Culture

Temptation and truth: An exclusive short story by Frankie Boyle

"I didn't feel at all starstruck in the presence of the Lord..." A short story by Frankie Boyle written exclusively for The Big Issue

I stood alone on a little hill path that climbed towards the sun through scrub and rocks. Gradually others appeared at intervals down the path, standing in twos and threes. Eventually some of these started to pass me and hike further up the hill. The path must have turned a few hundred feet further up because eventually they would disappear. I stood where I was and looked down at what was now a growing knot of people. Their restrained excitement built on the breeze. I honestly hadn’t expected I could stay here this long.

There was a jeer from below and some clapping, some shouts in a guttural language I didn’t understand. A huge clump of men and women and children arrived at the foot of the hill and many started to clamber upwards – on and off the path – with a festive bounce. On the wind there was the chime and creak of soldiers strapped in iron and leather pushing their way jovially through the building crowd. One stood stock-still looking up at the sky, as if trying to gauge what the weather was going to be like later.

A man turned onto the path at its very base with a bearing that at once acknowledged the crowd’s presence and completely ignored it, as if he was an actor walking onstage. His face was bloodied but his expression was clear, scornful even, as the crush around him gradually jostled him forward. He wore a frayed lilac cloak.

He was wearing a crown of thorns but it was perched almost jauntily on top of a pile of brown curls

As he came near I raised a hand in greeting.

“Lord!” I cried. He looked, as you’d imagine, very Jewish. He was wearing a crown of thorns but it was perched almost jauntily on top of a pile of brown curls and he seemed very relaxed.

“Child…” he boomed, a little superciliously but I suppose that sort of thing is inevitable. “What are you doing here?” He said this with an exaggerated lean forward and a jokey smile, as if he already knew what I was doing there.

“Lord…” I didn’t feel in the least starstruck, he was actually very good at putting you at ease, “Lord… I come from another time…”

“Time…?” he mused, as if he had never heard the word before. I started to explain myself but he had started to say something else and I talked over him, which was awkward.

“Lord… sorry Lord… I didn’t mean to… look Lord I come from the future… I… well, I trained myself to be able to travel in my dreams. I meditated every day, studied all I could to be able to visit other times.”

He seemed to be about to say “time…?” again so I bowled on quickly to get it over with. “Eventually Lord I trained myself to take objects back through time… It was difficult but… I could hear you calling me in my dreams Lord and I swore that I would finally master my talent enough that I could bring you this.”

His eyes shone. I produced a tartan travel flask and proceeded to pour him a cup of ice-cold water.

“I promised myself Lord, that on this, your darkest day, I would at least quench your thirst.” I lifted the cup up to him and he slapped me hard across the face.

“Water? I wanted you to bring me a fucking gun!” He screamed the last word quite furiously.

“Lord…?” I found myself nervously sipping water from the cup.

“A gun. Stage a rescue. Why do you think I gave you a whole culture of rescues and guns and explosions?”

Why do you think I gave you a whole culture of rescues and guns and explosions?

“Lord, your message has always been one of Peace…”

“And? And? Why do you think I gave you the fantasies of violence and vengeance? Why does everyone just listen to the bits they like?”

“I thought all that was temptation, to be resisted…”

“Why the fuck would you be the person to decide what is acceptable about reality?” He was right up in my face and clearly furious. I thought he was being a little out of line but clearly to say this might have been disastrous.

The soldiers almost apologetically carried him over to a stake and laid him down on it. They pinned his hands above his head and nailed them right into the post: he screamed. I thought he’d let things go but no.

“Oh I’ll just decide what is good and bad about the Universe,” he spat in a high-pitched voice that was clearly supposed to be a satire of my own. I was now hugely conscious of the tartan travel flask and stared at it with a growing sense of embarrassment.

The soldiers lifted the stake and he creaked dramatically into the air. “Do you know what?” he screamed. “Forget it! Just forget it!” In the little gathering who remained at the foot of the stake, a couple of men nodded, as if they understood, but they must have simply misheard.

@frankieboyle

Illustration: Dom McKenzie

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