|The story so far...
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|Pippa meets Shaw Thynge
|Times have changed since John Bunyan sent Pilgrim up the Hill Difficulty and into the Slough of Despond towards the Celestial City. That's why Simon Parke has recast Pilgrim as Pippa and sent her through the trials and temptations of today's world, in his new book, Pippa's Progress. In this exclusive extract from the book, Pippa pauses before the Rock of Hidden Self.
There was good news and bad news as Pilgrim approached the rock, and we start with the bad: there was no path other than the path to the rock. Like the open jaws of a killer whale, the mighty mass drew everything towards it. Pilgrim now understood how Chill-Out and Move-On had been unable to avoid it. She also understood why theyíd tried. The closer you got to the granite, the more menacing it appeared.
And now, after walking for an hour, she sat in its damp shadow, close enough to touch. How would she ever climb this monster?
"Dear Diary," wrote Pilgrim, "what am I going to do?"
And then the good news, dressed in surprising clothes: a small hole in the rock. Here was a narrow entrance, a doorway leading inside. So Pilgrimís path continued, not over the mountain but through it.
"Iím so glad I donít have to climb," thought Pilgrim cheerily.
But good news, happily received, can soon lose its shine, and so it was now. She was delighted to be spared the frightening heights. But what awaited her inside this beast? Would the inner path lead Pilgrim to light at the other end? Or would it become a dark labyrinth from which sheíd never escape? Good news and bad news are not so different and Pilgrim felt perplexed.
"Dear Diary, in a way, no progress since last entry. I still donít know what to do."
She looked around for Pointy, last seen dancing in the sunflower field. This would have been a good moment for one of his stones, offering direction. Or Billie the Butterfly perhaps? Where was she when you needed a guide? Nowhere! They were there in the good times but when the chips were down? Even Veronica would have been better than nothing. Just.
"Typical," said Pilgrim under her breath.
Pilgrim jumped. Sheíd imagined herself alone but in the dank gloom to her left she could just make out a figure.
"Itís enough to make you weep," said the shape.
"What is?" said Pilgrim.
"This whole mess."
"What whole mess?"
"You! This! What else?"
"Oh I see."
Pilgrim pondered her disconcerting predicament.
"Here you are, stuck in this God-forsaken place without a clue what to do and no one lifting a finger to help!"
"I suppose so."
Pilgrim couldnít deny it.
"And itís not the first time youíve been let down."
"Thatís also true," said Pilgrim.
She was warming to her new friend who seemed to understand her.
"Iíve been let down quite a lot," she added.
This was something long felt by Pilgrim but never spoken. It was good to speak it now.
"Exactly," said her friend. "It happens all the time, Pippa. Just when you deserve a break, something always goes wrong."
"Itís the story of my life!"
"Indeed it is. But then what can you expect? You trust people to deliver the goods and what do they do? They let you down with a capital 'D'."
"It can be disappointing," said Pilgrim, feeling a tear coming to her eyes.
"Disappointing? Iíd call it infuriating?"
"Infuriating! Yes, it is!" said Pilgrim, glad to name it. "I could have done so much if Iíd been given a break!"
She was suddenly rigid with rage.
"A curse on all whoíve let you down, Pippa!" said the mist figure.
"Thatís right!" said Pilgrim. "A curse on them all, because I donít deserve this, I really donít! Do they know who I am?"
It was at this point that Pilgrim noticed something: she was sinking into the sand. And she noticed something else. The slide had started when sheíd got into conversation with old bitter boots in the mist. It was a serious matter for she was now almost down to her waist.
"Help!" she cried out, full of fear. "Help me out of the sand!"
"Here we go again," said bitter boots. "You try and do something good, Pippa, you set out on a journey to heaven and what happens? You begin to sink in the sand and no one comes to help. Typical!"
"I donít need you to tell me how bad it is," said Pilgrim, "I need you to help me!"
"I canít help you."
"But Iím sinking!"
"Of course youíre sinking. Story of your life, my girl, but does anyone care?"
"Who are you?"
"Tell them they can all go to hell. Tell heaven to go to hell!"
Whoever this was, they gave hopelessness a bad name and Pilgrim wanted shot of them.
"Get lost, whoever you are!" she said.
Pilgrim was slipping further into the cold sand but didnít care any more. All she wanted was to be rid of this man.
"No one tells Self-Pity to get lost!" he said.
"Thereís a first time for everything."
"Iíve got my pride!"
"I know you have. And Iíve got a rock in my hand with your wretched name on it. Self-Pity, eh? I should have known."
"Iím the only one who understands you, Pippa! You must see that, after all your pain."
As Self-Pity hesitated, Pilgrim flung a particularly sharp stone towards him.
"Youíll regret this," he squealed before fading away into the fog.
But Pilgrim didnít regret it for as soon as the figure was gone, her sinking ceased. And now she saw the sign warning travellers about the Sands of Self-Pity. It was not the most visible marker, small, faded and so low in the ground that it was best suited to the pixie community. Little wonder she hadnít seen it; travellers must miss it all the time. Slowly she pulled herself out from the sands and found solid ground once again.
"Phew!" she said.
