The Unborn Versus The Undead
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"It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster's body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost."
— Carl Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconscious
Chapter 8: Warp Spasm
Paddy was not on the playing field. The others had been practicing, and the pitch looked like it had been carpet-bombed. The grass was ruined with divots and gouges and the occasional crater, and splashes of blood that steamed in the sunlight, which was unusually strong for October. The goalposts were somewhat bent out of shape, and at one end of the pitch the crossbar of the goal had been snapped clean in half by a prodigious blow of some kind.
Pat Kenny, Cáit and Micheál were sitting together on a tartan picnic blanket in the neighbouring field, underneath a beautiful copper beech whose lowest branches extended parallel to the grass for twenty-five feet all around. They were drinking tea, brewing in a huge cracked earthenware pot, out of delicate bone china teacups with blue flowers around the rims, and grazing from a bowl full of outsize Jaffa cakes. Pat was still dressed in his natty blue suit, but the elbows and knees were torn out of it and it was covered with mud. His hair, of course, remained immaculate. Cáit and Micheál had died long before the Late Late Show or even television had ever been heard of, but they had become big fans of his long after their deaths. Their family, who were considerably more comfortable with ideas of death and the afterlife than the usual modern Irish family, had kept their favourite two-seater couch in the sitting room empty "for the grandies" for decades, and it became their habit to sit there together to watch their family talking, and later to watch their family watching television, and later still to watch television themselves. They liked Pat because he seemed like a decent, uncomplicated and handsome man, and they were sorry to hear about his death and even sorrier to hear that his living bodily functions appeared to have been taken over by an outside agency of some kind. Because he had been so touched by their solicitude and their uncomplicated and sincere appreciation of his celebrity, and because he got little or none of this from the others on the team, the elderly couple had become his best friends. He had autographed forty-nine separate items for them so far. They had tired of this as the number had risen into the teens but had refrained from saying anything or showing any diminishment of enthusiasm, for fear of hurting Pat’s feelings.
The primeval giant Hugh had managed somehow to climb into the branches of the massive copper beech and was sitting on a sturdy branch ten or fifteen feet off the ground with his pillar-like legs dangling and a babyish smile of satisfaction on his face. He required an amount of food disproportionate even to his own size, and his tendency to become enraged by his hunger pangs had forced the team to spend hours foraging for him until Paddy had shown them the “loaves and fishes” trick of making multiple copies of items of food which would cease to exist within roughly an hour of entering Hugh’s overactive astral oesophagus. Not only did this satisfy his food cravings, Paddy pointed out, but it prevented him from gaining any more weight. Hugh did not seem to care whether the food was original or copied, and before climbing the tree he had consumed fifty apples, twenty egg mayonnaise sandwiches, five cooked chickens and ten pints of Guinness. He was the one responsible for snapping the crossbar of one of the goals – in a scramble at the goalmouth he had attempted to connect his head with the ball and ended up missing and smashing it full force into the bar. The sound of the snap had echoed for miles and they had all stood as still as witnesses to a miracle, marvelling at the concentration of subtle force required to break such a solid physical object. Hugh, who was unaccustomed to sustaining any real damage, had to have his head rebuilt for him by the others from pieces that had been scattered all over a wide area of the pitch, and had sulked for an hour by the sidelines while this happened, making farting noises from his neck.
Assumpta had been trained by Paddy to exploit her ability to surround herself with her own memories; she played in defence along with three or four remembered replicas of herself or her family, using the mind-forms to distract an attacker while she nipped in and stole the ball off his feet. Out of all of them, she had developed the greatest passion for the game, and had devoured entire books full of statistics and championship results which she liked to quote verbatim, giving Rush a whole new reason to avoid her company.
