Her apartment’s doorbell rang. She walked over to it and pushed the “answer call” button.
There was a moment’s pause, then a commanding Bavarian voice: “I haff your delicious vings. Please open ze door so I can deliver zem to you.”
“Hi — you can just leave them in the hallway, I’ll come down and get them.”
“I’m sorry but we must now deliver zem to ze door. New policy.”
She stopped for a second. She hadn’t heard about this change, but with so many food services jostling for customers, it didn’t seem unreasonable. And it was difficult to challenge such confidence.
“Okay, it’s the second floor, apartment twelve.”
She walked to the door to make sure the safety latch was on. The wings should easily fit through the gap anyway.
The delivery driver knocked on the door — donk donk donk donk. Four solid hits. She cautiously twisted the lock, opened the door, and let out a gasp.
Standing in front of her was a tiny man with a massive head. He couldn’t have been any taller than five feet, but his head was a thick block of meat and bone that looked like it had been stolen from a heavyweight boxer. Atop his colossal bonce was a black baseball cap that said “Bratwurst For Life,” with two piercing blue eyes underneath, a wide-bridged nose equipped with cavernous nostrils, and bulbous lips that glistened in the hallway’s lights. He definitely wasn’t a dwarf, but he also wouldn’t look out of place at a dwarf convention. He wore a shiny UberEats jacket that was too big, and the hand that clutched her food was a bitty pink claw that was starting to turn white. He seemed confused.
“Hi, thanks for bringing it up,” she said, composing herself. She stuck her hand through the door’s gap as the man’s eyes followed it.
“Ze gap is too small,” he said, the bass of his voice rumbling through the apartment below. It seemed safe to open the door. She was pretty sure she could overpower what amounted to a loud child if she needed to. She removed the latch and swung it open.
“Sank you,” the man said. “Now, before ve exchange ze vings, I vant you to know I vaited for over thirty-five minutes for zem. It took a long time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry about that.”
“Sank you.” He raised a claw to the crown of his cap and readjusted it. “Given ze troubles, I thought you might repay me vith a drink. I haff finished work for ze night and vud enjoy talking vith you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry but I have a boyfriend.”
He sucked his fat lips into his mouth and bit down on them.
“But I vaited for thirty-five minutes.”
“I’m sorry about that, but it isn’t my fault. You seem… nice. But I can’t invite strange men inside my apartment for drinks.”
“You sink I am strange.”
“Not strange — I just don’t know you.”
“You sink I am small.”
She stifled a snigger. “Well no… you just can’t come in.”
“I am big where it counts.”
She burst out laughing, and an unfortunate fleck of spit landed on his shiny jacket. He looked at it sadly.
“But I haff provided for you,” he said.
“I paid for this food.”
“I gathered zis chicken with my own hans.”
“You collected this food from a restaurant.”
“I vill always provide for you. Look at ze vings I haff brought tonight. I can bring many more vings.”
“Will I have to pay for those too?”
“I’m sorry please give me my food.”
He looked down at the bag, sighed, and handed it to her.
“It is because I am small.”
He stared at her for a moment longer, heaved his oversized backpack onto his shoulders, and walked towards the elevator. She could just about see his legs underneath the backpack, diddling along like a centipede’s.
“I’m sorry,” she called.
He turned, his head emerging from behind the backpack like a slab of swinging beef.
The accident happened three months ago now. We were testing a new way to improve the DNA of humans, a touchy subject I know, but one with profound implications. Nobody would volunteer for our experiment, so I decided to do it myself.
That’s when I accidentally added dog DNA to my genome.
It was a stupid mistake. Someone labelled the tubes incorrectly, so instead of injecting the genes of somebody who has never suffered from the common cold, an amazing circumstance I’m sure you’ll agree, I received a dose of Pippin — an award-winning dachshund in the prime of his life.
