Mindfulness Exercises for the Deeply Disturbed

Seat yourself comfortably and let your eyes close. Take a few deep breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth—and allow your body to expand and contract gently, letting the tension out as you exhale.

Feel your awareness roam away from your body, taking in the sensation of the hands resting in your lap and the sounds around you. Let it roam until it rests on him.

Let your awareness fill with Derek. His luxurious blond hair and unnecessarily tight trousers. The smarm that imbues his every gesture and action. The jokes, unsuited to the atmosphere of Earth, found asphyxiating near his trouser hems at social gatherings. The misconception that sheepskin is back.

Breathe through your nose and take in all that is Derek.

In your hands you hold an AK47. Your brothers from the Russian mafia who have gifted you this weapon of liberation are ranked behind you, sensed but not seen, backing you up and giving you strength. You feel stronger as you heft the rifle in your hands. Almost superhuman. Feeling the lump of metal in your hands, as you contemplate puny Derek. His hair. His trousers.

You reach out and take a handful of Derek’s vaunted locks—no more will he toss them, no, no more—and delicately, as if winding them up into a curler, you bind them around the AK47’sbarrel. Tie off the end around its front sight in a neat bow. Step back and grasp the weapon’s butt.

You feel a limitless sense of power flowing through your body as you grip the rifle’s butt in both hands. You splay your legs to slightly more than shoulder width, and prepare to take the strain. Then—without effort, your muscles more than adequate to the task—you lift Derek by his hair until he hangs above your head.

Look up, breathing deeply, and contemplate the soles of Derek’s stupid feet, suspended right above you.

Then, as you might a fishing rod, swing the rifle and its loathsome cargo back over your right shoulder and hold it there.

Breathe deeply again, then, as you exhale, swing the AK47 forward in a graceful arc that ends with Derek and a coffee table eliding with a splintering crunch.

Pivot gracefully on one heel and bend from the knees, tensing, then uncoil your muscles and wrench Derek from the coffee table, pulling up into another elongated half-circle that ends with him buried in a rack full of promotional literature on the opposite side of the room.

Derek begins to scream in earnest. Let your awareness drift out from the hard sensation of the butt of the AK47 in your hands and toward the sound of Derek’s hoarse and desperate voice. Embrace the sound and let it pass away from you.

Let your breathing return to normal and count: in, out, one, two.

Pivot to your left, kneeling again for leverage, and swing Derek out of the rack of promotional literature. At shoulder height, begin to pivot like a hammer-thrower, gradually building up speed and leaning in to counter the centrifugal pull of Derek’ss spinning form, the bobbling of his loathsome trousers.

Outside the conference room, a multitude of ropes trail down the windows, uncoiling with pleasurable symmetry. Let your awareness drift to appreciate their parallel lines, swaying as they snap to full extension.

As one, men in armour slide into view down these ropes, carrying bulky automatic weapons that they point at you.

Breathe deeply and at the point you feel karmically necessary, execute a circular flick that releases Derek. Admire his trajectory. As your circular motion slows, reel the AK47 in toward you, as if climbing a rope, fitting it snugly into your shoulder. Invigorated by these calisthenics, it is ready to act as the conduit of your fury.

Breathe deeply.

The Birth of the Stool

We just thought flesh metal was the next thing after death metal. We talk about the guts as, like, the locus of the body’s gradual decay and loss of function. We look for extreme experiences as inspiration, which you see in songs like “Duodenal Riptide” and “Ravaged Intestine”. And then “Capsaicin On Haemorrhoid” is about the red hot spike of existential agony your body tortures you with, like, the day after you eat a really hot curry. Bogdan wrote that based on actual experience. We use extra-strength lager and spicy food a lot in our work as like, catalysts. And cheap wine. We’ve recently started to explore acid reflux as a new aspect to our whole sonic worldview.

We also thought flesh was more, like, fitting for us than death and Satan and all that. I mean Bogdan has trouble around town because people think he’s an immigrant with that name even though he’s actually called Steve and his mum’s from Broomhall.

