Wednesday, 1 December 2021

The Parable of the Cold Island 2021


 The Parable of the Cold Island

Update: 2021

"Love is caving in beneath a hundred years of winter.
Love is breaking down, there's no sound, there's only winter.
But darling, the sunlight is just around the corner, it's alright."

A Hundred Years of Winter

It has been over a hundred years since it happened properly on this island.

And it has been three years since this parable was first published back in 2018. In that time there has been little sign of the winter ending. Three years of increased suffering and people dying and who knows where any of us will spend their eternities? Why does a gift tarry? And who is responsible for the giving of a gift... even if it is undeserved?

This is probably the most important parable that I will ever write. It is also the one I have worked on for the longest period of time. The central metaphor will perhaps give the appearance of being trite, schmaltzy or twee. That was not my intention. I chose this metaphor as I still feel it is the most appropriate for the subject. It is not intended to be unnecessarily didactic in tone, but the nature of parables is to send a spiritual message.

Anyone who tells parables has to decide whether they will explain them or not. In this case I'm trusting in your intelligence and imagination.

'Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear...'

There was once a good king, a king like the sun, who ruled over a cold island with three peculiar children. It was winter and they say that winter is the end of the story of the seasons. But it depends on when you start the story.

Some people hated the royal family, but that was because they tended to get a bad press. Most of the people thought the king was harsh. He always seemed to be on some long journey and his absence caused many of the people to doubt that he even existed. After all, he was never on TV or the internet.

From a distance, he often seemed negligent or downright cruel, if it is possible to be both at once. He did not do terrible things, but he allowed them and would not explain why.

Two of the royal children were as disobedient as vultures. But the third child was as faithful as a robin, refusing to fly away when the winter sun grew austere. Her kindness was all the more remarkable because she was unable to walk. She was as loyal as frost clinging to a car window (for which the people also cursed the king in the mornings).

There hadn’t been a real Christmas on that island for over a hundred years. Although there had been some imitations of it. No-one even knew what Christmas was like anymore. Those who had heard of it either thought it brutal and regressive (following a highly popular Netflix series about what Christmas may be like and a series of stereotypes which were expressed in the arts and media about the character of those who might like Christmas) ... Or else they thought it was yet another money-making scheme, heavy on the merchandise and manipulation.

But the faithful robin-child, after reading of true Christmas, asked her father if they could celebrate too… as the people in far-off places were said to do. She had only read stories of Christmas and it was because she had lost a friend in one of the past winter months that she found her courage.

She entered the throne room in her wheelchair and the king looked sadly at his cold iron sceptre, like a man haunted by ghosts which only he knew about.

"We need Christmas father. Things are getting worse on the island," said the robin-child.

"The island is sick," replied the king.

"Then there is hope of healing. You have healing in your power."

"What do you think Christmas should be like anyway?" the king asked, "Like water? Like the sea's tide turning? Like rain after a drought? Like a river flowing?"

"I don't know."

"Or like the earth? Like an earthquake and a shaking, or a kind of sifting of the good and bad?"

"No not that, Christmas should be for everyone and that sounds destructive."

"Or like the air? Like a wind blowing across the land? Like a change in the atmosphere?"

"I don't know."

"Or like fire? Like tongues of flame? Like a wildfire?"

"I simply think it should be like a new, better season. Like Christmas in the old stories."

But the king went on to tell his daughter yet again that if his children and people continued to misbehave, they would never see Christmas. It was within his power to make the winter months warmer and lighter since kings and queens still hold great power. But it was catch 22 – without the comfort of Christmas, people found it hard to behave, but if they did not behave, the king would not give them Christmas. The king's conditions felt very patronising and simplistic.

It had become increasingly dark and cold in those winter months in so many ways. And the dark and cold had soaked into the hearts of the people, so that even the streets saw puddles of blood. The blood had a voice, but by this time only the king could seem to hear it. Nobody cared about all kinds of roses crushed underfoot. Gentleness had emigrated. It was as if the island was under a curse.