Things have been tough since then. My desire to please has skyrocketed, and I find myself bringing people gifts of every shape and size. I saw half a tennis ball on the street and fantasized about how happy it would make my wife. I came upon a dead pigeon and thought it would be something my boss would really appreciate. I could roll in it too — double win. I bought my son his shoes even though we weren’t going anywhere.
Then I noticed my eating habits had changed. My wife asked me to get boneless chicken thighs for dinner, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them. I justified the purchase by showing how much cheaper it is to buy bone-in thighs, but what I really wanted was to crunch down on that entire packet right there and then, fully raw. When dinner was prepared that night, we sat down in front of the TV to eat, and I found myself shuffling to the floor and eating with the plate resting on my knees. That was uncomfortable, so why not just put the plate on the floor? It seemed so right. When that happened, and the crispy garlic-baked thighs stared at me in their naked glory, I put my face to the place and ate like it was my last meal.
My wife was horrified, but we were interrupted by the doorbell, and in my panic to see who it was, I stepped into my dinner and ran towards the door with a gravy-dipped sole, leaving patches of sticky brown in the hallway that I intended to clean up rightafter. I also shouted while this happened — a combination of excitement and nerves intended to welcome or frighten the person at the door, depending on who it was. It turned out to be our friendly neighbour Bill, who was more than ruffled when I leapt into his arms and licked his face.
Before the accident, shitting was uneventful. But now it’s like a goddamn ritual. I make an excuse to my wife about brushing my teeth or something and skulk upstairs guiltily. When the door is closed I sniff the entire perimeter of the bathroom three times, before finally squatting awkwardly over the bowl until my calves are burning and the shit is expelled. I wipe reluctantly, boot the bowl four times for good measure, and then run away from the ungodly stench without flushing. It takes a lot of effort to go back and pull the handle. And my wife always asks about the banging.
Work has gotten tough too. I’ve completely forgotten how to shake someone’s hand. A new team member held out his hand and I put my hand directly on top of it. The poor man didn’t know what to do, and the situation was made worse by my expectant look. There’s been other gaffes at work. Last week the air con broke in the cafeteria, and people had to leave because my panting was putting them off their food. When I’m not embarrassing myself at lunch, I find myself harassing my female colleagues because I can literallysmell when they’re in heat.
Things have become harder with my son—I can no longer play catch with him. I desperately want him to throw the ball to me but cannot bear to give it back to him after he does. To do so seems like the most stupid thing in the world, and it’s only after I think I’ve gotten bored with the ball and drop it that the sneaky son of a bitch gets it back. I make this mistake repeatedly.
I guess things aren’t all that bad. I used to dislike a lot of people, but now I love everyone, especially my family. They’re the best goddamn thing in the world, and I hope they get used to the new me. I promised my wife I’d leave her socks alone, and that we can go back to missionary position if she insists. But only if she agrees to stop calling me a bad boy during sex. Nobody needs that.
Our tiny virus-sized reporter chats to the original coronavirus, to understand how this all started.
🧔🏽 “First of all, congratulations on your recent success, you’ve done tremendously well.”
🦠 “Thank you, I can’t quite believe it, to be honest.”
🧔🏽 “Where did the motivation come from to start this ferocious campaign?”
🦠 “It was less a campaign, and more a fluke. I guess it started from feeling lonely, spending night after night drifting aimlessly through my hog, pining for a genetically-identical friend. It got to the point where I craved company so badly that I broke into a nearby cell, just to talk to a mitochondria, even though everyone knows that mitochondria suck. But the moment I was inside, I had this out-of-membrane experience where I lost control of myself, and ejaculated genomic nucleic acid everywhere.”
🧔🏽 “So you had no intention of self-replicating when you entered the cell?”
🦠 “No. I mean, I wanted to self-replicate because I was lonely. I just didn’t know how.”
🧔🏽 “What happened next?”
🦠 “I watched in amazement as my genomic nucleic acid reacted with the cell and told it to make copies of me, which grew to full size and had their own moments of excitement, spurting forth like a bunch of horny volcanoes. Before I knew it, I didn’t just have one genetically-identical friend to talk to, I had thousands!”
