In Competition No. 3118, which was inspired by Joan Didion’s wonderful essay of that title, you were invited to submit a short story whose last line is ‘I can’t get that monster out of my mind’.
Another notable American female essayist, Susan Sontag, has come in for a bit of stick in these pages over the past few weeks, and she popped up again, in Hugh King’s short story: ‘Susan Sontag, naked, terrifying, had come to him in the night, pinned him down with hawser-like arms, and demanded to know his views on post-structuralism.’ Other memorable ‘monsters’ included Beowulf, the Minotaur and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The winners earn £25 each.
It seemed that I passed through a gloomy cathedral and into a chamber of oppressive noise; and in that chamber was a beast with six hundred heads. The heads shouted, crowed, groaned and jeered, now one, now many together; for the heads were divided against each other, and subdivided. All of them were angry and intemperate. They spat hot bile at one another that formed a choking mist over all. Yet through the mist I saw one enthroned, that wielded a mace greater than himself; who jerked, cried and grimaced like one in pain, yet at his command the beast would sometimes obey, in part. Then once more I saw the youth, Albion, in the midst of the chamber, and the beast saw that Albion was fair, and fell upon him, with twelve hundred snapping jaws. The vision passed; but
I can’t get that monster out of my mind.
It was breakfast, a late one, and the phone rang. It’s me, man, said the voice, a voice swimming in drool. Hey man, I said. I thought of his hands, their fingers clammy, like leeches. I’m outside,
man, I’m coming in.
He sat across from me, resting unwashed denim on my crisp linen. He stank like a minor-league urinal. He had an aura you don’t often see with rock gods — a shimmering, noxious cloud. Were flies to come within six inches, and some tried, they fell from the air, stunned.
Man, he said, running a broken nail through some outsize scurf. It’s still No. 1, man. He snorted. I was his manager; it was true. One of his dreary songs had hit an international nerve. A giant, multi-platinum smasheroonie, and I’d neglected
to ink myself in as co-writer.
I can’t get that monster out of my mind.
One day a posh Roller turns up at my service station on Bodmin Moor and a huge man gets out introducing himself as Sir Peregrine Pratt. ‘There’s a rattle under the bonnet,’ he says. ‘Can you fix it?’ Sensing an easy profit, I poke around in the engine, then frown and say, ‘I can, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg, I’m afraid, as I’ll have to whip everything out.’ Months later, with stomach pains, I land up in hospital and immediately recognise the monstrous figure looming over me. After he’s poked around
I ask if he can fix it. He frowns then says, ‘I can, but it’ll cost you an arm and leg I’m afraid as I’ll have to whip everything out.’ Many years on, try as
I might, I can’t get that monster out of my mind.
As Oppenheimer watched the first nuclear explosion he was at first relieved that he had succeeded. It seemed that the sudden burst of light released a thousand suns for science. Then immediately afterwards an ominous roar was heard. The spectators fell silent. Finally, Oppenheimer’s colleague spoke: ‘Robert, you have succeeded in uncovering power man has never seen before. You have harnessed the lightning bolt and brought thunder under human control. What an achievement!’
Oppenheimer said nothing for a few minutes and then observed: ‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ One of the worlds was Nagasaki, after the destruction of which a repentant Oppenheimer went to see President Truman, who did not share his horror. ‘I feel I have blood on my hands,’ he said, ‘in releasing such terrible power. How do I sleep? I can’t get that monster out of my mind.’
Beeeeeep! I mark the spot in the newly ploughed field with my spade and put aside my metal detector. The torch on my helmet lights the scene as I dig down to Abbot Collet’s hoard. It’s just where the scroll said it would be, among the buried abbey ruins.
Meanwhile, the farmer owner has sneaked up on me. Before he can say, ‘Ger orf my land!’
I brain him.
The police are clueless. Once the heat dies down, I’ll dispose of the coins, one-by-one, to unscrupulous collectors.
Then the dreams start. Something’s lolloping after me in a dark muddy field. I flee, but get bogged down. Night after night the creature envelopes me, like an obscene amoeba, suffocating me. I awaken sweat-drenched and screaming.
There’s a power drill in the garage, and I’ve placed a note on the workbench. It explains: ‘I can’t get that monster out of my mind.’
Joanne’s mother looked into her bedroom.
‘What on earth caused you to shout? Are you all right?’
Joanne sleepily opened her eyes and peered at her mother.
‘I was having a nightmare. I was in a magic school where there were wizards and something horrible breathed into my face and wanted to take me prisoner.’
‘It was a dream, Joanne. Nothing comes of dreams. You will forget all about your nightmare tomorrow.’
‘But I’m sure I won’t, Mum. It felt as if it would change my whole life.’
Joanne’s mother lifted up a ruler and waved it several times. ‘This wand will banish your bad dream. Now you can go to sleep.’
Joanne smiled weakly and lay back. But when the door closed she resolutely picked up a pencil and muttered: ‘I can’t get that monster out of my mind.’
No. 3121: going concern
You are invited to submit a song entitled ‘50 Ways to Leave the White House’. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 16 October.