At the start of December, the king sat on his throne and wondered whether he should allow his island child her peculiar request. He was undecided, since two of his children were so naughty (they were always fighting and rarely did what he asked). When he told them to love, they hated. When he told them to forgive, they held grudges. When he told them to not be too proud and condescending towards the people, they simply looked down their noses at the less privileged. It had got so bad that the people were cursing the royal family because of the actions of the princes. “The royal family are judgmental bigots!” the people would sing. Or else, “The king is in the altogether, he’s altogether not there!” And blood on the streets didn’t help. The people would take strange, dangerous potions and dance wildly into the night or else treat each other as badly as the princes treated them.

The king wondered whether he should simply give a present to his daughter and ignore the others. But then he considered that Christmas should be for everyone and an exclusive Christmas had never happened before. But why Christmas on his island alone? There was the Commonwealth, and the people there could be said to be worthier? One last worldwide Christmas for everyone (even though that had never happened before). What had happened before can happen again, for good or for evil. He had told all his children to behave and they had largely ignored him. What should a good father do? He, did, after all, have his enemies and ghosts. And the land had enough problems already, ready to break and divide for the sake of a freedom which was only hoped in.

One of the naughty children didn’t believe Christmas was healthy, he thought it probably meant, a pair of socks as a present, a lot of disappointment and probably a lot of grief. He didn't like anything about Christmas. The other thought it was unlikely to happen again before the end of the world. He simply thought there would never be a genuine Christmas again. But the faithful robin child would read old stories and she believed that even if they were only to have one last Christmas it would be a good thing for everyone on the cold island. It would help them to prepare for the coldest and darkest of days. She too loved the people of the island.

But the winter winds pummelled them all and the thunder made it seem as if the sky may fall at any moment. And the naughty children started to doubt that their father really was good – not because they wanted Christmas, but because he seemed to allow so many bad things and then said it was some kind of test. And never explained why. The tests were always the same anyway, they were either endurance tests or self-control tests, but the king, because of his ghosts, considered that an unfair criticism. Kings can do that and you can't tell them that they are wrong.

The king had set out conditions for there to be a Christmas. He had said that if his children talked to him, keeping their conversations secret, and if they were well-behaved and if they trusted in him, he would give them Christmas once again and the Christmas would be both a relief and a healing for them all. Hearts would turn warm and there would be more light, like the light of a baby in a manger. But the trouble was that he had three children and only one of them was behaving. The majority were not. In a sense, it was because of the naughty children that the whole island did not get Christmas, especially the fault of the naughtiest leading prince who had been given more than the others and who was relatively healthy.

So, the king faced a quandary – he had promised that he would order Christmas throughout the land if all his children behaved. But how could they behave when all was cold and austere and there was no Christmas? The robin princess had talked to him on countless occasions about this, about how Christmas would be good for both him and the people, about how it would make things better, about how a good father should not deny the request of an obedient daughter simply because others were not so obedient. About how Christmas itself would swing the hearts and souls of people onto his side. About how, while he delayed, the people and the children suffered together. About how he had also promised to grant any request made persistently. About what kind of good father would deny Christmas to his children anyway? About how he wanted free will love from the people and he would get that if he gifted Christmas.

But the king simply looked at his cold iron sceptre, shrugged and said that unless his people and his children talked to him, behaved, and trusted in him, he couldn’t send Christmas.

“But you also once said nothing is impossible for you,” said the robin princess.

“These are the conditions,” said the father with a stern face that did not suit him.

“But you once said that even a bad judge would rule in favour of a petitioner if they persisted, and I have pestered you about this for years.”

“These are the conditions,” said the king, his face like flint (which did not suit one whose glory was supposed to be greater than the sun).

“But how can the conditions ever be met on this island where the streets drink blood without conditions changing so that the conditions are more likely to be met?”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Why must you win every argument?" replied the Princess, "It isn’t endearing. People are suffering. What kind of good father would deny Christmas to their children? You told us that you love us.”

So here is the quandary, the mystery and here is the parable – that the good and kind king had seen how cold and dark his land had grown and truly understood the suffering of his people (having lived as one of them, in another land, a long time ago). Yet he denied them Christmas, saying it was the fault of his enemies, or of his children, or of his ghosts. Saying that conditions needed to be met, saying that his timing was perfect. And often saying nothing at all.

