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They needed one more sketch. Probably one more. Honestly, it was getting a bit difficult to tell these days; John leaving the group for better and brighter things had had the unsettling effect of a dead man getting out of his coffin -- it left the rest of the funeral out of joint.

It was particularly hard on Graham -- he'd lost his writing partner. No one quite knew how that particular relationship worked, and they weren't exactly keen to find out. How it looked from the outside was that John and Graham would enter into a room to write, and usually they'd come out some hours later with aching piles of brilliance. Rarely, though, they'd come out and John would have that tight look around his mouth, and Graham's hands would be visibly shaking, and Eric and Michael would start talking loudly about the comedic value of fish and that would be the end of it.

No one quite knew how to replace John, since they weren't sure what it was that John did with Graham in the closed room. They'd all had their guesses, obviously, some more facetious than others. It was getting quite clear, though, that someone would indeed have to replace John. Graham was getting restless, in that peculiar Graham way that involved endless crossword puzzles and too much pipe smoke and the dangerous need to irritate people just because it might be fun.

They didn't really talk about the drinking, though that was there too. A benthopelagic fish in the ocean of public-school manners.

But there was a sketch that needed to be written,* and Graham's various psychological issues could damn well wait until Terry had nothing better to think about.

Right. Blank pages. A blank notebook, except for all the writing in it. Terry Jones rubbed his face and tried again.

exterior shot, mountain ranges, copse of trees in foreground. All-Aggro with leopard spots painted on lurking in trees. music swells. gazelle from left

Terry threw his pen. It bounced off the bedroom wall, and didn't even have the simple courtesy to break. Where the hell would they get an Austin Allegro? Where would they find the money to get it painted? And perhaps the question he should've started with: Where exactly was that sketch going, anyway? It felt too much like the Hell's Grannies bit, that was the trouble. Terry could almost hear the grim spectre of John's "we're repeating ourselves, and it's getting boring" whispering in his ear, and it was turning his writing to shit.

In the distance, beyond the closed bedroom door, he could hear his four-month-old daughter begin her siren wail. He hesitated, nearly got up, but a moment later the sound faded as Alison went to her. And that was another thing. Another thing heaped on another thing, all of it leading to him locked in the bedroom wondering if he should decamp further, perhaps as far as the garden shed.

The phone rang; he glared blearily at it, and wished he had not wasted his one ballistic weapon at the wall. He knew who was calling. He wasn't going to answer.

The phone sat accusingly.

On the fifth repetition of the third ring, he picked up the receiver. "What."

"Jonesy, you've got to do something with him."

"Shan't." The phone was hung up with great force.

exterior shot, orchard, MPs dangling from low-hanging branc

The phone rang. Michael was getting annoying, which was a very bad sign indeed. Mike was never annoying.

"Listen, he's threatening to do something mad."

"Like what?"

"He mentioned writing the BBC."

There was a window to the outside world just to Terry's right. He considered jumping out of it. "Look, I was never good with him. You're the tender innocent, you do it."

"Won't work. I'm too tender, thanks ever so." There was a pause. "Anyway, he already said no. Said he was going to just going to write some letters to see if we could get more shows commissioned. He specifically mentioned menstrual blood, Jonesy, and you know it's going to get us called in again unless you do something."

Christ. "Send Eric," Terry said ruthlessly.

"He's gone into hiding."

"Fuck." Terry did not look forward to the conversation he was going to have to have with Alison. Sorry, dear, have to go lock myself in a room. A different room, I mean. Elsewhere. With Graham. Sorry, dear, sorry!*

"You'll do it, then?"

"I'll try." He flipped a page in his notebook and wished he had a machine gun. Just because it might be interesting. "Did you come up with anything for that sketch, by the way?"

"Not a jot," Michael said. "Or rather, lots, but it's all rubbish. You?"

"Can we get a prop machine gun?"

"Doubt it."

Terry shut his notebook. "Then no. Just give me Graham's number, would you? And you'd better come up with something while I'm gone, because damned if I will."

   

Graham? It's Terry J.

Oh. Hello. Michael got around to calling you?

He said you were threatening letters again.

It's called being helpful, Terry, we've all got to pull our weight. Anyway, I was expecting Eric next.

He's gone missing.

Ah? Shame.

Listen, I-- I've got shit to work with here, nothing's coming out right, and we need enough sketches to actually fill the episodes we've already been granted. Tell me you've got something.

I think I have some of John's work around here--

I wasn't really looking for something by John. Have you got anything?

No.

Right. Right, then.

Is that all?

...I'm-- I'm going to Biarritz. France. I'm going to France to write, and you should come with me. Just for a day or two. We can lock ourselves in a hotel room until a sketch is done, and I'll verbally abuse you or whatever it is John used to do if you'll just give me a leg up with this damned thing. Yes. Will you come?

