Wednesday, 26 April 2017


This is strictly confidential, and I'll be in big trouble if they find out, but I'm going to tell you about the first time I was abducted by aliens. It was many years ago, but that first time is still fresh in my mind. So is the smell. I'd heard abduction stories, but none of them mentioned anything about aliens stinking like rotting seal carcasses, or the overpowering stench inside the spacecraft. You'd expect superior beings from another galaxy to have air conditioning, but the inside of that thing was like a cheap hotel room with no windows, where a bunch of elderly men with stomach trouble had been holding a farting contest for a few weeks. Nothing prepared me for it. Most of the stories you hear focus on how the aliens will interfere with you in an unwelcome and personal way. Which is why, as soon as I woke up and realised where I was, I turned to the alien who seemed to be the boss and said:
            "Okay, if you're going to do anything in the way of probing or penetrating go ahead, but at least warm your hands first, will you? Or your tentacles, or whatever." I was attempting to break the ice by introducing a light-hearted tone into the situation, but the alien seemed shocked.
            "Are you serious?" he said. "What kind of people do you think we are?"
            Now, when I say he spoke to me (I assumed it was a male, and it wasn't until later that I understood their gender arrangements, which are a little different from ours) what I mean is that I heard his voice, but his mouth didn't move. Mainly because he didn't have a mouth. "Aha," you're thinking, "it was some kind of telepathy, right?" Wrong. He spoke through his ear. Loud and clear. I discovered they employed one ear for listening, and one for speaking. And one for sex. As I said, their arrangements were a little different.
            Before I could express my relief at hearing that my intimate orifices were safe from investigation, the alien made a noise that sounded like a discreet cough, and continued:
            "However, I must warn you," he said, "that after we've gathered the necessary data from you, we need to conduct certain… procedures."
            I asked what he meant.
            "Basically," he said, "we have to turn you into a redneck."
            Seeing my confusion, he curled a friendly tentacle around my shoulder and continued. "You see, in order to study your species we generally abduct the most intelligent specimens. However, a problem arises once we've extracted their data. If we release them, they're naturally eager to recount their experiences. The more intelligent they are, the more likely they are to be believed, which doesn't suit us just yet. What can we do? We'd never consider killing them. We respect all life forms, even those whose rights are unrecognised by your species, such as whales, cockroaches, trees, and dandruff. Our solution is to transform our visitors into the type of people who lack credibility. Everybody then disbelieves them, and points out how suspicious it is that the only people who ever seem to get abducted are rednecks, weirdoes, and clearly delusional fantasists. So, we're going to reduce your intelligence, put ninety pounds on you, limit your vocabulary, and make your eyes dart around the whole time."
            This was bad news for me, especially as I was, at that time, Regius professor of moral philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford. "But wait," I said, "can't you use some type of device to erase the necessary part of my memory?"
            He laughed indulgently. "You've been watching too many movies," he said. With that, he signalled to his companions, and within moments I found myself strapped on a gurney, losing consciousness. I managed to ask one final question:
            "What is that damned smell?" I croaked.
            "What smell?" he said.
            It was then that I saw the alien had no nose.

And that, friends, is how I became the man I am today: an overweight auto mechanic called Randy, living in South Carolina. As I said, this is all top secret, and if they… wait. That smell. And those lights outside. Dear God, they've found out I'm writing this! Maybe through some kind of brain implant. Okay, I'm going to get this on the internet before they capture me. But if you're reading this, you are now in possession of the truth, and they may come to get you. Remember, the first sign is the smell.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Christ in Michigan

Christ woke up with a pounding headache somewhere outside Flint, Michigan.
            Resurrection was always uncomfortable, but nobody needs a headache. He recalled what a Buddhist friend of his was always saying: "suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy." Or maybe it was the Buddha himself who'd told him that. He made a mental note to ask the fat man about it the next time he saw him.
            He looked around. He'd arrived in a bleak industrial wasteland with a few decaying factories visible in the distance. He hadn't visited America for around fifty years, and the place seemed to have gone downhill. He'd been tempted to go to New York – which is why he didn't.

