Beak Street, London
Pain cracked across the back of Henrietta’s skull, filling her vision with white light. As her body smacked against the floor, her skirts ripped. She spluttered and tried to roll over, but Charles planted his boot in the small of her back. ‘Give it to me, bitch!’
Noise fragmented into shards. A cry soared, cutting through her husband’s voice. It was Henry – poor boy. He would be so afraid.
‘What?’ she gasped. ‘What do you want now?’
‘You know what!’
Money. Money for the bottle, money for the faro table, money for his whores. Money he never earned. A pitiful amount of interest on her dowry, intended for her sole use.
Her hand flailed across the floor, trying to find purchase. Only mouse-droppings met her fingertips. ‘I have none.’
‘You do!’ His breath hit her ear, stinking of tobacco and alcohol.
‘You feed the child, don’t you?’
Resentment boiled up inside her but she could not let it show. Submission was the only safe path. She had tried the other way more than once – and barely escaped with her life.
‘Henry!’ she called out to her son. ‘Tell Papa when we last had something to eat. It wasn’t today, was it?’ she prompted. ‘Nor yesterday . . . ’
Charles’s boot pressed down, choking the breath from her. Her ribs mashed into the floor. With no fat to cushion them, they threatened to burst through her wasted skin. ‘What? Starving my son?’
The pressure on her back lifted for an instant before Charles stamped upon her shoulder blades. Vision flickered. Henrietta tasted vomit in her mouth and suddenly it was all around her, sticking to her cheeks. Her consciousness retreated, fleeing the squalor and pain. Hanover. She had to think of Hanover: the sparkling court, the fine dresses. Fountains that danced in the sunlight. It was her only hope of escape.
‘For God’s sake, woman! Look at the state of you.’ Charles spat on her prone form. ‘I won’t have this mess in my house. Get it cleaned up by the time I return.’
He slammed the door, shaking the thin walls and rattling the windows in their frames. Henrietta waited a few moments, testing the silence against his return. Nothing. The void was like the sound of angel wings.
She struggled up and leant one arm against the wall. Another chip, another piece of torn wallpaper. At least it wasn’t a bloodstain this time. She grabbed a rag from the chair and wiped her face. Her woollen gown was past repair; soiled, torn and shiny at the seams. The frayed linen around her elbows caught up dust and dead flies. She would have to go on wearing it: the humiliating rag that marked every step she had fallen from her place as Miss Hobart of Blickling Hall. It was the only piece of clothing she owned. A whimper broke the bruised silence. Henrietta looked up from her gown to see Henry, watching her. His eyes brimmed with tears.
‘Henry. Henry, it’s all right. Look, Mama isn’t hurt!’ She spread her arms and moved to embrace him, but he dodged out of the way. She couldn’t blame him. She was a frightening figure, covered in scratches and vomit. She wished she could light a fire, give him something sweet to take the edge off the shock. But she had nothing – nothing except her love. And it wasn’t enough.
‘Mama has a plan,’ she told him. ‘A plan to get you food and an education. You’d like to go to school, wouldn’t you?’
He didn’t answer.
She knelt softly and put her head level with his mop of dirty hair. ‘I’m going to tell you a story,’ she crooned. ‘A story of a sad old queen called Anne who was very, very ill. Winter drew near and her days fell away like autumn leaves. She wished and wished for a child to take her throne, but it didn’t come.’ Henrietta had a vivid memory of her own mother, putting her to bed with a fairy-tale. She swallowed. ‘But then, guess what happened? The queen found a magical place, across the narrow sea. A place where there were generations of princes and princesses, just waiting to keep her country safe.’
Still on her knees, she shuffled over to the bed. As she pushed the frame, straw burst from the mattress and fluttered down on her head. ‘Now, your Papa’s name is a key to that magical place. You only have to say Howard and the doors will open. We need to go there and serve the princes and princesses. Then, when they come to England to take their throne, Mama and Papa will be right there beside them.’ Henrietta rapped the floorboards with her knuckles.
One returned a deep, hollow sound.
‘But how do you get to the magic place?’ Henry’s voice was a tiny thread. ‘How do you cross the sea?’