"Perhaps itís now time to stoop low and enter the Rock of Hidden Self," she wrote in her diary. "Iím scared because I fear what I might find there. Hasnít it all been hidden for a reason? I imagine so. But thereís so much bottled up inside me I feel one day it may choke me completely. So is it really a choice? Perhaps itís time top open the unopened letter."
She pondered the small hole in the side of the rock, a rough-hewn door of mystery. She was hesitating and unsure when she heard a voice.
"You look to be in some kind of trouble."
Pilgrim turned round to see a man of distinctive appearance. He was wearing, from top down, a white trilby hat, a black shirt and black jacket with a white tie, black trousers and white shoes.
"Youíre completely black and white," said Pilgrim, unable to hold back from stating the obvious. "And no shades in between."
"Just as our good Lord wants it," said the man.
He also held a large book in his hand, which he waved like a weapon though it turned out to be the Bible, which isnít a weapon at all.
"From where Iím standing you look like a lost soul in need of help," he said.
For Pilgrim, help was always welcome and especially now as she faced the dark innards of this frightening edifice.
"Thatís true," said Pilgrim. "I need a lot of help right now."
"Then let me introduce myself. My nameís Shaw."
"And my nameís Pippa."
She waited for a reply but none came.
There was another silence.
"To be brutally honest, lady," said Shaw, "I donít need to know your name."
"Really?" said Pilgrim. "The use of names is generally considered polite."
"God fodder is God fodder, my girl."
"I accept neither of those descriptions. I am neither fodder nor your girl."
Shaw Thynge stuck his hands deep into his pockets; perhaps a little too deep.
"Relationship is not important," he said. "Are you saved?"
"I thought not."
"But I do have questions."
"Questions are to be encouraged, of course."
Pilgrim was glad to hear this.
"So my first question," said Pilgrim, but before she could pose it, Shaw Thynge was giving the answer.
"The Shaw Thynge gospel!" he declared.
"Sorry?" said Pilgrim, a little put out.
"Iím just giving you the answer to your question."
"But I havenít asked it yet."
"I know, but this way saves time."
"But how can you answer a question I havenít asked?"
"Because whatever the question, the Shaw Thynge gospel is always the answer. Now excuse me a moment."
"Where are you going?"
Pilgrim watched as the black and white man climbed up onto a nearby rock.
"Ah, thatís better!"
"Why have you climbed up there?" asked Pilgrim.
"I prefer a pulpit from which to deliver the truth."
He seemed happier elevated above normal life.
"But we were having a conversation."
The man laughed and shook his head in a condescending fashion.
"The truth isnít a dialogue, young Miss. The truth is a monologue, a monologue from God."
"Really?" said Pilgrim, looking around with fresh interest. "Is God on his way?"
"I speak on his behalf."
"Like many lunatics."
It just slipped out.
"I need to put you straight on a few matters," said Shaw Thynge firmly, looking down from his pulpit of rock. "I can do it better from up here."
Almost vertically above her, looking up at him was uncomfortable, which made Shaw Thynge a real pain in the neck.
"OK," she said. "But tell me this: how can you put me straight on a few matters if donít know me?"
"I donít need to know you!"
"Is that so?"
"I just tell people how things are."
"I see. So how are things?" asked Pilgrim.
"Thereís a thing."
"Youíre on your way to hell."
"Nothing brief, then?"
"The unquenchable fires, endlessly stoked by demons and accompanied by the gnashing of teeth."
"Demons as well as gnashing teeth?" said Pilgrim thoughtfully. "And there was me thinking I was on my way to heaven!"
"Satanic delusion," said Shaw. "Take a leaflet."
Pilgrim hadnít noticed the leaflets available by the rock entrance, entitled "Avoid Hell Now By Doing What I Tell You".
"Iíll certainly read it."
"The 27 steps to salvation. Itís all pretty straight forward."
"Will it help me to discover more about the mystery who is me?"
Shaw let out a loud laugh of superiority.
"Lordy Lord! What a god-forsaken notion!"
"I thought it a rather good one; one of my best, in fact."
"And why, pray, do you need to know anything about yourself?"
"Well Ė "
"You just need to know the loving God."
"The loving God whoís consigning me to hell?"
He discerned no fracture in his logic.
"But tell me, Shaw, how can I know anyone, let alone God Ė who, letís be honest, is a bit mysterious at the best of times Ė if I donít know myself?"
Shaw Thynge threw his hands in the air in despair.
"Right, thatís it! I wipe the dust off my feet!"
"Itís sand," says Pilgrim.
"Iím being metaphorical."
"Is that good or bad?"
"It means Iím giving up on you."
"Oh thank you!"
Sometimes it was a huge relief when people gave up on Pilgrim, and so it was now.
"I will leave you to the wicked devices and desires of your heart," he said, making Pilgrimís life seem a lot more exciting than it was.
Shaw Thynge then came down from his pulpit and gathered up the leaflets from the entrance. A question popped into Pilgrimís mind and she just had to ask:
"Are you happy, Shaw Thynge?"
"Of course Iím happy," he replied abruptly.
"You hide it well."
"Godís happiness is deep."
"It must be very deep; invisible from the surface, thatís for sure."
"Enjoy hell," he said.
And with those encouraging words he was gone and Pilgrim stooped low to enter the dark corridors of the Rock of Hidden Self.
Pippa's Progress is published on 19 October. Available on Amazon at £6.99.