"And how are we feeling today, Mr Stools?"
I had drifted off again and re-entered consciousness to these words. My eyes unblurred themselves and focused on the doctor in the crisp, white clinician's tunic, her hair tied tightly back, sitting on a black leather swivel chair, a good six feet away from the couch I was strapped to. Just out of punching range, I suspected.
"I feel we made some progress yesterday," she said.
Ah, yesterday. I cast my mind back to yesterday. I had made the mistake of making a disparaging remark about the beige gown they made me wear. And I know that my attire was the least of my problems right now, but I do feel that a fellow might be awarded some vestige of dignity when he is having 'treatment'.
Beige, I ask you! Beige. Oh, they insisted it was taupe. Taupe? I know beige when I see it, and I was seeing it now, feeling it, being it.
"Let’s see if we can remember what we learned."
I had learned what I’d learned at every one of these sessions. At some point, it’s going to hurt.
"We agreed on what colour your gown is, didn’t we?"
"It’s not fuckin’ taupe!" I had expressed with rather more vehemence than was wise, "It’s beige! Beige, beige, beige!"
"Taupe is a nice colour," the doctor had explained calmly, "It is relaxing and soothing. Taupe makes you feel better. We want you to get better now, don’t we?"
It was at this point that I’d lost it entirely, and ended up getting restrained and sedated. Again. This morning, the drugs had worn off and I was compos mentis again, or at least as close to it as I could get in this place.
"So, do you remember? Tell me, what colour is your gown?"
I looked down at my frontage, and my lips started instinctively to make a 'b' shape. I thought better of it.
"Taupe," I murmured.
"What was that?" the doctor asked.
"Taupe," I said a little louder.
"Good. Progress indeed."
It used to be at points such as this that I would ask "Can I go now?" and the doctor would go on to explain that although I was making very good progress, there was still a long way to go, and it was in my own interests that I saw the treatment through to completion.
I now no longer waste my time with such questions, or even what 'completion' actually means. Mind you, I don’t really have much else to do with my time, but I was losing the will to bother anymore.
"So, let’s talk about your past," she said.
No, let’s not. We’ve been through this a thousand times. She knows everything about my past. Well, except one thing. The thing. The Big Thing, and I’ll do anything to make sure she doesn’t find out about that.
Not that there's much chance of that. This was a secret that was so secret I even had to keep it from myself. All I knew was that I had to keep it until 19 January 2038.
"What date is it?" I asked.
"Why do you always want to know the date?" was the best I could get out of her.
"If I knew I the date, I'd know what was in the past and could answer your questions better."
It was a better response than most of my previous answers, such as "so I don't forget your birthday" and "because I'm the fuckin' pope and don't want to miss my Easter mass", which had generally been deemed 'facetious' and merited me a zap with the cattle prod, or a stint in the Coldplay room.
"I'll tell you what, if you behave like a good boy, you can have a look out of the window."
This was my carrot - everything else was stick. The view out of the window wasn’t particularly scenic. The landscape out there was totally beige, or as I have now learned, taupe. But it was a treat. It was hope.
"Perhaps you'd like me to regale you with another gripping tale of derring-do from my career as a private detective?" I said, starting to pull myself together.
"No, I do not. We have previously established that that was just a fantasy, to mask the monotony of your tedious little job as a computer programmer. "
"Hey, doll. The computer job was just a front for my private eye work. When you work under cover as I often do, you need a good cover, and what better than one where no one has the foggiest clue what you're doing. Oh, except other computer programmers, that is, and they don't care about anything other than computers."
"I'm more interested in your other personality - the poet - and I use the word 'personality' strictly in its professional capacity."
"Aww, not him. He's a dick. Not a private dick like me. A dick dick, and I don't mean a small southern African antelope, or someone called Richard Richard, which is unlikely anyway as I expect any parents with the surname Richard would spot that one as being a crap choice of baby name."
"Shut up and tell me about your contributions to Shitespace."
I prudently decided not to point out the blatant contradiction in her statement.
"Okay, I knocked up the odd Shite poem or two, but again that was just another cover. In my line of work you can't be too careful."
"How do feel about The Shite?" she asked, as she had asked many times before.
And many times before, I had explained that The Shite, a once fun and frivolous literary genre, had grown into a monster. That Shitespace had become the biggest thing on the net. That it had issued everybody in the world a Shiteplant, a nanochip that was implanted in everybody's heads so they could access their Shite directly, and at any time. But The Shite had developed its own sentience, and was now using the Shiteplant to manipulate people for its own evil intent. This was all part of the Shitegeist.
