by J M F Casey, January 10th 2023
At school, Macca was considered a dead weird moosh. He had the corrupted pallor and twisted mouth of a mutant warlord, at 15 he stood a foot above the rest of us, and although he was unrankable in the social scale, no one fucked with him. For me, studious and puny, he was a natural ally; I had protection in the classroom, but in the playground I was vulnerable. Macca wasn’t bad company either, his sense of humour was an abattoir, and we shared a fascination with the game of ropes. He was fastidious with his gaming ropes, he kept them loose and well lacquered, he preferred low frequency plays, while my game tended to be sparky and improv. Our contrast made for excellent bouts.
With his serial killer looks, Macca thrived in the kawock subculture of our shitty suburb. I found out when I saw him at the old sewage plant, slumped in a great dry pipe. It was strange to see him unbound from our charcoal grey school uniform and wearing the loose tabard and roadkill cape of the kawock. As I stood spying, another member of the faction came behind me in his stinking badger hat. He seized me, and was about to deliver a dead arm, but Macca halted him, he declared I was an outcast. From then on, I became an honorary member of the local kawocks, and attended their monthly smoke-outs down in the conflux of the dead sewers.
A long war overseas ended, and the local razor bomb factory closed, most of our fathers lost their jobs, and a wave of emasculation fell upon the district. Our Mums, having grown their own light industries in the historic docklands, rose to the occasion, they seized a portion of power and stopped the town from going to ruin. Us young male outcasts witnessed the disempowering of our most hated peers, those dickheads who had been groomed for razor bomb building. But we did not rejoice, for the collective wound was deeper than our personal loathing. With no expectations placed upon us by our broken fathers and busy Mums, we were left free to create our own subterranean realm. Out of our idle vices our culture grew, from kawock smoke and advanced gaming.
Between me and Macca, the game of ropes grew deep. Competition became communion, each plucked note a sign, each unit of play a destiny. Bouts would run for days beneath the miasma of the sewers, in the haze of the pungent smoke.
After the social upheaval, causal groups of teenagers hardened into spartan gangs, violence gained currency, as trad-male labour value turned to shit. There was an influx of new initiates into the kawock factions and rivalry for positions of power became fierce. After a mid-ranking member was found with his head caved in (via breeze block) the faction elite gathered to reform protocol. Previously there had been a vague advancement system based upon real or projected prowess with the slingshot, this was replaced with formal contests of slapsies. Macca and I were not personally interested in becoming career kawocks, but we did pay close attention to these slapsies contests. We were developing a new style of rope game, where instead of playing to our own quirks, we would attempt to embody the character of another. By chatting with the slapsies competitors, we could use the contests as a character generator for our rope game, and what we discovered was skewing.
Skewing has three levels: embodying, discerning and skewing. We learnt discerning by accident, we had developed the art of embodying to a high degree and noticed the patterns between play and reality. Our ropes appeared to foretell the outcomes of the slapsies contests. We could surmise from our rope games details such as the duration, the rhythm, the feigns, the comebacks, the sudden KOs. The results were strikingly accurate. We thought it could be due to a sensitivity honed fine by kawock smoke. That’s when we began to experiment with rigging the game, to collaborate in such a manner that we were both embodied and unembodied, that is we played as both the slapsies competitors and ourselves. We tried it with skinny Torvin, as he faced an inevitable slap down from the mighty Boarbone. I was embodying the underdog, and rigged him with crazed vigour, whilst Macca lulled Boarbone to a sluggish gloop. To our amazement we found that the outcome of the contest was warped by our game, Torvin dodged the undodgeable, delivered the relentless, and reaped an incalculable victory. We were triumphant also, for we had learnt skewing.
The dank den of the kawock faction was a sausage factory, the slapsies contests a display of raw masculine bullshit, it was the perfect laboratory for our strange new ability. We dominated the politics of the feral gang without leaving the hotbox, but we suspected that the potential of skewing was far greater.
When my father came over to collect the last of his things, an idea for a more challenging experiment struck me. He had been a top engineer at the razor bomb factory and a well-respected moosh all round, but when he lost his job, he was not equipped to cope. He took to drinking hard, and after 6 months of misery, Mum has filed for divorce. It was going to court, my father was disputing the financials, it was getting ugly. I watched him in his misery stacking motorcycle mags, and wondered, was it possible to skew the case? Macca was open to the idea, as I knew he would be.