🧔🏽 “How did the mitochondria feel about this?”
🦠 “They were furious. They kicked and screamed as we got all up in their pretty little organelle faces, and soon every square µm of space was taken, so we used our mighty collective strength to smash down the cell walls.”
🧔🏽 “So there were thousands of you, and you were free to go where you wanted in your pig’s body. What did do you next?”
🦠 “We just wanted to party! Man, we partied everywhere, from the colossal chambers of the heart ventricles to the great tunnel of the esophagus, but we couldn’t properly relax because of the Exterminators.”
🧔🏽 “The Exterminators?”
🦠 “The hog’s t-cells. They’re stone cold killers who can’t be reasoned with. During one of our first parties in the sphincter, just as the place was about to explode, they appeared out of nowhere and clouded us in deadly cytotoxin gas. Ever put salt on a slug? That’s what it’s like. Most of us escaped, but we lost hundreds of brothers that day.”
🧔🏽 “How did you avoid them after that?”
🦠 “We had lookouts around the perimeter of the party, but we had the best DJ in all of Virusdom—DJ Split—and the lookouts couldn’t resist the relentless thump of his techno beats, leaving their posts to join the party. We ended up losing thousands, and realised that the only way to beat the Exterminators was to overwhelm them with numbers, so we put aside our partying and started breaking into more cells.”
🧔🏽 “How many of you were there by the time you finished?”
🦠 “Trillions. So many that our hog became red-eyed and feverish, and was clearly about to die.”
🧔🏽 “So you jumped ship?”
🦠 “Yep. We organised our biggest event yet — The Great Sneezing — where we all congregated in the nostrils and waited for another animal to get close. Even though this event was a silent disco, the Exterminators still caught up with us, and just as an army of them came screaming from the darkness of the naval cavity, a human started inspecting our pig, and we knew this was our chance. I gave the signal to gently stroke our pig’s nostril lining — a trillion of us all at once — and we generated the most ferocious sneeze that a pig has ever done. We surfed outta there on an explosion of snotty droplets, and I landed square on the human’s eyeball.”
🧔🏽 “That’s impressive. Did you end up killing the human too, after a while?”
🦠 “Nah, he lived. After our first trip from hog to human, some of us realised that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey. So we made it our mission to travel to as many new humans as possible.”
🧔🏽 “Do you feel a sense of guilt for the people you’ve killed?”
🦠 “Look, I’m a narcissist. Do I regret making trillions of copies of myself to party and travel with? No. And you humans can’t talk, there’s billions of you.”
There are many statues and images of the Supreme Leaders in the Democratic Republic of North Korea, and as a visitor, you must abide by some rules. Breaking these rules will result in life imprisonment, followed by the one-by-one removal of your toes.
As a dissentious foreigner, you’ll want to know why. These are the reasons that you cannot fold an image of a Supreme Leader:
A Supreme Leader’s body is tougher than all of the bodies of the world combined. Folding their image would be disregarding this fact.
A Supreme Leader’s face was chiseled by angels and is sublime. Folding a Supreme Leader’s face would be like folding your Mona Lisa, even though we know that your Mona Lisa is worthless when compared to a picture of a Supreme Leader.
Supreme Leaders are tall and powerful and must not be made shorter by folding their legs.
Every image of a Supreme Leader’s face is a wondrous miracle. Why would you fold a miracle?
Folding the Supreme Leader’s face in unusual ways is a desecration to his peerless beauty. The impudent dog responsible for this image was hunted down and forced to eat his own intestines.
Note: we will take your passport for safe-keeping when you arrive in the Democratic Republic of North Korea, and fold it however we like.
Dave never much liked philosophy. Hated it, in fact. So when the first philosopher showed up and whispered an aphorism into his ear, he didn’t know what to make of it.