He headed towards town and checked into the first motel he reached. There was a bible in his room, and he always found bibles entertaining, but it didn't have pictures. The last time he was here he'd loved the religious illustrations he found, depicting him as some kind of hippie Aryan surfer dude with a creepy smile and perfect teeth, wearing a weird, glowing toga.
            This time, in order to adjust his appearance, he switched on the TV and watched everything, everywhere, all at once. Then he spent a moment in front of the mirror and came up with a look: neatly trimmed beard, hair just above the shoulders, and a complexion that suggested mixed Caucasian and African parentage, with a hint of Amerindian. He'd been female in his most recent incarnation, so it was testosterone time again. As he took the pills he discovered the water tasted awful.        
            Almost without thinking he left the motel, located the source of the pollution that was contaminating the water, and fixed it. On the way back to town he had a twinge of conscience, realising he'd broken the no-miracles rule he'd imposed on himself a few hundred years ago. But was it even a miracle if nobody saw it? Anyway, how much harm could it do?

Plenty, it turned out. He'd only been preaching for two days when the trouble started. It seemed the water company was taking credit for cleaning up the supply. Then the government claimed responsibility. But that type of stunt wouldn't fly any more, not with the internet in the picture. People investigated, assertions were made and denied, theories were proposed and debunked, the debunking was itself debunked, and then re-bunked again.
            The water was clean, but everyone was angry. Even the environmentalists were pissed off because they couldn't hold the culprits to account now the pollution had vanished, and where was the fun in that?
            Christ was fascinated by the sheer energy of the online world, a vast parallel universe in which every transaction was conducted by enraged bees.

It was one of his disciples who drew media attention to him. As usual, Christ's followers were the wretched of the earth: street people, sex workers, servants, hustlers, troubled sinners, drug addicts, a few lawyers.  
            One of them filmed a sermon on her phone and posted it to a big Catholic web site. It was simply Christ talking. He wasn't trying to be compelling or charismatic, but he didn't try to fight it either. He'd learned long ago that what was going to happen was inevitable if he told the truth, and he couldn't stop himself telling the truth. That wasn't going to happen.

Christ went viral.
            People found out where he was, and began attributing the inexplicable purification of the water supply to his presence in the region. The media descended, bringing down a shit-storm. For a while, the furious denouncers were evenly balanced with the passionate believers, and he was besieged by would-be converts, hoping for salvation – which could mean almost anything, depending what their problem was. The web went crazy, with every conceivable explanation being proposed for who he really was and what he really wanted. Several women claimed he'd fathered their children, and several others were eager for him to father theirs without delay.
            But soon the narrative scales began to tip. A story about a devious charlatan was easier to pitch than one about a good man telling the truth. Where's the character arc? The dramatic conflict? What's the journey here? The negative spin had more legs.
            Christ prepared himself for crucifixion, of one kind or another. But before the drama could reach its designated climax he was abducted early one morning by a group of serious, unsmiling men, supported by special forces who were masked and armed to the teeth. He was told only that he was being taken to the leader.
The man was a strange colour, as though he suffered from some kind of radiation sickness, and he seemed surreally stupid. It quickly became clear that Christ's potential as a weapon was being considered. He was questioned about his 'powers' and how he controlled and directed them. The leader was childishly excited by the thought that finally he had within his grasp the means to inflict defeat and humiliation upon all those who had scorned and mocked him.
            Naturally, Christ had recognised his old enemy at once, despite the bizarre incarnation. In all his many guises, the darkness of the heart was unchanging. But now his eternal adversary was using a new tactic, and Christ had to admit to a certain grudging admiration for his cunning.
            It seemed that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was no longer to convince the world he didn't exist. It was to convince himself he didn't exist. It was horribly obvious that the president had absolutely no idea who he really was.
            Christ prepared himself for a tough battle.