Bogdan’s actually in hospital at the moment, that’s why he’s not here. He was working on a piece called “Indigestivus Extremis” where he’d have three vindaloos and ten pints of lager and then a cold bath. He was in the middle of the second movement—no, the musical kind, that’s not a joke—and we thought everything was fine, the demos were sounding fucking brilliant. Then on the third day the neighbours called the police because of the screaming. They say he has explosive bowel something or other. We were all about to throw up when the doctors started explaining it and Gangrenous—the drummer—had to go and sit down for a bit.

So we’re thinking of changing things around now. Like, this was almost where Bogdan joined the 27 club and got another chance. I think we should chuck the extreme stuff and go more pop, but the others don’t see it yet. They were never the ones who had to eat the fucking vindaloos though, were they. Gangrenous says we should enslave someone and make them suffer for us and tell us what it’s like, and I said right, you can put him up in one of the spare bedrooms in your fucking mansion, then. He lives in a bedsit so he shut up after that.

The Shed Men

Gravid Murkle reports on a low-tech business facing high-tech disruption.

"We have come to tear your shed down, for half as much, half as much," the men in high-visibility jackets and ruddy-cheeked farmer masks sing as they approach the modestly sized house in a quiet back street. We are in the North West of England, though the road has a suburban blandness typical of a dozen, a hundred locations around the country.

"I was a bit worried when they first called. I mean, you think how did they know, and how can they give you a quote that’s exactly half what you just heard," confesses householder Margarethe Bloom, who opted to give the Shed Men, as they are known, the benefit of the doubt after overcoming her initial shock. She claims their frankness about their methods and the humility of their subsequent explanation won her over.

Those methods are simple and, in this age of ubiquitous surveillance, perhaps less of a shock than they should be: the Shed Men use the kind of electronic eavesdropping technology beloved of government agencies the world over to intercept communications that mention shed demolitions, then contact the householder with a lower quote.

It remains unclear whether they call themselves the Shed Men or the name has simply stuck. But its anonymity is in keeping with their obfuscated nature; some conjecture that they are a group of socially-motivated pranksters out to demonstrate how far surveillance has invaded our everyday lives, others that they represent the beachhead for a rapacious contracting firm intent on pricing more herbivorous shed-demolishers out of the market. Actual information about them is scarce. Any attempt to elicit more than their “…half as much, half as much” chant is stoically ignored; recently, they have begun handing out cards in response to enquiries that bear slogans such as “if you need a shed trashing, if no-one else can help, and if they can find you…and they can: maybe you can hire the Shed Men.”

What they do is of course illegal, but they have so far proved elusive in the extreme. In preparing this story we had no less than seven near misses with Shed Men crews who either turned up early or failed to show, seemingly having been alerted to our presence. “They always seem to be a step ahead,” admits Peter Brushbadge, the Manchester detective coordinating the Shed Men investigation.

Not everyone is prepared to accept the Shed Men, however.

"I told them, you could have been chanting ‘we have come to shag your aunty’ and I still would have said no. And her sex drive is frankly more of a problem than the shed was," says Dinak Veltra, who ultimately opted to stick with a conventional contractor. "I also would feel more comfortable if they built and repaired sheds as well as tearing them down. The surveillance I’m not so bothered about, but the destructiveness doesn’t sit well with me at all."

The Sufferings of the Welsh People

— Hello?

— Good morning, am I speaking to Mr. Kendrick Hefty?

— You are.

— Mr. Hefty. My name is Brian Amlwch, from the Welsh Natural Misery Museum.

— The?

— Natural Misery Museum. Throws the people that’re expecting it to be “history,” the first time. Ho, ho. Anyway, we’re currently planning a major new exhibit titled “The Sufferings of the Welsh People: From Prehistory to Present Day,” and I wondered if we could trouble you to refuse our request to participate.

— I’m sorry, you’ve lost me. To do what?

— To refuse, Mr. Hefty.

— That’s daft. I can’t do that!

— You refuse to refuse. How very meta.

— Sorry?

— Nothing, sir, a mere aside.

— Look, you’re just trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy here and I won’t be a part of it.

— What a pity. That’s a no, then?

— It certainly is. I refuse to participate in this warped endeavour. Oh shit, hang on a minute—


Hackers 2

COOLIDGE: You don’t scare me. You’re not a man, you’re a mouse.

NASH: You should be scared of me. ’Cause I’m a man WITH a mouse.

