Excerpt for Computers and the Internet for the Modern Luddite: A Guide by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Computers and the Internet for the Modern Luddite: A Guide

Hercules Bantas

A collection of stories published by

Reluctant Geek

Copyright Hercules Bantas 2011–2017

Table of Contents

The Adventures of Metho and Skip


Giant Wave

Skip's Pain

The Crime Lord and His Three Flunkies

Where's Papoo?

I was an Internet Addict

Symposia: Short Stories about Modern Life

A Virtual Life

Consuming Passions


Cad and the Sacred Cow

Impure Silicon

Virtually Real

Existence Goes On

Well of Souls

The Adventures of Metho and Skip

(words and pictures and a fairy tale)


**WARNING: The characters in this story are criminals and use exceptionally bad language. WARNING**

No matter how long Metho stared at the sign on the door, the words didn't change. The Belgradia Hotel, scene of many a drunken debauch and the place where most of everyone he knew had been conceived, was closing down. 'This is where me mum and dad met,' he grumbled.

'It's the property values,' said one of the motley collection of individuals standing on the footpath behind him. 'It's close to the city, which makes it an attractive prospect for those who can't afford to buy in one of the more sought after inner suburbs. Especially now that the, um, undesirables that were associated with the old demographic are moving on.'

Everyone looked at the speaker, who blushed. 'Fucken arseholes,' he added. He was the newest member of the crew—it was only his third day—and they had named him Little Spaz, which he wasn't happy about. Little Spaz's father—the original Spaz, or Big Spaz as he was now known—had introduced him to the crew because 'the boy's a bit soft', and Metho had seemed only too happy to take him on.

Even though he was still learning the ropes, Little Spaz was having doubts about what his father had obviously thought was a good career move. From the snippets of conversation he'd picked up, it was becoming apparent that Metho hadn't taken him on because he saw potential, but because he was afraid of Big Spaz. The realization that it was fear rather than talent that got him hired was like a metaphorical knee to the groin for his confidence, as well as being a bit perplexing.

As far as Little Spaz was concerned, Popy, which is what he called his dad at home, was as caring and gentle as a father could be. No one had a bad word to say about him. In fact, most people went out of their way to say what a good bloke he was.

'Fucken yuppies,' Metho muttered.

They're not yuppies anymore,' Little Spaz said, 'these days, they're just aspirational.' He looked around at the renewed stares and knew that he'd erred again. 'Fuck the fucken fuckers, the fucken fuckers are fucked,' he added, in order to redress the balance between curse words and normal language.

'If land values are up like Little Spaz says, and there are all these asperdicks running around with full fucken wallets, then why the fuck is business so bad?' Metho said, and turned to look directly at his, for want of a better word, men.

The crew replied with silence and a determination to avoid eye contact at all costs. Metho had a reputation for beating twelve textures of faecal matter out of any messenger who dared give him bad news. Or good news, for that matter. Or stood too close when Metho was having a bad day. And today was definitely shaping up as a bad day.

'Look, what about him,' Metho said, and pointed to a man strolling, carefree and casual, on the other side of the road. 'I'm sure we used to sell to him. He was a fucken gold mine, if I remember right. Couldn't get enough of whatever we had , a regular Keith fucken Richards. He can't of gone straight, could he? They can't all of gone on fucken health kicks, could they?'

The plumpest of the crew, whose flabby chest had earned him the moniker "Tits" looked towards where Metho was pointing. 'He might of,' he said, after a moment's contemplation, 'but all these aspirational buggers look the same to me'

A straggler joined the group and Metho turned on him. 'Skip, you fucka! Where yew been?'

'I brung some donuts,' Skip said, and handed around fried snack treats. 'I just got back from Brighton. Was with that little blondie what you liked, Tits. You remember that little blue eyed one that used to buy from us a while back? Posh bitch, parents are lawyers? Husband's one of those councillor dudes?'

'What? You? With her?' Tits exclaimed, then paused a moment. 'What's she like?'

'You didn't miss much,' Skip said, and the disappointment was obvious in his tone. 'She looks good, but, I dunno...'

'Fucken aspirationals.' Little Spaz said, trying his best to fit in.

Skip gave Little Spaz a strange look. 'Whatever,' he said. 'She was like what supermarket fruit is like when you remember fruit from the good old days. Now'a'days, you buy a peach from the supermarket and it looks great. Big an' round an' fuzzy an' that, but when you take a bite, it dun taste like a peach at all. It tastes like fucken cardboard.'

The crew shuffled uncomfortably and gave one another furtive glances. Metaphors were not a big part of their day–to–day lives.

'What's in the bag?' Metho asked, after a moment's silence during which the crew tried to understand why Skip hadn't had a good time last night. 'Did she make you a cut lunch like your mum used to when you woz her golden haired boy?'

'She give me these books.'


'Yeah, books,' Skip said and handed the bag to Metho, who rummaged around inside. 'There's just one book in here,' he said and pulled out a weighty tome. He read the title like a seven-year-old reading aloud to the class for the first time. 'Fi-ft-y Sh-a-des of Grrr-ey,' he said. 'Isn't that porn?'

'No way! It's not porn! It's erotica,' Skip exclaimed, hurriedly. 'It's socially acceptable and cultural an' that. I was gunna give it to Steph because, you know, the problems I had with her. About her not knowing her place an' that.'

'Yeah, rumour is she sconed ya with a frypan,' Metho said. The rest of the crew sniggered.

'It wasn't a frypan!' Skip said, hotly. 'Anyway, this woman from Brighton wanted me to hit her! On the arse. And she give me that book to educate me on modern seduction. I know Steph reckons blokes shouldn't hit girls anymore because of changing times, but maybe she's wrong. That book,' he said and pointed to the volume in Metho's grubby paw, 'is about a bloke that hit's his girlfriend, and she likes it!'

'Wot, you reckon you'll give this to Steph and she'll have you back?'

'Yeah, I thought she might be into it. Modern seduction an' that.'

'I bet Steph doesn't taste like peaches either,' Tits said. The crew did another mass snigger.

