This is the first piece I read out at the first group last Monday. Not sure why I decided against reading The Conduit, the piece I posted previously. I wrote it very quickly and it seemed to go over ok. I appreciated the comments pushing me towards being more explicit about the nature of the titular creature and when I finish it I’ll try to do this.
The inception of the idea came from my recent dip in mood and absence from work, which has seen me wake in ‘a stew of anger and despair’ before I’m able to pull myself together. I realised I was channeling Kafka a little with the bathetic reaction of the main character and I also owe a debt, it dawned on me later, to Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal, a very weird independent film starring Anne Hathaway as a women who realises her domestic life is affecting the movements of a Godzilla-style monster (above. Apologies for the grainy image) attacking Seoul.
Sam awoke that morning in such a stew of anger and despair that a three hundred foot creature emerged from his mind and laid waste to most of London. It started in the east, avoiding Sam’s favourite coffee shops, then proceeded across the City, crushing people and buildings beneath its pairs of three-toed feet. It toppled tower blocks and flattened artist’s studios, smashed high street betting shops and caved in the theatres. It breathed jets of black fire from a protuberance in the centre of its head and excreted a pheromone from spiracles along its back that caused waves of people to hurl themselves, lemming-like from the famous bridges. Smaller creatures, darting and skittering, broke off from its underbelly and chewed through advertising boards, drinking the electricity that powered them, entering Tube tunnels and devouring their contents from the inside out. When the creature reached Hangar Lane it stopped suddenly, turned and stalked back across London as though returning from a day’s work. It continued to the estuary where, in one smooth movement, it leapt and dived beneath the steel water.
It was a Tuesday.
Sam walked amongst the rubble towards a coffee shop on the corner near his house, his feet scuffing shards of stone and clods of earth that had been turned up by the creature. Inside a mother was folding down a pram as her red-cheeked toddler pawed at her left leg with cake-coated fingers. Three people, two women and a man, all in their mid-twenties, tapped away seriously at laptops in three corners of the room. Sam went to the counter and ordered a Cappuccino. He always worried it was the kind of coffee his mother would order and that he should really always ask for a flat white, but in truth he liked the chocolate powder and he enjoyed guessing which metal template the barista would use to sprinkle it; he imagined she was sending him secret messages with her choice. The heart was an easy one. The stylised coffee bean design? She was calling him an aficionado – a coffee expert. The star always depressed him, made him feel like a child being rewarded at school for not shitting his pants.
He felt his chest heat up as he waited. He watched her lift the metal tin of chocolate in her left hand and her right hand went to the shallow container with the templates. Sam’s brain pounded against his skull and he pressed two fingers deep into his eye.
She lifted out the heart and held it over the cup. Joy swelled, briefly and painfully, in Sam. She handed over the coffee and he choked on the sentence he had planned, saying only Chss, a blunted, barely audible version of ‘cheers’.
Sam sat down and tried to see what the laptop-tapping man was doing. He couldn’t see the words, the type was much too small, but there were boxes and windows and what looked like lines of code that immediately made Sam feel small. He noticed a covering of pale brown powder on the shoulders of the man’s gilet and in a small pile on top of his undersized beanie. His first thought was of a massive accident with the chocolate sprinkler but that wasn’t it. It was dust thrown up from the creature’s rampage. Suddenly he realised this same dust covered every surface in the coffee shop. He lifted his cup. There was a circular print in the dust on the table. They must have left the door open during the whole incident. Very foolish. But what the hipsters lacked in practicality they made up for in the provenance and quality of their coffee.
The manager of the coffee shop, a tiny man of around thirty, dark-skinned with frizzy black hair pulled back into a messy pony tail, came out from a back room and sneezed. He yawned and gestured to one of his employees to perhaps try and clear some of the dust from the tables. She looked affronted but eventually began the task, bringing a damp cloth to the table next to Sam and dabbing at the dust like little bird pecks. Sam tried to catch her attention and roll his eyes at…what? Her boss? Life in general? She looked up and gave him the ghost of a smile.
The coffee had been served at exactly the right temperature to drink so by now it was stone cold and made Sam shiver. He finished it anyway then made his way to the door, nodding for some reason to an old man who came in as he went out.
Surprisingly, most of Sam’s flat had survived the arrival of the creature. The bedroom was, in truth, a mess though. The creature came into being at around ten feet long and had slithered and smashed through the wall adjoining the next flat before shooting upwards through the roof, expanding to its full size by the time it landed in the road.
Sam waved at Mrs Malinskaite through the hole in the wall. She was in her sitting room watching a game show she’d Tivo’d. She was a Lithuanian woman in her late thirties. Her husband was a trained architect who was working as a decorator and her daughter, Ruta, thirteen, was the best English student in her class by quite some way and already a member of the local Labour party. Mrs Malinskaite had stacked the bits of wall that had fallen through, neatly and politely, next to the hole and Sam went over to retrieve them.
“You still don’t have job, Sam?” she asked without looking up. “It’s 9.15.”
“I do have a job, Mrs M,” Sam replied, picking up the wall bits and balancing them awkwardly on a raised thigh. “But I’m…not feeling well today.”
She laughed gruffly. “None of us well today. Fucking monster destroy London. Ashton Kutcher!”
A balding man in glasses on the TV said, “Ashton Kutcher?” and the host of the game show said, “Let’s see if ‘Aston Kutcher’ is up there.”
“What are they saying about that?” Sam asked, nodding towards the TV and trying to sound casual.
“They say monster is giant immigrant from space. Have no leave to remain on planet.” Mrs Malinskaite said.
Sam stared at her until she looked up, her expression unchanging. “That is joke, Sam. They don’t know what it is or where it came from or where it go now. Everyone queue up with bullshit explanation on TV so I watch Pointless.”
Sam half placed, half dropped the pieces of wall on the floor beside his bed and sat down, puffing out his cheeks. “They’ll figure it out, I’m sure,” he said. “One thing we can rely on is the integrity and effectiveness of scientific enquiry. They’ll do…tests and…they’ll figure it out. Want anything from the shop when I go in a bit?”
“No, darling,” she replied. “Thank you.”
Sam eyed the gap in the wall. “What do you want to do about this?”
“I put up sheet later,” Mrs Malinskaite said.
“Cool,” replied Sam. “Well, I’ll see you later, Mrs M.”
“Angola!” she said.