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Fossil People by Stephen Moles (part one)


1.

     
The sea did a “number one” all over the beach as Rebekah and I looked on. The ocean showed no signs of embarrassment as its accident sent lumps of yellow foam gimbling onto the land.
     Rebekah and I had left our hotel to watch a team of dolphins sculpting the foam with their noses. They were just putting the finishing touches to a huge smiling mouth made of foam – exactly as the brochure had described – when the sea’s urgent business destroyed their artwork.
     “That’s a shame,” said Rebekah. “They put loads of work into that.”
     The way the dolphins stared at us as the sea pulled up its trousers suggested they were apologizing for not being able to complete the sculpture. We wanted to tell them it was OK, but we didn’t know how.
     “Should we applaud?” Rebekah asked.
     “No,” I answered. “I know the man at the hotel said the dolphins get depressed if you don’t clap at the end of a sculpture, but this one wasn’t finished. Best not to applaud in case it comes across as sarcastic.”
     “You’re probably right.”
     The sea creatures whistled goodbye and made their way to their underwater nest about a mile east of Powder Island. A few bubbles that looked a bit like cum were soon all that remained of their creativity.
     “Hello twice!” someone called across the sand.
     The same old woman Rebekah and I had seen after the previous displays appeared again, stepping out from behind a rock with a cylinder in each hand. We didn’t know whether she was connected to the dolphins in some way or was simply an opportunist beggar who asked for money after each show, but we still made a donation when she shook her cylinders at us.
     “Nice dolphin, yes? You can spare monies? I thank you. Dolphin thank you also.”
     “There you go,” I said, dropping a few coins in. “Thank you.”
     “Yeeeeees. You stay here long time? Stay to see dolphin more?”
     “We’re due to leave in a few days, I’m afraid.”
     “No, no,” the old woman said, shaking her head. “Much more to see here. Fun just begin.”
     “Okay,” I laughed.
     “You are first English in six years here. Very special people.”
     “Thanks.”
     As I watched the woman with the cylinders make her way back to the rock, I remembered how the hotel owner’s eyes lit up when he learned that Rebekah and I were from England. He disappeared beneath his desk for some time after greeting us and re-emerged with two metal badges in the shape of bones which he insisted we wear.
     “What do you think the guy at the hotel meant when he said these badges were code      symbols?” I asked Rebekah.
     “Code symbols? I don’t remember him saying that. I thought they were just free gifts – hotel logos or something.”
     “No. He said they were symbols for English people. Don’t you remember?”
     “No,” said Rebekah. “Shall we head back to the hotel now? I’m hungry.”
     “Okay. I could do with a bite to eat. My body feels empty.”
     
     

2.

     
     A man called Dolphin made a name for himself in ancient Greece by lifting a cow onto his shoulders and walking around the city of Megara for six days and nights without dropping it. The only sign of fatigue he showed the whole time was a slight reddening of the cheeks. When he eventually put the animal down, it was immediately devoured by a pack of wolves.
     Dolphin was summoned to the house of Pythagoras soon after. The famous mathematician was having a dispute with his neighbours over a tree and wanted Dolphin to smash their faces in. When Dolphin arrived, he tore a branch off the tree and charged at Pythagoras.
     When Dolphin took part in the Olympic Games in 576 BC, he wore the skin of a lion and a bronze crown. Before fighting and defeating 24 children, he turned to the audience and declared himself a demigod. When he took part in his first marathon, he did so completely naked.
     An army of 30,000 men was sent to destroy Dolphin in 559 BC. When they arrived, they found him swinging from the ceiling in the banquet hall. The battle that ensued lasted four days and resulted in the deaths of all but one of the soldiers. The sole survivor was spared so he could return to Thrace and tell everyone how his fellow fighters had been drowned in wine and hit over the head with animal bones.
     There is a vase in the British Museum that depicts Dolphin snapping off Xenophanes’ fingers. Dolphin has a stoic expression on his face and is balancing a lemon on his head.
     The cause of Dolphin’s death is not documented, but it is said his severed lips were found at the foot of a tree.
     