Metho shook his head. 'She ain't gunna fall for it, mate. She's too smart for crap like this. If you give her this book, I can guarantee she'll definitely scone ya with a pan.' He dropped the book back into the bag. 'But there's only one book,' he continued, and pulled out a black tablet. 'An' this? Wot's this?'

'That's an eReader,' Skip said, in a sulky voice. He'd been looking forward to giving the book to Steph, but had a sneaking suspicion that Metho was right. 'Got a thousand books on it.'

'A thousand? How can anyone read a thousand books?' Metho said, and gave it a suspicious glare. 'How do ya turn it on?'

Skip took the eReader, fiddled with it for a moment, and handed it back to Metho

'The screen's fucked up, mate. Your new girlfriend sold ya a dud.'

'She's not my girlfriend, and that's the way it's meant to be. It's ePaper an' it stooges you eyes into thinking you're reading from paper. The titles of the books is listed. Just press one and it'll open it for ya.'

'They're all the same—"Succeeding Successfully with Success",' Metho said.

'It's a series of inspirational books but you can't see the number of each one cos the screen's too narrow.'

'All this reading is bullshit,' Metho said. 'Is this why no one's buying? I was right, wasn't I? Everyone's gone all healthy and shit, and is too busy reading about successfulness to take drugs.'

'Nah,' said Skip. 'It's not just us, mate. Anyone who sells the old way, face to face, is getting screwed. The internet's fucking everyone up. It's called disrupting.'

Metho gave Skip a dirty look. 'You can't download drugs, you dickhead.'

'Of course not. They comes in the mail.'

'Wot, the posty and that?'

'Yeah. Blondie does it. She reckons it's a bit more expensive, but she doesn't have to talk with smelly, scumbag dealers.'

'Wot, like the one who was hitting her on the arse?'

Skip shrugged. 'I dunno. That's just what she said.'


Metho watched the crew disperse. It had been a tough few months, and no one had been able to fill their quota of unlawful activity for ages. And it didn't look like today was going to be any different. If things didn't pick up soon, they were all going to have to answer to a higher authority, and there was nothing divine about the people who would be asking the serious questions. 'The fucken fuckers aren't fucked,' he grumbled, 'we are.'

He sat down on the doorstep of his once favourite but now defunct drinking establishment and looked down at the eReader. Idle curiosity sent his finger to the top book and the word "SUCCESS" flashed on the strange, papery screen. 'What bullshit,' he said, and snorted a derisive laugh. He flipped the page.

'Are you a loser?' the book asked him. 'Does success avoid you like an A-lister avoids the paparazzi? It doesn't have to be this way. Just turn the page and find out how you can catch Success like an agile and cunning fox catches a fat and lazy rabbit!'

Metho snorted another laugh, but turned the page anyway. Half an hour later he tore his eyes off the screen and dragged himself to the Dancing Dog cafe, where his specialized business interests guaranteed him as many bad coffees and burnt ham–and–cheese toasties as his digestive tract could handle.


Six crowded hours later and Metho was back in front of the Belgradia, corralling the crew into a semblance of order. 'Right you blokes, gather round,' he said. 'We need a paradigum change around here or we're all for the dole queue.'

'We're all already on the dole,' Skip said, 'and I think you mean pa–ra–dime.'

'Listen fuckwit, I'm sick of you flauntin' your fucken education in our faces. We all know you finished high school, so there's no need to fucken show off,' Metho said. 'I've been reading that success book you got, and I know what we has to do.'

'It wasn't my fault they had an amnesty just when I lit the fire, was it? I wanted to get expelled, but the bastards told my old man they'd give me a second chance.'

'Excuses, excuses,' Metho snapped, 'now just shut up an' listen.'

He gave each of the crew a megawatt stare to make sure that he had their full attention. 'Skip's Brighton bitch is right, we gotta clean up our act. We been doin' it wrong all these years. We been selling drugs when wot our customers want is a drug buying experience.'

'They're not customers, Meth mate, they're fucken druggies.' Tits pointed out.

Metho slapped him. 'Ya stupid bugger, you just proved to me that the book is right. You know what's wrong with this enterprise? Well, do ya?'

'Na,' Tits conceded.

'I'll tell you what's wrong, mate, it's our crappy attitude towards the people that are paying our wages, that's what's wrong. Our negativity towards them is ground in, mate, like fucken dog hair in a fucken shag pile rug, right. Failure is part of our bloody cultcha, part of our Dee-eN-Ae, an' it's holdin' us back. We can't has success until success has us, you know what I mean? And do you know wot we has to lose to get success to have us? Well, do ya?'

Tit's looked into Metho's mad eyes. 'Negativity?' he said, hazarding a guess.

'That's right,' Metho said, in a voice that sounded slightly disappointed. 'Negativity! We got ta be more positive. We got ta visualise selling more stuff. Negativity is fucking with our success and that is gunna change, even if I has to kick your arse clear up through your fucken ear hole ta change it. Now shut up or the next one'll hurt.'

'That did hurt, you bastard,' the thug grumbled, but quietly so that Metho, who'd already turned away, couldn't hear.

'Now I been thinking. It's not just us lookin' sharper that's gunna do it, is it? Apart from Skip here, none of yous are much ta look at.'

'It's all this changin' times,' Tits exclaimed, 'everyone's shitting on masculinity.'

'Yeah, yeah, whatever,' Metho said. 'Look, the book says we should look for something that we do better than our competition. We got ta think of an angle and fast. What do yous reckon?'

'Well, I hate having to wait for my parcel to arrive when I buy something online,' Little Spaz said. 'I'd much rather go to the shops and get what I want right away, but it seems I'm part of a dying breed.'

The crew looked at Little Spaz, who blushed. 'What are you arseholes lookin' at, fucken?'

'You, ya fucken dickhead,' Tits said, 'ya sound like a fucken teacher.'

