I Am a Beast, a Monster Grown

by Matthew Wardour (April 2020)

Study for Portrait I, Francis Bacon, 1953



The waves soared until they seemed to meet the moon. Then they hurtled towards the promenade in military unison. It was as if an army were coming. Soon the shore had reached the town centre. Billy was running as fast as he could, yet he hardly seemed to move.

            “The moon comes hither!” he roared.

            Billy looked up at the sky and saw the moon grinning back. It seemed to move with the waves—or rather the waves with it. Billy became convinced it was marshalling the waves.

             “Over yonder,” said the lifeboatman, “I espy a steep hill to descendeth. Thou must keep us afloat for but a moment longer: thy spoon, boy, thy spoon!”

            They managed to land atop the hill but were poised motionless on the tip. The lifeboatman scrambled to the other end of the tub. “Come hither, boy!” The bathtub slowly tilted downwards and began skating down the hill at a great speed.

            As they descended the bathtub transformed into a horse and carriage, the lifeboatman into a driver, and the waves into a flock of bats. Then, nearing the bottom of the hill, the carriage became a limousine, the driver a chauffeur, and the bats a flock of pigeons. The pigeons flew away and the flood ceased. The limousine then stopped and the chauffeur showed Billy out. The moon had disappeared and stars overwhelmed the sky. Billy found himself at the entrance of his house. The door was ajar. He crept in.

            Billy chased after him. As the thief vaulted over the garden fence, Billy attempted to do the same but became stuck at the top, balancing uncomfortably on his stomach. He began to fall head first and quickly lost consciousness . . .


            Billy’s eyelids pushed themselves open and he let out a terrific yawn. He wrapped the duvet around him and nestled his head into the pillow, content to go back to sleep. But within seconds his thoughts interrupted him: he suddenly remembered what had just taken place, and, without wondering why he was now in bed, he leapt out, still in his pyjamas, and launched from the window and into the garden.

fortissimo the most extraordinary high A.

            As Billy went forth with admirable speed, the familiar sound of a police siren could be heard moving towards his location. Once caught up with Billy, the policemen, after promising him they had a team in pursuit of the thief, returned him to his mother.


             “I have seen paranoia, hallucinations, personality disorders,” said the doctor, “but not otherwise healthy and sane people who believe every dream they have to be true.” Billy’s parents had heard this all before. The last doctor had said the same thing, as had the dozens before him. They all said it with a facade of concern that barely concealed their intense fascination (though this doctor hid his less than most). They would speak in long paragraphs and with great authority on Billy’s condition, by way of listing everything he was not afflicted with.

            “I see no fever,” continued the doctor, studying a sheet of paper through thick-rimmed spectacles, his bony fingers moving around the desk like dancers in an experimental ballet, “nor any physical sign of infection or illness or disease. Further tests indicate Billy is nothing less than a healthy boy. It may also reassure you to know that there is no change between the results of these tests and those previously on Billy’s record.”

            Ah, here comes the point, thought Billy’s father, when the doc refers us to his colleague.

            “I see, I understand completely,” said the doctor, his eyes drifting slowly and contemplatively towards the ceiling. He seemed quite unlike the other doctors they had visited, now even more so. From the beginning he seemed to be holding something back. The time had come for this unborn thought, whatever it was, to finally come out.

            “Now, this is quite unorthodox—or rather unsettling orthodox—and I wouldn’t normally suggest it, and moreover I cannot say it will be in the slightest bit effective.” The doctor murmured indistinctly and was noticeably excited, having now broken entirely from the formal manner of a doctor. “But it did occur to me that Billy’s condition might not be medical at all. Have you thought about—and please do not think me absurd for suggesting this—have you thought about taking Billy to a philosopher?”

             “A philosopher?” said Billy’s mother, confused.

            Billy’s father gave a contemptuous laugh. “That has to be the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. What will he say? Something like ‘it’s all in his mind.’ Honestly, it’s like going back to the Middle Ages, like science and medicine were never invented. Next you’ll tell us to go see a priest and get Billy exorcised.”

            “Now, Mr Greenal, as you happen to mention the fact, the person I had in mind is also a theologian.”

            “A theologian!” exclaimed Billy’s mother.

            “Doctor,” said Billy’s father, “this is becoming simply inappropriate—a complete abuse of your authority by referring us to some wooly-minded airhead.”

            “Let me give you his contact information,” said the doctor, clambering eagerly for his notepad and pen, “just in case you change your mind.”


           And so several days later, following one particularly strange episode in which Billy was convinced he had metamorphosed into an Alpine goat, and which had led his parents to newfound levels of desperation, Billy found himself seated in a university office on a wonky plastic chair and surrounded by shelves of books and a damp air. From behind an archaic oak desk, the philosopher stared at him with warm curiosity. The philosopher was an older man with a round luminous head and grey hair that sprouted nearly a foot each side. He wore an ill-fitting red jumper which was stretched painfully around his enormity. And most curiously of all, resting on what must have been a nose (though it looked more like a sort of flattened pear), were spectacles in which the left lense was missing.