— lost script draft, “Hackers 2: Get Hacked”

The lady at the next till

The lady at the next till wore a faint smile at odds with the coruscating noise issuing from the child she cradled. It rattled the change in the cash drawer, caught you in the eyes like a spike. It was like a performance piece that encoded the injury statistics of the Somme into a serrated arc of sound.

"We’ve had worse, sir," said the doleful sexagenarian at the till in front of me, reading my look. Doris Ainsley, said her name tag. She wore a thin-lipped expression that seemed to adumbrate a life spent in the observation of petty atrocities. She picked up a lettuce, scanned it resignedly.

The lady at the next till stood unmoving, seemingly having paid, but with no bags of shopping, waiting placidly while her squirming sonic weapons test continued.

Doris looked around carefully. Aside from the lady at the next till and me, there was hardly anyone in eyeshot.

"Yes, we’ve seen worse," she repeated. Paused, then: "In fact, I could show you worse, now."

She reached below her seat and came up with something black and fabriclike that I thought for a second was a carrier bag. Then she took it in both hands and spread it, stretching it taut, the black matte meshlike substance absorbing light and remaining utterly opaque as it enlarged, like a high-denier stocking rendered in some technical Swiss fibre and designed by Errolson Hugh.

Doris spun the piece of fabric on her fingertips a few times as if about to throw a pizza base and then, grasping an edge with thumb uppermost in frisbee grip, sent it slicing backhand toward the woman and cacophonous child.

The black fabric looped in the air and rapidly lost speed, slumping toward the woman and then enveloping her. Its edges stretched heavily, liquidly to the floor and adhered to it in a solid ring, making a shape like an elongated Pac-Man baddie. And then the whole rounded nosecone crumpled downward, imploding with a series of muffled cracks and crunches.

It paused, as if having reached a limit of density, seemed to swell slightly, and then with a rushing sound shrank to the size of a tennis ball.

With a barely audible hmmph of satisfaction Doris turned back to me and hefted a jar of chopped tomatoes.

Behind her, the black sphere bobbled erratically into the aisle and was whisked between the rotary brushes of a passing cleaning cart.

Permanent Fist

Shatto Windrush. Not so much a name to conjure with as one with which one could freshen toilets, faecal overtones succeeded by a fragrant breeze; a whimsical product name, a provocation, a dare to its owner: be eccentric, it said. Invent. Be famous—no, not famous. Notorious. Drive an unreliable model of Jaguar. Be a cad. Invent. Scheme. Lose, and scheme again. Fail on the brink of success. Wait jilted on the platforms of rural stations for Sunday trains that never come. Cheat the taxman. Exhaust the patience of lovers, and relatives’ willingness to advance charity disguised as credit.

Shatto Windrush recognised his name for what it was: a mission, a role. And he opted to play it to the hilt.

His first—and only, if we’re honest—success was with a skin-toughening product for pugilists called Permanent Fist, which claimed also to induce partial paralysis and anaesthesia in the hands. This led to its repurposing by adolescent males with a morbid interest in self-stimulation to achieve the sensation of being pleasured by another’s hand, without having to sit on one’s own until it numbed from circulatory interruption. This in turn resulted in a series of incidents in which several mortified (momentarily in the affected appendage, more lengthily in spirit) young men were hospitalized after overapplying the cream to their hands, resulting in its predictable transfer to the genitals and a subsequent spiral of ever more enthusiastic grip in the face of rapidly decreasing sensitivity, leading to what was indeed an at least semi-permanent fist locked vicelike on a numb appendage, and the need for direct intervention with muscle relaxants.

Needless to say, before very long these incidents reached both the press and the courts, and Permanent Fist, Inc. soon faced spiralling legal costs that it failed to offset with the spike in sales occasioned by its notoriety and an in retrospect ill-advised advertising campaign that attempted to capitalize on same (“Permanent Fist: Grip When You Need It, Where You Need It,” said a speech bubble emanating from a weedy, bespectacled teenager with unfashionable hair and an unwholesome look of satisfaction).

Windrush subsequently attempted once more to tap this burgeoning new market with a product called Permanent Rod, with results that we may elide here save to note that the associated class action lawsuit became known euphemistically in the press as “Permanent Rods vs. Permanent Rod, Inc.”


