Category Archives: Flash Shorts

Flash fiction and short stories

Dream Machine

I walked along a string, high above the savannah, paused to dance a jig, and ran for the knots at the end. A pair of nodding dogs gave me a steadying hand before I poured another champagne for the lifeguard polishing my toenails.

Increase realism index to point-eight-five.

The cobbler pushed the offered coffee aside and polished my toenails some more.

“Can’t drink on the job, mate,” he said. “Now hold still while I… damn. Sorry, mate, just cut your toe off. That’s gonna leave a mark.”

“Well glue it back on.” I sipped his coffee, but the bubbles had gone flat. “Other way up. No, come on, seriously, other way up.”

“Who’s the cobbler here, mate?”

“But the nails go on top.”

Reduce frustration coefficient to six-point-two.

“There you go, mate, just don’t wriggle them until the glue sets.” The cobbler put down his glue and tested the iron. “I’ll do the creases on your knees next, right?”

I hadn’t noticed the creases, a thick, crumpled line across both knees. “Does it have to be done?”

“Look, they bend like this along the line.” He pulled out a pencil from his ear, marked the line with an arrow, and folded my knee forwards. “And like this.” All the way backwards. “And if I keep doing it they’re going to tear along the creases and then… oops, sorry, mate. You just hold still and I’ll get some tape. You just hold your leg.”

He handed me the lower half of my leg. I could see all the clockwork inside my knee, and a pair of hamsters working hard with hand-cranks to keep everything turning. They both fell out when I held my leg upside-down by the ankle.

“Other way up,” the mechanic shouted. “Don’t let the cogs drop out.”

A rain of tiny gear wheels tumbled out and the hamsters started juggling with them.

Increase realism index to point-eight-seven.

The carpenter swept up my hamsters and dropped them in a bin. “Don’t need those, sir. Modern legs are entirely wooden. Let’s just draw a line under that.” He marked where my knee had to go with his pencil. “That looks straight. You don’t want to be walking funny. Do you prefer nails or screws? I can do wooden pegs if you prefer. Peg-legs are all the range.”

Who turned on that experimental sarcasm injector? Someone shut down those spontaneous puns.

“I’ll go with the peg and the eye-patch,” I decided. “Pieces-of-freight, pieces-of-freight. Just box me up and send me out.”

Warning, paronomasia surge detected. Boost logical consistency to point-nine.

“Here you go, sir, I’ll just screw your leg on. Couple of turns should do it. One, two…”

“Toes to the front,” I told him. “To the front.”

“Stop shaking your head, sir, it’s starting to come loose. I can’t put heads back on. Never learned how. And it always leaves a glue-line.”

“No, no, no…”

Emergency stop. Isolate short-term memory.

I reached up to make sure my head was still there, catching my knuckles on the rim of the cerebral influencer.

“Ow.” I opened my eyes as the platform eased out and checked my head again. The dream-machine was humming quietly to itself and Professor Boojum… no, Professor Bodkin hurried in from the separate control room.

“Are you all right? That got a bit out of control.”

“Yeah. Fine. Just a bit…” I sat up and pulled my shoes off. “That’s good. That’s… does that look like a line? On my toe?”

“Nothing there,” the professor said.

“But I can see it. It’s like someone cut my toe off and glued it… Am I still dreaming?”

The dream-machine hummed, not menacing, but perhaps contented. A happy purr. I’ve got you, and you’re all mine.

“You’re awake. There’s nothing to worry about.”

I rolled my trouser leg up and there was a crease-line across my knee, and something I initially mistook as a very large mole.

“Is that a knot?” I peered more closely. “Or a nail head?”

“There’s nothing there.”

I sat on the edge of the platform and swung my leg backwards and forwards a few times, but there was no sign of my knee tearing along the crease. The hamsters squeaked softly.

“Professor, I’ve got scars. Are they all in my head?”

“There’s nothing physically wrong,” he assured me. “It sounds like a few residual memories from the dream have made it into your long-term memory, but that will fade.”

I rubbed the crease across my knee and the hamsters wriggled under the skin.

“It will definitely fade?”

“Trust me, Rachael. It’s just like any other dream. You remember fragments.”

“But I’m Anthony, Professor.”

Professor Boojum frowned. “No, Anthony was in here this morning.”

I rubbed the crease on my knee again and the dream-machine hummed contentedly.

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Scar, and a very strange dream.

Images from Pixabay.com

Tender Mercy

We’ve been keeping a few chickens for some years now, but last week I discovered one of them is masterminding a plan for world domination. Anyone who knows chickens understands that they are destined to rule the world, it’s just they’re not big enough. You only have to see one pounce on a careless mouse in the yard, stun it with a savage peck and swallow it whole, to realise that there is no mercy there at all. When a hen pecks, it hurts – I’ve still got a tender bruise on my thumb from one yesterday. The best anyone can hope for that mouse is that was at least unconscious when it went nose-first down a chicken’s throat.

We only have five hens, and a pair of ducks that I never really wanted in the first place, but my eldest insisted. The hens are white, except for Ace of Clubs, who has this black blob on her back, between her wings. Mostly we just call her Ace, and she spends her life pecking around the yard and plotting how to get inside the netting that protects my little vegetable patch. Before last week I didn’t worry about anything more serious than defending my tender shoots.

Last Tuesday, just after breakfast, Ace slipped out of the yard and headed into the centre of town, which I thought was odd and so I followed her. It’s a small place, and we live near the edge, so you have to ask yourself, why would a chicken bother with the mile or so walk to the shops? It’s not like feathers or chicken-poop are legal tender.

She spotted me following and flew up on to a low branch of a ragged sycamore.

