good enough for me to get into university. As a young adult, I roamed from job to job, usually working in either restaurants (in my late teens–a busboy, dishwasher, or cook), or as a cashier once, in a pet food store, when I was in my mid-twenties.

In contrast, my brothers became an engineer and a salesman, and my sister got a job in the government. Mom never failed to point out the difference between them and me.

Just after the cashier job, there was my disastrous experience as a clerk in the reserve army: I’d made an error setting up the monthly pay for my regiment, and when everyone’s pay got delayed, I practically got a lynching.

After getting fired from yet another menial job, I was faced with either moving back home to be reminded by my mother of what a failure I was, or being homeless. Pride compelled me to risk the latter.

I’d been homeless for six weeks before I found my current job, making stuff in a factory.

I felt trapped in that job, working long hours, feeling lonely among a crowd of other workers, with none of whom I had a meaningful friendship. I’d never been good at making friends, as a kid at school, or anywhere: if you can’t be friends with your own family, who can you be friends with?

I’d chat a little with Max (a coworker in the factory as well as my personal drug connection), and take orders from Carl Parshin, my manager. But there was nothing beyond that, in terms of human contact: it was just a drab, tiring job. I could have quit, but then where would I have gone? Back on the streets again, panhandling? Enduring my mom again?

Don’t bother asking about my luck with women–I’m even more pathetic there. (I’m awkward with even the occasional prostitute, for fuck’s sakes. Seriously, I have to pay for it, and it’s not as if I were hideous or something.)

The only escape I’d ever had in life was with drugs. Some marijuana or hashish for my pipe on the weekends, or some LSD if I was lucky enough to score some, could see me through. Now, I was pushing thirty, and my depression, about aging without having done anything respectable with my life, meant I needed something stronger in the hallucinogens area.

I got on the bus, sulking in my seat the whole ride.

Please, Pauly, I thought, have something to help me forget my shitty life.

Ten minutes later, I’d got off the bus, and I was now on the sixth floor of a high-class apartment building, knocking on Pauly’s door. A man in a yellow and black striped suit answered. He looked like a hornet with red hair, more like a pimp than a drug dealer.

“Yes?” he said, looking at me as if I were a cop.

“My name is Paul Turian,” I said. “Max Midea sent me.”

“Oh, Max,” he said, then put out his hand to shake mine. “Pauly Tishin. Come on in.”

The living room of his apartment was roomy, with orange-red wallpaper, and large mirrors on each wall. I could see myself from all angles. What a strange interior design, even frightening: it was like being surrounded by the flames of Hell, where one judges one’s own sins by seeing oneself for all eternity.

“So, what can I get you?” Pauly asked. “You seem tense.”

“I am,” I said. “I need something to take my mind off my troubles.”

“And what would those troubles be? I don’t mean to pry, but knowing something about them will help me get the right…product…for you.”

“Well, I feel lonely, alienated, like I can’t connect with anyone, or anything.”

“Alienated from who? From what? Can you elaborate?” He flapped his upturned hands at himself, as if gesturing to me to come closer, or to draw out more about what was troubling me.

“Well, I work at a factory, making household things, like taps, doorknobs, pipes, and fans…mostly metal stuff. All of us there work long hours, the pay is shit. We don’t really talk to each other, or even look at each other, except for two or three coworkers, Max is one of them. There’s also my manager, Carl Parshin. They’re not really friends, though, just acquaintances. I have no real friends. It’s depressing. I have no real creative outlet in my life. I’m going nowhere.

“I get home late, and I’m really tired then, too tired to do anything creative or social. I just turn on the TV, hoping to be diverted, but the news just reminds me of what a shitty word we all live in. Movies and TV shows are just the same old, Hollywood garbage. As I said, my life is depressing; it feels meaningless. I don’t like myself. I need an escape from it all. Do you have any acid, or ketamine, maybe?” I was fighting back sobs.

“Actually, I have something even better, if you’re willing to try something new. I synthesized it myself. I guarantee it will take away all those problems you just mentioned. Are you in a daring mood?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Anything to make me forget about my problems.”