Henrietta laid a finger on her lips. ‘It’s a secret. You mustn’t tell Papa.’ Her nails closed around a loose piece of wood and wriggled it free. ‘But at night, the fairies come and . . . ’
Breath left her in a rush of anguish. No. It cannot be. Her careful hoard, the stash she had starved for, was gone. A yawning gap met her frantic gaze, her groping fingers.
Somewhere out there, she knew, Charles would be sitting on a battered stool, drinking her dreams into oblivion.
© Laura Purcell
‘It’s a taupe,’ announced the doctor, poking at the lump with a scratchy yellow finger, ‘a French tumour they call it, though couldn’t rightly tell you why. Most unusual – got a bit of hair growing on it too, see here?’
Several thin strands grew, wet-wisped, from a lump the size and shape of a duck’s egg at the bottom of the baby’s head.
‘Might kill him,’ the doctor carried on with scientific stoicism. ‘But probably not, most likely grow a-pace with the rest of him.
My goodness though, he does rather resemble the back end of a baboon, don’t you think?’ He winked at Frau Kranz, who had never seen a baboon let alone its back end, but understood well enough what he meant.
‘Schweigen Sie!’ she hissed, ‘be quiet, sir,’ and nodded her head at Shminiak, who had slumped into a stupor by the empty fire, bowing his head, wondering how much more brandy it would take to make everything go away. He’d already clapped his hands about his ears to shut out the baby’s awful squalling, moaning quietly: ‘For God’s sake, make it stop, make it stop, for God’s sake . . .’
Frau Kranz, who was the most patient of women, could put it off no longer and chivvied the child up carefully from the bassinet and carried him over to the bed, clamping him onto his mother’s sweaty breast. Nelke, exhausted as she was, woke abruptly at the application and tried to swat the intruder weakly away. She refused to believe this monstrosity was of her flesh, that she had given birth at all, the pain of labour nothing more than a terrible nightmare, a twilight dream. But it was no dream, not for Nelke, Shminiak, nor the child who was oblivious of the outside world – a world that seemed peaceful on the surface, there in Staßburg as elsewhere, but the jigsaw puzzle of Europe was beginning to crack along its edges, breaking up from within, harried from without, each piece tugging itself away from the other, the Holy Roman Empire snuffed out years before by Napoleon, a shaky German Confederation created to fill the void. There was civil war in Iberia, and every Italian state clawed at the throats of its neighbours, and soon the entire continent would be utterly fragmented, Metternich packing the prison fortress at Spielburg in Bohemia, its stones reverberating with the cries of the spies and subversives he’d locked inside its walls; but no matter how many he crammed in there seemed an inexhaustible supply, and the secret operatives of princes, kings and Junkers were soon running the country up and down as freely and frequently as the tides run up and down the sands of coastlines the world over. Conspiracy and subterfuge would become bywords for those coming years through which that child of Nelke and Shminiak would grow up, and the slump of 1844 a few years later would scuttle ships and rip the Guilds from nape to knee; potato blight and famine would squeeze the stomachs of labourers and peasants across the land; there would be riots in Aachen and Bavaria, Berlin and Saxony; the Silesian silk workers would break their looms and tools; the Slavs and Poles and Magyars rise up against their masters; the railways would crash and the rivers stutter to a stop with the piling up of the dead.
But all that was yet to come and, as Philbert bullied his way out of Nelke’s womb, there was no inkling of the terrible and significant part he would play in these events, no thoughts at all thrumming around inside his monstrous head. Later in his life he would meet people who claimed to understand the language of the wind as it whispered through the trees, who saw omens in the entrails pulled from still-warm lambs, interpreted the future by studying the murfles and mottlements that grew upon men’s skin. Perhaps if they’d been there at the very start, attendant at Philbert’s birth, they might have foreseen what would happen, maybe had the nous to stop it before it all kicked off. But only Frau Kranz was there with a screaming mother, a drink-sodden father, and the doctor scratching his yellow fingernail on Philbert’s taupe.
© Clio Gray
Tuscany: 49 BC
I was sixteen when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and rode into Italy at the head of Legio XIII. I knew several of the young men in Tuscany who joined his auxiliaries and begged my father’s permission to enlist as well. He refused.
