The Beast’s Arrival
We are sitting around when we hear the noise. A despairing, axe-grinding rumble. Straws are drawn. Donald draws the shortest straw. Donald always draws the shortest straw, it is sort of a trick the rest of us have. Donald stares suspiciously, but nothing can be proved. We steady the lines of mischief playing about the edges of our mouths. The noise continues—an horrific, blood-clotting gurgle. We push Donald out the door. His reluctance only makes his courage more courageous. In his absence we make up a song for him. After he has returned and we have all said ‘Well?’ and he has said ‘It is a Beast’ we sing our song.
Donald, reluctant you may be
but courageous also.
When the chips are down
and the straws are shortest,
Donald, there is you, only you.
Donald appears genuinely touched by our gesture, and claps politely. It is then that the chewed hand becomes apparent. There is an awkward silence. Outside we can hear the Beast rumbling away like anything.
The Beast’s Quarters
The Beast wants in. We live inside, the Beast lives outside. The Beast wants in. All night we can hear the growling beyond the perimeter walls.
The guards stand chilled with fear. The point-watch refuses to open his eyes. We have him in the dungeon.
We build a special Beast-Box to house the Beast. It is a stout, squarish structure, in the manner of the sturdy asbestos dwellings we designed for the peasantry. The Beast strides in and out the flap we have papier-mâchéd expressly for that purpose. We invite the SPCA (and their partners) to show them how uncruel we are being. The Beast frowns his happiest frown.
Sexing The Beast
The Beast is male. We are all agreed.
The Beast’s Feeding
‘What do Beasts like to eat?’ we ask ourselves. We try lumps of coal, those small crawly things that live beneath rocks, and the feet of peasants. All are favourably received. ‘But what do Beasts like to eat best?’ we cry. ‘Let us consult books!’ This does not work, but we feel we are going about things in the right way. We conclude the Beast is not at all fussy. ‘He is blessed with a healthy appetite,’ laughs Rachel. After a few sporadic misadventures involving Donald’s other hand, the letterbox, and a good deal of the neighbouring Kingdom, we realise we must impose restraint. Feeding settles down to once a day, and twice during the colder months. Rachel takes a special interest in the Beast’s diet—and gradually compiles a list.
- Things The Beast Likes To Eat Best
- Vegetables we don’t like
- People we don’t like
- Castle refuse
- Castle effluent
- Plutonium 239
- Red Herrings
- Jeremy’s Horrid Cough Medicine ©
- Donald’s hand cream
The Beast also likes books. In between meals simply devours books. It seems they have their uses. But we make a rule: no snacks. The Beast does not like the rule, and nor, particularly, do we. So we make another rule: approved snacks OK. It is important to be able to compromise. We each have our own pet treat. Donald—warm milk; Jeremy—plasticine; Rachel—those small crucial devices that prevent pregnancy; while I share—good advice. The Beast sits patiently as I orate, before the scribe tosses the full parchment into his waiting jaws.
Sometimes we all go in on an accident. The Beast loves accidents—the look of shock and surprise, the race against time, the anxious plagiarised smiles: the whole drama of it all. Simply laps them up.
A messy business. We crumble charcoal tablets in with the Beast’s meals. How fortunate that he lives outside! We draw straws to see who gets to clean up. It is rough on Donald with his stumps, etc. These days he hardly seems to get through the dishes without dropping a plate. But you’ve got to be able to laugh, haven’t you. Donald gets the short straw. We can barely contain ourselves.
Jeremy suggests we train the Beast to be site-specific in his choice of lavatory. Perhaps a pit behind the Nunnery? Donald suggests we make the Beast go poohs in the neighbouring Kingdom. This proves surprisingly easy to do. The neighbouring Kingdom object in the strongest possible terms. We silence them by revealing uncompromising nude engravings of their own Prince Edward and Jeremy testing out our new torture chamber. We also have the letters (on disc)—but modesty and good taste forbid us. Unfortunately, however, the confidentiality of such things cannot always be guaranteed.
The Beast’s Friends
(We just like to know who they are.)