“I think you and I have a lot more in common than just our names, Paul. You see, I’ve been working on a solution to just that whole ‘alienation’ issue myself.” He put his arm around my back and led me to a corner of that mirrored living room, where he had a large, black garbage bag filled with what looked like hundreds of pink pills. “I’ve discovered something even better than escapism, even better than a drug high. I’ve found a solution to your problem, for it was once my problem.” He took one of the pills and showed it to me. “I once felt lonely and powerless, but having this…and giving it to others…gave me a new power few people have.”

“Really?” I looked around at the opulence of his room, the expensive furniture (antiques?), the golden frames around the mirrors. “This is a nice apartment building you live in, but I don’t wanna be a drug dealer. I’m just looking for a few hours of escape.”

“Oh, I’m not saying you’ll be a drug dealer. I’m not a drug dealer. I’m a realizer of dreams.”

What was he talking about? I wondered. Whatever it was, it sounded too good to be true, and was turning out to be more hassle than a good high was really worth, more danger than dream. I took a few steps back.

“You know the difference between the successful and the poor? The real difference? It’s attitude. You need to believe in yourself. You need confidence. You need to see yourself differently. That’s what my mirrors are for. Take this pill, then look in the mirrors. When you see the difference, you’ll want more. Trust me.”

Well, I thought, I may as well get something out of this dandy. “How much?”

“$20 for one, $30 for three, but you must act now.”

Act now? I thought. He sounds like one of those pushy internet ad-men. “What if I don’t like what I see?”

“Money back guarantee, and you walk out of here as you were as soon as the pills wear off.” His grin was Mephistophelian, an omen I should have thought about more.

“And how long would it take for them to wear off?”

“Oh, just a few hours. No more than that.”

I paused, looking at that pill between his finger and thumb. Was I seeing things, or did it seem to shake slightly?

“The $30 offer ends in a few seconds.”

“OK. Hit me.” How bad could it be? I wondered, giving him my cash.

He dropped the pill in the palm of my hand; again, it seemed to fidget a bit. I thought I could hear an ever-so-faint, squeaky, high-pitched voice calling out: No, no, no!

Where the fuck was that coming from?

Nah, I thought. I’m hearing things.

I tossed the pill in my mouth. I felt it shaking again slightly before dissolving in my throat.

Then, the weirdest thing happened.

I gagged, feeling something metal growing out of my mouth, starting in my throat, pushing my jaws open and pushing past my lips. My tongue was stuck between the steel outgrowth and my lower teeth: damn, it hurt! My eyes widened as I looked at myself in his mirror to the right of me: there was a fucking faucet coming out of my mouth!

I tried pulling it out, but it was stuck in there, attached to my body, as if grown into my jawbone and the flesh of my throat or something. It hurt my tongue even more from trying to pull it out, so I gave up trying. I wanted to say, “What the fuck’s the idea?”, but with this thing in my mouth, I could only whine muffled squeals.

He put his hand in the bag for another pill, but I shook my hands to tell him not to; I could only make inarticulate grunts, so I gestured to him to give me my money back.

“Oh, you want your second pill,” he said, smirking as if only pretending to misunderstand me, while acting as if I had to have the full experience before asking for my money back. Then, he held the faucet still and put the next pill under the spigot, which acted with some kind of bizarro vacuum function and sucked it into my body.

As it went in, I thought I heard another faint, mouse-like No! again.

My right ear started to swell; it felt hard, metallic, it grew heavy. My head tilted from the weight. I looked in the mirror. It morphed into a doorknob, like one of the ones my factory makes! Indeed, I felt like a knob for agreeing to this conman magician’s offer.

“You see?” he said, getting a third pill from the bag. “Now you’re not so alienated from your work. It’s truly a part of you. Wait for more changes to come.” He giggled.

He brought the third pill over to my faucet-mouth, but I tried to back away. I felt my legs stiffen and grow hard. I looked down at them. Below my shorts, I no longer saw the flesh of my legs. They had turned into pipes that penetrated into the floor, rooting me to the spot!

I tried to swat at his hand with the pill, but my arms were now stiffening, though they didn’t feel like metal. I looked to my left and right: they’d turned into tree branches, with leaves and shiny, red apples hanging from them!

