Rob Turner


The Week of the Winged Helmet

It was the Sunday after Pentecost when Samson tried on the winged Helmet for the first time. And he had been working in the museum for twelve years.

The Helmet looked like a limited-winged-edition of the Sutton Hoo one, famous ever since The War, discovered thanks to the dowsing skills of Mrs. Pretty’s simple nephew. This one, the winged one, was much less celebrated. Deservedly so, thought the capital’s experts. They said it was a fake. “The Celts did not wear winged helmets.” Even when the curators of the Rutland Museum, checking with google, found that a Greek of the immediate B.C.s (Diodorus Siculus the Historicus), had seen a mass of Celts warring with animal motifs on their helmets – it was written – see? – there was no reappraisal. Mm, motifs. But not wings, insisted London, and the matter was soon closed.

Nevertheless, Samson had been keeping an eye on the walled section of the Museum that included the Helmet. Who knows, after all. Maybe London were just trying to lower Rutland’s guard? Eh? Maybe this was an artefact well and truly un-priceable, a sole survivor of a discontinued but enviable model of headgear, once sported by only the tallest, strongest and proudest man-warriors of the whole county?

So, every afternoon, Samson would sit, watching the plywood and glass case as it filled up with unswept flies, answering only direct questions (and even then, with one wary eye kept over the shoulder of his interlocutor, fixed on the supposedly worthless piece of fake bronze)... So he sat. That it took twelve years before Samson had the thought (or the courage?) to try It on is perhaps unsurprising. It was, after all, quite forbidden...

And so, the frisson. The abdominal surge as he slipped the (actually quite light) Helmet over his spherical head, and the reassuring clip as he fastened the buckle under his chin. (The latter was yet another feature that troubled the ‘experts’ in London). At once it was as if, were he married, he had clambered into his wife’s shortest but most sumptuous dress and strode in front of a full-length mirror –

Samson had a rush of ecstatic terror. He had done it, now.

Pretty soon, the nerves overtook him, and Samson pulled it off again. In fact it was much harder to get off than on (but isn’t everything? like, rings and bracelets? and isn’t that how people get their heads trapped in railings?), and it took a bit of wriggling. Once he had managed to remove the thing, he popped it back on the padded stick, and hastened back to his chair. Glancing around, it was clear nobody had seen him. No witnesses. Indeed, no one at all in the Rutland Museum.

Samson went home that night buzzing. Not audibly, but throughout, as if he had been nibbling his way through a jar of Douwe Egberts, and was only now feeling the hit, all at once. How could he have waited so long? This was it, he decided. This was definitely it. Oh, and how had he not thought to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror? He must have looked tremendous: easily seven feet tall, more if you include the wingtips. Ha.

Strangely, it was a few days before Samson tried the Helmet on again, although quite possibly he was scared, or maybe he was just busy. Anyway, it was Tuesday (after Pentecost), when the museum was empty again, and Samson crept to the plywood case, again, and opened the glass front. Today was much sunnier, and the light, glancing from the glass, turned across the room as he opened it, folding the whole space in two like a flipped page. In the glowing space, he plucked it up once more from its stalk and lowered it over his head. It was slightly less – ow – comfortable this time. Two points in particular: two rough patches within the bowl, which he hadn’t noticed before (evidently it was the excitement). But once on, the rush was just as intense. More, perhaps – it seems more focussed, as though he were a connisseur now, a cheese-nerd dipping into a rich and nutty one.

And there he stood, for the second time. This time, though, he remembered. Hurrying from the display room, he made for the bathroom. Illumined, framed in the portrait space of the Rutland Museum Toilet Mirror, he caught his very first glimpse of himself in the Helmet, and grasped that with this on, he was an aspiring deity. Cos this Helmet had wings, yeah?

Not your standard ‘winged heels,’ nothing like Perseus the-Gorgon-Hunter. That one’s fairly simple: winged heels = super speed. But wings, sprouting out of the temples? Surely this has got to signify some kind of unearthly mental aptitude – a velocity of thought, you’d think, not of body. Aspirations towards godliness: to be swept up with the matching flapping foreheads of Mercury, Hermes, and the Etruscan Turms. (Who? he thought.) With wings like these, sprouting out of your head, with these great big feathered things...

But that, in fact, is what was so strange. Here, in the mirror, the wings were no longer anything like as large. They were pigeon-sized before, at least, but now – they were almost visibly shrinking into the bronze replica beneath. Withering into the bowl of the Helmet, like little dying plants.

