Immune System Response

I recently submitted a short story to the science journal Nature. It would have been my fifth story to appear in the magazine (my fourth will be appearing in the Futures section of an upcoming issue). I knew the story was a little odd and that acceptance for publication was a long shot, and, indeed, it wasn’t to be. But I did enjoy and appreciate the response from editor Henry Gee.

Dear Martin – I loved ‘Immune System Response’ and agree with every word of it. Unfortunately it’s less a story than a cry of inchoate rage, so probably isn’t for Futures. I like cries of inchoate rage, though, and look forward to seeing it on your blog.

A more diligent and assiduous writer would no doubt rework the story, make it better, make the inchoate choate, and try to sell it to another magazine. But it’s been a long, grey, dreary summer and I honestly haven’t got the energy for any of that. So, here you go.

Immune System Response

By Martin Hayes

It began in London at 9.42am during an Agony Aunt segment on a mid-morning television call-in show. A worried mother had just phoned in to ask for advice about her sixteen-year-old daughter who wanted a breast enlargement operation for her next birthday – all the girl’s heroes from magazines and tv seemed to have had one. There was a stirring in the audience, subtle at first, murmurings, people shifting uneasily in their seats. Call it a rush of blood to the head, or just the unexpected realisation of how utterly deplorable and bereft of hope their culture, their society, had become – suddenly a large section of the audience stood up en masse and began to forcibly rip their seats from the floor. Muscles strained and eyeballs bulged as the plastic seats were torn from their steel brackets. The concrete steps crumbled as rawlbolts were ripped out. The audience then hurled the seats at the presenters and guests, killing one and injuring three. By 10.10am there were reports on the news channels calling it an outbreak of mass hysteria and/or a possible terrorist attack.

The next recorded incident took place at 10.33am at a race track in Wilthsire. Three presenters from a popular motoring show were racing their wackily inappropriate cars around the loop when a crowd of approximately 350 people broke down the chain link fence that surrounded the property and crowded onto the tarmac. The wacky presenters had no choice but to stop their cars. They were dragged from their vehicles, bound and gagged, tarred and feathered, gutted and garrotted, and left to rot like the dogs they were on the waste ground in the middle of the track. Before he was gagged, the biggest one cried and pleaded with the crowd that he wasn’t really like that, that it had all been just an act, he did actually recycle and he was worried about the environment, he just said that he wasn’t for money and the applause of idiots. The smallest one, a coward in his heart, had tried to bargain with the crowd – if they would only let him go, he would help them to kill and torture the other two. The medium sized one just looked resigned to his fate. He seemed grateful, if anything.

Just after midday a fifty-two year old man whose daughter was missing, a presumed victim of a serial rapist and killer, was door-stepped by a reporter from a low-end tabloid. She asked the grieving father how he felt and if there was any comment he would like to make and she looked utterly surprised when he punched her in the face. Neighbours, cheering, spilled from their doorways as she fell into the flowerbed that separated the driveway from the crazy paving path. Seven of them clambered over walls and hedges and they carried the reporter to the end of the street where they threw her into a skip. They bludgeoned her to death with stray pieces of building waste before burying her under a large mound of household detritus.

At 2.14pm in London, an ex-glamour model was proudly signing copies of a novel which she had not written. The bookstore’s large front window shattered as she was shot in the throat by a forty year old man with a hunting rifle from a rooftop across the street.

At just before 3pm the über-bland presenter of a popular televised singing contest was accosted by a group of pensioners who set about kicking and punching him. A helicopter news crew caught the altercation on camera as the enraged septuagenarians were heard to shout, “Who is this charmless man? Why is he always in our living room?”

At 3.34pm, just as a press conference began in the PR suite of a league-winning football team, a reporter slowly began rocking back and forth with his head in his hands. He took a deep breath and knelt down; unable to listen to anymore dull-witted, borderline-incomprehensible witterings, he untied his right shoe and leapt across the table where he began to batter the overpaid and undereducated player’s large potato-shaped head in. A feral look of instinctive fear flashed across the simian faces of the other players. They tried to work out what was happening but their brains could not hold onto the thought for long enough to fathom it out, so full were they of petty racism, misogyny and greed.

And so it went for eleven more days, all across the globe, and it did not stop until every awful one of them was gone – the uninformed but opinionated, the toadying, the racists and the dumbers down, the selfish, the self-entitled, the utterly untalented, the greedy and the mawkish and the proudly ignorant. If you feed people a diet of shit washed down with piss, they’ll develop a taste for it, they’ll want nothing more. If you nourish them with beauty and sincerity, with genuine emotion and truth, they’ll soon strive to emulate those qualities.

It was as if the species had suddenly realised that it would never advance, never progress, if this infection was not combated. And rather than let it fester, nature deemed it better to cut out the putrid meat and cauterize the wound. The entire species had undergone a planet-wide immune system response against a virulent and insidious contagion.

And on the morning of the thirteenth day, the world was a slightly better place.

The end

© Martin Hayes 2011


This is the bio, which would have followed the story . . .

Martin Hayes hates your stinking culture. Kirby is King. Ditko rules, OK? Bring back Bagpuss. And Children of the Stones. Ted Chippington spoke the truth. Ballard for Dead President. Machen for Mayor.

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