Storyglossia Issue 39, September 2010.

Tutorial for novice pistoleers

by Michael Loughrey



               The Maker's lacunae.



Inspect your latest envelope before embarking on The Coil. Your envelope is by nature temporary and prone to damage and decay. It will come to your attention that your envelope is the model with an inflatable pistol attached. Don't ask why. There are other conundrums of far greater importance.

What there is to know about your adversary.

Naive and witless pistoleers will soon meet their end after being delivered unto The Coil, vacuumed unceremoniously into the bowels of one of the omnipresent drains. Once a drain becomes fertile, their predatory instincts compel them to draw passing pistoleers into their unctuous apertures, mutilating their prey before regurgitating the remains to allow another drain the rapture of continuing the carnage.

Following this ritual, indications of a drain's satiation include feline purring, the slothful batting of eyelashes, the application of hot wax to remove unwanted hair, the scrutiny of sequestered regions with small mirrors, and tedious telephone conversations with other drains in which they grumble about the price of cabbage.

Given the panoply of disguises in a drain's repertoire, your envelope may experience difficulty in recognising them, appearing as they do, banal, benign and easy on the eye. Turn to page 649 of your tutorial handbook and study these illustrations.

Does that potted cactus with a bowler hat hanging from its spines conceal something? Drain! Is that really a chunk of rotting carrion amongst the glossy magazines on that coffee table? Drain! And there, can that be an old athletic shoe on the church altar? Drain! Puzzled by that puddle of piña colada on the pool table? Drain! See that shadow cast by a flying saucer emitting mocking laughter at subliminal levels? Drain!

Unless impeded by a nosebleed, head cold or hay fever, a vigilant pistoleer can detect a fecund drain's odour from a distance. Although a drain's vanity sees them apply deodorants copiously, the underlying crustacean whiff blows their cover, but aftermath from previous conjugations can also catch a pistoleer off guard, evoking fond nostalgia of the primordial cauldron. Permanent wariness is essential for any pistoleer hoping to complete the voyage with envelope unscathed.

If employed to the letter, there is one survival tactic which involves taking a leaf out of the drain's book: masquerade. Given that The Coil is chock-a-block with petrified eunuchs, a pistoleer's chances of going unnoticed disguised as a petrified eunuch are given good odds by statisticians.

Impersonating a petrified eunuch is easier than it sounds. Pistoleers should gird their envelope with a loincloth, scatter avian guano on head and shoulders and adopt a statue-like pose. Desist from advancing along The Coil lickety-split, progress by angstroms, avoid blinking and meditate on the stoicism of tectonic plates.

The Coil is littered with maimed pistoleers who couldn't cut the petrified eunuch ruse, or just hot-footed it believing they were way too cool to get sucked in by a drain. These miserable wretches can be found in exurbian prefabs., their pituitary glands savaged by the Disneyfication of all things righteous. Encumbered with tawdry goods and chattels, the albatross of the reckless pistoleer, they are but fools for believing that their bullets took life.






                         Act one.

               Doin' the swamp stomp.




Across the swamp of ages, the infinite line of rookie envelopes with an inflatable pistols attached shuffle forward to receive instructions.

"Inspect your latest envelope before setting foot on The Coil. Your envelope is by nature temporary and prone to damage and decay. It will come to your attention that your envelope is the model with an inflatable pistol attached. Don't ask why. There are other conundrums of far greater importance."

Coughing theatrically, a rookie envelope with an inflatable pistol attached attracts the tutor's attention to his puzzlement.

"I beg to differ, but what could possibly be of greater importance than knowing why our model of envelope has an inflatable pistol attached?"

Before a response is forthcoming, a pin is dropped to emphasise a silence symbolic of the tutor's utter distaste for rookie chutzpah.

"Fear. That's top of my conundrum pops. Why was fear thrown into this equation? Did you ever see fear contorting the visage of a celestial body? Smell fear oozing from their alluvial layers, bedrock, sima, crevices and craters? No. You did not. Celestial bodies have no desire to become addicted to fear as a commodity. Whereas for an envelope's convenience, fear comes flat-packed, ready to assemble with an instruction pamphlet in braille. Conundrums? Further down the list, but nonetheless intriguing, there's a little teaser that's been a particularly irksome bee in my bonnet for more aeons than you can shake a stick at: if getting to The Coil necessitates traversing the swamp of ages, and your model of envelope happens to have an inflatable pistol attached, why then does your envelope not come equipped with rubber galoshes, or better still, fishermen's waders? But enough of such idle banter. This anthropological boondoggle could see us stray into metaphysics, and then where would we be? Now where was I? Ah, yes. What there is to know about your adversary. "







          The recipients of white feathers.



Sandpaper at dawn. Each duelist shall appoint a second, whose duty it is to furnish fresh sheets of sandpaper to the combatants when required.