I was old enough, or so I thought, but my father possessed a farmer’s slow reckoning of time. He said I would be of more use to Caesar if I finished my education. I protested that Caesar needed me now, but my father assured me a man like Caesar would always have another battle waiting.
In the three years that followed, Caesar chased the senate out of Italy, routed the legions of Pompey Magnus in Spain and Greece, secured Egypt and sailed to Pontus on the Black Sea, where he defeated an enemy force on the very day he arrived, uttering in the aftermath of that battle the immortal words, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’ Then, when the last of the senate’s forces rallied in Numidia, Caesar sailed his wearied legions to Africa and, after a series of desperate battles, brought our great Civil War to its conclusion.
In the history of Rome, there had never been three more glorious years of war, or any general the equal of Julius Caesar. And all the while I sat in Tuscany adding summons and learning to parse Greek sentences.
Rome: 46 BC
When word came of Caesar’s victory in Africa, my wise father kissed my head and sent me to Rome with his blessing. I was nineteen. My eyes were good in those days, my feet swift, my hands strong. I had a heart brimming with ambition. Like a few thousand other young men of
my stripe, I had learned from my early childhood onwards to fight with a sword and hunt with a spear. I could box and wrestle with some skill and even had modest talents in archery. As for the art of horsemanship, I was unrivalled in all of Tuscany.
I was handsome in my youth, taller than most, with powerful shoulders and dusty brown locks. At seventy years of age, I still have broad shoulders and most of my height; the beautiful locks, however, have gone the way of all that is mortal. Judah, my secretary, smirks as I dictate this. It is always the same with young men: they can imagine any fate for themselves except old age and baldness. I was no different.
In Rome, I spent each morning for nearly a week in the vestibule of the house of Cornelius Dolabella. I had never met Dolabella, but my father enjoyed a long friendship with his great uncle, who was one of the lords of our province and the grand patriarch of the Cornelii. He had therefore instructed me to approach Dolabella before speaking to any other patrician. This seemed good advice. Dolabella, as everyone knew, was then a rising star in Caesar’s party, which happened to be the only viable political faction left in Rome. Dolabella was twenty-eight years old; in the old days that would have made him too young for command and certainly too young for a position of any importance in the government. In the world Julius Caesar had fashioned, Dolabella was a general of the legions. In fact, he had already been promised a consulship in another year or two.
To my thinking, no man could match Caesar’s accomplishments, and even with all my ambition I never imagined myself overtaking his glory, not if I had three lifetimes. But I thought I could hope for what Dolabella had accomplished. I decided all I had to do was observe his manner and conduct myself exactly as he did. Of course, I came to this dubious conclusion before I had ever set eyes on the man.
© Craig Smith
‘It is an honour that she’s been chosen!’ His voice was muffled by the wall of her bedroom, but Lysandra could hear the anger in it.
‘She is my child, Arion!’ Her mother sounded fraught with tears.
‘She is my child too, Kassandra. And it is not the Spartan way to go against the will of the ephors, let alone the gods themselves. Your tears are shameful! This is an honour,’ he said again as though trying to convince himself. ‘And you have always known this day was coming.’
Lysandra could not understand why they were arguing. Ever since she could remember, her parents had told her that she was more special than the other girls with whom she played. She had been chosen at birth by the Goddess Athene to be her priestess – a fact that the goddess herself had confirmed many times in her dreams. And this, the eve of her seventh birthday, marked the day before she would have to leave home and serve in the great temple on the acropolis.
Her parents continued to argue in the gynaikon – the women’s room – next to her own. This was her mother’s private abode and it was odd that her father was trespassing there. Still, Lysandra supposed, it was an important day for them too and all she wanted was for them to be proud of her. She rolled out of bed, rubbing her eyes and opened her door, padding across the floor to her mother’s room. ‘I cannot sleep,’ she announced as she walked in causing her parents to stop in mid-flow.
‘Get back to bed!’ they ordered in unison – as was the way of parents.
‘I cannot sleep,’ she said again. ‘You are making a noise – and you told me that I had to go to bed early because tomorrow is a big day and I needed to be strong and not cry. How can I sleep if you are going to keep me awake by shouting next door?’ Her gaze challenged them both and she saw the ice-coloured eyes of her father soften and the skin around them crinkle.