     

3.

     
     When Rebekah and I arrived back at the hotel, there was a huge crowd of people outside. They were explicit in their excitement and some were making underwater breathing noises. As soon as they laid eyes on us, they rushed forward with heavy stories and rituals, making a smooth withdrawal impossible.
     “Do you believe in magic?” asked one.
     “Have you visited the tomb yet?” asked another.
     “This is like an ancient story come true!”
     They were so eager to have contact with us that we ended up being pressed against a wall by their questions. The hotel owner fought his way through the crowd like an old rescue vessel.
     “Don’t be frightened,” he said, taking us by the hands and leading us away. “They’re just excited to see English people in the flesh. Some of them thought the English were mythological creatures.”
     “Crazy!” I laughed.
     We sat down at a table in the restaurant and were given a thin, brown look by the hotel owner. We were the only ones there, but he insisted on speaking in whispers.
     “I’m afraid we have a bit of a ghost problem here,” he said. “All the islanders hear bangs and crashes that last for hours. We insist on freedom of projection here, so it’s necessary to allow the opposite of humans to be present. It would be in everybody’s best interests if you paid a visit to the tomb.”
     “What tomb?” asked Rebekah. “Is it a tourist attraction?”
     “Sort of. It attracts tourists in the same way that the setting sun attracts water. I’m afraid you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Those people outside won’t let you leave without visiting the tomb.”
     “Why?” I asked. “Why are they so interested in us?”
     “Because you’re English. Some people fall for Shakespeare’s special effects very easily.”
     “I don’t think there’s anything special about being English. We’re nothing more than skinny chickens.”
     “Well, we beg to differ,” said the hotel owner, blinking nicely. “Anyway, how about a bite to eat? You must be hungry after watching the dolphins. I’ve got a delicious treat for you and your lovely wife. Just the thing to make English bellies float. Wait here and I’ll prepare it for you.”
     
     

4.

     
     When Winston Churchill was 24 years old, he was approached by a man who claimed he could cure his speech impediment. All the man asked for in return was Churchill’s first reading book, which was called Reading Without Tears.
     The two men met discreetly in a basement room in London. The carpet and the curtains were gray; on the walls were maps with large sections scribbled out. They sat down at a table and stared into each other’s eyes. The past was studying the future and the future was studying the past.
     “All you need to do is eat this,” said the man, sliding a sandwich across the table.
     “What’s in it?” asked Churchill.
     “It is an oak and lime sandwich. The finest quality.”
     “Oh!”
     “Yes, eat this and your impediment will be washed away. Your mouth will be filled with flowers, and you will be able to focus on becoming a great Englishman.”
     “And all you want is this book?”
     “Yes.”
     Churchill slid his childhood reading book across the table and imagined a female ghost being locked away in a cabinet forever.
     “Now eat,” insisted the man.
     Winston Churchill created a slow curve with his body and let the sandwich travel along it. Soon his mouth was charmed by roses and green stones. Petals fell through glass tubes and the sun rotated like a lemon. Although he felt extreme gratitude towards the man, he was unable to express it. His words flowed mellifluously for the first time in his life, but they no longer corresponded to his feelings.
     A long and illustrious career had begun.
     
     

5.