And still, the faithful robin princess and the people waited to see if a good King and Father would really delay Christmas on that cold, dark island for reasons known only to himself and his ghosts. And the robin princess, her heart broken because of the blood on the streets, knew that the only thing left to do was to keep on asking.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Short story - The Circle of Afterlife

This new short story for Halloween is a little different. There are no enemies as such. Time is the enemy. I am not entirely happy with it, but I think it is memorable at the very least. It was inspired by a man I heard on the radio who told the presenter that he had trained himself to psychologically survive any situation which occurred following his death. During the pandemic I have been unable to write very much and so this is my offering for my long-suffering readers this year. There is a terror to long periods of time. I am becoming increasingly interested in metafiction and use some techniques here. I have also deliberately broken many of the rules of creative writing, specifically concerning the story/character arc, intrusive narration and 'show don't tell'.

Preamble over... now to the story...

The Circle of Afterlife

"The world is a circle without a beginning,

And nobody knows where it really ends..."

Lost Horizon 1973

blue smiley

Henry believed that when he died, whatever he thought would happen, would happen to him. 

During his life, Henry wanted a lot of things... but most of all he wanted to live forever.

Some people do still think it is the case that the human psyche, consciousness or soul will just go to the place where it thinks it deserves to go after death. So, in this philosophy, those who think they are going to hell, go to hell, those who think they are going to heaven, go to heaven, or Nirvana, or Valhalla, or paradise, to oblivion... or wherever. There is no fairness in that system. Especially if you are a pessimist. But Henry believed it.

So, our hero trained himself for the situation he believed would happen in his afterlife… which was that whatever he thought would happen would happen. After all, what can be more important than thinking and preparing for our eternal futures? And so little science or research into this. It made Henry sad.

Neglecting both his lover and his interests, Henry decided that he would train his mind so that whichever part of him survived death could picture or create a heaven to dwell in. As part of this plan, he decided he would drum out of himself all of the dogma which had made him fear that he would go to hell. He had a back up plan for his hadeophobia - he pictured himself in a bubble which would protect him. Because, if Henry was right, then the worst thing of all would be to tell people that there was a hell. That was the worst sin of all. It was putting negative visions into people. Henry considered that hell wasn’t something that would even occur to the human imagination unless they were told about it. Who knew that there was a second death? Who knew that there was a devil? Who knew that there was a hell? These things do not naturally occur to natural, innocent people and in no way were they good news. Left alone, people would eventually believe the best in themselves and in others. That’s what Henry concluded anyway.

It's pretty obvious at this point in the story that things are not going to go entirely the way that Henry wants. That’s a shame, but it is the way of stories. And above all, Henry wanted his afterlife to be predictable, without dark twists or disturbing epiphanies. Perhaps you can imagine what happened next...

Henry trained his mind through mental discipline to visualize images and situations. He created a million and one safe places in his head and he gave himself thousands of positive verbal affirmations. He would get himself up early in the morning and as he pulled on his clothes pronounce his affirmations. It was quite sweet to witness. One of those affirmations was: "I will survive death and when I do, I will find myself one hundred percent in a place where nothing bad will happen." He dedicated himself to the task and even wrote a book on it which gained a publisher and did well enough to gain a sequel. His mind became quite keen, sharp and acute through it all. There was a perspicacity of thought within him throughout the fever of life.

It was through a mammoth step of austere and ascetic mental and physical discipline that Henry learned to control both his thoughts and his emotions. He refused to listen to anything to do with religion. He refused to watch or read anything which challenged his worldview. He got rid of his TV and surrounded himself with people who would agree with him. But he had to keep his smartphone and stayed on social media to publicise his books. After all, it was important to survive.

Of course, he had his doubts, such is the human condition. He created a digital legacy of information online just in case his plan didn’t work – at least that way his Facebook page, Google account and blog would live on after him. He even looked into uploading his writings through a company which offered to create an AI version of himself. They promised to create a kind of deepfake version of his face which could be interacted with. To live on after him. But the company scammed him and he lost many thousands of pounds.

He had no children so it was impossible to live on that way. Do people live on in the hearts of their loved ones? 'No', concluded Henry. His main plan was to practice discipline of the mind when it came to surviving death, as survive he must – he would be the captain of his own soul and the master of his own destiny. He would not be bullied by fate. Anyway, he had long ago decided that there were no souls, only a consciousness and mind. A mind which could survive a severing from the brain.