He laughed then. ‘It has always been the way of Spartan women to upbraid their men! Would you carry on that tradition, Lysandra?’ he asked crouching down and opening his arms to her.
She walked to him and put her arms around his neck. ‘Rub your beard on my face!’ she said. She loved the rough, scratchy feeling of it. Her mother got to her feet and joined them, putting arms around them both. ‘Do not cry, mother,’ Lysandra said. ‘I want to go to the temple.’
Her mother just kissed her over and over again. Eventually she said, ‘I know. But we will miss you.’
Lysandra squirmed out of her father’s grip and transferred herself to her mother’s arms. ‘I will miss you too, but when I come home I will be grown up and have lots of stories to tell you. And I will have my grown-up teeth.’ This was important: having grown-up teeth was proof that one was indeed an adult.
‘You see, Kassandra,’ her father said. ‘The child has no fear of this and we should have none either. Now it is late . . .’
‘Can I not stay up with you?’ Lysandra hedged. She was awake anyway and it would now be impossible to sleep. ‘Or at least play in my room?’
Her mother placed her down on the floor and kissed her again.
‘It is late,’ she repeated her father’s words. ‘You must get to bed.’
‘But you said you would miss me!’ Lysandra challenged, teasing her mother’s long, coal-coloured hair. Parents always said one thing and then told her to do something else, which she felt was entirely unfair.
‘And I will.’ She put Lysandra down and tickled her under the chin, making her giggle. ‘But, still – it is way past your bedtime.’
‘But . . .’
‘Bed!’ they both said at once, pointing at the door. Lysandra tutted. ‘All right,’ she sighed and turned, stamping just a little so they would know that she was displeased. She was special, she thought to herself – she should be allowed to stay up late. As she climbed into her cot she determined that she would stay awake anyway and eavesdrop on the rest of the conversation.
She strained to hear what they were saying, but they were now making a point of speaking quietly and then, quite suddenly, she closed her eyes and knew no more.
The dawn was grey and cold and misty rain drifted from the sky, the sort that you could hardly see yet somehow seemed wetter than normal rain. Lysandra and her parents stood by the gate of their home, watching the lone rider approach. All three were soaked through, both Lysandra’s and her mother’s long black hair plastered to their heads, her father’s beard sodden and dripping.
Her mother gripped her hand squeezing tight and Lysandra glanced up at her and gave her a smile. She could see the tears on her cheeks despite the rain and there was a small part of her that was embarrassed by this. She was instantly ashamed of this thought and squeezed her mother’s hand back.
Slowly the rider descended into the small valley that surrounded the house like a bowl and now Lysandra could see that she wore the long, red cloak of a Spartan priestess, her head encased in a red-crested helmet that covered her entire face – it had a thick nosepiece
and flared cheek guards – Athene herself wore similar and soldiers in the old days used to wear them too. It looked most impressive.
Finally, the rider drew up to them. ‘Greetings Kassandra,’ she spoke to her mother first as was the Spartan way. ‘Arion,’ she inclined her head. ‘And you,’ the helmet tilted towards her, ‘must be Lysandra. I am Halkyone.’
‘Greetings, Halkyone.’ Lysandra stepped forward.
‘What is in your satchel?’ The priestess gestured at the small bag Lysandra had slung over her shoulder.
Lysandra hesitated, fearing the worst. ‘Some toys,’ she replied. ‘A writing tablet and some fruit.’
‘You will have no need of those things,’ Halkyone confirmed Lysandra’s fears. ‘Bid your parents farewell. Be quick about it.’ Abruptly she turned her horse’s head and walked him away, affording them some privacy.
Feeling somewhat forlorn at the loss of her toys, Lysandra handed the bag to her mother who started to cry anew: she crouched down and embraced her as did her father. Ashamed, Lysandra found herself crying too.
© Russell Whitfield
Prologue: March 19
Tom came home with five identical square boxes.
‘Now then you three, line up!’
He called out, ‘Nell, come in here a minute, we ’re going to try our gasmasks on!’ Out of the boxes came the most horrible, grotesque apparitions, straight out of Jeanne’s worst nightmares. She was stiff with terror. Tom, Nell and her sisters tried theirs on. Tom, wearing the fearsome mask, brought his face right down to Jeanne’s level.