I had learned, painfully, not to give this explanation. It was the wrong answer.
"The Shite is our friend," I said, obediently.
I didn't seem to be as enslaved by The Shite as others, perhaps because I knew it better than anyone else did.
Sometimes I was aware of my Shiteplant and could circumvent it, depending on how vigilant the duty nurse was about checking that I had indeed taken my medication and not just pretended to.
"Good. So, you have no intention of spreading sedition about The Shite," she said, "Have you?"
"Perish the thought."
There was an unexpected knock on the door which promptly opened, and a suited man who I'd not seen before popped his head round the corner. Unusual. We were rarely interrupted during 'consultations'.
"Doctor Ranseed?" he said, "We’ve got some students doing the rounds. Mind if they come and sit in on this session?"
"Of course," the doctor said agreeably, "Please come in. I think you’ll find this a most fascinating case."
In trouped half a dozen eager students.
"The Shite Is In Control," they said in unison as they entered.
"The Shite Is In Control," responded Doctor Ranseed, this was the first time I’d heard her name.
She kicked my ankle as a prompt.
"The Shite Is In Control," I said, knowing that if I didn’t, something more than my ankle was going to hurt.
The students scuttled in further, each excited with a myriad questions to ask.
"Can he speak?"
"Does he know how to use a toilet?"
"Can we poke him with sticks?"
Doctor Ranseed ignored these questions, and went on to explain her case, or as I prefer to call it, me.
"Mr Stools is a poet, specialising in poems that aren't very good. But that is the least of his problems. He appears to be labouring under the belief that he is more than one person."
"Why does he have several personalities?" one of the students asked.
Reasonable question, I thought, but when you know the answer, it's obvious.
"Kid," I said, "when you lead a busy life like I do, one Mike Stools simply ain't enough to get stuff done."
"Mind if I ask a question?" asked a particularly spotty student, "Since all mental illnesses were cured in 2032, why is this patient here?"
"Please, please," Doctor Ranseed put in, "This patient is suffering from what we call The Bewilderment. It is important not to confuse him any further with numbers, particularly dates."
2032? Hmmm. Another six years or less. That’s how long I need to hold The Secret.
"Mr Stools, would you be so kind as to explain to the students your theory on poetry?" she continued.
Theory? This is no theory! This is fact. This is something that any poet worth his ink knows. Oh, may as well. There might be one them bright enough to understand.
"Have any of you ever written a poem?" I asked the students collectively.
"I’ve tried," said a student who had a bad case of scurf.
"What did you do?"
"Well, I started off with a plan. I got some words written down. I found some others that rhymed with them. Cut things down, padded things out to force it into a standard meter."
"Did you use a thesaurus?"
"Of course. Where else are you going to get the right words from?"
"And was your poem any good?"
"No, not really."
"What you don’t understand is this," I began to explain, "Poets don’t write poems. Nobody does. When you write a poem, you haven’t really written it. You’ve discovered it.
"Think of all the skills you have, or can have. Painting, pottery, unicycling, badger baiting. The more you do of them, the better you get. If you’re good at brick laying, you can build a wall at any time. Even if you’re feeling a bit shit, if you put the effort in, you can still do it and make a good job of it.
"Poetry is not like that. You can write, or rather think you’ve written, a brilliant poem. But then try and match it and you can’t. Nothing comes, or you just write a big pile of crap.
"This is because poems already exist. All poems. Poems from the past, the present and the future. They already exist and always have done. They float about in the ether in a non-corporeal state, waiting to manifest themselves in the real world."
Doctor Ranseed yawned openly, surprising considering her penchant for going over the same old crap over and over again. The students, however, were lapping it up, and recording my sage words on their iWants.
"A poet has to put himself or herself into a receptive state in order to coax the poems towards them," I went on, "Each poet has their own technique - it's a matter of working out what works best for you. And all poems are different. Some want to be instantiated - they are continuously seeking receptors who can bring them into being. Others are coy and secretive - difficult to catch.
"Look at a really good poem and you will see that it is the way it is, not because someone has crowbarred a load of words together to make it work, but because that’s the way it naturally is. A truly great poem just works."
"See what I mean?" said Doctor Ranseed, when I'd finished, "The Bewilderment. It is a unique case."
"Unique?" asked the spotty student, "Or unix?"
"What do you mean by that?" the doctor asked.
"I’ve just been reading about an archaic operating system called unix," explained Spotty, "and having read Mr Stools’ case notes I feel it could be relevant to his
"Everybody knows that," I answered, "It’s at www.shite.org."
"That is its URL. But where is it hosted?"