Biarritz is in Basque territory.

It has a beach.

This is a pathetically transparent ploy.

What if it works? The writing, I mean, not the ploy.

...I'll think about it. Get a boat or something, I want to see the water.

   

Biarritz was a city made out of salmon-colored paint and astonishingly deep sunsets. There were huge rocks jutting from the water that Terry wanted to film Mike falling off of. There was a pub down the street where a very attractive woman with black-rimmed eyes had laughed at him when he'd asked directions. There was a man on the beach who sold caramel ice cream in cones the length of Terry's forearm, and Graham Chapman was sitting with his feet propped up on the balcony railing, smoking his pipe and saying nothing as the sun went down.

Their room was best described as "European bland," cheap and drab. Two beds, both clean enough, and Terry knew which of Graham's bags held the gin. He sat at the desk and pulled out his notebook, opening to a fresh, auspicious page.

Graham did nothing. Watched the sun, maybe, and then he probably watched the fairy lights come up along the beach. It didn't look as if he'd even brought a pen to write with, and if this was how his and John's partnership worked, perhaps it wasn't surprising that Graham wasn't contributing quite so much anymore.

The room was getting dark. He'd have to turn on a light soon. "Shall we start?" Terry asked.

Graham looked over his shoulder. "Haven't we, then?"

"What do you mean?"

"I thought we'd been doing so for ages, I'm almost bored of it." He turned away again, and it was... it was dreadful hearing him sound so much like John. Bored.

"I don't know how this goes for you typically," Terry said, "but I was under the impression that you actually did something when you and John were locked up together."

"Oh, I've been doing all sorts* of things," Graham said lazily, not looking around. "You just can't hear them. In my brain, don't you know. Terribly difficult to notice, I realize, but I expect you'll get used to it eventually."

"Ass," Terry said, and proceeded to turn on the lamp and ignore him.

   

a train stops at the station. the train doors open and out steps Mr Neutron. he looks like

"Phalanges."

It'd gone midnight twenty minutes past, and Terry was writing ideas on one page, and apology notes on the other. The left-hand side said, Alison, you are without doubt the best thing

"Proximal, intermediate, distal. Metacarpus, metacarpels. Carpel."

Graham's pipe had finally gone out, and as he tamped down more tobacco he said, "Scaphoid, lunate, triquetral... Bugger. Oh, right, pisiform."

It was the first words he'd spoken in hours, and Terry wanted to strangle him. "What?"

Graham shrugged. "I like the sound of them." He glanced up. "They're bones," he added, a Cambridge man magnanimously explaining the world to a sad Oxfordian.*

Terry threw his pen. That made twice in as many days; not up to his old record, but there was hope yet. A black mark scored the appalling wallpaper. "This is ridiculous. How in God's name did the two of you accomplish anything?"

"You mean John and me?" Graham shrugged, and set about trying to relight his pipe. "John would write, and I would wait. Sometimes we'd talk. He'd read aloud whatever he'd written, and we'd argue the hell out of it, and then he'd go back to writing. That's about it, really."

Terry stared.

Graham flicked one hand at him. "Don't look like that. It worked. I would've thought you'd like something that worked."

He did. He liked things that worked. Graham didn't work, he just sat there and muttered about bones and chewed on his pipe and completely ignored Terry.

Terry was used to writing alone, only bouncing ideas off Michael after he'd written up a wodge of stuff and they planned to make an evening of it. It shouldn't bother him as much as it did. But... this wasn't quite alone, was it? For all that Graham was mostly silent, Terry could almost feel him thinking.

An ocean breeze came through the window; it brought the scent of watery things, and pipe smoke.

"Fine," Terry said. He leaned back in his desk chair and kicked the table leg, just once. "What do you want to talk about?"

   

They received a phone call at half-past three in the morning, when Graham had finally left the balcony and was splayed the wrong way round on his bed, and Terry was trying to explain why post-structuralism* wasn't actually annoying.

"All right over there?"

"Eric, you bastard." Graham raised his eyebrows, but Terry shook his head. "I thought you joined the RAF."

"I did. They said I was forty years too late. Slept with Graham yet?"

"Piss off," Terry said. "And no."

"Pity," Eric said blithely, "might be fun. Gotten anything written yet?"

Terry hung up on him.

   

O.S.

Mr Neutron is missing, sir!

"And that's all I have," Terry said, shoving back the notebook and rubbing his face. The sun was coming up.

This was what aging felt like: the back-end of a night that had tasted better five years ago.

Graham said, "You should take a bath -- you've gotten all narrative-y. It's like a disease. Soap helps." Graham, damn him, looked fresh as a daisy, albeit on his fifth pipe. And, too, his hands shook ever so slightly as they gripped the bowl.

