The great frustration began on May 19th, 2020, at 5.24 in the morning – Greenwich Mean Time.
Here in Britain, few noticed the change. Most were asleep and those few that experienced it chalked the matter up to other factors: tiredness, alcohol, sleep deprivation, and so on.
However the world over, people were experiencing the same phenomenon. Slowly but surely the reports began to snowball. Hashtags trended on twitter. Incredulous news sites took up the wild claims behind a veil of cynicism. Journalists, presenters, and bloggers all decided to tackle the subject head-on and explore the truth of the matter; their initial titillation giving way unanimously to the same red-faced conclusion. Mad as it all sounded, the reports appeared to be true. Sex was somehow broken – it simply no longer worked.
Channel 4 had no other choice that day but to explore an issue that was sorely unavoidable. A beautiful couple – Instagram favourites and “couple goal” meme generators – sat fighting back nervous laughter as they told John Snow what was happening to them.
“Well you see, I can still get it like… you know…” started the man, “I mean it plays ball to a point. But it just don’t feel like it used to.”
“My body just don’t like, respond either” the girl added.
“So you are able to…” John Snow had the look of a man who would rather be in the thick of a war zone right now. “Instigate penetrative intercourse?”
“Yeah, but it’s not the same” the girl blushed a little.
“Just kind of like, hurts a bit. Then I lose it” added the man.
“And have you tried other… other means and methods of stimulation?” asked Snow, his face matching the bright pink of his socks.
From his sofa in Portobello, Edinburgh, Ross watched the couple explaining the ineffectiveness of oral sex and masturbation, he learned that lockjaw and wrist pain were more likely consequences than any type of pleasure. His curiosity took him online as he searched for answers: yes, it was affecting homosexuals too. No, anal sex was not the answer.
He read one or two theories – water pollutants and genetically modified crops were proposed causes – and yet the sheer universality of the phenomenon made these answers unsatisfactory. It seemed there wasn’t one place on Earth where people hadn’t changed.
Ross took his laptop to his bedroom. He loaded up a private browsing screen and investigated the matter himself. He started normally, but felt nothing. After five minutes, his good arm tired. A further three did for his left arm too. The moment he stopped, he was sore and flaccid. He closed the private browser, turned out the light, and lay on his bed in dejected silence.
Those industries that once depended upon sex were critically stymied. Pornographers working during those months tended to focus their attention on more practical concerns: detailed instructions regarding the process of fridge-fixing, reviews of pizza delivery services, and informative question-and-answer sessions between university professors and their sexier students. Visitors who had booked holidays to Thailand found themselves forced to engage with the ancient and spiritual cultures of south-east Asia, left admiring the landscape and architecture of the country. It was all terribly dull.
Nobody was happy. Nobody except perhaps the incels, who hosted big victory parades across the western world. Some of them claimed prophetic credit for the Great Frustration, as if their thoughts, words, and actions had somehow brought it about. However, people were generally caught up in their own problems, and no one truly cared about the incels or anything they had to say. And so it came to be that these men were largely left to talk exclusively to each other, in their victory just as in their failures.
It did not take long for things to turn ugly.
Within a week the first riots were reported. Rio de Janeiro, Naples, and Miami all saw violence erupt in public squares and piazzas. Shops were smashed, goods taken and broken into smithereens on hundreds of Instagram live streams. Police forces and the military were called in at first, but soon it became apparent that groups of pent–up men armed with batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets were, shall we say, unconducive to the situation. After a spree of beatings and hospitalised citizens, the initial calls for global martial law seemed rash. Instead armies and police forces found themselves disarmed and disbanded for the greater good.
Within a month capitalism as we knew it had ceased to function. Most people the world over simply refused to go to work. They cited depression and a profound lack of motivation to do anything really anymore. Grocery shops and restaurants saw their stock consumed ravenously by endemic comfort-eating. The people of 2020 were collectively more obese, spottier-skinned, and greasy-haired. They dressed down into the baggiest and most comfortable clothing and sloped around watching the floor and grunting monosyllabically at one another, reminiscing about the good times.
Ross watched events unfold with grim fascination. He was living through history, he knew that much at least. His laptop streamed news updates and phone footage from around the world, his phone taking him down perpetual rabbit holes of theory after theory.
He himself did not miss sex all that much. It was a nice idea, like world peace, and for him at least every bit as unobtainable. He was twenty eight now. He had one girlfriend in his life. A three year posting between twenty three and twenty six. She had left him, citing his lack of ambition and drive. Beyond that, he had slept with five women in the course of his lifetime, and that had been alright he supposed. Even pornography bored him these days. Those baroque and vulgar depictions of total sex in all its screaming and squirting melodrama did little more than gross him out in his older age.
We catch up with Ross on the afternoon of July 29. He has woken up around 11.30 that morning, and done nothing but look at his laptop for an hour straight. There has been another riot, this time in London. The third this month. The anger is all-pervasive.