‘Now, come on Jeannot, be reasonable. Don’t be a silly girl!’ His voice came out of the mask, thin and muffled, and making the most awful sound when he took his breath in, just like Sandy next door when his asthma was playing him up.
Jeanne sobbed, frightened. ‘No, no . . . I can’t. I’m scared . . . I won’t be able to breathe.’
Tom was angry now. ‘Come on, don’t be stupid! You can see we ’re all wearing them and we can all breathe.’ Panic set in. Jeanne gave full vent to her hysteria. She opened her mouth wide. ‘Wa-a-a-gh!’
Tom lunged towards her, her way of escape into the hall cut off by hands trying to grab hold of her. There was only one thing for it – quick! – behind the piano. As luck would have it, the piano had been placed at an angle across the corner of the room. She squeezed in and curled herself up into a very tight ball. Tom could not get hold of her, either from the side or from the top. Her sisters, Marie and Irene, giggled eerily somewhere deep inside their gasmasks.
Tom took off his mask and threw it to the ground. ‘Oh, I give up. That child’s becoming impossible, Nell.’ As though it was Nell’s fault.
Jeanne stayed curled up in her haven behind the piano, quietly sobbing to herself until it was safe to come out.
1890 – 1940
William ‘Bill’ Simpson Sarginson and his friend Willie Peacock left Penrith, Cumberland, in the early 1890s to seek their fortunes. They were both tailors at a time when British materials and tailoring were much sought after.
Bill was soon employed as First Cutter by the prestigious House of Worth in Paris. He married Jeanne Marie- Francoise Tirefort, a giletiere (waistcoat maker) and they had two children, Marguerite ‘Maggie ’, born in 1894, and Tom, born in 1896.
When Tom was baptised, the Catholic priest refused to name him Tom as it was not a saint’s name but said that Thomas would do. Bill insisted that he wanted the child named Tom after his uncle back in Penrith. The priest agreed, but only if the boy also had another name, that of a saint. Bill and Jeanne thought quickly, and so the boy was named Tom Paul, after the acceptable name of a saint. Bill had Tom registered as a British citizen at the British Consulate in Paris.
The family lived in a flat in central Paris: 22, rue Cler in the shadow of Les Invalides. Bill had a workshop where he had a full-scale model of a horse, as he specialised in ladies’ riding habits en amazone – meaning side-saddle, to ride in the Bois de Boulogne. The model enabled him to drape the habit to his satisfaction and the children were allowed to ride on the horse when they visited occasionally. On one of their visits they met one of Bill’s clients, a Belgian princess who entertained the children by letting her jewel-encrusted pet scarab beetle run up and down the mantelpiece much to their delight.
While in Paris, young Tom was taken to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. What a treat that was for a boy, he was most struck by the Whirling Dervishes, one on each corner of the showground, who, he said, never stopped spinning for the whole four hours. He also saw La Goulue, the dancer depicted dancing on Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous posters of the Moulin Rouge. She had become known as the ‘Queen of Paris’ but, by the time Tom saw her exhibited in a lion’s cage in a circus show, she was old and well past her glory days.
When the children were in their early teens, Bill was promoted to manager of Old England, an establishment promoting British tailoring in Brussels, and the whole family moved there. They lived in rue de l’Arbre Beni, Ixelles, a suburb of Brussels.
Maggie was apprenticed to a leading Belgian milliner and was to make the rosettes for the wedding bonnet of the Belgian Princess Marie-Jose who married the Italian Crown Prince.
Bill had advised Tom to go into Electricity. ‘That’s where the future is, my boy.’ And so, in 1912, Tom was apprenticed to a Swiss firm in Brussels, Appareillage Gardy, learning about high and low tension switchgear.
When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1914, Tom and Bill were arrested and taken to the Ecole Militaire together with other British subjects at the end of August 1914. Bill, observing the comings and goings of crowds of people, all seeking help or information of some sort or other, said to Tom, ‘Look, I think we can escape. Just follow me, don’t look right nor left.’ And that’s exactly what they did. They threaded their way through the crowd looking neither right nor left, and found themselves back in the street and free.
They couldn’t go home and so stayed with kind friends: Bill at one house and Tom at another. They met Jeanne and Maggie, who were still free, at church on Sundays or in the park to exchange news and washing. Jeanne and Maggie were repatriated to England soon after by the Americans who were not yet in the war.