"In the cloud, of course."
"But where exactly?"
"Dunno. Could be anywhere. That’s the nature of the cloud. The clue is in the name."
"Doctor Ranseed, I don’t think Mr Stools is being entirely honest with us. I have discovered that Shitespace was originally put on a unix server in Palo Alto."
"So?" I said, "That was the normal way of doing things in those days."
"Maybe, but what if it’s still there? Shitespace was one of the very first websites, and although it has undergone a few transformations in its lifetime, I believe it is still sitting on its original machine where the timestamp is stored as a signed 32-bit integer. This means that at 03:14:17 UTC on 19 January 2038 it will run out of bits and crash. Shitespace will be destroyed with it."
The other students gasped at this revelation. Doctor Ranseed frowned.
"Mr Stools here knows this," Spotty continued, "and this is The Secret he has been protecting all this time."
"Really?" I said, "I thought they were after my PIN number."
"That’s tomorrow!" said the scurf ridden student, "That means that Shitespace and all The Shite will simply disappear at quarter past three in the morning tonight!"
"Yes, indeed," said Spotty, "This is the secret he's been holding. He's been diverting you from it by getting you embroiled in petty pointless arguments, a skill he has honed in an organisation called pooclub."
Well, if this was a surprise to me it was nothing compared to the shock it had been to Doctor Ranseed, judging by the expression on her face and the depth to which her jaw had dropped.
"Tell me, doctor, what was the most recent topic of discussion you had with him?" Spotty asked.
"The precise shade of pale brown his gown is," said the doctor.
"Well, there you are."
"The cunning little cunt!"
"Ow!" I squealed as my ankle took took a much harder blow from her black stilettoed shoe.
"He wants to destroy Shitespace, just like he tried to destroy the world's financial institutions thirty years ago," said Spotty.
"There was never any evidence!" I interrupted.
"Then," Spotty continued unabated, "he was thwarted by a wily chancellor who was cleverly able to save the banks at the last minute, by giving them lots of money, even though he didn't have any. It would appear that history is repeating itself, for that genius chancellor was my grandfather. I am Gordon Brown Junior Junior."
Well, there's a turn up for the books. I never expected that, and I'm writing this yarn.
"I also believe that Mr Stools created the Y2K bug causing the destruction of the Nineties. This man has left a trail of devastation wherever he's gone throughout his entire life!"
"This must not happen to Shitespace," said Doctor Ranseed, "How can we stop it?"
"We’re going to have to migrate it off that machine," said Spotty, "and now!"
And with that, they all fled out of the clinic. I made a grab for the door after the last one had left, but too late. The door self-closed terminating in that familiar 'click' that says, 'Forget it, kiddo, you’re locked in.'
Still, I was freer than I had been since this whole debacle had begun. I could walk about the room, look in its drawers and cupboards. One cupboard was marked 'Stools' but this was still locked.
Also locked to me was Shitespace. My plan had been thwarted - there was no way I could destroy it from in here.
But, wait! What about my Shiteplant? I still had access to that. But I didn’t have anything I could use against it...
I rummaged around the clinic looking for anything, any clue that might lead me to some way of getting to the very heart of Shitespace, and stop it beating forever. All I found were pills. Most of which they’d given me at some point or other, all of which had been of no bloody use to me.
Now, there was one I’ve not been given before - probably not allowed. Instead of the normal coloured capsule shaped pills, this one was a plain white round one with a horse’s head embossed in it. If I’m going to access Shitespace via my Shiteplant, I might be able to do so with some pharmaceutical assistance. But then again, it might just fuck me up again.
Well, I thought, I’ve got nothing to lose. If this doesn’t do the trick I don’t know what will.
And I took the pill.
As I waited for it to kick in I wandered over to the window and opened the blind.
"Taupe, my arse! That is fuckin’ beige," I muttered to myself.
There was a beige sky above a beige wasteland with beige buildings. All around the air floated a beige fog, a miasma. Then I felt the pill taking effect. The scene before me changed, and as I gained further and deeper resolution, and gazed vividly into the miasma, I could see it for what it really was.
Poetry. Evil poetry. Trillions and trillions of malicious poems pervading every nook and cranny, controlling. Controlling everything.
This can’t be, I thought. Where are all the Good Poems? Where are the ones that the receptive poet can coax and manifest into reality? Well, with the pill I’d taken, I was now a receptive poet, so time I guess to find out.
I lay down on the couch, closed my eyes and went fishing for poetry.
And, oh, what a sorry state I found. Yes, they were still there. But hiding. Frightened. Terrified of the evil poems that now dominated the ether. I lay for some time, floating about, watching as the poems, nervous of my presence, darted off to find some safe retreat.