First, we had to discern the conflict. I played Mum, trying to interpret her airy sarcasm with soft picks and her stubbornness with abrupt pauses. After extensive questions, Macca threw himself into embodying the emotional descent of my father. During an early bout, I was playing a close calm game, when Macca suddenly erupted into staccato stabs, his eyeballs rolling and eyelids flickering, it ended the game dead. That night I overheard Mum talking to my aunt, it seemed my father had broken down in court and began shouting, and a recess had been called. It was working, we were discerning. The next morning, we made our plan about how to skew the case. We would try to make it go in my Mum’s favour asset wise, but with my father getting some custody of me. We played this game, my ropes twanging towards the win, Macca on the defensive, it all resolved as planned. But as I was getting up, I thought I heard a soft bass note. I looked at Macca, his right hand was motionless upon the table, the ropes strewn slack, his left hand concealed. I ignored the chill in my blood and took off.
Mum won the house and car, my father got one weekend a month of parental rights. It devastated him beyond anyone’s expectations. With the precision drill of his lost profession, he murdered Mum, then took his own life.
The grief was grey and stultifying, it left me staring at the stippled ceiling, grounded by fits of vertigo. Macca came to me in my low state. Without a word of consolation, he went straight into talk of skewing, but I didn’t want to hear, it had gone too far for me. He said I was a dick for denying the power that had fallen to us, that together we could control the world, skew wars and elections. I said I didn’t fucking care.
I was too old and weird to be an appealing adoptee to any of my extended family, so the social workers sent me to the shelter for adolescents. All I wanted was to lay motionless on my bunk, but it wasn’t to be. I was quickly sniffed out by Stiffy, a towering nobhead, who took to bullying me mercilessly. There were trips and shoves, but the worst was his harping on about my parents, saying my father should have killed me too, saying disgusting things about my Mum. Although it was shit, the challenge was an unexpected lift, it preoccupied me, distracting me from my misery. I opted to be pragmatic, squinnying to the SWs would be social suicide, so I bore the small humiliations and evaded Stiffy as best I could, all the while making gags and talking shit to gain friends. Once I had built a network of allies, the bully instinctively relented and sought better prey.
After my initial probation period at the shelter, I gained the privilege of day release. Whilst out for a walk one time, Macca approached me. We chatted a bit about nothing, I asked him what he’d been up to, he said fucking dead dogs in a ditch. I mentioned that prick Stiffy, about how he had been harassing me, but that I was sorting it. Macca showed some interest, not concern, but he wanted details. He said he missed our rope games, I just grunted, then he said that it doesn’t matter now anyway, he’s got a new gaming partner. A darkness spread over his ugly face, as he asked me whether I’d ever told anyone about skewing, I said I hadn’t. It struck me then that he had only been fishing for this info, and his threatening tone infuriated me. I told him to go fuck himself and we parted ways.
Over the next few days in the shelter, Stiffy started picking on me again, needling me with verbal abuse. Thanks to my growing popularity, there was little he could do to harm me, but it got annoying all the same. Then one day, I was in the games room and Stiffy said some shit, and a mad rage took me, a red blur, I smashed him round the head with the cue. We were both shocked, his thick head absorbed the impact no problem, but there was a fair bit of blood. An SW popped her head in to see what the noise was, but Stiffy didn’t point the finger, he said he had been running and collided with the door. He turned to me and silently mouthed: you’re fucking dead.
That night, as I lay sleeping on my bunk, a billiard ball in a sock was swung, and my skull was cracked. That was the end of my walking and talking days. Stiffy, the culprit, was locked away. I was condemned to spend the rest of my days in a hospital bed, rotated by orderlies to avoid sores, linked up to drip and catheter. Only my mind is still active, never resting, it whirrs and grinds. Did that bastard Macca bring all this ruin on me? I watch the TV, conflicts, elections, court cases, sporting events, I look to see his style of play, signs of his twisted mind skewing the world. Other times I wonder, was skewing even real? Memories faded by time and kawock smoke... But who is Macca’s partner? Does he really have one?
Yes, he always had me.
He is embodying me to play against himself. Embodying me to embody another, whilst his self also embodies. He needs no accomplice. If it is true, if he can do that, then I can too. I shall embody him, and we shall embody whoever I wish, I will skew him against his skews. I shall be his enemy; I shall embody the enemy within to destroy him. With the blessing of fortune, I shall defeat him from my bed, from my mind, without moving a muscle.