            “So, Billy,” said he, “I’m told you’ve led an extraordinary life.”

            Billy then related many of his incredible memories, including one he claimed to have happened but three days ago in which he won a Nobel Prize for the invention of a new linguistic-musical language to record the birdsong of the Australian lyrebird.

            The philosopher began jotting something down: As treach’rous phantoms in the mist delude.

            “This sounds like a most thrilling life,” said the philosopher, still scribbling in his notebook.

            “No, I’m getting tired of it.”

            The philosopher looked up. “Then why not stop?”

            “Well I can’t stop now, can I?”

            The philosopher nodded and gave the most imperceptible of smiles. He placed his pen between his teeth, fiddled with one of the holes in his sweater, then spoke:        

             “What do you think is the purpose of your life, Billy? It isn’t a simple question, I know. Perhaps you could tell me a few things which you live for? For instance, I write and speak, and in doing so I hope to help others by revealing what is often unnoticed. What about you?”

             “There are so many things. I’ve never settled on just one thing.” Billy then proceeded to list many of his adventures.

             “What of your family?”

             “I don’t understand.”

             “Is family important to you?”

            “I see. Do you dream, Billy?”

             “No, I hardly even sleep, to be honest.”

            The conversation continued in the same vein for another few hours, the philosopher at first fascinated by the inventions of Billy’s mind, but slowly he became more serious and even distressed. He scribbled prolifically, although to any observer his notes would have borne no relation to the conversation.


            “I knew this was a waste of time,” grumbled Billy’s father.

            “I assure you I am perfectly daft, but as far as I can tell your son isn’t. I would suggest, rather, that Billy’s condition results from weakness. Those weak in character are capable of far greater evil than the strong. The weak person cannot deny himself. We have to be frank that Billy’s detachment and lack of regard for reality is a form of evil.”

            “My son’s not evil!” exclaimed the mother. “He’s not perfect,” she added apologetically, “but he’s far from evil.”

            “Billy is no Caligula, as Billy shows no greater disposition towards sin than you or I.  But nevertheless, like Caligula he draws his strength from without—from his dreams and from the actions of others which he then imagines as attributed to himself.”

            The philosopher pushed himself up from his chair, walked out from his desk, lifted up his right leg, and hopped over to the corner of the room. He then put his right leg back down and put his hands behind his back. Rocking on his feet, he continued:

            “The lesson Billy needs to learn is a tough one: do not have dreams, they are an impediment to living. Like the alcoholic, he copes with his life by any means other than actually living.”

            The philosopher squatted down thrice, then resumed:

            “What I suggest you try is some role reversal. Act like Billy: be ludicrous, pretend you are in a dream state. Deprive Billy of all comforts. He needs to learn an obvious truth: that we are always alone in our dreams. He will eventually keep falling until he hits the ground and rediscovers earth. And it is from there that he can finally look up to heaven, rather than pretending he has already arrived, or that it could possibly exist in this life.”

            “You know very well what I’m doing,” he replied. “I am lying down. What you want to know is why. And I will tell you: I do it because I can. Yet I also do it because I can’t. For instance, I was quite able to lower myself onto the floor, yet I am quite unable to lever myself back up—or at least, I find the prospect altogether disagreeable.”

            Billy’s parents, perplexed and fed up, left the philosopher to his own amusements. It was several hours before he finally got up.


             “There are no real-life dreams,” murmured the philosopher. He put on his coat and left his study. The university hallways were dimly lit. He ventured out of the building and into the foggy November night.

            He stopped upon seeing an empty bus slowly driving by: ‘not in service’ read the screen above the driver.

            The philosopher entered a field and kept walking in a perfectly straight line, over fences, through fields and woods, to a destination God only knew.


            None of these events would colour Billy’s increasingly bleak dreams. His dreams had once flourished thanks to the normality of his past life. His life was now too confused, too uncomfortable, indeed too unreal to stimulate the sorts of nocturnal fancies he once had. Yet he still believed in those past dreams, and he even tried assuring himself that the present was itself a dream—his first ever dream, Billy thought—one from which he would soon awaken.

            One day Billy had the simplest of all nightmares: an embrace by the purest darkness: no sound, no sight, no smell, no sense at all. He awoke confused. His confusion transformed into anxiety then into panic. He did not know why, but he felt entirely empty. “Who am I?” he said, punctuating each word with a strained breath. His heart gave from exhaustion, and he fell into an eternal sleep. He had lost himself. He did not die: he had ceased to exist.


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Matthew Wardour is an English musician and occasional writer. He blogs on culture, politics and other things which catch his fancy at smelfungus.blogspot.com

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