His thumbs itch. As much as he’s learned to detach himself, the symptom remains. He feels the lack of the controller in the tendency of his hands to curl as if gripping a nonexistent boomerang, but he has learned to dispel the craving in his palms with staccato flexings of the fingers that in his mind crack hair-scorching bolts of electricity into the slowly percolating brainstems of the pupils before him. He imagines their thoughts as a marble run, each instruction rolling dryly round its track to a destination fixed and inevitable but accessible only, as it were, by b-roads clogged with caravans. 

But the fidgety feeling in the pads of his thumbs will not ease.

He snorted at the idea of an “alternative employment agency” while secretly hoping it would offer something less stultifying than shelf-stacking, something cool or possibly illegal in which his talents would be recognised. Fast-tracking him out of the bedsit whose neighbours nightly crush his self-esteem with the olympian expectorations of their sex (or, he sometimes imagines, to salve his spirit, their hours spent lashing each other raw with leather belts). The bedsit with its loose, near-terminal wallpaper, its slim wardrobe and slimmer kitchen presaging his solitary death; the bus with its sadistic drivers fixated on Exact Change and its rotating cast of unedited life-stories, squinting hazards in shellsuits, the bulky, the odiferous, the clumsy. He fantasises, on the bus, in the manner of a detainee writing sermons in captivity, of a memoir titled My Travels Among the Stupid and Indecisive.

His alternative job involves instructing the elderly in the art of playing videogames. Pfff, people who he tells this say, pretending to spit out their beer, swallowing carefully so they don’t. Everybody knows how to play games these days, they say. Either that or they don’t bother. But no, he says—to the waning interest of a pub audience more interested in chasing skirt, starting fight, football match—these elderly folks, some of them feel they’re missing something, like the Internet, creeping up behind them as if someone were dumping industrial waste behind their houses in the night a spoonful at a time, until one morning the sky over the back garden is blotted out by a mountain of shit…but they don’t have the software, you see, in their heads, to process game images, like Victorians motion-sick at the speed of steam trains. They either see the pixellated old-school games as meaningless shapes, unable to parse them into figures or cars or mushroom-fixated Italians, or (in the photoreal console hit) cannot grasp their agency in an arena that television and film have taught them to passively consume.

That’s what he teaches them to overcome, with his itching thumbs desperate to take over and steer them out of their collisions with inanimate objects, their repeated annihilation by whooping teenagers (yes, he’s explored at length the theme of “society’s juggernaut crushing the old to give primacy to the young, who in turn are…” in the captive’s essays he fashions in his head, while his cursory smile and helpful demeanour keep up the pretence of engagement). Indoor work with no heavy lifting, as Douglas Adams once said. The heavy lifting comes from trying to pick his soul up, with its daily accrual of despair, each evening, shovel it into his bag and drag it home.

He starts them in the shallow end, maiming fruit and killing pigs on low-end Chinese iPad knockoffs. The few who show an affinity for this can opt to continue their apprenticeship with theft, drug dealing and murder (#102), military conflict (#103), extraterrestrial outreach and extermination (#104), empire and conquest (#105), or abstract and puzzles (#106). The latter choice is left to prove the breadth of the curriculum to prospective auditors but attracts only a small minority of the genuinely troubled.

He has toiled over the shoulders of these people for weeks on end. Doris with her inability to tell the difference between right and left mouse buttons, Rose who goes to pieces at the sight of a Nazi flag, George who fumbles when tentacles reach for his diminutive doppelganger. Fuck it, he has come to think. What am I doing this for? What in god’s name are these people seeking here?

And then comes Mildred. Mildred, her madwoman hair corralled with clips and pins as if wrestled to the ground by a team of orderlies. Her outbursts about immigration and fast food that cause troubled silences among the staff. But then. The embarrassed instructor, handing her in silence a controller, an index finger toward the screen in the hope of distracting her from the latest tirade.

And Mildred’s spiky finger stabs at a button as if in seizure. A mouthy 13-year-old from Wisconsin finds himself abruptly headshot in a cloud of blood and bounced from his 3D arena of light and noise to a flatly reproving page of statistics. “Little cunt,” crows Mildred. “Who’s the granny now, bitch?”