The crew tittered at the newbie's discomfit, except for Metho, who was staring intently at the brick wall above them. 'Leave Little Spaz alone,' he said, in a distant voice. 'His old man'll make you eat your own ballsack if he hears you been pickin' on him.'

Metho stood, unmoving as if in a trance, and stared up at the wall for so long that the crew became uneasy. Those nearest to him braced themselves for an explosion of violence, but it never came.

Instead, Metho smiled and slapped Little Spaz on the back. 'We'll make a crim outta you yet, lad,' he said. 'Right, the lot of yous are gunnu go home and have a shower and come back tomorrow in ya best clothes. I knows you've all got suits for funerals an' that, so I want to see you in 'em. Now everyone piss off except for Skip. I need you here.'

The crew dispersed, grumbling amongst themselves and giving Skip dirty looks.

'What the fuck ya doin'? They're blaming me for your crazy bullshit. The minute I turn my back, someone'll stick a knife in it!'

'Shutup,' Metho barked, 'your gunna be in a suit too, but I need you ta go an' get your cousin Gav.'

'The tagger? What do you want him for?'

'Just shut up and go.'


With the working day over, the setting Sun found Skip lurking in the shadow cast by a street lamp and wishing he was a smoker. If there was ever a time for a cigarette, then this was it. Stephanie, the love of his life, was just a few houses down and, if he closed his eyes and strained his ears, he thought he could hear her telling her nieces and nephews to shut the fuck up so she could hear the fucken tele.

They'd been on and off since high school, Steph and he, which was a hell of a long time. More off than on, if he were honest, and they were currently on an extended break. If he hadn't been so smitten, he would have noticed that, although she always ended it, she never hooked up with anyone else when they were apart. He, on the other hand, felt the rejection like an egg feels a sledgehammer.

Every time she dumped him, his heart spattered and his life quickly spiralled out of control. It never took much time for him to descend into a dark space, where donuts were a staple food, and hollow sex with inappropriate people became a way of life. The rest of the crew admired and envied him for it, but he hated every minute.

Tonight, Skip was determined that the madness would end. He'd visualized his success. He was certain that he was a cunning fox, and was pretty sure that Steph was a lazy rabbit. In his mind's eye, he'd seen her fall into his arms and promise to never leave his side again.

In his right hand, he held the eReader he'd acquired from last night's inappropriate liaison. In his left, he clutched the mighty tome that he knew would be the salvation of his addled love life. Armed with knowledge and bursting with positivity, Skip squared his shoulders and marched out of the shadows, towards his fickle lover's door.


The crew gathered the following morning, each dressed in his unique version of smart business wear and, as a man, looked up in awe.

'Fuck Metho, mate, that's fucken awesome,' Little Spaz said. Popy had been right. It was getting easier every day.

Metho beamed through his freshly scrubbed teeth and adjusted his tie. There was a silhouette of a naked woman on it, but gentrification is a slow process, especially for those who have earned a nickname like Metho. 'See, boys, ya don't need no education to has good ideas.'

Skip wandered up a few minutes later with a bandage on his head, and looked up at the brick wall that had captured everyone's attention.

'Cheaper Drugs Now,' he read. 'With your name on it, and Gav's tag too.'

'What?' Metho said, and stared up at the writing on the wall. 'The bastard said it was an internet meme thingy. "Good Shit No Kidding" or something like that.' He turned to Skip and seemed to see him for the first time. 'What happened to your head?'

'You wouldn't believe it,' Skip said, and adopted an anecdote–recounting stance, 'but I went to make up with Steph last night, an' we got sooooo pissed that I ran into the bathroom door when I went to have a slash.'

Metho gave his friend a long, slow look. He'd known him for more years than he could remember, which was always a problem for someone who mixed alcohol with any and every drug he could find. 'You gave her that stupid book, didn't you?' he said.

Skip cast his eyes down to his feet. 'Yep,' he mumbled.

'An' then you probably said something stupid like, "assume the position" or "it's time for your punishment", didn't you?'

Skip shuffled his feet and nodded.

'I told you, didn' I? Metho said. 'You've only got yourself to blame cos you wouldn't listen ta good advice. You blokes remember it, don't ya? Me telling Skip not to give Steph the porn book?' he looked around for validation and the crew murmured in response. Meth took this as support and smiled. 'I tol' you she'd hit you with the frypan, an' hit you with the frypan she did, huh lads?'

'It wasn't the bloody frypan!' Skip snapped. 'She sconed me with the fucken eReader.'

The crew sniggered at poor Skip and his dented head.

'Things is changin',' Metho said, and gestured towards the sign daubed inexpertly in white paint on the red brick wall. He sighed like the world–weary man that he was and gave Skip a friendly slap on the shoulder, which almost knocked him over. 'The internet's disruptin' everything. Fucken books, fucken drugs. Even Skip's fucken skull.'

Giant Wave

'And anyway, I said to her that's just the way it's got to be, but would she listen? Would she? Well?'

Skip realised he was talking to himself and looked back. Metho had stopped and was staring, slack jawed, at something in the window of the Salvation Army opp shop.

'What the fuck you looking at?'

Metho's only answer was to place both hands on the pane of glass in front of him, like a hipster standing outside a store peddling various ironies.

'Meth? You okay?'

'It's the wave,' Metho said. 'It's the wave. But giant!'

What the fuck are you on about?' Skip said. This was beginning to feel a lot like the day Metho quit meth. 'Here, have a smoke,' he said and offered a free lung buster from the crumpled pack he kept in the sleeve of his jumper.

Metho was unmoved.

Skip swallowed the fear that was rising from his stomach, girded his loins, and took a step towards Metho. 'It's me, Meth mate,' he said in what he hoped was a reassuring voice. 'It's your old mate Skip.'

Metho turned to him and for a moment, his ever present scowl returned. 'What the fuck are you talking about, you fucking psycho?'

'Me? Psycho? I'm not the one standing in front of the Salvos, drooling at their window display.'

Metho self–consciously wiped his chin. 'It's the wave,' he said, and pointed to the window.

Skip's curiosity overcame his natural fear of his friend's erratic temper, and he sidled up to the window. 'What?'