Ryan Fassbender, due to the teenage nature of his ego upon death, had unfortunately had his normal personality submerged by the fantasy that he was a famous footballing star who had been transferred to the team for an unprecedented fee. Despite Paddy’s best efforts to bring him back in touch with reality, he insisted on turning up in full football kit, with an up-to-the-minute fashionable haircut and usually two or three girlfriends in tow who would watch from the sidelines and cheer, or argue loudly about whose turn it was to pleasure him that night. Every ten or fifteen minutes he would jog lightly up to Paddy and ask when he was getting paid, and when Paddy, who had almost infinite patience, informed him once again of the true situation, he would nod thoughtfully with a vacant look in his eyes, saying “Right, yeah, got you, no worries. Buy Irish!” and trot off again. Buy Irish was the slogan that he believed his sponsors had paid him millions of euros to say whenever the opportunity arose. Whenever he scored a goal or otherwise excelled himself he would do a running dive along the grass, or charge to the sidelines pulling his jersey off for a non-existent crowd, screaming it with all his might. He would have been removed from the team if not for the fact that, despite living in an almost completely delusional world, he remained a talented player. Every now and then Paddy would ask one of the others to ask for his autograph to keep him happy; he would usually refuse delightedly, saying “Nah, sorry, sponsorship deal, gotta get paid, you know? No worries. Buy Irish!”
Jack Murphy had been kidnapped a week before by five ex-victims of his particular skills who had sprinted out from behind the trees and grabbed him, and dragged him through a door in the air before anyone had a chance to react. He had reappeared three days later, minus his hands; clearly they had been severed and not returned, otherwise he would have been able to re-grow them. He refused to talk about what had happened to him in those three days, and the loss of his hands did not seem to bother him greatly as a player; if anything, his tackles were even more evil and violent. He stood away from the others as always, smoking rolled cigarettes that he induced to appear between his lips after several seconds of concentrated chewing motions produced an already-lit fag from somewhere inside his thin body. The perfect recycler, he even chewed and swallowed the extinguished butts.
Róisín, the small child, was nowhere in sight; Rush didn’t even wonder where she was. The normal rules did not seem to apply to her and her presence and absence were equally mysterious to him.
Paddy greeted him with an ironic but not sarcastic touch of his finger to an imaginary cap.
“Welcome back, Mr. Rush. I have spent the last while trying to compose an appropriate jest to be produced at this moment under the guise of spontaneous wit; something about leading a double life, or being in two minds. Unfortunately I was unable to come up with anything that would not sound dreadfully...” He searched for the correct word, his eyes turning dull for a moment before sparking into life again the next. “...lame?”
“I’m angry with you, Paddy. You’re not charming me.”
“I apologise unreservedly for the manner in which I coerced you into your two journeys. I would never normally inflict such a thing upon a free individual; however our exigent need compelled me, as I think that otherwise you would never have agreed to go; you might just have gone home and driven your poor cailín to insanity and possibly an early grave, and I would be without any kind of striker, let alone such a force of nature as now resides within your good self.”
“Not just within me. I am Cuchulain, Paddy.”
“Indeed you are! It might be a smidgen more accurate to say that you are at this spatio-temporal juncture the sole vehicle of the archetypal entity which has manifested in Irish legend as Cuchulain; however from your point of view your statement is entirely correct.”
“Paddy, if I am able to be Cuchulain…” Rush was beginning to feel dizzy. His mind strained at an eerie internal boundary. “Couldn’t I be anybody at all?”
“Hear me now. You have no more desire to think of that possibility from this moment on than you have to see your sweetheart boiled alive in a pot and then to be forced to drink from that fatal broth.”
Paddy’s eyes flashed all the colours of the rainbow and Rush’s dizziness disappeared, as did his memory of the last few seconds. He noticed Tom was looking from one of them to the other with an air of befuddlement. “What?” he enquired, and Tom shook his head and said, “Nothing.”
“So!” said Paddy, clapping his hands together. “Can you demonstrate for us your new-found hero-strength upon the playing field?”
“I’m not sure I know how to do that.”
“You useless little gobshite. I should have known better than to trust an honest man’s job to a fucking suicide who can’t think of anything better to do after he’s dead than sniff his girl’s underpants.”