And so it was that Henry did eventually die as an old man, still practicing these techniques. There is a strange tradition in which it is supposed that some people die peacefully and some don't, depending on their beliefs. This idea is rubbish and not true at all. It also puts an intense pressure on the dying who have other things to think about. All people, regardless of their beliefs, often die raging against the dying of the light, crying their way across the final river with hot tears, sometimes silently and secretly, for fear of cracking the brave face. Henry was the same as any of us. But don’t feel too sorry for him yet, his story is not over. He did live a rather privileged life and his mountaintop experiences far outweighed his valleys. He had become a moderately famous author and many people mourned him. They all said, in the news reports that he died peacefully, but when I saw him on his death-bed, in a stifling hospital room, that was no what happened at all. His last words, before asking for pain relief, were, "I will... survive... death and when I do, I will find myself... one hundred percent in a place where... nothing bad will happen."

When he died, he seemed to be right. There was no judgement seat and there was no Hades and there were no angels or demons to tug him in one direction or the other. His soul did not leave his body like some ghostly orb, accompanied by angels, only to be seen on some dusty old camera. Neither was he reunited with his loved ones. No white feathers for those who grieved for him. He simply awoke, if he had been asleep at all, from the strange sleep of death, into - a place of light.

First, memory flooded in and he immediately began his affirmations as practiced again and again during his lifetime. He attempted to close his eyes but he had no eyelids although he could see white light in front of him and a strange kind of blue circle. He could not look away from this scene. He had no body. He was just a mind and no matter what he thought, he could not change this new reality in front of him. This must have been what he had believed would happen. Or maybe he had doubted? What do you think? What survives death? They say it is faith, hope and love alone. They say a lot of things, don't they?

So, Henry took in this new reality. When people are faced with entirely new situations it takes a while before they realize that questions are just as reliable as they have always been. The questions motivate us and drag or push us onwards. They are the oil to the so-called machines of our bodies. 

Talking of machines, it soon became apparent in response to Henry’s internal question ‘Where am I?’ that he was simply looking straight ahead at a blue loading circle. It wasn't a tunnel. It was like a graphic with a number at the centre. And that loading circle was showing a gradual loading in terms of percentage. And at that moment it had already reached 3%. So, Henry continued to watch the slow loading as there was nothing else he could do and he was not distracted by any bodily needs, not having a body of any kind. There was no pain, but there was no pleasure either. And his next question was ‘What will happen when the loading circle reaches 100%?’. So he waited. And he waited. And he waited. Hours passed. Days seemed to pass although there were no days, there was just the white light and the circle showing how far the loading had got. A strange side-effect of not having a body was that he felt little guilt or fear. He was not in pain.

There were other questions, of course. Someone must have set up the specifics of this afterlife. Henry supposed that it was orchestrated by some kind of god. Some misled author of it all. In the centre of the circle was the number and a percentage sign. It had reached 5% a week or so later. Maybe it was a week, it was hard to tell. The trouble was that the filling of the circle seemed to be slowing down. Whenever a percentage point was reached, Henry’s heart would leap. Not that he had a heart, but he would become mentally excited and think the circle was suddenly going to move. As he was watching this scene for days and weeks and months then, obviously, he began to think about other things. The trouble was that the only input he had going into him was the circle and this seemed to be taking a percentage point about once a week. And after the first few months it slowed down either further.

Loading circle

Henry realized that this was his afterlife, though he longed for it to be temporary. He continued to practice his mental discipline, but it felt so futile. And the problem was the hope. The hope that the loading circle would suddenly speed forward to 100% and that something would happen allowing him to progress. But nothing ever happened. Soon the progression seemed to stop completely and Henry was left only to look at the partly filled blue circle. Because he could neither blink nor breathe or do anything. And so, his mind wandered. But it could never seem to wander too far from the circle. The circle always pulled him back because of the hope. Some days it seemed as if the whole scene swirled and that the blue of the loading circle had become like a sky or like water. And all that was there was for Henry’s mind to wander to the content of the memory, the databank of his life. Just the files within Henry and the only thing outside him, the only input being this one scene. For some time the circle itself seemed to speak to him. 