All right, then. As suggestions went, it wasn't actually a bad one. "Get us breakfast, would you?" Terry said before he fell into the bathroom's substandard facilities and decided to live there for the rest of eternity.

Forty minutes later eternity gave him pruney skin, and reentering the room revealed no breakfast, a bottle of gin gone half-empty, and Graham's most ghastly smile greeting him from the bed.

"It would be hilarious to call John up, wouldn't it?" Graham said.

   

Terry fell asleep at eight a.m.; he woke again at noon. He threw the gin bottles (two empty, now, was there a supply he hadn't found?) into a passing dustbin in the hall. Graham went missing at two-forty, and returned with another bottle at four-thirty. Terry called Alison at five, and said it might take another day or so to clear up the last of the writing. At seven, they ordered room service, and Terry stuffed another empty under the cart before the server left. They ate calimari, and shouted down for ice cream, and nothing was written at all.

   

"Once you take Augustine into it, it becomes obvious," Graham said. "Sin was a reflection of Lucifer, not a descendant; despite her outward semblance of metaphysical goodness -- Lucifer the Beautiful, you see -- God did not create Sin, and therefore she can be neither perfect nor good nor, on a metaphysical level, beautiful. She's a corrupted form that continues to reflect Lucifer even into his decline into ugliness."

"That doesn't mean that the allegory of Sin and Death was specifically a jab at humanity," Terry argued.

"It does, though, it must. God created Lucifer, Adam, and Eve. Sin comes into being, but since she's just a personification of Lucifer's rebellion, she occupies the same level on the family tree as Lucifer himself, instead of the next level down as 'daughter'. Lucifer and Sin fucked, and created Death. Death was born outside of Heaven; Adam and Eve sinned against God, and their children were subsequently born outside of Paradise. Death and the children of Adam and Eve -- mankind as we know it -- are on the same level of the family tree. We're cousins to an ugly, rapacious brute, and I need another drink."

At that moment, Terry swore he would never argue Milton* with Graham ever again.

It would be very entertaining to watch Michael do so, though.

   

At a quarter past, Terry drank the rest of Graham's mysterious French bottle of something brown, on the theory that maybe this was what John and Graham's genius had been, this getting catastrophically smashed and then spending hours watching horrid television that by all rights ought to be in Polish, but mysteriously wasn't, and then writing whatever came to mind and somehow, stupidly, it would be brilliant.

   



   

Terry fell asleep at some point, and woke again with the dawn. Graham was smoking his pipe, and watching him. Graham looked a little like a hedonistic Christ-figure in the early morning light, the smoke curling up around his head in aureolic glory and nearly making Terry forget just how very much he wanted to throw up everything he'd ever eaten.

He'd fallen asleep at the desk, his head on the notebook. The page on which he'd been lying, on which he clearly remembered writing something excellent, said only:

Terry Jones has come unstuck in time.

Terry made an inquiring noise in Graham's direction, which Graham correctly interpreted. He pointed at the notebook with his pipe and said, "We'd been talking about literature that specifically addresses space and time. You got snippy after I brought up Doctor Who, even though I was ahead anyway after the Fowles and Sterne references. You can only coast so long on Pynchon before you have to prove you've actually read it."1,2,3

Terry wanted to ask whether he'd mentioned any brilliant endings for the Neutron sketch while they'd been arguing, but what came out instead was, "Is it time for breakfast?"

Graham shrugged.

   

Then it was ten o'clock at night. The same day, or perhaps the next. He couldn't remember when he'd last called Alison, and regardless, they'd been ignoring the phone every time it rang on the principle that either Eric or Michael would be on the other end, and they hadn't wanted to talk to either of them.

They were by now also ignoring the post. They'd received a telegram from Terry G. that had taught them the folly of not doing so. (Though Terry found himself slightly in awe of what the other Terry was capable of using only spelled-out punctuation marks and an inventive idea of female anatomy.)*

They had managed to write more, somehow. Graham refused to let him just throw ideas on the page after that "unstuck in time" thing, and instead made him justify every word -- shouting down most of those words as soon as Terry'd uttered them. What it meant was that Terry wanted to strangle Graham slowly with the bed linens, and that the sketch was tighter and stronger and somehow more Terry than he'd ever managed on just one draft. All narrative-y, as Graham had said, and absurd, and having all the location shots Terry liked, and Graham looking heroic, and--

That last one was a bit weird, but--

   

V.O.
But what of Mr Neutron, the most fearfully dangerous man in the world! The man who could destroy entire galaxies with his wrist, the man who could tear fruit machines apart with his eyeballs... He has not been idle!

"Yes? And then what?"

It was an odd hour of the night, uncertain and bleary. Graham was sitting in the doorway to the loo, and instead of answering Terry's question, said, "You and Michael... anything more than just a writing team?"