The shock of Paddy’s words, delivered with a contemptuous flash of his eyes, triggered an immediate emotional response in Rush that shot through the meridians of his body as if needles had been set in them. He wanted to throttle Paddy with his bare hands, and the anger ruptured his brain like an aneurysm, throwing him into a convulsive fit, his muscles swelling and spasming as energy poured into them. His vision turned inwards like that of an epileptic and he saw once again the door to the Chinese box; he reached out and tore it off its hinges, only to see another, slightly smaller door behind. He battered down door after door until the last one, only a few inches wide, was vaporized by the release of the inner core, a golden nuclear maelstrom that exploded outwards. His vision became golden. Golden light shone in his skin and his forehead and his throat flexed like a snake and emitted a roar deeper than that of a lion. His bones twisted and grew in agony and his sinews stretched, and his ribs creaked and writhed as they expanded to accommodate the gigantic repositories of bioelectric power that his internal organs had become. His heart swelled to three times its normal size and began to pump boiling hot blood with such force that red tears sprang from the corners of his eyes and veins as thick as fingers stood out all over his skull. His penis jumped erect and continued to swell until it was more than a foot long, the tissues engorged to a pressure equal to that of a fire hose. His legs sprouted wriggling bands and blobs of muscle that wrapped around his lengthening bones until his thighs were as wide as a normal man’s torso. All of his clothing was torn to shreds and he stood naked and awful on the grass, eight feet tall and glowing like a glede.
Transported beyond all thought, Cuchulain lunged at Paddy, who tried to dodge away, but it was as if the entire world except for him was moving in slow-motion, and he easily laid both of his massive hands on the older man, one at the neck and one at the crotch, and lifted him high, screaming incoherently and smashing him head first into the ground, then pounding and stamping on him until most of his crushed body had been sunk into a bloody pit in the soil. The others had scattered in various directions and Cuchulain gave chase to the first movement that caught his eye, which happened to be Pat Kenny, who had started up from the picnic blanket and made a run for the trees. He caught the television presenter’s alleged ghost in two bounds, laying hold of one of his ankles and whirling him around his head five times before hurling him out of sight over a wall a hundred yards away at the other end of the field.
The frenzy was upon him and in his mind he was lost in a strange land surrounded by outlandish-looking beings. He was without his weapons and this place with the ill-omened liquid sky and the unborn spirits crowding at the edges of perception could surely be no other place than the land of the Fomorians, so the desperate rage descended fully upon him, a power that would allow him to do battle with an army of men or demons or leave an enemy fort in smoking ruins. Every bird for a mile around took off in a collective explosion of wings, and clouds began to gather above in response to the updraft of heat and electromagnetic rage he was generating.
He would most likely have continued until every member of the football team was unrecognizably mutilated and then continued his rampage, hulk-like, across Dublin, were it not for the being that he encountered hiding behind a sycamore while giving chase to a terrified Cáit. He was poised to uproot the entire tree to use as a club when he saw something white and shining among the roots. It penetrated his reddened vision like a star. He came closer. It was a little girl with white skin and red lips who shed waves of light in the rhythm of a beating heart. Her eyes were wide but not in fear. She aroused a memory in him that checked his rage. There was a woman. White skin, red lips. From another world. Promised to a god. Figure like the fingerprint of a god. Like the offering of a world new and entire. Lying with her in her bedroom. Horses on the god’s wave and heads on a spike on the castle wall. The spear that moves on the water that none can resist. Taught me and witched me and loved me and left me for the god, and finally I am the god, and now I wish I was nothing at all because the god was always mad. It seemed to him that she had been in his dreams and that he had forgotten her until this moment, although now instead of a womanly body she wore a raiment of childish flesh. Circles of sweeping delicate energy spiralled around a point in her chest and passed through his flesh and the ground and the trees as if they were not there. His warped and engorged body quivered and wept bloody sweat as he stood in front of the child, panting, groping for words.
“Woman, help me, I am trapped in a nightmare.” The voice of Cuchulain in his frenzy was like five grown bulls roaring as one, each word shaking leaves out of the branches of the sycamores around them.
The glowing girl walked fearlessly towards the monster and laid one hand upon his knee, as high up as she could reach. Her gyres of loving energy swept through him like a silent chaos of release and her fingers upon his skin were like burning ice. He felt the frenzy leave him, the energy sucked from his tissues and bones once more and running to ground through the soles of his feet. He cried aloud as the god-possession lost its hold and his bones and flesh cracked and shrank and cooled, then he knelt before Róisín White in shame and gratitude, feeling the love she had wakened in his heart like a wound, cradling it preciously although it hurt him more terribly than any battle-blow he had ever been dealt. A circle of earth all around him crackled and smoked as he prayed like a child again: please god, take me home. I don’t know why I’m here. Is this a dream after all?