     
     The following day’s display was a curious affair. There were pests trapped inside air bubbles and a strong wind caused various problems with seaweed. When the dolphins finally got round to making the major organs of their sculpture, the foam was already drying out.
     “Do you think they’re enjoying themselves?” asked Rebekah.
     “It doesn’t look like it,” I answered.
     The foam no longer had a solid base or a permanent concentration. The dark waves tested the dolphins’ resolve so vigorously that protein and carbon were sprayed 50 million times into the air. We felt sorry for the poor creatures, but there was nothing we could do.
     “It’s not working anymore.” Rebekah commented sadly.
     “No, it’s not.”
     By the end of the display, the dolphins’ sculpture resembled the loss of a young life. They flapped their tails and winked their eyes at us, but the overall picture was still one of desperate sadness. Some 250 teeth were warning us to leave.
     We clapped, but our hands felt cold.
     “You like foam?” asked the woman with the cylinders.
     “Oh!” screamed Rebekah. “You gave me a fright!”
     “I here every day. After dolphin. No fright.”
     “Yes.”
     The old lady shook her cylinders next to our hands and smiled a small fortune. We threw a few coins in, but it was hard to part with them this time.
     “Will the dolphins be OK?” I asked.
     “Dolphin fine. Have no feeling.”
     As the woman disappeared behind the rock with our money, I became aware that my sides were hurting in a foreign land.
     “There’s no laughter here, is there?” I said, turning to Rebekah.
     “No,” she said.
     “Quick. Give me your hand.”
     There was something incredibly upsetting about seeing a whole gang of colors dying in the foam. We stood at an entrance to sunlight watching organic windows slamming shut. As the dolphins swam away to their nest, they let out a cry of despair that smashed the glass in our hearts.
     
     

6.

     
     With over 400 visitors a year, certain types of existence are in a class of their own. Powder Island certainly knows how to get visitors’ genes going. The main hook is its huge family of beaches – but that’s only part of the story.
     Away from all the sand and gravel, you’ll find everything from sweet voices to information carriers. Powder Island leads the way in terms of big endings. Ne’er quiet, ne’er bored, you’ll have one foot in the beard of the president of bodies as soon as you set off.
     In the northern part, you’ll find a little-known spiritual power that only a handful of Amazon explorers have reviewed.  In the south, you’ll find a sobering account of life on a marble wave given by a pair of severed lips.
     Be sure to check out the sub-species of mental detachment on your left, and the dangling body of gold on your right. And if you want to experience the embarrassment of violence, be sure to pay a visit to the flaxen-haired couple by the river.
     
     

7.

     
     The shadow of annoyance fell over the hotel owner’s face. He picked up a pepper grinder and mimed hammering a nail into the wall with it.
     “I’ll ask you again,” he said. “Are you going to help me?”
     “Um.” The man’s fierce tone caused my shyness to triple.
     “Look at your face!”
     “I can’t,” I said timidly.
     “Well, it looks like a self-defense class. It’s not your first mistake either.”
     “What are you trying to say?” asked Rebekah.
     “I’m simply asking you to do me a favor. There’s a growing interest in your presence here, and it could create a serious problem in the future. I need you to help me draw a red line in the sand, as it were.”
     “What do you want us to do?”
     “I want you to cheer.”
     “Cheer? I don’t understand.”
     “It’s very simple,” the hotel owner explained, miming a handjob with the pepper grinder. “The locals think you’re demigods and they want to see some courtship. If you can cheer loudly and pretend to be celebrating something with me in a few moments, it should keep them off my back, and yours. That’s it. Okay?”
     “I suppose,” I said.
     “Excellent.” The hotelier stood up and used the pepper grinder to mime the action of hitting a ball with a bat. “The islanders will start appearing at the windows in a few minutes. That’s when I need you to cheer.”
     We sat in the restaurant and waited for faces to appear at the windows. Just as predicted, a map of features folded out behind the glass. The islanders had sold the rights to four walls for a ton of hard stares.
     “Now!” shouted the hotel owner. “Jump up and down and cheer. Pretend you’ve just heard the best news ever. I want to see joy foaming out of your skin. Don’t stop until I tell you.”
     We jumped and cheered like tarts on the last train out of society. We filled the gulf between intention and execution with childish energy. Jumping like one-second clips of youth, we created over two minutes of artificial innocence for the onlookers.
     “OK,” he said. “That’s enough. You can stop now.”
“Was it okay?” I asked, gasping for air.
     “Almost perfect,” the hotel owner declared. “I think I saw your balls pop out of your shorts at one point when you were jumping around. I’ll be watching my memories later to check.”
     “Will it get them off our backs?” Rebekah asked, also short of breath.
     “Probably.”
     
     

8.