Graham had been drinking again. Some more. Had he ever stopped? Terry couldn't remember the last time either of them had slept, so who knew. He should care, he knew he should care, but they were so close to being done with this damned sketch that he could almost smell it.

The sketch smelled like tomatoes, bees, the brand of hair pomade favored by Terry's father in 1946, an American, and Graham. Graham smelled like smoke, sea salt, caramel ice cream, terrible thoughts,* and gin. Terry didn't know what he himself smelled like, though it'd been a while since that shower, and there's only so fanciful one can get about one's own noxious death-fumes.

"What d'you mean, me and Michael?" Maybe the sketch could use a bit about smelling things...

Graham looked irritably at his pipe. It needed refilling again. "I mean, you're a team. You went to Oxford together. Michael's quite fit. Need I go on?"

Oh. "Oh," said Terry. "No. I mean... no."

Graham tamped down on the tobacco. Without looking at Terry, he said, "Ever wanted to?"

There was an automatic reaction -- a Christ, no, just because you're a pouf doesn't mean we all are -- but just because something was automatic didn't mean it was right. This was Graham. Graham could be an annoying bastard, but he was also genius on-screen, and something about sitting here "writing" with him actually did get stuff written, and if he was asking, well, by God, he should answer.

Perhaps not truthfully, though.

"Not really," he said. And then, because Graham had asked, and surely that meant he could ask too, he said, "What about you and John?"

Graham threw his pipe at the wall, and left the hotel room for an hour and a half.

   

Everything Terry wrote during that time was absolute shit.

   

Terry woke up from beneath the desk when Graham poked his cheek with the handle of his pipe. "You need a love interest."

Terry blinked up Graham. "I have a wife."

Graham snorted, but sat back and pointed at the desk. Ah, the notebook. "That's what Neutron's missing. A love interest. Strongest man in the world, able to carry own testicles with power of thought alone, he needs a love interest. If you insist on storylines, that's the one you need."

Terry levered himself off the floor. It was high noon outside, and for once there was no breeze. He didn't know what day it was, and some distant part of his brain was becoming concerned.

There was evidence of a maid having been by, except Terry had no idea how he could have slept through such a thing. Graham had ordered an indeterminate meat pie, distinctly un-French and strange in its ugly platter. There was also a huge carafe of coffee, and Terry could not spot any obvious gin bottles.

It was almost like an apology.

"But what sort of woman would suit Mr. Neutron?" Terry asked, in lieu of saying sorry as well.

"Your sort," Graham said. "Blowsy and accented and frighteningly lower-class. You've already made me Neutron; you can be my beautiful child bride."

It did have a certain ring to it.

   

"There should be a sex scene," Graham said.

"No," Terry said.

"Why not?"

He didn't even have to struggle with the answer. "It's not Python," Terry said.

"There could be a kissing scene."

"No, there could not."

"You're as bad as John," Graham said. He stretched out, and put his feet on the balcony railing. He closed his eyes as Terry watched. "You might as well call me Gray and have done with it."

Terry thought about offering his own school name back, but it didn't seem like the right thing.

He thought about a kissing scene. He thought about a sex scene.

"There could be heavy petting," Terry offered. Graham smiled.

   

ANIMATION: the world destroyed and burning

It was the last day, but for a stupid reason, to whit: There was absolutely no alcohol left in the entire room. Between the two of them, they had drunk, pissed, or slept in it all. They'd quit the room that morning, and Graham had quit him, leaving Terry at the train station with a backwards wave as he wandered God knew where. Terry sat now in a lone cabin and tried to reread what they'd written.

The sketch had by this time stretched to the length of half an episode or more, involved the entire team, and somehow they would have to find a dog puppet. Some parts clearly needed Mike's touch. Some parts... needed to be excised before Mike saw them. Particularly the parts involving complicated insults, John's moustache, and Chaucer.

No, those would probably be fine. Some of Graham's marginalia, however, would perhaps be indiscreet.

Leaving aside the headache, the impending marital disaster, the return of the infant daughter in the throws of midnight screaming, the enabled alcoholism, the abysmal food, the weakened social bonds between temperamental coworkers, and the trains running late -- they had actually gotten most of an episode written. And it was good material, meaty stuff that just needed polishing up and...

And an ending.

There wasn't one, at present. He and Graham had already blown up the world. There wasn't much more to be done with that.

The sun was shining in his eyes. The rails stretched flat and long, with trees in eery, aged rows coming closer as the train traveled farther and farther from the hotel room in Biarritz. Biarritz, where there was a woman whose name he hadn't asked, and a beach made of rocks the size of kumquats, and a man he'd known for years who he still didn't seem to understand at all.

"Fuck it," Terry said. "Eric can fill in the rest." He closed the notebook, pulled down the shade, and set about to thinking diligently of his wife and child. The smell of pipe smoke lingered.

END