'The wave!' Methos said, in a voice that was almost, but not quite, his own.

'That? It's just a junk print like what was popular in the eighties. My uncle had one on the wall of his study.'

'When I was a kid, my Mum had it on her best tea towel, the one she used to put under my plate when I ate lunch with her at home.'

Skip looked at his friend and was alarmed to see a tear glint in his eye. He employed his sidling skills to get himself out of random–punch–in–the–head range.

'I used to dream it would come crashing through the wall and wash all our troubles away,' Metho continued, in his strange voice.

'The cops did that when they put your old man in the slam,' Skip said, in what he knew was a poor—possibly even lethal—attempt at humour.

Metho snapped out of his dream–like state and turned angry eyes on Skip, who breathed a sigh of relief. An angry Metho was something he'd been dealing with all his life. It was almost comforting.

'Sorry mate, you know what I'm like, eh?' Skip said. 'Can't think my way out of a paper bag 'cos my Mum drank shit loads when she was preggers with me. She reckons it was the only way she could deal with looking at my Dad's face.'

'You look a lot like your old man,' Metho said, and held out his hand, 'now give me some cash so I can buy this thing.'

Skip's Pain

Skip dropped his head into his hands, which was a relief to Metho because it hid his friend's eyes. They'd been the best of buddies for a long time, and Skip was usually so stable that he bordered on being boring. But for every rule there is an exception, and Skip's exception had to do with matters of the heart.

Metho looked around at the devastation that was once his lounge room and was just about to launch into what he thought was a justifiable tirade when Skip began to talk, and the sound that escaped from behind his hands pushed the rant back down Metho's throat.

'You hear people talk sometimes about their gut telling them something,' Skip said. 'They say they have a gut feeling, but it's not their gut talking, probably 'cos it's far too busy digesting all that crappy pre–packaged food we eat these days. It just feels like it's in your guts. What's really talking is your subconscious, and it's got nothing to do with stomachs or livers or spleens. It's in our brain, but sort of separate, and it looks at our fucked up world through our very own eyes.

And I had a feeling in my gut a while back, a nagging thought that it was time to get the fuck out. It started out small. An idea that hung out on the fringes and only got noticed when things went wrong. But I ignored it and if there is one thing that your subconscious doesn't like, it's being ignored. It finds other ways to get your attention, and mine muscled its way into my dreams.

They were subtle to begin with, these dreams. The first one I remember was real hard to understand. We would be in a ruined house filled with friends and family, all of whom ignored me at first. One minute, she was by my side and the next she was lost in the crowd, but I couldn't go find her because suddenly everyone wanted to talk to me. Whenever I woke up after the dream, I felt uncomfortable but I couldn't really understand it. In a strange way, it was terrifying even though it was kind of mild. At the time, I couldn't see the message in it so I ignored it. And how did my subconscious respond? The bastard beefed up the dreams. No more gentle prods, or obscure messages. The dreams became more brutal, less subtle, more direct.

The worst one I remember is what I call the roadside diner dream. In this one, which tormented me for far too long, we are having diner in a cheap cafe, you know the sort, like in that tele show Happy Days. They got no tables, just booths that are made of cheap vinyl and fake wood. So we was sitting there, waiting for our dinner when a man walks in and she can't take her eyes off him. She watches him as he moves around the diner and after a while he notices the weight of her eyes. So he comes over and whispers in her ear and I'm sitting there watching it all happen but I can't move or talk or get up and kick the fuckwit in the nuts like I really wanted to. And then she turns to me and gives me a sneer, all contemptuous and that, and then goes to the crappy counter where she cancels our dinner. Then she comes back to tell me to wait while she goes off with this new guy she's met. Next thing I know, she's sitting at the booth again and I can move, so I tell her I was leaving before I kicked the shit out of her new friend. Suddenly, I'm outside at the car door and she comes tearing out of the cafe, yelling and screaming and accusing me of being a bastard for leaving her with a strange man in a cheap cafe.

So anyway, after a couple of weeks of the diner dream I finally get the hint so I tell her it's over. It was no big deal in the end. The kids are older and appear uninterested in what's happening between me and their Ma, even the dog doesn't seem to care. But is the subconscious satisfied? No fucken way, mate. No fucken way.

Every time I got nostalgic or anything like that, I'd get a new wave of nightmares. Like the one I had last night where I'd dreamt that I was just about to fall asleep and I felt her crawl into bed and put arms her around me. The warmth of her body was comforting at first, and then her arms began to tighten around me until I couldn't move, and still her embrace got tighter and tighter. I tried to scream but she was squeezing so hard that the words caught in my throat as my breath left me. I woke up just before she squeezed me to death. I was all cold and sweaty, and shouting "Get on your own side of the fucking bed!"

That's why I did it. I had to convince my subconscious I was truly free of her. It wasn't enough that I drove her out of my life, I had to drive her out of my dreams as well. It was a symbolic cleansing of my soul.'

'Okay, I understands you want to move on an' that, but did you have to burn her stuff in the fucken lounge room?' Metho said, and shook his head. 'We got a perfectly serviceable barbeque outside. You could of used that but instead, you did this,' he added, gesturing towards the charred remains of the television and sofa. 'That tele was a fucken antique.'

Skip lifted his head out of his hands and turned tear stained eyes to his friend. 'It reminded me of her,' he said, his voice barely a whisper.

'Oh for fuck's sake, you went out with her for two months. The kids didn't care cos she got back with their father and it was her fucken dog. You didn't even live with her in the same house.'

'I loved her, mate, loved her, but we couldn't be together,' Skip murmured, and his eyes opened wide. 'And only fire could cleanse her from my soul, you understand, only fire!'

Metho slapped his friend, but not too hard. Just hard enough to satisfy his own rising annoyance and to stop Skip's mounting hysteria. 'I'm getting sick of this shit every time you split up with a girlfriend who's not Steph. You remember Lisa? Do you? It took a week to clean the fucking bathroom walls after she dumped you.'