© Jeanne Gask
“I prefer to see [chemistry] as the study of change . . . that’s all
of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution — dissolution,
just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay,
then — transformation! It is fascinating, really.” — Walter White
We meet Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and Walt’s family. Walt is poleaxed by some tragic news. With nothing to lose, Walt decides to try to make one big score, and damn the consequences. For that, however, he needs the help of Jesse Pinkman, a former student turned loser meth cook and drug dealer.
From the moment you see those khakis float down out of a perfectly blue desert sky, you know that you’re watching a show like nothing else on television. The hard beauty and stillness of the American Southwest is shattered by a wildly careening RV driven by a pasty white guy with a developing paunch wearing only a gas mask and tighty-whities.
What the hell?
Like all pilots, this one is primarily exposition, but unlike most, the exposition is beautifully handled as the simple background of Walter’s life. The use of a long flashback as the body of the episode works well, in no small part due to Bryan Cranston’s brilliant performance in the opening, which gives us a Walter White so obviously, desperately out of his element that we immediately wonder how this guy wound up pantsless in the desert and apparently determined to commit suicide-by-cop. After the opening credits, the audience is taken on an intimate tour of Walt’s life. Again, Cranston sells it perfectly. The viewer is presented with a middle-aged man facing the back half of his life from the perspective of an early brilliance and promise that has somehow imploded into a barely-making-ends-meet existence as a high school chemistry teacher. He has to work a lousy second job to support his pregnant wife and disabled teenage son and still can’t afford to buy a water heater.
Executive producer and series creator Vince Gilligan, along with the cast and crew (Gilligan & Co.), take the audience through this day in the life of Walt, and it’s just one little humiliation after another. The only time Walt’s eyes sparkle in the first half of the episode is when he is giving his introductory lecture to his chemistry class. Here Walt transcends his lowermiddle-class life in an almost poetic outpouring of passion for this incredible science. Of course, even that brief joy is crushed by the arrogant insolence of the archetypal high school jackass who stays just far enough inside the line that Walt can’t do a damn thing about him. So this is Walt and his life, as sad sack as you can get, with no real prospects of improvement, a brother-in-law who thinks he’s a wuss, and a wife who doesn’t even pay attention during birthday sex.
Until everything changes.
The sociologist and criminologist Lonnie Athens would likely classify Walt’s cancer diagnosis as the beginning of a “dramatic self change,” brought on by something so traumatic that a person’s self — the very thoughts, ideas, and ways of understanding and interacting with the world — is shattered, or “fragmented,” and in order to survive, the person must begin to replace that old self, those old ideas, with an entirely new worldview. (Athens and his theories are discussed much more fully in the previous What’s Cooking essay, but since we warned you not to read that if you don’t want to risk spoilage, the basic — and spoiler-free — parts are mentioned here.) Breaking Bad gives us this fragmentation beautifully. Note how from the viewer’s perspective Walt is upside down as he is moved into the MRI machine, a motif smoothly repeated in the next scene with Walt’s reflection in the top of the doctor’s desk. Most discombobulating of all, however, is the consultation with the doctor. At first totally voiceless behind the tinnitus-like ambient soundtrack and faceless except for his chin and lips, the doctor and the news he is imparting are made unreal, out of place, and alien. As for Walt, in an exquisite touch of emotional realism, all he can focus on is the mustard stain on the doctor’s lab coat. How many of us, confronted with such tragic news, have likewise found our attention focused, randomly, illogically, on some similar mundanity of life?
It is from this shattered self that Walt begins to operate and things that would have been completely out of the question for pre-cancer Walt are now actual possibilities — things like finding a big score before he dies by making and selling pure crystal meth. Remember that Walt is a truly brilliant chemist, and knows full well what crystal meth is and what it does to people who use it. He may not know exactly what he’s getting into, but he knows what he is doing.