- Flies (small)
- Ticks, Termites, Toadstools
- Flies (large)
- Sticks and stones
- A Dragon called Winston (Imaginary—we do not have the heart to let on that Dragons do not exist)
- All hard, lumpy ground generally
The Beast’s Birthday
We do not know the Beast’s birthday. So we have made it up. May 17th. We are careful not to let the Beast know this. We think he may be an orphan. It is too sad! So we insert orange slices into our mouths and smile big orange smiles. The Beast is thankfully fooled.
We invite all the Beast’s friends. There is a modest celebration. He page 64 receives four presents: a pair of mittens—love from Donald; a heated towel rail—love from Jeremy; silk pyjamas—love from Rachel; and a portable typewriter love from myself. XXXX OOOO. But we do not hug or kiss the Beast. No. Although we sometimes hug and kiss each other. Mainly Rachel who is very good about these things. The Beast swallows all his presents at once.
But also we have all chipped in together. After all it is a first birthday. love from Donald, Jeremy, Rachel, and me. XXXX OOOO. We have secured a virgin. Tied to a stake in the usual manner. The Beast shows interest in her lack of fur, then regards us puzzled. He touches her with an inquisitive grace before clawing and consuming. From the battlements we clap our hands in delight. (Excusing Donald of course, who politely taps his feet.)
Finally the Beast has a cake with pink icing and one candle. It is a train cake, and the candle is where the funnel would be (my idea!). It is all too sad! He is probably an orphan. Tears gather behind our smiling eyes.
The Beast’s Education
The Beast is having trouble with his letters. We procure the most learned tutors in the land, but the Beast gobbles them up. He is a bad student. He also gobbles up his slate and pencil, and all his crayons, then is impressively sick. He stands proudly by. We frown, but really it is rather impressive. Suddenly, everyone seems to be doing something. Donald summons a servant and shovel. Rachel writes out an aegrotat—which the Beast folds into an amazingly ball-like dart and hurls out the window. Jeremy and I get together with glue and paint and cardboard, and construct a dunce’s cap—but of course that does not solve anything. ‘Oh what is it we can do?’ we wail. It is so important for the youth of today to have a good education. The Beast eats his times tables. We can tell he is struggling. When he tries to read he points at the words and mumbles them out loud. When he tries the hard sums we have set, he counts on his claws. He eats his books. He eats the hard sums. We set a test and give the Beast the answers. He swallows them gratefully. We hold our heads. We scratch our heads. How much knowledge the Beast must have inside him, we reason. How clever his stomach must be! We decide to award him several degrees. At the special ceremony he chews modestly through them.
The Beast’s Employment
Everybody has to have a job. We place an ad in the local paper—Beast Wanted. Then show the Beast—see, right here in our very Kingdom. It seems tailor-made. The Beast’s CV makes him appear ideal. All the same we put in a good word with the Mayor and other prominent dignitaries. Hurrah!—the Beast is offered the position. His duties include lumping and bumping about and devouring, and the Beast can lump and bump and devour like anything. We all congratulate the Beast and clap each other on the back. It is a special moment. He is ideal. We arrange with the Mayor for the Beast’s wages to be paid into a trust fund administered by ourselves, until he is of age. We tell the Mayor that he is our very special friend. And in the evenings we often chatter with our very special friends about goodness knows what and how well our ‘Beasty’ is getting along in his job.
The Beast’s Hobbies
It is good to have a hobby. We encourage the Beast in all sorts of activities. He learns the piano for up to twenty-five seconds before setting fire to it. (He is ahead of his time!) He collects stamps for three seconds. He spends over an hour on nuclear fusion—quite fascinated by the bangs. It appears his attention span can be somewhat variable. Eventually he seems to settle on whaling. Sigh—the most expensive. But we have made a sort of commitment to the Beast’s pursuits. Tiny countries at the ends of the earth protest to us. Spoil-sports. We dispatch secret agents to blow up some of their stuff. Like . . . erm . . . a boat. Which they do—ha ha. We clink glasses. The Beast positively excels at whaling. We discover the price of blubber to be quite astonishing. We are always supportive of the Beast’s endeavours. So long as he is happy. Blubber becomes our primary export earner, surpassing even the traditional slave trade. We are always behind the Beast’s interests one hundred percent! Strongly worded letters keep arriving from places we have never heard of. It appears some people are really cross. Fanatics. We tell them to fuck off. Meanwhile the Beast has a new hobby—ivory. We believe there to be a club in our area . . .