The manic glint left Skips eyes. 'But Leanne was special, Metho mate, she was the one.'

'And so was Lisa, and Jacinta before her, and Amanda, and, and, I forget the others. One daft bitch after another for as long as I can remember. And each time, you run back to Steph and she fucks you around for a bit and then dumps your arse so she can watch your next train wreck relationship,' Metho said, conscious that he was building up speed for a decent rant. 'You got a reputation as a hard arse crim, mate, but I ain't seeing it right now. I mean, I seen ya do some stuff that was, quite frankly, bordering on evil, but that's not the person I'm lookin' at right now. The person I'm seeing here and now, in my fucken scorched fucken lounge room, is a soft–cocked stooge who can't control his personal life. The person I'm seein' isn't a hard–arse, mate, he's as soft as marshmallow, and that hard–arsed–ness is a fucken veneer, as thin and as brittle as a fucken layer of chocolate. You're just like one of those biscuits your mum makes, those chocy ones with marshmallow inside. What is they called?'

'Chocolate Mallows,' Skip said, in a breathless voice.

'That's them, and that's what I'm seein' here, mate. You're a human Chocolate Mallow. Soft and spongy on the inside, and thin and brittle on the outside.'

Skip closed his eyes and a single tear glinted on his cheek. 'I loved her, but now it's time to move on,' he said. When he next opened his eyes they were clear and focused. 'So, do you know if Steph's come back from her parent's place yet?'

Metho shook his head and picked up the burnt remains of his antique television set. 'I dunno mate, but I reckon we has to start thinking about you getting your own place, where your crazy can run free.'

The Crime Lord and His Three Flunkies (A Modern Fairytale)

In a land not far enough away, there once lived an old crime lord who was feeling the weight of his years. He'd bought himself a villa on a lovely island a long way away, where the sun always shone and the authorities never asked awkward questions. Almost everything had been arranged, and only one small detail still needed his attention. The villa had been quite expensive, so after years of dishonest toil, he found he still needed to acquire a nest egg to see him through his retirement. Nothing outrageous, just a modest sum because he was a man of simple pleasures. So he gathered his three best money makers—Metho, Skip, and Tiny Spaz—and gave them their instructions.

'I been the boss for a long time,' he said, and let out a deep sigh, 'probably too long. I'm getting on in years and it's time to choose one of yous to take over.'

The three nodded in agreement. Big Spaz had been a good leader—possibly even a great leader—but even legends have to end, and his time had come.

'Ours is a business that requires nerves of steel. You gotta has guts to do what we do, but guts is not enough,' Big Spaz said, winding up for one of his infamous, ranting speeches. 'You need the cunning of a fox, the ferocity of...'

'Oh, for heaven's sake, Dad, just get on with it,' Tiny Spaz said. The other two murmured in agreement. Tiny Spaz could get away with saying things that would have earned the other two a swift kick in the unmentionables. It was one of the perks of working in the family business.

Big Spaz glowered for a bit and his foot twitched, but Tiny Spaz's unmentionables remained unbruised. 'You morons are too stupid to understand my speeches anyway,' he grumbled, then resumed his truncated monologue in a sulky voice. 'Instead of just picking someone to be the leader, I think it would be best to set yous all a test. The winner gets the job. It's called merit.' He paused long enough to go behind the desk and lower his aging form onto the haemorrhoid ring sitting atop his plush office chair. 'Each of you will go out in the world for a year. You don't has to come to work here or nothin' like that. Just go out and make money. I don't care how you does it, just so long as you does it. The one who makes the most money gets the job. Understand?'

'Great idea, boss,' Metho said. He was the strongest of the three and knew he could squeeze more money out of his victims than the other two.

'Sounds good to me,' Skip said, who knew he was the cleverest of the three and could easily outsmart the other two.

'No worries, Dad,' Tiny Spaz said, who was the most ruthless of the three and was glad that the business succession plan no longer required the death of the old man.

Crime is a taxing enterprise and to Big Spaz it seemed that no time passed at all before the three were once again standing in his office. 'Well,' he said, 'what has yous done?'

The first to step forward was Metho. 'I just done some extra meth drops and squeezed my suppliers a bit harder,' the thug said. 'I made an extra hundred grand.'

From his position perched atop his haemorrhoid ring, Big Spaz could see the scarred knuckles on the end of Metho's arms, which were as thick and knotted as tree branches. He had a reputation as a man who thought violence was the best and most enjoyable solution to any problem. Prudence was called for. 'That's good, Metho my friend. Sometimes it's best to stick with what you know.'

'A hundred grand? Is that all,' Skip blurted out. 'I made twice that by smuggling refugees. An' that's almost moral.'

Big Spaz turned his attention to Skip, a man whose reputation for vindictiveness was legend. If Skip didn't get the job, he'd probably stick a dagger into Big Spaz's back just to get even. Caution was called for. 'I always thought that people smugglers were more like heroes than criminals. Well done.'

'Dealin' drugs is a victimless crime,' Metho protested. 'I was practic'ly doin' a public service.'

'You have no argument from me,' Big Spaz said, trying his best not to draw agro. He turned to Tiny Spaz. 'And what about you, my blue eyed child? It didn't take you long to surpass your brother in our business. What surprise have you in store for us tonight?'

'I got a job,' Tiny Spaz said, with mad eyes sparkling. 'I made a million as a banker.'

There was a sharp intake of breath and the atmosphere in the room thickened.

Metho was the first to break the silence. 'You treacherous little slug,' he snarled, and his hands curled into fists. 'Bankers are parasites, and I hate parasites.'

'If you've been preying on old mums and dads who've been saving all their lives so their kids can have a decent future, you're gunna be sorry,' Skip said, and Big Spaz saw the reflection of a dagger in the thug's eyes.

'Since when has crime been about morality?' Tiny Spaz said, which reminded Big Spaz of all those wingless flies he'd found under his child's bed. Discretion was called for.

