STUART – Gary W. Hartley [Fiction]


We’re either all invited to Stuart’s wedding, or no-one is.

Hard to be sure, isn’t it. We all do know that we’re afraid; afraid to miss out as we always are, as we’ve conditioned ourselves to be. It runs deep.

We’ve never laid eyes on the bride. It’s uncertain whether Stuart has. So the speculation rolls on, filling the column inches of our cold, glossy internal monologues. Drip drip drip, we feed, we are nourished with details known and not – no difference.

Stuart runs the social calendar of this nation, this whole damn shebang of Oh My God What is Stuart Doing Now Exclamation Mark Exclamation Mark Drop What You Were Doing and Gaze. No memory of quite how the benevolent, ever-practical tyranny was achieved, or when. It sort of snook up on us. No-one noticed that Stuart had been introduced to their lives until he was there, front and centre. Hell, he took the fringes of vision too.

We must be there when Stuart speaks, when Stuart tells a joke or makes a valid point. We feel focused in-situ, we feel all uncertainty drift away.

Stuart has no standing army, militia and no intentions of any sort of power-grab. His place is in our time-wasting and speculations. It’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement.

I did my best to kill Stuart the other week and he just carried on living like it hadn’t happened; was very affable about it.

It’s hard to truly dislike the guy, but someone had to try and end him, or at least it seemed that way in the moment. The whole set-up was in the calendar, and he promoted it well – not that he had to any more, we were all in, whatever.

He said he was a reptilian lizard, all forked tongue in cheek like, and I rocked up with a laser gun, mostly in an advanced state of irony, fancy dress and fawning homage.

Problem is, I shot it. Call it conditioning, call it misunderstanding, call it everyone was supposed to have handed in their weapons with a wink and smile two years ago. Peacetime was well and truly here, and had been. Pre-Stuart, probably.

It had been bothering me, though peacetime thoughts aren’t supposed to head in the direction of bothers. Anyway. We loved him for the fact that he is the same all the time, platitudes and punchlines – not, however, that he is the same as us. He most certainly is not.

Stuart was the very appearance of dead for a while, with all the populous in a speculative froth over whether the wedding would still go ahead, or the colour scheme changed for a funeral. Then, simply enough, he was back. Full of zip, vigour and no ill-feeling at all. Curtains part, we go again. Long live.

There is talk of replication. Me and him, him and me. Silliness. How could he be both here and there, when I am here and he, well? It doesn’t matter, point stands.

I write this from a cell of sorts, far from Stuart’s speculated residence and not somewhere he’ll be coming on tour anytime soon. But I’ll be there in spirit when he does, front row centre, unarmed and smiling, mirroring body language.

It was not his decision to put me here, you must understand. These decisions cannot be his. His status in the administration is low as befits his species, though he has a say on stationery. This is how it is the case that I have adequate paper to express myself in this time-honoured form. Nice guy is Stuart, I’ll always maintain that despite how it looks with me and him and the lazer gun.

The truth is, Stuart never had any outstanding qualities, but we have many. It comes with the territory as reptilian lizards. Our only genetic weakness has always been a tendency to unblinkingly fixate on the bland and repetitive – our sort of meditation. Traditionally this has been satisfied by staring into the vast chasms of space-time, or, for shame, occasionally mistaking the end of our tails for prey.

This was supposed to be some classic alien take-down in the style of all their films predicting it (fairly accurately it must be said), and in a sense it has been – except Stuart, to the outsider, might look in charge.

We never knew FOMO before, but it is the best fear we’ve ever experienced in our genus’ years of conflict and conquest. We cannot admit we’d like more of these fears than just Stuart, but for most, it’s a deep truth. They’re bloody great – keep you on your toes, alert. It’s a nice soft substitute for the front line, addictive. Maybe he can keep giving just enough, maybe not. Change comes, however you choose to mitigate it. Aw Stuart, I’m only messing with you. Still mates? Yeah.

It is always hard to decommission after a lot of killing, even Stuart himself must be aware of the history of that. His species never got it down when they had the chance, and I am a personal reminder that even we’re not there yet. The weaponry is a lesser problem, really. The killers, all of us, still have the kill inside, yet peace must be quickly attained and forever maintained, as per the prophesies. They did mention Stuart by the way, albeit heavily cloaked in metaphor. You know the way. It could mean anything but it definitely, unequivocally means Stuart.

He hurts no-one, doesn’t have it in him even if we let him. He loves what we’ve handed him. In what scenario, what parallel dimension could he ever have enjoyed this status, a status that for all the false modesty, he craved so acutely. Celebrity king of a cage? Thanks very much – I’m here all week, and indefinitely.

Stuart’s wedding is coming up fast now, last something of the month. They’ll live stream it for me, surely. Yes, they’ll surely live-stream it. In quiet ecstasy we will gawp and hold it all together.



by Gary W. Hartley

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