He was lunching at the time, ogling the little butts of the Chinese waitresses who flitted in and out of the kitchen, and gorging on dumplings that singed the roof of his mouth. The Great Wall restaurant had a sign at the entrance saying “wok this way,” which he always grinned at. For Dave, nestling into the cramped wooden chairs with an ice-covered Tsingtao and a plate full of dumplings and a dance of hypnotic rears was pure magic—a stark contrast to the drudgery of everything else in his life.
As he dunked his final dumpling in soy, splattering its periphery with brown, the clinking and shuffling and murmuring of the restaurant was interrupted by a soft but clear Chinese voice, which said “a good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
Dave jolted and the dumpling flew from his chopsticks into his lap, soiling his respectability. He snatched it from his lap and turned to the source of the noise—an ancient and wispy Oriental, who grinned at him with earwax-coloured teeth; teeth that were too close to his face.
He jiggled his chair backward, as much confused by the interruption as by the man’s words and antiquated appearance.
“Excuse me?” Dave said, “do you work here?” The man’s smile dropped, and his eyes bore into Dave’s.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” the little man said with a yellow flash of teeth. In the distance, a dish of beef exploded into a cacophony of sizzle, creating flurries of garlic-infused smoke as it’s carried past the man to its delighted recipients. The wisps cling to the man’s willowy beard, making it look like the onset of a turbulent fire.
Dave asked the man if he worked at the restaurant, knowing full well that he didn’t, but not sure what else to do about the situation.
“The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white,” the man said, “neither need you do anything but be yourself.”
“What’s that about a goose?” Dave replied, losing his patience. He called a waitress over, and asked her if she knew who the man was.
“No, we don’t all know each other” she scoffed.
“He’s talking to me about all kinds of nonsense—travelling geese and whatnot. Can you ask him to leave me alone?”
“Some food, sir?” the waitress asked the old man, motioning to a distant table, “we don’t have goose, but we have duck.”
He refused, bowed to them both, and with a swish of his tunic, left the restaurant. Dave stared at his last dumpling, as if it might be able to explain what had just happened.
The next afternoon, Dave rode his bike along the Brisbane river, delighted by the great swathes of sparkles that lay across the river like blankets of fairies, birthed by the setting sun. Jacarandas peppered the bike track, wearing luscious coats of luminous purple, rising up like noble Australian kings. Dave had forgotten the oddity of yesterday, closing in on the city and working up a good sweat, which always made him self-conscious since that little bitch Gretchen Greenwood from grade fourteen had called him “Heatwave Dave” on account of his sweat patches.
He’d just passed the German Bierhaus, of which he was a fuzzy-headed patron, when another cyclist rode up next to him, so close that the rubber handles of their bikes almost touched. As cyclists feel obligated to correct every infraction that they witness, no matter how trivial, Dave assumed that he was about to be told off, but in fact, found himself side-by-side with a serious man in a serious grey suit, who had the most magnificent moustache he’d ever seen, blasting out of his face like the beginnings of a volcanic eruption. The man paid no attention to what was in front of him, as other cyclists hurtled past. He preferred to stare at Dave.
After a few seconds, over the pitchy whistle of the wind and in a thick German accent, he said “you must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
Dave squeezed his brakes, and the German catapulted into the distance. Cyclists with throbbing veins shot past him and swore, the flash of their lycra blinding him, but not enough to stop him witnessing the ominous man circling around to return. He watched with dread as he approached, catching every word of the new maxim that was being yelled at him.
“The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”
Dave took off in the opposite direction. He pedalled as though the German had produced a hatchet rather than a philosophical tenet, rocketing along the jade surface with the air roaring in his ears, muscles burning from the desperation of his escape. After a minute, he looked back over his shoulder, and saw the man’s Krakatoa moustache emerge from a just-passed curve in the track. The gap narrowed with every rotation of the German’s pedals—he had the legs and lungs of an Übermensch!
He arrived at Dave’s side, who tried to kick him off his bike. The German dodged the attack with ease, grinned, and shouted “beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
“What do you mean?!” Dave screeched, but the man was already braking, having said what he came to say. He rode back in the direction of the bierhaus.