     
     A book is a collection of things. They are connected to a hinge or parchment, as described in this book. Each side of the leaf can be added to the body. A complete set of images can be added to the library contained in this book.
     A sandwich is a food comprising of two or more slices of bread, as described in this sandwich. A sandwich is often taken to school and consumed as part of a reading class. It may contain meat, cheese, sauce, spread or ink.
     The book was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Book. Lord Book would ask his servants to bring him slices of meat between two slices of paper. His friends would order “the same as Book”, thus giving birth to the entire physical body of literature.
     A sandwich may be coated in spices and widened to resemble a clay tablet. The first description of a sandwich is in an ancient Greek book made from bread. It  describes a nasty dynasty that gets the wood-wax treatment.
     A book is an element of nature that is economical, portable and easy to conceal. Almost everything that is written can be translated in 5,000 years. Meaning can be written in red letters along the tree-lined perimeter of an island to create an alternative route for holidaymakers. Oak trees can be read from left to right or from right to left.
     The sandwich is a medium for sharing small amounts of food. Magazines and newspapers covered in flour or dust have been borrowed from libraries since the Bronze Age. According to this book, lime and bark were exported to Byblos inside papyrus rolls in 664 BC.
     A book was considered so rare and valuable in certain areas that it was wrapped in lamb and bitter herbs. The best characteristics of modernity are used to scoop food into old-fashioned mouths during Christmas parties. Google estimates that around 130 million different flavors have been published.
     A sandwich is most commonly transported on the floor of a plane. It is possible to hear the exact thickness of the scripting system during transportation from the UK. The code is found in the volume of the body, as this book describes. The tears in the paper are speech impediments.
     
     

9.

     
     Rebekeh and I were upstairs nodding our heads off when a knock established itself outside our room. When I opened the door, the hotel manager was occupying the corridor like an active Johnson.
     “Hallo,” he said in a low voice. “I hope I’m not disturbing you. I’ve got some important news.”
     “Oh,” I said. “What is it?”
     “The airport has been blown up by an old black stick of lightning. It happens from time to time. It’s a good excuse for bothering you, no?”
     “A very good excuse. How on earth are we going to get home now?”
     “Do not try,” the hotel owner said. “It will be long and painful if you do. You can stay at this hotel as long as necessary – free of charge.”
     “That’s very kind of you. Are you sure you don’t want any payment?”
     “No, no,” he protested. “I’d feel terrible taking money off you in such circumstances. However, you could do a tiny favor for me.”
     “What is it?”
     “I want you to call me a ‘fruit’ as I walk back down the corridor.”
     “Um.” I could feel vivid ideas being carried into a gallery, but I could not see the full picture. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
     “Yes. I like the Western dialect. There’s nothing to be concerned about. You will do it?”
     “Okay. I’ll do it, but—”
     “Excellent!” he interrupted. “Everyone has to take a turn eventually. The best jokes are always rough. I’m going downstairs now, so get ready to shout the word. It needs to be as loud and thought-provoking as possible. Are you ready?”
     “I guess.”
     The hotel owner made his way down the corridor like piercing eyes along a line of sight. He was playing the game of his own self by a window when I plucked up the courage to shout out the word he had requested. I had always fantasized about seeing where such unknown numbers would stop, but I was uncomfortable about actually sending them out into the world.
     “You fruit!” I shouted.
     At that exact moment, a group of people walked around the corner and created a tide of doom that found me chasing my legend in the air. They shook their heads disapprovingly.
     “I…”
     Before I could even attempt to offer an explanation, the people trotted past on top of their own feet, aware of the power and design of the human voice. The long-distance relationship between the agencies of goodwill and malice was never going to work.
     Rebekah cut me deeply with a raised eyebrow when I returned to the room.
     
     
–––––––

The Stephen Moles from Clacton-on-Sea scrolls a soft object in his spare time, bluffing the anvil and pen in Gone LawnRed FezPifSwamp Biscuits and TeaWhy Vandalism? and others. He has been nominated for a log cabin of fiction, displaying the cosmos like a prose animal with handwriting on the walls. The players of the future can enjoy the hot, young click of a full stop.