Ross walks to the kitchen. His cups and glasses are dirty beyond use. He drinks from the tap. In the cupboard he has several packets of dried noodles. His fingers show his deliberation, twitching at the options, before they settle on prawn flavour. Ross switches his kettle on, washes a bowl and a fork, and awaits the boil by staring near-thoughtless out onto the sea. Ross pushes his hand down the back of his jogging bottoms and scratches. He hears the kettle click. He yawns theatrically, stretching his arms out to the sky, he is almost shouting his yawn is so loud.
Having accomplished all he intends to do that morning, he turns to the kettle. There is a man standing there in his kitchen, or possibly a woman. Ross yelps and jumps physically backwards.
“Do not be alarmed” the intruder says, in a serene and ethereal voice.
“The fuck are you pal?” Ross shoots back.
“Am I speaking with the being known as Ross Pottage?”
“Aye, an this is ma flat an aw.”
“Ross Pottage, do not be alarmed. I have been sent to you with a message of hope…”
Normally a stranger breaking into a flat would be deeply troubling, and should expect a violent dialogue about why they should immediately leave. Yet this man-woman was different. Its bearing seemed so aloof, so smug, that it was clear that it had little interest in stealing from Ross, or disposing him of his prawn noodle lunch. It stood at around six foot and eight. We, reader, might have deemed it androgynous, Ross thought the words, Jessie instead. It was wearing a white tunic, its golden hair curled into fine ringlets. Ross did not know this point of reference, but for you, I will say it looks strikingly like Michelangelo’s David, though stripped of muscular definition. Ross thought it looked like a right baw–bag. Both assessments are fundamentally correct.
“…a message of hope directly from that which you call God.”
“Ah pal, I’m no wit you call a believer, ya ken?”
“God does not depend upon your faith. The matter of your personal belief is of no consequence to the divinity. God asks only that you open your ears, your mind, and your heart.”
Ross chuckled to himself. The night before he had smoked a powerful joint, the paper laced with oils. Clearly it had fucked his mind right up. He ignores the man–woman, rips open his packet of noodles and reaches for the kettle.
“Ross Pottage, put down thy noodles and receive the word of God!” the man–woman looms even larger as it raises its voice.
“Aye Davey, ya radj cunt. Ya mixed the oil up for fuckin’ acid or some jakey shit. When I see ya, ah’m…”
“SILENCE!” the man–woman turns to a column of pure white fire stretching from floor to ceiling. “On your knees before a messenger of God!”
Ross finds himself cowed and kneeling.
“For too long humanity has flaunted its excesses.” The fire re–humanises, resuming the shape of the man–woman. “For too long the great miracle of life has been treated cheaply, as violence, as a joke. You spill your seed into old socks and…”
“Ah use tissues mah self” Ross interjects, “or have a wee shower right then like.”
“God has rescinded the gift of love among God’s children. It will not be given back without a sacrifice. You, Ross Pottage, you have been called upon. You must show God that humanity is still capable of showing the power of love over fear.”
“God welcomes you to eternity. There you will experience bliss and joy the likes of which you cannot know here on this imperfect rock. In doing so you will restore love to your kind.”
Ross pauses for a moment before nodding.
“Aye man. Fine. Lemme just text ma maw and we can go.”
“We? My path is easy. Yours requires sacrifice. To free God’s children from that which plagues them you, you must kill yourself Ross.”
“That disnae sound right man, aye, you sure?”
The man–woman visibly despairs.
“Have they stopped teaching history in those things you call schools? Abraham, Noah, Job… This is kind of God’s thing. True, we hadn’t really done anything like this for a while at least by your understanding of time, but for us, all time is one moment experiencing itself simultaneously…”
Clearly, it has lost Ross.
“Just kill yourself Ross. That’s the deal. You’ll get fast–tracked into heaven, the rest of humanity can continue expressing love in that disgusting, sordid physical manner you all insist upon. There’s no time-limit. Think about it. But I must go now.”
“Why me?” Ross asks the fading figure. “I don’t even get much man ya ken? Should be a fuckin porn star right? Fair’s fair.”
“That’s not really our style” the dwindling voice replies, “we never torture the happy or the powerful. Read the bible. We arbitrarily take some poor, humble working man, and really just fuck their life up.”
The voice vanishes. Ross is alone in the kitchen. He stands for nearly five minutes before he decides he will just stay silent about this. He re–boils the kettle and makes noodles.
Whisper it, but God is not a great communicator. Some might say, indirect. Others, less generously–inclined, might say passive–aggressive. As Ross’s silence stretched from weeks to months, God played motivator, taking the form of seven plagues designed to punish man with its worst behaviour and ideas.