What kind of a monster is he turning me into? I wondered. Is this a drug trip, an intense hallucination? Or is it some kind of black magic? I looked at that flame-coloured wallpaper, and had a feeling the latter was the correct answer, for that devilish grin remained on his face.

I could only moan like a gagged prisoner, and fidget with my still-human torso. I tried shaking my head, but he grabbed the faucet and put the pill under it. It got sucked in.

I could suddenly see all of the room, from many different angles at the same time, for eyes had appeared all over my body: on my chest and my back (though my T-shirt was blocking their view), on my tree-branch-arms, on my pipe legs, and on the back of my head, peeking through my hair. The sight of my monstrous new form, from all angles in those mirrors, made the fear in all those agape eyes too easy to understand. Tears formed in all of them.

I kept shaking, trying to hit him with my branch-arms, but he grabbed the left one and plucked an apple.

He ripped my T-shirt off my torso. My chest and stomach eyes, no longer shrouded in darkness, looked up in terror at him. Tears ran down my belly.

I whined in annoyance. Damn this faucet, I thought as it kept pressing my tongue into my lower incisors, still stabbing sharply into it. The steel had a rusty taste mixed with the blood from my tongue.

“Now,” he said, holding the apple level with my belly, “you can enjoy the fruits of your labour.” He laughed as a mouth opened in my belly and ate the apple…which I could feel breaking up not into smaller apple pieces…but into a few dozen, dissolving pills.

My torso turned into a huge fan, with that mouth in the middle axis, and weeping, bloodshot eyes all around the fan’s outer circle. I could no longer move, for I no longer had joints. I tried speaking through that mouth, but I could only make it moan and babble like a madman.

Is this just a drug trip? I still wondered. Will it wear off in a few hours? Or will this be the rest of my life?

The doorbell rang.

“Ah, my guests have arrived,” Pauly said with a smile as he walked to the door. Three young men came in the room. One of them was Max, the second, Carl, my manager. I didn’t know the third man.

Oh, Max, Carl, please! I thought. Help me!

“Paul!” Max said as he and the others approached me. “Looking good!” All four of them laughed at me.

I’m fucked, I thought.

“Holy shit, what a freak-show!” the man to Max’s right said. “This is totally worth the price of admission.”

“Indeed, it is,” Max said, playing with my doorknob-ear. “I promised you a good show, and I always deliver on my promises, don’t I, Paul?” Still playing with my doorknob-ear, he rapped his knuckles on my head, as if it were a door. “Hello? Anybody home?” They all laughed again.

You fucking bastard, Max, I wanted to say.

“Speaking of the price of admission, pay up, guys,” Pauly said, gesturing with his hands. “$50 a man.”

They all paid him. As he counted the bills in his hands, the other three were feeling me up, fascinated with what I’d turned into.

My nose now felt metallic, pushing forwards and swelling. It turned into a valve for the faucet. They all laughed at me.

“Whoa!” Max said. “Check this shit out! Paul, you’re a metal-head!”

Everyone laughed loud, high-pitched howls that stung my human ear, the only one that heard anything anymore.

I looked at the ridiculous monstrosity that I’d become in the mirrors. It made me think of my school years, when I’d been laughed at and bullied, my classmates taking over the duties of the tormentors in my family. At that moment, for a few seconds, I thought I actually saw four of my high school bullies instead of these four men.

The reflections of everyone in the mirrors, seen from all of my eyes from all those angles, from time to time looked like everyone in my old classrooms…all of them laughing at me.

“Does he dispense beer?” Carl asked.

Everybody laughed some more.

“Try his nose for yourself, Mr. Parshin,” Pauly told Carl, who then turned my nose-tap. Nothing came out.

“Useless!” he shouted, then slapped my still-human cheek. The sting of that slap made me so want to hit him, but I could only stand there, motionless. His slap caused a tear in my cheek, which now was dripping blood. “Eww!” Carl said, then wiped my blood on the side of my fan-torso.

