O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell
          and count myself a King of infinite space.
                    Hamlet II:2

Mercuric acrobats within the kinetic theatre of a blazing log fire, a cabal of Minor Devils conspire to prank. Minor Devil of broken shoelaces, toothache, lost passports and elevator music spins like a dervish in a spiralling flame, erect tail wafting smoke into the chimney’s vortex. Minor Devil of premature orgasms, damaged family heirlooms, junk mail and blown fuses tumbles down a burning log to land on a hairy gluteus maximus. Minor Devil of flat batteries, volatile diarrhoea, mediocrity and missing jigsaw pieces giggles like a banshee between chanting a profane fugue amidst embers glowing in the hearth.

At ergonomic odds with a bentwood rocking chair before the fire, your man Holzbonce fails to join the dots of a rare intellectual illumination which zipped through his addled and inebriated cerebrum when he saw something else in the fire, a fleeting apparition of a grinning visage within flames licking the bark of a smouldering log. There was something of the gargouillant about the face, and as its ambiguous grin snaked from jowl to jowl, the skin on its cranium peeled away to reveal an attosecond’s glimpse of a walnut.

Despite the intimation of this semiotic, Holzbonce’s curiosity was irrevocably jaded by dubious wisdom previously cast his way by ventriloquists, highwaymen, strumpets, pettifoggers, carpetbaggers and the like, so chunks of fire-blackened oak insinuating they were custodians of the lore of existence itself led him to succumb to the rational alchemy of alcohol, 70% proof being a concept a simpleton like Holzbonce could grasp. Downing dregs from the bottle in one needy gulp, he passed out.

Logs in the fire completed the carbon cycle as ash to a chorus of raucous expletives from the Minor Devils. Oldest cancroids on old Mother E’s decaying epidermis, trees rise up to worship celestial bounty, but also put down roots which skirt the hazardous ‘burbs of Hell. Their arcane mantras are translated into sonnets by avians perched on their branches, yet are tragically inaudible to human ears, the gist communicated being that these wizened behemoths become corrupted at their roots in the muggy swamp of an underworld ruled by Satanic machinations.

Mentor and slave-master of the Minor Devils, Beelzebub commenced this feud of attrition aeons ago when His macabre reveries were shattered by the lame Genesis represented by the ominous clump of human footsteps above the alluvial crust.

“Plankton-eating scum…” He growled upon hearing the intrusion, “…done dragged their slimy scaled souls outa the sea onto dry land. Before you can say Stonehenge, they’ll be copulating on back seats of Korean coupés in drive-ins, boondoggling with billion-dollar Moonshots, kissing televangelist ass on plasma screens, wearing tubesocks and guzzling beer in Naugahyde La-Z-Boy recliner chairs. Gotta nip this catastrophe in the bud, ‘fore the ‘hood goes to pot and real estate ain’t worth a grandmother’s pussy.”

Mollusc-to-Man metamorphosis saw Beelzebub’s rancour hit the red zone, prompting Him to devise a pogrom of extinction of the Human Error. He summoned Minor Devils from the foul depths of His bowels.

“Go forth, my dearies,” He bellowed, “and cut off supply routes which nourishes Homo Sap.”

A Minor Devil in the multitude lisped his confusion.

“Boss?” he blathered, fluorescent drool oozing from blistered lips. “I ain’t too sure of ‘yer drift… nourishes ‘em…? …like…their porn movies?”

Such an obtuse gaffe saw the disciple of darkness impaled and eviscerated on Beelzebub’s trident before the dot had formed beneath his blurred question mark.

Oxygen, dimwit,” barked an infuriated Beelzebub, “the foul invisible vita-min what makes their ugly envelopes function ‘til they gallumph full circle and get a whiff of the fetid crack in the butt of their pitiable mortal coil.”

Fearful of the fate which their crony’s debility earned him, the apprentices of the abhorrent grovelled and licked their Master’s malodorous hooves, chanting an impromptu dirge: oxy-gen, UGH, oxy-gen, UGH, oxy-gen, UGH…

Beelzebub nullified their servility by taking aim with His one-eyed snake and showering their cowering heads with boiling urine.

“Stow it. The gamut of nuisance from toothache to missing jigsaw pieces makes their lives a misery, but to zap homo sap, youz gotta mess with what they can’t live without. Those damned altruistic trees, spewing out their commodity for free. Them ex-fishes just crawled out from freezing waters: give the scum a nice warm fire, and they’ll be queuing up like paedophile priests at a pre-pubescent peep show.”

A contorted grin spread across El Diablo’s jowls as He chalked an equation onto a blackboard:

homo sap + wood + combustion = less oxygen: ergo, de-cease.