First God took away all the alcohol; then it rained marmite around the world; then it played Agadoo for forty days and forty nights; then it chewed its food loudly over the atmosphere, whistling through teeth and nostrils; it killed all Wi-Fi; and replaced all TV and streaming service content with footage of golf; finally, God murdered some north African children, which seemed if not explicitly racist, then at the very least a tiny bit partisan.
Still Ross would not admit his summons.
God’s messenger had to retake the planet’s surface, taking to TV and radio, live–streaming across Instagram everywhere.
“People of Earth” it declared. “I speak for your creator. You offend God with your tacky innuendos, your cheap humour, your willy–shaped pasta, and the word “gash” – all profoundly depressing. We have taken that which you love most from you. We have punished you in a sequence of ironic ways. We demand self–sacrifice. We demand the life of Ross Pottage.”
The message was repeated over and over, interspersed with photographs of Ross, and his home address. Ross’ phone began ringing. His mother. His ex. His best friend Sarah. He picked it up for Sarah and begged her to come to his. Within five minutes, a crowd was forming outside his flat. His mother text him. Ross please phone back. The crowd was getting larger. He phoned his mother back. Chiefly, her tone was one of blame. Somehow she always knew something like this would happen.
Ross could see his friend Sarah pushing through the crowd to meet him. For a brief moment, he was happy. That was until he realised that the crowd were taking it the wrong way – interpreting her movements as a more sinister form of affirmative action. To Sarah’s horror, she found herself leading a lynch mob of more than a hundred of the frustrated, straight towards the door of Ross. It did not last long. They streamed up his staircase braying and shouting for blood and sex. Unwilling to die a coward and unable to run anyway, Ross stepped out onto the hallway to receive his martyrdom.
The crowd carried him out onto the street, pulling and punching at him in the name of love. They debated how best to carry out the sentence. They could drown Ross in the North Sea, suffocate him with a jumper, or just kick him to death right then and there. Sarah’s voice broke through the collective, screaming for attention. She reminded them that God demanded self–sacrifice, she played back the demands of God’s messenger on her phone until the crowd slowly relented. As Ross pulled himself back to his feet they asked of him – how was he going to do it? Silently Sarah put one arm around him and helped him hobble back toward his flat.
Portobello was unused to being the centre of the world’s attention, yet more and more people arrived each day. Across the high street, the beach, all the way back towards town centre, tens of thousands camped out singing hymns, raising placards.
Ross was still recovering from the lynching, wondering if these people and their gentiles were really worth dying for. Sarah sat by him, keeping watch of the window. She announced that Ross’s mother was outside the flat asking permission to enter. Ross shrugged indifferently. With no other ideas presenting themselves, Sarah collected his mother and brought her inside.
She stood over Ross, and stroked her son’s face.
“Mae wee boy, yer heid must be mince.”
“Aye Maw. Ah dinnae ken what tae do.”
“They’ve built a wee gallows on the beach, aye, and a wee pyre too if you prefer that way. Or they say they can help give yer the injection outside. Ah’d go for the injection maeself.”
“Jist haud on Maw – who says ah’m gonnae dae it?”
“Course yer gonnae dae it! Son, it’s just your life. It disnae matter. Yer been a lazy wee ned yer whole life. Time tae take some responsibility, ya ken?” She offered a hand to raise Ross to his feet. Sarah began to protest, but Ross shook his head.
“Sarah man. Ah love you. But she’s right. This is it. No other way, ken?”
They walked out to the cheers and songs of the crowd. Ross raised his arms Christ–like and declared himself ready to shoulder the sins of this earth through means of lethal injection. A team of doctors in the crowd raced forwards, a little too eagerly to be described as anything like graciously, and sat him down. They began to attach the necessary equipment for Ross to self–administer the needle. He felt tears forming. Sarah sat by him once more, holding him tight.
“Don’t worry pal. Ah’ve read the bible a wee bit. Isaac and Abraham – God doesnae want you to kill yerself, just show Him that you would like.”
Ross nodded, said his goodbyes, and closed his eyes as he pushed the needle down.
The man–woman was waiting above him, beaming with pride. Ross floated painlessly and serenely upwards.
“Congratulations Ross Pottage. You are now among the most worthy of your kind; albeit with a little cajoling. You are officially a saint. A being capable of loving others more than they love themselves. A welcome resident of God’s eternal paradise.”
“Aye man. This isnae so bad anyway ya ken? Shoulda had a piece sooner like.”
“Certainly,” replied the man–woman as he took Ross’s soul by the hand. “Just, well, don’t look back as they say.”
Never one to listen to advice, Ross looked down immediately. He saw Sarah and his mother weeping as his body convulsed in agonised death throes as thousands of people around them began the world’s largest and loudest orgy.
Onwards towards the light.
Jake Kendall is currently studying his Creative Writing MSc at the University of Edinburgh. He self promotes and screams into the void through @jakendallox