There is only one exit from The Coil, a slip road soon after its beginning. Natch, the exit is a cul-de-sac, at the end of which is a crescent-shaped building imitative of Speer, but lacking his imperial flair. Within bornite coloured walls, narrow windows glow with pale incandescence. Lofty columns flanking the Palladian portico are topped not with gilded bronze eagles, but cement vultures. Imposing plinths before the entrance are not resplendent with acanthus leaves, but poison ivy, and support not rampant marble lions, but cowering mongrel dogs moulded in fibreglass. An intaglio inscription above the main doors has not been carved in elegant letters inspired by the Trajan column, but in an ersatz sans-serif which informs:



   Le Moulin des Plumes Blanches.


   Envelope (breathless, trembling and in a light sweat from its hasty exit from The Coil appears nonplused to find itself in a decor resembling a 19th century Parisian brothel).

   "Où suis-je?" (Badly translated subtitle appears. " Am I where?" )

   Madame Fifi (with a lascivious leer, she ushers the envelope into a Rothko-red vestibule).

   "Dans la merde." (Badly translated subtitle appears. "In the sheet.")

   Envelope (with haughty arrogance).

   "Better in the shit than in a drain."

   Madame Fifi (handing the envelope a white feather whilst pinching its buttocks).

   "Quelle crotte!" (Incorrectly spelt subtitle appears. "Wot a terd!" )



Duelists must be clean shaven and engage in combat facing each other whilst seated in office chairs of the type that swivel. Le Moulin des Plumes Blanches undertakes to ensure that sandpaper is of the highest quality, and that the swivel chairs are comfortable, fit for purpose and do not infringe on current health and safety legislation.

Le Moulin des Plumes Blanches will also provide a referee and an ombudsman to officiate at each duel, as well as providing light refreshments, iodine, bandages and tincture of laudanum for the wounded.

Blows made with sandpaper by a duelist to his adversary during a skirmish must draw blood to score points. Blows below the neck are forbidden. Blows to the chin, cheeks or forehead score five points. Blows to the nose or ears score ten points, and blows to the throat score twenty. Theoretical (non-blood drawing) blows aimed at the ego which cause a duelist's opponent to shed tears score one hundred. Fifty points will be deducted from any duelist experiencing algolagnia which provokes ejaculation.

Vouchers, plastic tokens, bonus points and fatuous panjandrums will be awarded to victorious duelists by pimps who ply their trade in alleys adjacent to Le Moulin des Plumes Blanches.

The curriculum vitae of losing duelists shall be subject to scrutiny by the resident Mendacity Tsar. Any perversion of reality detected therein will be punishable by the culpable duelists's white feather being fed into a paper shredder.



Graffiti, scrawled on a lavatory door inside Le Moulin des Plumes Blanches:





Penned by another hand, an arcane rejoinder:









               The punctuation factory.



To an off-key Mariachi fanfare, another cycle is completed and metamorphosis occurs: lilliputian parasitical growths bloom on the pustulent epidermis of their hosts. Repulsive little cancroids, polyp-like, cursed with all manner of deformities, the growths wiggle and squirm as puce, blue-veined, double-jointed and boulemic they slowly turn to black as they suckle on their host's sap.

Content that they are suitably dis-eased, the anaesthetist retires to an anti-chamber to fondle his pipe. Sneaking a peek at the new arrivals through keyholes, a bevy of drains drool peppermint mouthwash. The growths suckle, defecate, urinate and vomit, often simultaneously. Nurses form a chain, passing overflowing buckets of their fetid expulsions for disposal in the stream which is the source of the swamp of ages.

The growths grow. And grow. And grow. Automatons with sterilised tweezers perform a triage on the production line, separating selected growths for cryogenic storage, thus:



ad nauseum



The serendipitous optimism of ad infinitum secedes before its nemesis and is relegated to the scrapyard of dumbass dogma when the ailing lodestar fails to fill ever-increasing numbers of lungs and larders, and most crucially, kindle creativity in vacuous minds.

Entropy sends in its bailiffs. Warning lights and alarm bells are jolted awake from their stasis and alight from a timeworn chaise-longue to activate their circuitry, suddenly cured of a deep-rooted sense of worthlessness by cracks appearing in the façade and the ominous swaying of jerry-built scaffolding which herald the collapse of The Coil.

Recipients of white feathers commit hara-kiri with paper clips. Envelopes with pistols attached cry in their beer. And the drains, the drains, those deceitful, faithless drains, they coo like turtle doves as they mollycoddle deep-frozen commas.

Copyright©2010 Michael Loughrey

Michael Loughrey has had short stories published in literary revues in the USA and Europe including: 3 a.m., Word Riot, Kill Author, Underground Voices, 5_Trope, Hobart, Cherry Bleeds, Zygote In My Coffee, Dogmatika, Serendipity, Laura Hird's Showcase, Sein und Werden, Half-Cut Publications, Aesthetica, The Future Fire, Aphelion, Byzarium and The Raging Face. For the past two consecutive years, short stories by Michael have been included in the Million Writers most notable short story awards. Born in Greenwich, London, Michael has also lived in Paris, New York and Los Angeles. He currently hangs his hat in rural Norfolk in the U.K., and amongst new fiction works in progress is writing a non-fiction article inspired by a recent trip to Brittany in France, where he attended the World Artichoke Throwing Championship, and was initiated in the science of hypnotising lobsters.