Shortly after the Minor Devils’ covert ascent amongst the inchoate clod-hoppers, a flashing red light in the fug of Beelzebub’s boudoir heralded the arrival of news from His spies. Serpentine profile hideously inflated from steroids, an earthworm messenger slithered to a halt, regurgitating a roll of vellum bound by a scarlet ribbon.

“EVIL-ution!” Beelzebub’s glee escalated as he read the dispatch to His harem of she-devils cavorting on a baldaquin woven from barbed wire and studded with rusty nails. “Sap is dumber than I reckoned. Didn’t need much to entice them down the sewer of self-destruction. They swallowed the fire scam, and they’re decimating forests to make fires, houses, ships, furniture, paper, books and all kinds of wood-based consumables. And when one of them dies, they either torch the stiff on a pyre, or make wooden boxes to bury them six feet under. And do I just revere that twist in the tale: gravity drags their decaying flesh in the opposite direction to which they aspire. Not to a nonexistent heaven but towards my lair, where, as epicureans of evil know, the barbecuing never stops.”

Displaying rotting teeth, the obsequious she-devils snicker, pluck moth larvae, slugs and baby fruit bats from the matted strands of their bouffant wigs and scratch at festering scabs. Their manic giggling causes tattooed titties to shake – to the delight of Beelzebub who, anticipating post-coital prandial delights, tickles their tapeworm-ridden tummies.

“What say to rotting recycled fish for breakfast, my beauties?”

Lulled by the to-and-fro of the rocking chair, Holzbonce snored stertorously. His noggin had been shanghaied by squatters who transmit myths collectively referred to as Subliminal Stickies. Said squatters had thrown up a jerry-built stage between his ears on which a DADA-ist play entitled Veni, Vidi, Vomited was being performed.

The walnut, the last image Holzbonce saw before shuteye, now featuring as the main prop on stage, had undergone a pop-art makeover by the set designer. The solarised palette of the walnut’s convex facets bled like a polychrome Rorschach mishap, indigo, violet, scarlet, fuschia, rose madder, chrome yellow, China white, mazarine blue, whilst within the shadows of its sinuous concave surfaces, jet was tinged with bottle green.

Cones of crisp incandescence spotlit supporting actors on the trapezoid of worn floorboards. Stage left, sand trickled through a giant hourglass, its frame fashioned from mammoth tusks. Stage right, an open umbrella, its covering in tatters, secreted mercury which dripped into the orchestra pit where a mummified harpist was hunched over her instrument. A colony of fire ants sporting revolving bow ties and stovepipe hats shuffled past, their cotillion a pastiche of The Pharaoh’s Shuffle to the blues classic O Lordy, Pick a Bale o’ Cotton.

Usually an angst-ridden, pissing-his-pants spectator of the aberrant eruptions of his unconscious, Holzbonce found he was unwillingly interpreting the leading role: but his stint as a thespian was reliant on prompting by the script-girl perched on a petrified tree trunk, a Madagascan lemur known as Sloppy Sally.

“Okey-dopey,” screeched the tyrannical simian, baring yellow teeth. “Dis be da scene when youz a dirty-assed ‘bosun on board the good ship Sucette sailing outa Naples. Snakes-a-mercy, man, rewind the footage ‘afore viewers switch to ‘da Discovery channel!”

Yanked through rusty cogs of the projector within Holzbonce’s brain, the reel of brittle celluloid screened the sinking of the Sucette in a tempest on the high seas somewhere south-east of nowhere.

“Shiver me timbers!” hollered the captain from the bridge, sea legs buckling with dread. “We be in the eye o’ the storm, and methinks it be an evil eye!”

Holzbonce, stumbling up from below decks, bawled more ill tidings.

“Cap’n. Trouble down below. Them crates of Bibles in the hold is on fire, the pigs are out of their pens, and them pious penguins is up to their lillywhite necks in brine, kissing crucifixes, screaming for their Saviour’s salvation and soiling their sacred pettipants.”

Said auk-impersonates were a dozen teenage nuns, accompanied by the harridan who was their Mother Superior. Along with the cargo of pigs and Bibles, the Sucette was trucking the missionaries to a banana republic.

Aghast, the captain guzzled rum before blowing his brains out with a Véry pistol as a towering wave sent the Sucette to the ocean bed.

Ever since Sap had hit the beach, Beelzebub’s cogitations for their genocide included cloning an aquatic version of Himself, endowing the chimera with the sobriquet Neptune, whose schtick was to ensure any ex-fishes venturing to sea stayed there.

Scrubbing graffiti off the Pearly Gates in Heaven at this point in time, The Prime Mover heard His cellphone ringtone, a doleful ditty by a lesser King.