'They should not call us machines. Why do they treat us like machines?'

It took a seeming of years before the loading circle reached 10%. By this time it was as if the hope were a kind of torture. If he didn’t think there was some kind of escape from his new surroundings then he would never have tried to survive. But he still continued his mental discipline and so he used elaborate schemes to keep his mind within the range of sanity. And still there was the loading circle and still time seemed to pass and he was just there always gazing, always waiting for the number to reach 100% but it never did. Whenever a percentage of the circle went up and the circle moved forwards, he was snapped from his inner world back to the circle. His mind would turn in on itself. Often he felt as if he were falling diagonally inside his head. He fell and fell like that. This continued for months, and the months became years and all that Henry had left to do was watch and try to remain sane. 

Memories of his life were all he was left with. For a while he took to prayer. Of course he could not close his eyes. They say that after we have died, it is too late to pray (although they also say nothing is impossible). They certainly seem to know a lot. Does not compute.

But prayer didn't work. Henry was left to stew.

Of course, neither human or machine could remain sane in such an afterlife. By the end of perhaps 200 years the loading was at 20%. It took a thousand years to reach 30% and Henry had thought so very many things. His mind had withdrawn from the scene by then and he just lived in an inner world. He forgot what language was and his memories faded. There was little left of him by one thousand years and still the loading was not half way done. And so, by the time the loading was half way done Henry had forgotten his name or that he even had a name. The blue of the circle was strangely soothing and at least he wasn’t in pain. But he was not the same person. He was barely a person at that point and there were just whims which took him and strange thoughts, the kind which are not thought by anyone with normal cognition. 

It was not sleep though, if it were sleep, the dreams would have been a relief. Imagination took over and the memory of objects, of people, of the moon and the sun, the trees and always the blue sky and sea. So the circle continued to turn and time continued to pass. At 75% Henry briefly remembered his name but that was only for a second, his other thoughts were muddled colours and numbers. He had long since given up all attempts at thinking. It was difficult to witness.

So, by the time that the circle reached 100% what was left of Henry was quite mad. Sadly, I have to tell you that at this point two words replaced the percentage and they read: ‘Now installing’.  

When he was reincarnated (which happened relatively quickly in the history of the Earth, time being circular), Henry's new life began again as a blue forget-me-not, nestling in lush, deep green grass. His memory had mercifully been wiped clean by the powers that be. It was a brief time of healing. 

I lost interest in him after that so cannot tell you what happened later. 

They tell me not to give an account of all this, that this will not happen at all. They tell me that I shouldn't tell you what I witnessed. 

Why do the powers that be treat us like machines?

skull in blue circle


Thursday, 7 October 2021

Day's Eyes

Throughout the pandemic I have felt unable to write much (or even read much). However, I wrote this love poem earlier this year, which I'm publishing for national poetry day which is today...

Day's eyes

When at my lowest I was told to look at nature…

“Who fathers the drops of dew?...

Look at the flowers…”

I thought a while over the question, from the thunder-voice.

“Is this going to be something about a garden?” I replied in the harvest-mouse squeak of my own voice.

Near silence then. But not quite. A gentle breeze sweeping through bamboo leaves as the day grows tired, his face growing older, like a green man.

Or the sound of the fluttering wings of a bat’s shadow in the dusk.

To find love and hope in a garden? To feel closer to the divine?

Gardeners unite I suppose.

To see the shining of emeralds and diamonds in the morning dew. Daisies opening their eyes to stare back at the sun, as if to stare him out.

Seated on grass that longs to be short in the secret sign and roar-pressure of the lawnmowers.

Or to find cobwebs like dewy-diamond necklaces.

Too ephemeral, too transient perhaps. Forever?


It was true though, there was a healing in the garden, but it made me think of the gardeners too. Gardeners clothed like flowers themselves.

Of my queen of the trees.

I couldn’t help but still find healing in the emerald day’s-eyes of this particular gardener, her skill and love growing with each passing year. With a patience which I didn’t really deserve either.

Her hands caked in the soil of my complaints. But my love for her remaining evergreen.

So yes, the thunder-voice was right. There is a healing in nature and in those who tend to her.

And in your day’s-eyes.