In my daze as I recovered from the sting, I thought, just for a few seconds, that instead of seeing Max, Carl, and the third man in the mirror reflections, I saw my siblings tormenting me. I thought I saw myself as a little kid in one of the mirrors, and instead of Pauly, I saw my mother. Then I snapped out of the daze and saw my present tormentors. Again, I wanted to twitch from the memory of my childhood trauma, but I couldn’t budge.

I looked over at Pauly…and saw horns on his head! I blinked, then looked again: the horns were gone.

Did these brief hallucinations mean that my monstrous form was all one extended hallucination? I could only hope so.

“Want an apple?” the man to Max’s right asked, pulling one off my right branch-arm and handing it to Carl.

“No, thanks,” Carl said, swatting it out of the guy’s hand. “I might turn into this kind of freak. This is what happens when you do dope, Paul.”

“I like your fan, Paul,” Max said, laughing at me between each sentence. “Nice and comfortable breeze you’re blowing. Yeah, I got caught with a stash of weed in my apartment, and the only way Carl would save my ass from the cops was if I ratted you out. So I did. But since Carl doesn’t like you–actually, nobody has ever liked you–he said he’d love to see what you’d do if Pauly gave you some of his stash. Man, you didn’t disappoint. The third guy with us here is a cop, by the way. Again, I promised he’d be so entertained by you that he’d drop the charges against me. I guess I’m safe. Thanks, bro!”

Fuck you, I thought.

My many eyes were trying to avoid my oglers, who kept touching me, ripping off pieces of bark from my arms, or running their fingers along the screen of the fan.

Stick your fingers inside, guys, I thought. Let the fan blades cut them off, you compassionless bastards.

Blood flowed from where they’d torn off pieces of bark from my branch-arms. Any drops of my blood that got on their hands, they wiped off on the edges of my fan-torso. They wouldn’t tear off any more: I suppose I should have been grateful for that, at least.

As an hour or so of this ordeal went by–their eyes always staring at me, their hands touching me, their fingers poking a few of my eyes (which spouted blood, too, now), and their mouths laughing at me–my eyes kept looking at my mirror reflection, hoping for my transformation back to normal, or for an end to this drug trip. This has to be a trip. It can’t be real, can it?

Instead, I began to notice myself turning pink. Were those flesh tones I was seeing? My monstrous shape was the same, but everything looked flesh-like. Were the pills finally wearing off? They had to be! In my mind, I was begging for it.

A funny thing, though: I was now all pinkish, but every centimetre of me looked detached from each other. I looked like a man in a Georges Seurat painting–pointillistic, my body was all pink dots.

“Whoa!” Carl said. “What the fuck is he turning into now?”

Max tapped me on the chest. My body broke into thousands of little pink pieces…I was all pills now! I lay there in a pile before my four onlookers, who continued to gaze down on me without any pity, but with contempt.

I looked up at them the way many of us think a fly must see the world; for each pill-unit of my body was an eye of its own, looking up at the four men in utter helplessness.

“Man, that’s the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen,” Carl said.

Max brought his foot up as if about to stomp on me. I actually hoped for it.

“No!” Pauly said. “I have a use for him still. Don’t step on any…of him.”

The others laughed.

“Alright, guys,” Pauly said. “Show’s over now.” He motioned for them to leave. “I’ll have another spectacle for you to see soon.”

“When?” the third guy asked as they all reached the door.

“When she gets here, of course,” Pauly said. “I’ll let you all know. Until then, good-night.”

“Bye,” his visitors said, then left.

Pauly came back over to the pile of me.

“I know you still have consciousness,” he said, bending over. “Enjoy your new life. At least you won’t have to work in that awful factory anymore.” He walked away and laughed.

********************

The next day, his doorbell rang. He answered it. I saw, through my pill-eyes, several dozen images of the same girl–a teenager from the looks of her–entering his apartment and approaching me. All my other pill-eyes saw only a hellish blackness. Was I put into a black garbage bag while I was sleeping?

“You were telling me about your problems,” Pauly said to her.

“Yes,” she said, beginning to sob. “I feel so alone. I hate my parents. No one pays any attention to me. I’m sick of feeling so…ordinary.”

Picking up one of me, he showed it to her. “I have just the thing for you.”

No! I said, hoping she’d hear me.