Enter Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, best known previously for his role on Big Love), a skinny white-boy gangster wannabe who, under the name “Cap’n Cook,” makes a living cooking and selling meth. He’s also an ex-student of Walt’s, and after being recognized by his former teacher during a drug bust, Walt has all the leverage he needs to coerce Jesse into helping him. Why does he need him? Because, as Walt says, “you know the business, and I know the chemistry.” Symbolizing just how far beyond his old life Walt is moving, he and Jesse park their battered RV/meth lab in the desert outside of Albuquerque, far from the city and any signs of human life. All that is there is a rough dirt road and a “cow house” in the distance. The desert is a place without memory, a place outside of things, where secrets can be kept, and meth can be cooked. This is where Walt lives now.
It is in this desert space that Walt becomes a killer, albeit in self-defense. Ironically, the one thing that Walt views as holding the keys to the secret of life — chemistry — becomes the means to end lives. Walt, a father, teacher, and an integral part of an extended family — in other words, an agent of life and growth — has now become a meth cook, using chemical weapons to kill his enemies. Walter White has become an agent of death.
The transformation is just beginning, but already Skyler (Anna Gunn, previously known for her roles on The Practice and Deadwood) is having some trouble recognizing her husband: “Walt? Is that you?”
© Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz
Long ago, the great god Popacapinyo made the world. First, he made the wolf and the hawk, and he made them swift and deadly. Then, he formed the bear and the badger, who are strong but slow. And then he made the cunning snake and the ape, who lie in wait for the foolish and the weak.
Then Lord Popacapinyo turned his hand to the world, filled as it was with tricks and traps, and he made other animals, the ones that eat grass instead of meat. To all these creatures he gave a gift, so that they would evade capture and live to breed again. Some were quick, some strong, some crafty, but he saved the greatest gift of all for last: the Spirit of Sacrifice.
That gift he gave to the lemming.
And he took the lemmings in his hand and spoke:
‘You, and only you, will never know fear or cowardice. You will never stand alone, because you will all run together. You will have what all other races lack, and that will make you greatest of all. You have Lemming Spirit.
‘All the world will be your foe, Rodents of a Thousand Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. So you must catch them first. Attack all the world, lemmings, and show them terror, for they are weak and afraid. Show them your lemming spirit, and then kill them all!
‘Dar huphep, huphep Yullai!
‘For glory, the glory of the Yull!’
* * *
At 08.30, Greenwich Galactic Mean Time, a staff car and troop lorry rumbled into the remains of the British Quarter. The lorry rolled between the shells of buildings, past the broken sheds and abandoned allotments, the Yullian flag fluttering from its radio antenna. Foliage covered the cab roof. Half a dozen severed heads hung on a chain across the front grille like beads on a necklace.
It stopped in Coronation Square. A huddle of beetle people waited; as the lorry drew to a halt they pushed their young to the rear of the crowd, out of sight.
Lemming men jumped down from the back of the lorry, their new rifles gleaming, and fanned out in a glittering circle of bayonets as Colonel Fremcar Nonc stepped out of the staff car. He looked from side to side, taking in the dilapidated buildings and the empty pole from which the Union Jack had once flown, and smiled.
Nonc was new to this region but rumours of his prowess had already spread. He was, by all accounts, paranoid, self-important, unbearably pompous and sadistic to the point of lunacy, which made him fairly typical for a soldier of the Divine Amiable Army of the lemming men of Yull.
A semicircle of cringing natives awaited their new master. One of the beetle people scurried forward to welcome Nonc.
‘All hail, noble Yullian warlord,’ it chirped. ‘We thank you for liberating us, and welcome –’
‘Silence, slave,’ said Colonel Nonc, casually bashing him over the carapace with his walking stick. ‘I do not bandy words with savages. Where is the human?’
‘The woman waits in the potting shed, honoured master. She is bound, as you requested –’
‘Enough! Conversing with you besmirches me. Lead the way to the prisoner.’
‘Please, gracious master, follow me.’
Nonc followed, scowling. Four of his toughest warriors accompanied him. The beetle led them around the side of the governor’s house, through the crater-ridden vegetable garden. The offworlders had left in a hurry, Nonc reflected: they had not even bothered to pick their sprouts. One good charge from the Yull and the cowardly humans had fled. Somewhere to the north they were still trying to fight, it seemed: the last death throes of their weakling empire. They had forgotten how to be rulers, how to act with wisdom and justice.
He belted the beetle with his stick. ‘Piss off now, barbarian!’