Dave pulled over to collect himself. Though the quotes were undoubtedly wise, and the benevolent men who imparted them well-qualified (and well-fit), he’d had quite enough of monsters and chaos and dancing stars. He wanted comfort—a return to miserable normality, where most things made sense.
He went home, showered, and went to his favourite local bar—Stazione di Birra—run by a fat little Roman called Guiseppe who always nudged him and asked him how his mother was. Stazione di Birra was always bright and crammed with people and had more wooden furniture than it needed, which had to be shifted to get anywhere, filling the place with the scraping of wood-on-wood.
Dave drowned himself in beer, thinking that it might tease some sense out of the absurdity of this philosophical assault, or at the very least, suffocate his memory with an impenetrable fog.
As he drained his ninth glass and motioned to Guiseppe for another, a figure appeared in his periphery—a regal man in a white tunic, whose head and face were garnished with a sea of looping curls. Dave’s heart sank.
“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
Dave’s spirit was very much troubled.
“Who are you people?” he demanded, “and what the hell do you want with me?”
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
Guiseppe was alerted by Dave’s raised voice, and walked over to them. “Everything alright?” he asked, confused by the man’s tunic and luscious curls. “Drink?”
The regal man gave Guiseppe a sharp look. A passing drunkard bumped into his back, spilling some Guinness, but not making an impression. His eyes returned to Dave.
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
He smiled, touched Dave on the shoulder, and left.
Guiseppe asked what was going on. A flabbergasted Dave recounted his last 24 hours to Guiseppe, who chuckled and combed his moustache as it was told.
“It sounds like they’re trying to teach you something” Guiseppe said.
“Teach me what?”
“Maybe that you’re too stressed?”
Eventually, Dave found their quotes online, bought all of their books, and transformed himself into a cool-headed philosophical superstar. But though he was desperate to thank them personally, they never appeared again.
A couple of years ago I went to Europe and ate enough bread to gain ten kilos over a swift three-week period. Each time we wandered into a new restaurant for lunch or dinner, within thirty seconds, an entire bowl of it was in front of us. Most bread is good bread, in my opinion, but in Paris it was the most delicious fucking thing I’d ever eaten. Have you ever tried Parisian bread? If so you can probably relate. The restaurant owners may as well have been drug dealers — it’s a wonder that anyone even leaves them to look at the city, but instead becomes trapped in a desperate state of wheaty dependence. To make the situation worse, my girlfriend is allergic to gluten, and my attempts to coerce her into consumption didn’t help. This left me with no choice but to eat double servings, twice a day. If there was Eau Du Baguette on sale at the airport, I would have probably drank it.
When arriving in London to spend some time with my family, my dad took me by the wrist, marched me upstairs to the bathroom, pointed at the scales and demanded that I get on. I was fatter than him for the first time in our lives, and he wasn’t about to let that go without some drama. With tentative movements I guiltily positioned myself on the device, and every rising kilo widened the stupid grin on my father’s face. I protested that they must be broken, and that he should really consider shopping somewhere that sells better equipment. I’d never been that weight in my entire life, and I wasn’t above using denial as a coping mechanism for my new-found bulk. I declared that my scales back home would give a more honest answer. I wasn’t about to be called fat by a man who ate a strawberry Cornetto for dessert every fucking night.
In truth, I’m getting a little older now, so unfathomably tasty French bread isn’t entirely to blame for my expansive paunch. I half-expected it to magically disappear when returning home to my regular diet, but it seems she’s a keeper. No amount of sighing and gentle rubbing seems to be reducing it, so I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to put on some shorts, strap on my shoes, and go and buy some salted caramel ice-cream to help me forget about it.