An Unfortunate Incident
Rachel has been kissing the Beast. We have not seen her, yet we are convinced. The Beast yowls when he is not hungry. He yowls when Rachel takes her morning balloon ride across the valley. The Beast’s nose-prints smear Rachel’s latticed shower window. When Rachel comes into the room we all leap out from behind the furniture and shout: ‘We suspect!’ Rachel breaks down and confesses. It is worse than we suspected. We knit our eyebrows, and say we love her like a brother, but something has to be done. Rachel sobs and says it wasn’t against the rules. It was an ‘unwritten’ rule we say. We all knew that. No kissing the Beast. Or anything else. All the same we quickly write it down. Rachel is undressed and dipped in tar and then in feathers. She is confined to the tower for fourteen days and fourteen nights without food or filtered water. And with some restrictions on television. Donald argues against the restrictions on television. Jeremy and I over-rule him. ‘Shut up Stumpy,’ we say. Something has to be done. The Beast kicks up a dreadful fuss. Torches the church, molests the villagers’ cows, chases the mailman. But we stand our ground: something has to be done.
The Dinner Party
At the Dinner Party we employ all manner of entertainments. We lounge around the roaring fire chatting of rape and pillage. Rachel is back among us again and her conversation sparkles with brightness and wit. Yet what brooding heartache does she nurse behind such masks of animation? The Beast behaves badly—lumping and bumping about against the thick perimeter walls. ‘More Château Magnifique,’ we call loudly, ‘more soup of the day.’ We slip a discreet note to the conductor of the orchestra. He is a close personal friend on a good salary. ‘Fortissimo!’ the note demands. ‘Fortississimo!!’ Still the Beast’s yowls and growls reverberate along the distant hallways. The guests are disconcerted. They perch on the edge of their cushions, gnaw tentatively on their hunks of spit-roasted reindeer. Those that dare venture to the bathroom return with faces white as powder. We rush to comfort them with small sexual favours of their own choosing. When the time comes for their (early) departures the Beast hangs about under the drawbridge swiping irritably at their carriage wheels. ‘Don’t worry, he just wants to play. It means he likes you.’ We call such things as page 67 their lanterns jolt into the darkness. ‘Oh Beast,’ we sigh, and lovingly hurl bricks. The conductor is shackled in the dungeon.
The Beast’s Bath Time
The Beast smells abominable. Worse than the peasantry. But because we are such good sports we elect to exercise discretion. We decide he should be bathed once a month. ‘It is a rule,’ we say, ‘whether you need it or not.’ We all take turns. Excluding Rachel, for whom it would not be appropriate. The Beast fills the moat with his hyperbolic tears. We use this to our advantage. He is tied and gagged, then thrown into the moat. The servants are then set to work with pumice and steel wool. One of us supervises from the drawbridge—a hard and stressful business. Finally excess water is beaten out with stout sticks. It seems to work.
A Secret Journey
Rachel has to go away on a secret journey. To a distant Kingdom shrouded in spells and potions. It will be rugged and hazardous—for the Kingdom is far from our own pleasant free-market economy. It is presided over by witchcraft and sorcery, manipulated by artificially imposed protections and controls. We shudder at the thought. Tariffs, subsidies, double-digit inflation. A state funded health system! ‘Full employment,’ murmurs Donald gravely, and we must wash our ears out with soap. Poor Rachel—our dear chatelaine! We are deeply sympathetic. She is an honorary member of the patriarchy. It is all rather destabilising. She has to visit an obscure relative, whom we will call ‘Aunty Maureen’. The Beast bellows at the moon. ‘Shssh,’ we whisper—it must be kept very hush hush. These things happen. She has not been well—we raise our eyes knowingly. Mum’s the word.