Róisín stood looking curiously at him, just an ordinary undead child to his eyes, until he looked closer at her and saw the faintest of auras surrounding her body, just above the skin, hardly even there.
“You’re alive?” he croaked.
She frowned slightly as if he had said something incomprehensible. Paddy, who had healed himself very well considering the pulp his body had recently been made into, came walking towards them with his hands behind his back.
“She’s alive?” said Rush to him as he came within earshot of them.
Paddy ignored his question.
“I must apologize to you once again for the unpleasant manner in which I goaded you into assuming the hero-form but you must admit that my method was the most direct.”
“Paddy, I feel like a punching-bag. Or a puppet. I don’t know if I’m even myself any more. What have you done to me? Who am I?”
“You are who you are, John Rush. You have merely gone through an internal journey which has allowed you to unlock a hidden power. Your personality during your life had a certain affinity for this power and the rage required to attain it.”
“I have always been angry, for as long as I can remember. It’s why I loved heroin so much. It was the only thing I ever found that freed me from the anger.”
“I know, lad. You don’t have to be afraid of it any more. We need Cuchulain’s highest wrath for the match and you will find that once on the playing field you have permission to run amuck without fear of consequence.”
Rush stood, and found himself clothed once again. The others were returning. He apologized to them all, and they waved their hands and made demurrals and complimented him on the awesome energy which he had managed to manifest, pointing out the very real damage he had done to several trees and to the ground beneath his feet. Jack, with a look of sadistic pleasure, especially praised him for the nauseating mess he had made out of poor Paddy. Tom was staring at him with something between respect and fear in his face, and was about to say something when something caught his eye and he looked off to a stand of beeches off the sideline of the pitch. Rush turned to see, and found that the trees were strung with what looked like Christmas lights, winking on and off and waving back and forth slightly in the wind.
But there’s no wind, he thought.
“They’re watching,” said Tom.
Lights began to bloom among the leaves of all of the trees around the pitch, until they were surrounded by thousands of the souls of the unborn. They appeared in the grass and in the air too, but they didn’t approach closer than twenty feet to any of the players. The entire pitch was alight with dancing souls, and Rush thought that he could hear a very faint music; as soon as he listened harder for it, it was gone.
“What are they going to do?” asked Ryan fearfully, the sight of Cuchulain and now the unborn having temporarily snapped him out of his soccer-star delusion.
“Nothing,” said Paddy. “Not until the match. Perhaps it has unnerved them slightly to see the feats performed by our newest player,” he added hopefully. As if in answer, the souls began to move as one, and with a co-ordinated purpose. They gathered into a single shining mass in a fifty-foot area near the middle of the pitch and began to swim in the air in a pattern that looked like butterfly wings. Each gleaming soul moved along a predetermined path, but never passed through the same point twice.
“Oh, how pretty,” said Assumpta.
“That’s the Lorenz Attractor,” Tom said bemusedly.
“What's that now?” said Paddy.
“The Lorenz Attractor. It’s a mathematical object. A chaotic pattern.”
“You don’t say. What does it mean? Why would they be showing that to us?”
“How should I know?”
The dance of souls ended and they once again became a single shining ball that burned like a cool star over the grass. The star pulsed, just once, and then was gone, and so was the pitch and everything on it except the eleven members of Paddy’s football team, who now found themselves standing in a rough field of long grass and wild flowers that had never been a football pitch.
“My god,” said Tom softly. “How did they do that?”
Paddy was shaking his head. He whispered, “They woke the field and reminded it what it once was. As a demonstration to us. A Mhaighdean Mhuire.”
None of them said anything else. The match was hopeless and they all knew it, and with that knowledge came peace which caused them to stand still and silent for long minutes. It seemed that there had never been anything as beautiful and homely as this once-destroyed field.
The Unborn Versus The Undead
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