Disgruntled, T.P.M. picked up just as The Pelvis crooned “…down at the end of lonely street…”

“This better be essential,” growled T.P.M., “lying bitch of an immigrant cleaning lady called in sick, and my hangover ain’t gonna tolerate trivia.”

Breathless, the angel who happened to be gliding above the Sucette at the moment she sunk relayed the news.

“Nuns, huh?” T.P.M. grunted. “OK, I’m on to it.”

The Saviour lunged an arm down the U-bend of the Universe, located Earth and scooped the nuns from the sea, unaware that Holzbonce had become entangled beneath one of their voluminous habits.

Casting them ashore on a desert island, T.P.M. scoured the horizon for Mother Superior, only to witness the corpulent moons of her bloomered posterior disappear beneath the waves as Minor Devils dragged her down to Neptune, who derobed her before thrusting her onto Beelzebub’s barbecue.

In a state of unchaste dishevelment, the teenage nuns dragged their sodden selves up the picture-postcard beach, spumes of vomit gushing from rosebud lips. The first to recover heard screams and espied a man’s legs writhing beneath the hem of a sullied habit belonging to one of her peers.

Holzbonce, half-drowned and semi-conscious, lips squashed against the moist nirvana of the novice’s previously intact nether regions, was convinced he was in a cunnilingus marathon in whore Heaven. Dragged from within without by the novice’s horrified consoeurs, the lummox exited, an ear-to-ear grin of beatitude below the lacy pettipants crowning his head.

“Howdy,” he chuckled, licking his lips whilst scanning the horizon for other males, but seeing only pigs who’d survived the shipwreck. “Looks like I just won the libido lottery, and youz be the folding green, or pink, which rhymes with…”

Sloppy Sally prompted him with a peppery hiss. “Fuck, you eedjit.”

“Fuck, you eedjit,” echoed a befuddled Holzbonce.

Sloppy Sally rolled her eyes in despair. Centre stage, the walnut sighed a deep sigh of shame.

Come the crepuscule, Minor Devils doused the sleeping nun’s habits with a potion which dissolved wool, then inserted pornographic holograms beneath their eyelids and poured a potent aphrodisiac mixed with psilocybin between their lips. Said cocktail was also fed to Holzbonce and, to add spice to proceedings, to the piggies.

The ensuing debauchery was a pagan orgy which charted new depths of wanton depravity, a veritable eulogy of fornication, venality and bestiality which trounced every taboo, and then some.

So entrenched in their cavorting were Holzbonce and his rookie trollops that eating was not a priority. The pigs, however, better known for gluttony than coital creativity, soon craved to stuff their snouts.

Holzbonce discovered the first of the mutilated nun’s bodies at dawn. Decapitated, minus breasts and buttocks and a limb or two, her remains were bloody gore on which flies feasted. Satiated in more ways than one, pigs dozed nearby.

On stage, the pop-art walnut glowed bale; simultaneously, a pestiferous bout of flatulence by Beelzebub exploded into a fireball which ricocheted around Earth’s core, and The Prime Mover sent a text message to Sloppy Sally.

? da fk H do? e dum or wt? kp 2 skrpt. sht. y do I bvr? blo me ltr?

Sloppy Sally’s response was terse.

fkov u dkead! onme lnch brk.

Furious at such insubordination, The Prime Mover sent a missive.

fk u 2! > an fk plnt erf!

Now as any zoologist worth his tweed truss is aware, the Madagascan lemur was known in days of olde as the emblem of The Spirit Of The Dead. This cognomen was a misnomer, based on a belief that lemurs were dead when in fact they were hibernating.

Holzbonce always found himself in more shit than he could shovel, and that which he maladroitly scooped out of his path always hit the proverbial. The calamity of pigs eating nymphomaniac nuns had to get sorted, but seven more days and seven less nuns later, it still hadn’t crossed Holzbonce’s mind why the hogs hadn’t eyed him up for supper. Once the last nun had been devoured, digested and defecated, however, the porkers convened and reluctantly put Holzbonce’s anatomy on the menu.

The patzer Holzbonce was napping when they pounced. By punching pig, he restricted their savage gnawing to his right leg. As they were crunching his bony knee ‘twixt cavernous jaws, a gravid hush fell over the audience, coinciding with the dramatic descent of the ruched velvet curtain on stage.

A hermetic darkness, simulated to resemble the pre-Big-Bang-and-everything-existed science fiction that is the cosmologist’s Holy Grail.

From the orchestra pit, the doleful euphony strummed by the mummified harpist is synchronous with the fading up of limelight. A sombre hospital ward shrouded in a miasma of faeces, bleach, boiled cabbage and carbolic soap. Through a broken window pane, a neon sign flashes a staccato semaphore.