But then one, a strange looking haiku, peeped tentatively at me from within the fog. Intrigued, it crept slowly towards me, occasionally backing off if it felt it was catching the attention of the evil poems. Closer it came, closer until it was close enough for me to read it.
It was the most bizarre looking poem I had ever encountered, yet strangely I understood it. And then it spoke.
"Take me," it said, "I can destroy The Shite."
I looked at the poem and read it again.
"Yes!" I said, "I think you can!"
"I may not have the right syllable count," said the haiku, "but I can get the job done and save humanity. Don’t use the installation script, put me directly on the console. Then run!"
"You got it!" I said.
I took the haiku and streamed it straight through my Shiteplant and plonked it on the server.
"Return," I said.
The lights in the room went out, but a new light, a glowing golden brilliant light shone in through the window. Gone was the miasma, gone was the beige, replaced with a multitude of colours and hues. Outside was a whole gamut. And not just the normal reds and blues and greens and the palette of mixtures of these, but colours that cannot normally be seen by the human eye or processed by its brain. Here I saw lofe, plustre, snirtwang and clunge. The leaves of the trees gleamed in shimmering mingewort and their branches scintillated in pale dangledrip. You really can't make that stuff up.
Various clicks came from within the room as doors unlocked themselves. I went over to the cupboard marked 'Stools' and opened it. There was my stuff in there. I got out of the accursed gown and put my proper clothes on.
Much to my dismay, I discovered with my heightened state of perception that the gown was indeed taupe. I chucked it in the bin.
The door opened and in breezed Doctor Ranseed, looking bright and cheery, out of her doctor’s tunic and now wearing a stylish skirt suit, her hair flowing free and catching the new colours that showered it - shagtrope, kiffle and pooplebum. Okay, I made that last one up.
"Ah, Michael," she greeted me, "Nice to see you looking well."
"Doctor Ranseed?" I said.
"Please," she said, "Call me Kathryn."
"So, the Shite’s gone? We’re all free?"
"What Shite?" she asked.
"The Shite. Shitespace. The Shiteplant."
"Whatever are you talking about? Is this one of the cases you're working on? You private dicks have such a crazy parlance. "
"Of course!" I said, more to myself than to her, "With Shitespace taken down, everybody's Shiteplants will have been erased and no one will have any knowledge of the Shite, even that it ever existed!"
"It sounds a most intriguing case," said Doctor Ranseed
"Yes," I said reflectively, "It was."
And how uplifting to describe it in the past tense. The Shitegeist was over.
"I say," said Kathryn, "Is that a pen in your breast pocket?"
I took the pen out.
"Yes, it’s a Bic biro."
"I haven’t seen one of those in years. May I see it?"
"Yes, sure." I handed her the biro.
"These were truly wonderful things. You really felt you were writing with one of these. Is that a notepad on the shelf of your cupboard?"
"Er, yes. So it is."
I handed her the notepad. She opened it, and put the ball of the pen to the top page.
"Ah, that feels lovely," she said, "There’s something wonderful about the rolling of a ballpoint on a fresh pad of paper."
She doodled about a bit, then started to write. When she had finished I picked up the pad and read it.
"No!" I exclaimed, "No no no no no!"
"Whatever is the matter?" she said.
"Do not write this!" I said, all panicky.
"It’s just a nonsense verse. First thing that popped into my head."
I tore the page out, screwed it up and threw it into the bin.
"Never, ever do this again!" I shouted.
I grabbed the pen off her, snapped it in half and threw that too in the bin.
"Never!" I screamed.
"Don't you think you’re over-reacting here a little?" she said.
"No, I’m bloody well not. You must never put pen to paper ever again. Don't you see? The Shite's trying to come back!"
I must admit, I did think I came over rather aggressive, and I had clearly startled her. But, let's face it, I was startled. I could see the poem taking her over.
"Nurse!" she called, "bring the restraints!"
"No, no, you don’t understand!"
A big bruiser of a nurse came in, armed with leather straps and a huge hypodermic.
"Ah, Brenda," said the doctor, "Take Mr Stools to the Strictly room."
"Right," growled Nurse Brenda.
"Now let's see if there's another biro in his cupboard," I could hear Doctor Ranseed saying, as the nurse grabbed me by the neck, "I feel another one coming on."
"It’s all really bad," I gasped, with all the air I could muster from the headlock I was trapped in.
And the last thing I heard before passing out was Doctor Ranseed calling out behind me, "Fruity fruity on!"