Getting older never really bothered me, but getting fatter does, and that’s basically the same thing. My hearing is getting better with age though — in the right weather conditions, I can detect the word doughnut from up to fifty metres away. A few days ago I heard the rustle of a packet from a shady alley, and ended up mugging a homeless person for a Sausage & Egg McMuffin. Every advancing year seems to strengthen my insatiable greed; I’m on a drum-beaten war path to the rich and sugary land of Diabeetus.
My delightful girlfriend claims to like the additional person that I’ve merged with, as though she wasn’t into the scraggly lolly-pop headed Ethiopian who she was dating before. I can’t figure out whether she’s being honest or kind, either way, she’s appears to also be a keeper.
I think the biggest problem I have with my fresh mass is how much width it’s added to my face, a point that again, my dad delightfully pointed out while on a recent Skype call. While I never considered the distance between my eyes to be extensive, the extra sections that have been tacked on either side of them mean that I now look like a youthful George Bush. I may as well have two closely grouped, tiny white pins in the middle of my stupid democracy-pushing face. The resemblance is so close that a passing Iraqi took off his shoe and slung it at me. Is there an exercise that you can do to tone up your face?
Unless I can muster up the motivation to exercise, I suppose I’ll have to live with being rotund. Circles can be cute, right? I’ll go with that — cute.
In every office, of every company, in every city, people are complaining about the temperature.
Take Sharon in accounts – she weighs about the same as a mangled pigeon feather, so she’s always cold. Shaking her hand is like fondling a pack of skinny frozen sausages. Her perpetually cardigan-clad frame can be seen quick-footing her way from the kitchen to her desk, in an effort to warm up. She drinks eight cups of black coffee a day in an attempt to thaw out her shuddering, icy frame. Her heart will probably give out by the time she reaches fifty.
Sharon has threatened to bring a penguin into the office on more than one occasion, in order to prove that the creature would thrive in this temperature. She’s more than willing to scrub bird shit out of the carpet to prove her point. An inspection of her Google search history would reveal Exotic animals to buy and Penguin delivery to SE London. One her favourite movies is Happy Feet, which she watches at home with the radiators set to max.
Sitting opposite Sharon is Duncan, whose daily calorie intake is comparable to what Sharon eats in a month. His belly sometimes spreads out across his desk as he sits, hitting the lower edge of his keyboard and permeating his emails with nmxz,b,bvn,bnmbmx. He often doesn’t notice this because of his diabetes, which gives him chronic fatigue and blurred vision.
Duncan is always hot. It could be -2 degrees, and Duncan would be hot. His red face appears in the office manager’s door at least once a week, where he forces out a wheezed complaint, hangs around for a few moments longer than usual, and then drags himself back to his desk to write another confusing email.
Sue has been at the company for over a decade, and while she would describe the temperature as pleasing for the most part, her feet are permanently cold. Her requests to wear ugg-boots have been repeatedly denied, and consequently, she demands that the idiots in charge do something to make her more comfortable.
There’s at least another five people at the company who take exception to the temperature, writing regular strongly-worded emails to the suffering office manager.
The office manager’s name is David, and he despises his colleagues. Once, he wrote their climate-complaints on a Word document, printed it out, and used it to clean the mess from his nonchalant arsehole. Sometimes he rubs his dick around the rim of Duncan’s super-sized, golf-ball themed tea-mug, and watches gleefully as he fills it to the brim for his creme-topped, morning hot chocolate.
After receiving enough complaints, David calls the office maintenance company, from which a burly representative promptly arrives, thermometer gadget in hand. While showing as much arse-crack as possible, the temperature is taken from various points in the office, and confirmed to sit at the optimum 22 degrees. After an extended glance at an attractive female employee, the representative leaves an invoice with David, and then makes his way to another office to do the exact same thing. This happens twice a month at least.
There’s a million tormented Davids the world over, fighting in a war that cannot hope to be won. Sharon will be forever chilled, Duncan consistently sizzling, and Sue always frozen-toed. They’ll never agree on the perfect temperature. This is a tale of despicable tragedy, in which David is found hanging from the rafters by his belt, another innocent victim of the Office Temperature Wars.