Prostrate between bloodstained sheets, Holzbonce gazes bug-eyed at the ghost of his right leg as it hops across shiny linoleum in pursuit of cockroaches who’ve raided the amphetamine supplies.

On a gurney amongst syringes, surgical instruments, soiled bandages and a chamber pot, the walnut yawns.

Clad in a grey cloak, hood raised, enter stage left Prosthesis Pete, clearing his throat before addressing the amputee.

“If you’re on a budget, let’s talk plastic,” he whispered. “If you’re flush, I can rustle up carbon fibre. Then again,” Prosthesis Pete twisted his goatee beard into a point, “if you want classical, would wood light your fire?”

Holzbonce looked at the walnut for counsel. None was forthcoming.

“Just so happens,” Prosthesis Pete chuckled, “I gotta very special piece of merchandise.” Snapping thumb and index, he beckoned a pack mule from the wings.

“Jeez,” Holzbonce blathered, squinting at the mule’s cumbersome burden, “that’s one heck of a hunk of wood. Special, you say? What’s them letters carved into it? Hey, you get sunburnt, or what?’

Retreating into shadows, Prosthesis Pete stroked the timber with reverence.

“INRI,” he explained. “That’s what’s carved there. Abbreviation for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Holzbonce snorted disbelief. “You expect me to believe this is a piece of the cross they nailed His hiney to? Pull the other leg.”

Prosthesis Pete was indignant. “It’s been carbon-dated, and DNA samples from blood in the wood grain match those on the shroud of Turin. Capici?”

The walnut frowned before spitting into the chamber pot.

“Hell,” Holzbonce guffawed idiot glee, “if a man’s gotta have an artificial leg, he oughta have the real thing. You take Mastercard?”

Holzbonce’s eyelids struggle to open, taking a snapshot of the dwindling fire in which he registered a subliminal image of a walnut. The ghost of his amputated leg, thigh adorned with a lacy crimson garter, danced a can-can around the rocking chair.

Ever the voyeur, the walnut observed with cool impartiality from a distance.

The cuckoo clock above the fireplace was a scale model of a Swiss chalet. In analogue-speak, it was either seconds away from midnight or noon, the pivotal point in the man-measured cycle where the arrows of time fight against gravity to align vertically before the next downhill dive begins, and Einstein’s groupies realise they’ve missed the cosmological boat.

Minor Devils in the fire kowtow at the arrival of Beelzebub.

“On Fox News yesterday,” He gushed, “The Prime Mover admitted that Sap was a failed experiment. He’s thinking of throwing in the towel. Let’s make sure He does just that.”

Beelzebub brandished a catapult, selected a burning ember from the fire, fashioned a point on one end and took aim. Flight caused the ember to glow white hot, the tip piercing Holzbonce’s wooden leg.

Party time for the whole Mephistophelian gang. They broke out firewater and whooped it up as Holzbonce became a human torch.

The cuckoo clock relegated present to past and leapt into the future as its big arrow eclipsed the little arrow on the clock face. The chalet’s front doors swung open and a spring propelled the cuckoo forwards. Simultaneously, spikes protruding from a small revolving brass cylinder struck a series of spring-steel batons, producing a sound not unlike a castrated cuckoo.

The trail can be lonely when you are a solitary nomad. But when you are The Only Entity, the consolation is that there are no meddling shit-stirrers who don’t know how to mind their own business and label you insane when to talk to yourself.

“Modesty is a virtue. I overheard one of them say that. I thought my impersonation was pretty good. At being modest.”

“By going in their midst as a walnut? I thought you were being the jester you always are. A walnut bearing a striking resemblance to what they’ve got between their ears.”

“Which they don’t make much use of. Twelve percent, according to their own research.”

“That fellow Newton, the apple-of-knowledge gravity nonsense. If only it had been a walnut tree he’d sat beneath.”

“Now you’re making fun of them. It’s unkind to mock the afflicted.”

“They are fools. Assembling faux-intellectual smörgåsbords using the wrong ingredients, and then wondering why they’re suffering from conceptual constipation. Believing there’s an expanding cosmos littered with black holes, basing all their theories around time measured in only three tenses, relativity, quantum physics, hyperspace, parallel worlds, wormholes, string theory, sub-atomics, entropy. Then there’s their big door prize – the quest for a unified theory of everything.”

“And littering their celestial backyard with sealed capsules containing artifacts of their existence engraved with pictograms of themselves and messages of peace, so that one day, some imagined alien in deep space who just happens to speak their language would find it and say to his wife, hey, honeybuns, how about a vacation?”

“Maybe we should do that.”

“Take a vacation?”

“No, stupid. Send them a message.”

“What would it say?”

“Something cryptic. Wouldn’t do to give the game away, now would it?”

“How about…”

“…you be. I am.”