'Crime is crime,' Big Spaz said, and leaned so far back in his chair that he almost fell off his haemorrhoid ring. 'You buggers have given me a dilemma and no doubt. Yous all done so good, I can't decide. Why don't you decide amongst yourselves?'

Metho looked at his old friend Skip. Pitiless he may be, but there was the light of sanity behind his eyes. Then he looked at Tiny Spaz.

Skip looked at his old buddy Metho and knew he was a violent bastard who liked nothing more than to punch people, preferably on the nose. But he'd never punched Skip and he knew he never would. Then he looked at Tiny Spaz.

Almost as if they'd planned it, both Metho and Skip nodded towards Tiny Spaz.

The reptilian smile that crept across his child's face made Big Spaz glad he was retiring to a land that was a long way away.

Where's Papoo?

The bell had rung. The teacher had sighed with relief. The kids had bolted out the door. The end of another school day had finally arrived and Tom was one of the first in the mad dash out of the classroom.

As usual, Tom's racing feet were taking him to the stand of peppercorn trees where he was to meet Papoo, and they'd go off together on the long walk home. It was a ritual that had begun on the first day of prep, and he was sure would continue until the world ended or his education was complete. Tom wasn't sure which would come first, but he knew he'd still have the Mushi Munster lunch box that Papoo had recently bought him, and which was extremely embarrassing.

So engrossed was Tom in wondering how he could lose the unfashionable lunch box without hurting Papoo's feelings that he almost stepped on the dead bird that had kept this part of the playground free of children for two days now. The tiny corpse was so horrifying in its rotting skeletal-ness that Tom skirted around the portable classrooms near the oval instead of going straight through the yard. Better safe than sorry was his motto, and Tom was the sort of boy who liked to spread his wisdom far and wide. His friends were already sick of hearing about his cautious approach to life, even though most had only known him since the beginning of the school year.

The near miss with the dead bird was more excitement than Tom liked to experience before dinner, so he wasn't at all happy to see that Papoo wasn't at his usual spot under the trees. Instead, his father was waiting, with a grim look on his face and an umbrella tucked under his arm, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

'Where's Papoo,' Tom asked, 'and why do you have an umbrella?'

Tom's father looked at the umbrella in his hands as if he'd never seen it before. 'Papoo is sick,' he said, 'and I have no idea why I am carrying an umbrella.'

'Is he okay?'

'I think so. We're going to visit him in hospital.'

'Oh, we are?' Tom said, trying to control the cracking in his voice. He didn't like hospitals, especially when they had his Papoo in them.

But the day wasn't finished with shocking little Tom just yet. They weren't walking home and Mum was waiting in the car.

'Why didn't you tell me I had an umbrella?' his dad grumbled as he strapped Tom into his elevator seat.

Tom's mum shrugged. 'I thought it was one of your mystical rituals,' she said. 'Something with which to shelter your soul.'

Dad sighed and got in the passenger seat. 'You wouldn't need one, then,' he said, which seemed to annoy Mum.

'We're going to pick up Yaya and go straight to the hospital,' Mum said, and started the car's motor.

Tom gulped air. Straight to the hospital? Before dinner? Papoo must be really sick if they were going to delay dinner. If he'd had anything in his stomach he'd have thrown it up, so it was lucky he's was starving. That left only hyperventilation, but fate intervened yet again. Dad's telephone rang just as Tom was going to gulp his first lungful of air and he could tell it was Yaya by the way Dad spoke.

'Yep, aha, aha, okay.' ... 'Aha, aha, okay, yep, okay.' ... 'No, we have bolognese sauce in the freezer.' ... 'No it's not frozen food. It's homemade. I made it a couple of weeks ago and put it in the freezer.' ... 'You know it's not the same thing,' he said and hung up.

'Well?' Mum asked.

'She said we don't need to go tonight. Papoo rang and told her he's feeling better and should be coming home tomorrow.'

'The doctor said this?'

'How should I know? She said he told her the infection wasn't as bad as they feared and was started to recede.'

Tom's distressed body relaxed. Dinner was coming sooner after all, and it was bolognese. Hopefully with normal spaghetti and not that horrid wholemeal stuff that Dad loved so much.


Tom liked to think of himself as one of the good people. He went out of his way to avoid trouble, which is why the blood drained from his face when the loudspeaker barked his name and demanded he proceed to the Principal's office. His classmates watched him walk out of the classroom with mouths hanging open and eyes wide, but only his best friend Leane said anything.

'No, that must be wrong,' she cried, 'he never does anything bad.'

'Everything is so quiet when everyone's in class,' Tom thought as he trudged through the empty corridors. 'This is all Eddie's fault. And his stupid hole.'

He'd known it was wrong when he pitched in to help Eddie on that fateful lunchtime a few days ago. At the time, he'd thought it would be okay because Eddie had been digging his hole for a month and not one teacher had even raised an eyebrow.

Maybe Eddie was a spy sent by the teachers to root out latent evil in the school population, and he was the first bad boy they'd caught. Eddie's simple face floated into Tom's mind. Nah. All Eddie can do is dig holes, and not even the best teacher could change that. It was hard enough teaching him to spell his name, so teaching him to be a spy would be impossible.

So why was he, Tom, the boy who went out of his way to be a model student, on the walk of shame?

At the office, Tom's terror ramped up a notch. His father was sitting beside the principal on the small seats where the bad kids sat while awaiting punishment.

'Come on Tom,' his father said, 'we've got to go.'

He looked from his father to the Principal and back again. 'I can't go, Dad, I've got to finish my math sheet.'

'We're going to the hospital. Papoo is really sick.'

In the car, Tom's father talked about how the doctors were looking after Papoo, and how wonderful modern medicine was.

'But it's not enough really,' he said. 'I've tried to get Papoo to meditate, but you know what he's like.'

Tom thought back about some of the things Papoo had said when Dad had mentioned yoga and meditation. 'Dad? What did Papoo mean when he said having an empty mind hadn't helped you all these years?'

Dad blushed. 'Oh, you know Papoo. Unless something brings a tangible benefit, he thinks it's not worth doing.'