The five lemming men stomped into the governor’s potting shed. It was large and clean, lit with electric lights. In the middle of the room were two chairs, and on one of them sat a woman in British army uniform, her hands behind her back and a rope around her waist.
Nonc sat down opposite and pulled a table over. He reached into his sash and took out a pack of cigarettes.
‘Hello,’ the woman said.
Nonc frowned, wondering how to break the ice.
‘Shup!’ he screamed, and he slapped her across the face. ‘Ugly weakling flat-snout pig-monkey coward, your war of aggression is over and your verminous slave race must all die slow! Cigarette?’
‘I don’t smoke,’ she said.
‘Oh.’ Nonc had been looking forward to telling her that she couldn’t have one. ‘Now then,’ he began, cracking his knuckles, ‘you have nothing to fear from me, offworlder scum. So let us have a little chat, eh?’
One of his men pulled down the blinds.
‘I understand you were captured by the beetle-things yesterday, on the outskirts of the town. I also understand you are of the Deepspace Operations Group, fools who presume to fight our glorious, entirely lovable empire.
For you are she who wields the knife, consort of the ghost-warrior Wainscott – may a thousand demons chew out his wretched heart. You are his witch-woman, the banshee-warrior, she who is called… Susan.’
The woman said nothing. Nonc took a deep drag on his cigarette. Thoughtfully, he tapped the ash away and touched the glowing end to the tabletop. He turned it slowly, a smile creeping across his face as the formica began to scorch.
‘Offworlder, you will tell me where I can find this so-called Wainscott. The Greater Galactic Happiness and Friendship Collective is most troubled by his continuing resistance to our grand plan for the betterment of the galaxy and wishes only to benevolently torture him to death.’
‘I can do better than that,’ the woman said. ‘I’ll show you where he is.’
© Toby Frost 2014
Windsor Castle, 1812
This would be the last time; Charlotte had made her decision. Now she just had to go through with it. All her life, she had been able to force herself into unpleasant tasks. But this was different. A visit always disturbed the cold composure she worked so hard to preserve. This had to be the last time.
She walked with a step much steadier than her heartbeat. The regular click of her heels gave her a feeling of comfort, of order. The wind whipped violently around the courtyards of Windsor Castle and it took all her strength to remain on course, sailing like a great ship in her gown with its plentiful train.
With her attendants, she wound her way to where he was kept under lock and key like an animal. Would he be violent today? She added her sigh to the greater groan of the wind. She was growing too old to bear these trials.
At last they reached the dreaded apartments, haunted rooms that Charles I had occupied on his way to trial and execution. Now they housed the culmination of Charlotte’s nightmares.
Doctor Willis met her at the door. She loathed the very sight of him now – his forced expressions of calm and competence.
‘How is he today?’ she asked.
‘Getting on very well, Your Majesty,’ the doctor told her.
‘Nice and quiet.’ His tone was overly sympathetic – a false hushed voice that made Charlotte feel like a child.
‘No talk of sinking you into hell?’ she enquired. ‘Or raising people from the dead?’
Doctor Willis flashed a smile that seemed alien in the surroundings.
‘No, madam. He talks only of Hanover. He believes all his loved ones have gone to Hanover, where they will never age.’
Why should he have that comfort, when she did not?
The doctor led her into the room and she walked as if in a dream, following the ghostly glow of his candle. Slabs of grey brick surrounded her, decorated with threadbare tapestries. A spider scuttled across the wall into a corner of drifting cobwebs.
The patient sat by a stuttering fire. While the top of his head was bald and shining, hair grew from behind his ears in long tendrils that flowed into a silver beard. He stared at Charlotte with glazed eyes, his pupils dilating uselessly.
Once, the sight would have made her weep. But all her tears were spent.
She sat down opposite him. In the dark well of his rolling pupils, she saw reflected her own grey hair and lined face. Her mind struggled to comprehend that this was them, aged. It was like waking up in an unfamiliar room.
Where was the handsome King of old, with his drooping eyelids and sensuous smile? Where was the bright little wife who inspired his devotion?
If she had been there, that other Charlotte, things would have been different. She would have made his dry, cracked lips break into a grin and cast a sparkle in his dull eyes. She would have known what to do. She would have saved him.
© Laura Purcell