Anyway, the time passed, and a resolution was reached. There was no earthly way Samson was going to leave this more-precious-than-ever thing in the Rutland Museum overnight. He shuddered at his repeated carelessness over the past dozen years. To think of how easily London could have sent an assailant – why not a laser-beam-ducking black-clad team of assailants? – to make off with this winged trophy. Just think.

So that evening, after cycling safely home again, Samson did his teeth, used his mouthwash, had a poo, and went to remove the Helmet. Arg. It didn’t come off. It’s stuck to my hair, thought Samson, shrugged pointlessly, and then went to bed with it still on. He had not remembered that he was bald.

Samson’s dreams, that night, were very unusual. They started out a bit like a monitor switching on, with a panoramic flickering vision of a horizontal form, floating in the blackness. Propelling himself forward with only the slightest of gestures, like a disabled body in a therapy pool, Samson drifted up toward the form. It was actually a human figure, he observed at once. In fact, once he got closer, he saw that it was a huge Michael Jackson. The body (it seemed) was not alive, but neither was it really dead per se. Instead it seemed looming at the point of resurrection, like a face (photographed) caught at the exact instant prior to sneezing. The head, blank, looked nothing like the singer, and the body, too, was without blemish or gender. But, somehow, Samson knew it was him. Who else could it be? He smiled beatifically, held his breath, and with a flap of his temple-wings he floated on past this enormous and motionless androgyne, and out into the void.

In this yawning space, at first, all seemed empty, but gradually, less so: soon Samson saw a babbling torrent of images: advertisements, arrest warrants, licenses, holiday mishaps, manuscripts, more advertisements, cats doing things, detailed blueprints for footwear (infinitely comfortable, but as yet apparently uninvented), and through it all, glimpses of a nudity that passeth understanding, a continuous stream of flesh. The body of Michael Jackson was no longer really conceivable as a discrete ‘unit’, isolated from all of these... More, it was one of a million possible sources, or entrances...

Shortly after this, on the first Friday after Pentecost, Samson awoke from almost two day’s uninterrupted sleep. But the waking did not end it.

All around the room, over every surface, trotted things that reminded him of the vision. Not the specific image of Michael Jackson (that was just a dream, after all), but the ensuing flood of images. All the rest. And these things were all growing, sprouting out of the corners of the room like a whole horde of oak trees coming out of a tiny acorn.

And wasn’t that just it?? Any acorn (wherever it was), contained an oak tree! The whole tree had, Samson supposed, been all kind of wrapped up inside there, waiting to be unfolded (“just add water”...). But, if that was already tangled up in the acorn, all of that information... if all of that was stored in it, just as if the acorn were a little wooden USB pen...


this whole blossoming space around him was by no means of ‘uniform’ density... (This was quite an unwonted train of thought for Samson.) Like a kind of vegetable binary, there were reams of data, packed into some corners of the universe more tightly than others.

And as he looked around his room, Samson realised that this was just what he was seeing. As if he were wearing the red-green spectacles fixed to the side of a cereal box, he could see certain areas of the room ballooning out, pregnant with hidden reservoirs of data, whilst others – the empty spaces, the blank books, the inert matter and basic foodstuffs – were shrinking, narrowing as if they were being drawn further and further from the onlooker. Grey. Soon they became lost in the distance, beyond which (half-visible), lurked the terrible forms of the old gods, glimpsed for just an instant as Themselves.

Staggering from his house, Samson made it out onto the street and gaping saw the massed brains of a fleet of insects swelling into the sky. He saw a couple of middle-aged human beings standing oblivious to the enormous glowing oak trees unfolding from their heads, curling up above the street lamps. And then, as all knowledge, as all the sentient content of the world became all-at-once so sickeningly visible to Samson, he reached up to feel at the top of his Helmet. With an audible shriek he realised that the wings were no longer extending out of the bronze at all! Trying vainly with quite plump hands to wrench it off his head, he at last grasped (far too late), where those metallic wings had gone.

These were mental wings – these Hermes aping wings of god-knowledge, they had no sensible need to flap in the open air. No. They were burrowing down into the head, deep inside the Helmet. The two lengths of feathered bronze were, even now, reaching into the very brainpan, rooting themselves in his skull, and fixing themselves into the electrical matter that was being so unbearably enhanced by them.

Bellowing, and dancing around like a drunk madman, the Helmeted Samson careered into the traffic, which swerved, stopped and all kind of gathered itself into a rosetta around the nude figure. A hundred faces gawped out.

“I see!” he giggled. “Everything!”

And with that, as the two wingtips met, his spinal cord was snipped.