Tom was mildly curious about what tangible meant, but not too much. It was probably something to do with those yucky orangy things Yaya had tried to feed him once. He just nodded his head and stared out the window at the familiar scenery. 'Why are we going to Papoo's house?' he asked, and his heart swelled with hope. Maybe he'd misheard and Papoo was at home.

'We've got to pick up Yaya. She's coming with us.'

When Yaya got in the car, Tom could see she'd been crying.

'I pray to God to save his soul,' she said several times on the short trip, but Tom was doubtful that God would be all that keen to help Papoo. Especially after what he'd said at church last Easter.

Mum met them at the hospital. 'Don't worry, little man,' she said when she saw him. 'The doctors here are amazing. They'll fix Papoo up quick as a flash, you'll see.'

But Tom had his doubts. He'd had to go to visit the clinic with Papoo during the school holidays, and what Papoo had said to the doctor made what he'd said to the priest seem almost nice. And all the doctor had done was suggest that Papoo eat less bread and lose some weight.


Tom went to school the next day even though he'd spent the whole night crying.

'What happened yesterday?' Leane asked when she spotted him in the playground.

'Papoo is sick and he's going to die.' Tom said, and started to sob.

'Are you sure he's going to die? Many people get sick and don't die. My dad was sick last week from eating oysters and he spent the whole day in the toilet and told everyone he was going to die, but he didn't. Mom said he was just being melodratic. Maybe that's what your Papoo is. Melodratic.'

Tom stopped sobbing. 'The doctor said that he is so old that you could knock him over with a feather. He's got an infection under his belly.'

Leane looked momentarily concerned, but then brightened. 'My dad had an infection after a spider bit him,' she said. 'He got antibodies from the chemist.'

'Then why is Papoo in the hospital and not at the chemist?' Tom wailed.

'I'm sure they have antibodies at the hospital as well,' Leane said, but Tom was unconvinced.

'Even God couldn't help. Yaya prayed and prayed, but Papoo is still sick.'

Leane paused a moment and furrowed her brow. 'Maybe the doctors and God don't know how to help?' she said. 'Papoo comes here every day to pick you up after school, right? Maybe something infectioned him here.'

Tom's face suddenly lit up. 'There's a dead bird near where Papoo waits. Maybe that's what infectioned him.'

'Ugh,' Leane said. 'Show me.'

Tom led his best friend and secret girlfriend to the tiny horror beside the portable classrooms.

'There it is,' he said, pointing to a tiny bird corpse in the shadow cast by the temporary building.

Leane contemplated the partially decomposed corpse. In life, it had been a little bird and decomposition had reduced it even further. All that was left were a few bones and some feathers clinging to tiny scraps of pathetic flesh. 'I remember last year when the news was on, and thousands and thousands of chickens died cos they had bird flu. Maybe that's what happened to this bird. It got the flu and died.'

Tom slapped his forehead. 'That's it. The doctor was giving me a clue when he talked about feathers. Maybe he's got bird flu from the dead bird's feathers. Maybe he'll get better if we get rid of it.'

'Eddie's hole.' Leanne squealed. 'Let's bury it in Eddie's hole.'

'Good thinking.' Tom said, and looked at the tiny corpse. 'But how?' Then he smiled and pulled out his lunchbox. 'I don't like Mushi Monsters anymore,' he said. 'I'll say I lost it.'

Leane looked at Tom with admiration in her eyes. 'You're so smart,' she said. 'The feathers can't infection people if they're underground and in a Mushi Monster lunchbox.'

They carefully put the tiny body in the box—making sure not to touch the feathers—and rushed to the back of the yard where Eddie sat surrounded by dirt.

Although reluctant to relinquish his hole at first, Eddie relented after Leane threatened to tell Lisa that he loved her. He even filled in the hole after they'd dropped the box in.



Tom's parents were waiting for him again that afternoon.

'How's Papoo?' Tom asked.

'He's much better,' Dad said. 'The doctor said he responded well to treatment. Of course, Yaya says it's because God answered her prayers but I doubt it. Papoo and God aren't on good terms.'

Tom knew that this was his father's idea of a joke and laughed to keep him happy. He also knew why Papoo was feeling better, and it had nothing to do with doctors or God. 'Can we go see him?' he asked.

'Sure. We'll pick up Yaya on the way. She made Baklava to celebrate,' Mum said.

If Tom hadn't been riding so high on the news his Papoo was better, he would have noticed that the atmosphere in the car on the way to the hospital was a little unusual. No one was bickering, for a start, and Yaya didn't ask God for anything the entire way. He looked at the passing scenery and half listened to the adults talking about Papoo's unexpected recovery. When they got to the hospital, Dad—in an unusual display of generosity—bought Tom a stuffed dog from the gift shop. Yaya, not to be outdone, bought Tom a stuffed cat and, for some reason, a penguin.

Papoo was awake and grumpy when they got to his room and barely acknowledged them as they trooped in and arranged themselves beside his bed. Tom played quietly with Heartbreak the penguin, Sunshine the dog, and Ayapi the cat as the adults bickered around him.

'I heard Dad say it was Papoo's positive attitude that helped him get better,' Tom told Sunshine, who was sitting on Papoo's bed flanked by Ayapi and Heartbreak, 'that's why he set those smelly sticks on fire.'

'Who put these stinking, smoking sticks all over the place,' Papoo said, after he'd eaten the bag of fruit and the chicken in a plastic box that Yaya had given him.

'Those were incense sticks,' Dad said. 'They release healing oils and purify the air.'

'You idiot,' Mum said, ' burning sticks don't purify the atmosphere, they pollute it. You probably delayed his recovery by burning that crap in here.'

'The doctor's didn't seem to mind, and the nurses were quite positive about it.'

'That's because you flirt with everybody.'

'Oh please, I do not.'

'Shaddup boy.' Papoo said. 'For once, your wife is right. You flirted with all of them. Even the mens. You should change you name to be Mr Flirty McFlirthead. I was so embarrassing that I wished I was dead.'