The Beast has been involved in an altercation. A disagreement. His nose is bloodied. His flank gashed. The Beast appears to have come second. It is a worry. ‘Who? who? who? what?’ we muse. We dab his wounds with hot wax. I read long passages of soothing heroic verse. We arrest a Friar and thumbscrew a confession from him. He is publicly stoned then put to work page 68 enlarging the dungeon. It is good to see bullies getting their comeuppance. Somehow, however, this does not reduce our distress as much as we might have hoped. Jeremy begins the Beast’s lessons in boxing. We volunteer several guards as sparring partners. The Beast lops off some of their limbs. He is an unorthodox southpaw. The Beast takes on all comers—Sir Gawain, Sir Ron Trotter, and a Mr Rodney Stewart who professes undying love for Rachel. We have always loathed Stewarts. The Beast does not let us down. Finally Sir Robert Jones—a particularly mouthy Knight. The Beast knocks his block off. At the end of the day however, we feel the spirit of competition to be the winner overall. Such are the joys of sport. We retire to our beds weary but enriched.
The Beast’s Boils
The Beast has boils. And the only way to remove a boil is to boil it. Rachel (now returned—shssh) is eager to help, but is only allowed to simmer the oil. The Beast protests violently. He destroys a garrison of lower guard and trashes a forest. At times he can be quite naughty. Several witches who have survived the tumbrel are tossed to him. They are grizzly and awful. And dripping wet. We snatch the lonely and beautiful peasant girl. On the rack she admits acts of an unnatural nature. We toss her in too. But the Beast is not placated. He remains fractious and disagreeable. Only Rachel can administer the boiling oil. She appears on the highest battlement in her nurse’s uniform and begins to pour. The Beast rolls on his back groaning. ‘Very well,’ we say gruffly, ‘very well.’ Each of us has the Beast’s interests at heart. We push roughly past Rachel. We can’t dawdle here, we have things to do.
The Beast’s Holiday
The Beast needs a break. He stares questioningly at his reflection in the well for five days. He thinks too much! We decide he is looking peaky. Two weeks in the sun. A package deal. In the departure lounge we wave our sad bons voyages. Rachel has to be restrained. Forcibly.
Postcards from the Beast:page 69
Yes, we nod to each other, those tropics must be a nice place.
The Beast returns looking bronzed and vital. We slay entire species of buffalo to celebrate his excellent health. His rejuvenated spirit is infectious to us all and we attend to our daily tasks with ultra-willing smiles and an extra performance-enhanced spring to our steps.
R.I.P. the Beast
The Beast is dead. We are in shock. One moment he was just lumping along, the next—Ka-Thud. The best doctors were summoned, and are now gibbeted in the dungeon. Sudden Decline Syndrome, they tell us. We hold a massive funeral and force everyone to attend. It is desperately sad. ‘We are touched, touched,’ we say, ‘by so many people having turned up. Many of whom hardly knew our Beast.’ We all hold on tightly to Rachel to keep ourselves together. Closeness is important during times of grief. Behind our masks of tears are masks of tears. We decide to hack up the Beast and distribute his meat (wholesale) to the villagers. ‘Because there is a little Beast in us all,’ we say. ‘We know it is what he would have wanted. To put something back. He would have wanted to put something back.’ We swoon with grief. Rachel is beside herself. We are beside her also. She locks herself in the shower. Distraught, we lock ourselves in the shower with her. You see there is a secret passage. We each have a key but the secret passage is more exciting. We may never come out. I produce the handcuffs. Closeness is important during times of grief.
The Beast is Dead. Long Live the Beast!
Investments and Memories—a Postscript
It turns out that the Beast made some rather shrewd investments. We are somewhat surprised, but put it down to his decent upbringing and good education. As his friends and advisers, we feel it proper that we, in the absence of a will, take full responsibility for the Beast’s financial interests. Indeed, he has almost single-handedly revitalised the meat industry. ‘Bravo for the Beast,’ we call, ‘one and a half for the Beast. Hip—Hurray; Hip’ We solemnly raise our glasses.