'You did not wish you were dead. It's a sin to have such thoughts,' Yaya said.

'Mum told Dad in the car that it was the doctors that saved Papoo,' Tom told Ayapi, who was on Sunshine's left, 'with the help of the wonders of modern medicine of course.'

'It wasn't any of your eastern mumbo jumbo that made your father better,' Mum said. 'They bring people to hospital when they get sick, not some weird yoga temple, and if you haven't noticed, this is a hospital. It wasn't your smoke that made Papoo better, it was medicine.'

Papoo nodded. 'Good medicine, but not enough,' he said. 'I say to the doctor, Doc, everything hurt. You give more drungs? She says no, she says I has too much already. If I has too much, why still I hurt? Pah, doctors, they like stingy mothers who don't give their kiddies sweets.'

Tom ignored the adults and turned to Heartbreak. 'Yaya said it was God that made Papoo better, but I bet you know what really happened. I bet you know all about bird flu, because you're a bird even if you don't have feathers.'

'Always medicine and smoke with young peeples today,' Yaya said, with disapproval in her voice. 'Where is your faith in God? You know, the one who made you from dust and gave to you your life so that you can waste it.'

'Oh please,' Mum and Dad said together, and then glared at one another like two boxers who had landed a blow to one another's head at precisely the same moment.

'That's so old fashioned,' Mum said.

'It's an outdated belief system that is fast fading because its core tenets are mired in inequality and bigotry,' Dad said, and looked rather pleased with himself.

'You can talk,' Mum exclaimed, 'with your bloody incense and your yoga mat.'

'Buddhism is not a religion.'

'Listen to you both,' Yaya exclaimed. 'It's the devil talking through you and no doubt. And you should get rid of those statues of the fat god you worship before God punishes you. How can you worship a god like that? What sort of god would let himself go like that?'

'He's not a god, Yaya, he's just a very wise man who found the road to happiness through fasting and poverty.'

'Pfft, fasting? Can you see with those eyes in your head? You need glasses or something? That statue bugger has never fasted a day in his life. Do you really think he could have saved Papoo? Do you? Well, I'll tell you he can't. It was God who saved him, and only because I asked. No way would God save Papoo without my prayers because he is not a good man.'

'Don' start with this bloody God of yours, Yioryi,' Papoo grumbled, 'he probably gave me the infection, not saved me from it.'

'I'm not surprised after what you said to the priest.'

'Papoo,' Tom said, while waving Heartbreak to get the old man's attention.

Papoo turned his eyes to his grandson, and let out a sigh. 'You must be so tired of these people and their stupid ideas,' he said.

Tom shrugged. 'Papoo, do you know about bird flu?'

'Bird flu? How can birds get flu? They can't have runny noses because they have no noses.'

'It's a thing,' Tom said, crossly. He had a feeling that Papoo wasn't taking him seriously.

'Now now, my boy, it was just a joke,' Papoo said. 'No need to talk like you father.'

'Well, me an' Leanne worked out it was bird flu what you had, and we found the dead bird that made you sick and got rid of it, so that's why you got better.'

'Oh ho, so it was that little dead birdy I stepped on. I thought I felt a bit sick afterwards,' the old man said, and turned to look at the adults beside his bed. 'See, while you lot are putting your faith in Gods and medicine and smelly smoke, this boy has been doing things to make his Papoo better.'

'Well, I did light those...' Dad began to say, but Papoo's stare silenced him.

'The boy, he made me better. Not God, or medicine, or smoke.'

'But Papoo, there was a problem,' Tom said, and his anxiety was obvious on his face.

'What is it my boy? Did someone else get sick?' Papoo asked.

'No, we were careful and buried it in Eddie's hole,' Tom said, and paused to swallow some air. 'It's the Mushi Monster lunchbox. I had to use it to bury the dead bird.'

'Oh, is that all. Don't worry, my boy, I'll get you another one.'

For a moment, Tom looked like he was about to cry. 'But Papoo,' he said, his voice imploring, 'Mushi Monsters remind me of when you were sick. Why don't you get me a lunchbox with Spongehead and Poppi on it instead?'

Papoo's face hardened. 'That Spongehead is a communist, and his fried Poppi is a big, purple, weirdo. It's Mushi Monsters or nothing.'

I was an Internet Addict

Every age throws up its dangers and in our age, the era of iMe, that danger is the internet. According to credible sources, it's taking over the hearts and minds of our youth and threatening our very way of life. Many would argue that that's not such a bad thing, and that maybe the hearts and minds of our youth are too often empty and could use some filling, but the credible sources won't have a bar of it. For those of you who are old enough to remember, I drew inspiration from the magnificent I was a Drug Addict by the mysterious Leroy Street.

Addiction's Lapdog

My name is Harry and I'm a video game addict.

There, I said it. Okay, wrote it, which is better than saying because it is here for all to see. Everyone in the world now knows that I have a filthy habit.

Video game addiction is a sneaky disease. It creeps up on you from behind and, before you know it, you're living your life in a virtual world. I don't remember exactly when or how I succumbed—when I slipped from the normal to the abnormal—it just happened.

When I first got into Sword of Valour, I'd play an hour here and there, every few days. Then the hour stretched to two. Then it was two hours every other day. Before I knew it, it was everyday and all the time.

If pressed, I would say the addiction sunk it's venomous fangs into my soul about twelve months ago, give or take. It was about then that I remember my friends began to ask, with increasing frequency, whether I was okay.

What could I say? From inside my head, everything was just peachy. From the outside, however, my problem was beginning to show. The little things gave it away. The way I never stopped talking about Sword of Valour, the way I was never far away from a bottle of Sugarall—the soft drink of choice for hardcore gamers.

I would often compare real world situations with virtual events. People would cringe whenever I started a sentence with 'In Sword of Valour....'

The problem with video game addiction as opposed to, for example, heroin addiction is that the external signs of addiction are fairly mild. Video game addicts tend to be plump, pale, and always have a can of fizzy drink close at hand in case they need a sugar hit while slaughtering the virtual hordes.

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