Who? Me? Heading into town? No, just gonna snooze here. In the sun. Maybe count the buses.

There’s only four a day of those, so probably even Ace can manage it.

I went to work, but used my lunch break to check on Ace, who was still perched in that sycamore. When I was done at the end of the day, and scattered corn in the yard, she bustled back to peck with others, but definitely giving me the eye.

See, good bit of tree-sitting. Very fine. I’ll do something different tomorrow.

On Wednesday morning, I went to work as usual, and then doubled-back. I parked well down the road and waited, and sure enough, Ace marched past with a very determined stride, and headed into the little 70s housing development a quarter of a mile from our house.

I followed carefully, and saw her peck on the door of number nine, Piccolo Drive. A young woman opened the door and Ace went in, which for anyone who knows chickens it’s perfectly normal. One of our previous hens used to nip two doors along and tap on the window, persuading our tender-hearted neighbour to put half a biscuit out for her.

Even so, I was suspicious and moved closer. Fortunately, the home owner was one of those corporate event wait staff, you know, white blouse, black skirt, and easy to spot through a lounge window. Along with five other, apparently identical corporate event wait staff.

Anyone who knows corporate wait staff could tell you whether or not it’s weird. I know it’s definitely strange when all six waitress clones sit and pay attention to a small white hen.

That’s when I knew that Ace was planning world domination. I didn’t know exactly how, but I am sure a chicken mastermind can achieve anything it wants, one corporate event at a time, one insidious contract tender after another.

Once I thought about it, the plan was obvious genius. A team of zombie waitress clones influencing business leaders, one at a time. I’m sure someone who really knows wine and canapés can tell you how it’s done.

Now there’s no way I can allow Ace to achieve world domination, but then I can’t kill and eat her either.

Actually, I can, but that’s not an easy option to sell to the kids.

The next day, I shut Ace in the coop and went to watch the zombie waitresses at number nine. They were obviously confused by the loss of their leader, and I saw them pacing in what I can only call an agitated way. Finally, they all emerged, all identical, and drove away in completely different cars, which might have been weird, or maybe normal. I’m sure someone who really knows zombie waitresses could tell.

The next day, my youngest accidentally let Ace out and she was off to number nine before I knew what had happened. I didn’t bother to follow because I knew she would just hop up into a tree and pretend that nothing was happening. So I told my youngest not to let her out again, because Ace was sick. That was a stroke of genius, because if she was sick, she could suddenly die, and that was the end of her plot for world domination,

I watched Ace very carefully on Saturday, and she was obviously watching me in return. In fact, I realised that I had been rumbled, and the next time she got the chance to give orders to her zombie waitresses, I was a dead man. Probably choked on a cocktail stick and buried under a pile of disposable plates.

We had Ace for dinner on Sunday. The kids were upset but I promised them that she was really ill, and it was a quick death, and she really would want us to enjoy a chicken dinner. We cooked her long and slow, and even the kids stopped crying once they tasted the amazingly tender meat.

On Monday morning, one of the ducks gave me a funny look. When we got her I was going to call her Rubber, but my eldest insisted on Mabel. The other one is called Beaky and, as anyone who knows ducks will tell you, is obviously as dumb as a peanut, but Mabel has that spark of malign intelligence in her eyes.

At that moment, I realised that I had been quite wrong about Ace, who didn’t have the brains for the whole zombie waitress scheme. This was all Mabel’s doing, the only real contender for criminal mastermind, using Ace as a patsy so that if it all fell apart we would have chicken dinner, not duck a la foiled plot.

I had no choice. I had to warn the family and deal with Mabel, but it turns out that they were all involved with the world domination scheme. I did try to tell them that there would be no place for them alongside the ruling duck, but they absolutely refused to believe me and, well, that’s why I’m here.

I need help. Serious help. It’s not just the ducks, you see? The turkeys are behind it all, not only seeking world domination but also outlawing Christmas. I know, because a sparrow whispered it in my ear. At least, I think it was a sparrow. Certainly a little birdie told me.

Just one thing I’d like to ask, Doctor. Do you keep any sort of poultry? Or budgies? Have you recently fed pigeons in the park? Do you, or any of your family, have contact with parakeets? Or have ostrich feathers in the house?

Please sit down. This is important.

Could you loosen these handcuffs? My wrists are getting tender.

# # #

This is a work of fiction.
Yes, we keep chickens, but none of them is called Ace and the nearest corporate event waitress lives at least three miles from here, which is further than even the most determined chicken is prepared to walk in pursuit of world domination.

This story was inspired by the #BlogBattle prompt of Tender, and a very strange dream.

Images from Pixabay.com

Illegal Parking

While strolling through the park one day…

Some days I just can’t help singing that one. I came across it when I was first learning the language on this world and it was just so fitting. And now that I live in something almost like a park, that song is just there, in my head, refusing to go away.

I was taken by surprise, by a pair of roguish eyes…

Except I was waiting for them, and there were four pairs of eyes, a group of the local militia or some such, there to tell me again that I was trespassing at Pencarrick Manor. I already knew that. I am a trespasser and squatter, but since the rightful owners of Pencarrick Manor have been off sunning themselves for years, no-one much cared.

The militia hammered on the door and I opened it, because no matter what world I am on, and no matter whose empire, I still remember my manners. Now, if the warlord Arakaro had manners I wouldn’t have fled to this forgotten world in the first place.

“Mr Berto?”

“Aye.”

“I am Mister Green, a High Court enforcement officer.”

He held up identification, as do most who come to see me. It’s a fascinating innovation, one that Arakaro’s men should adopt along with the courtesy, but I couldn’t imagine Arakaro paying artists to produce so many tiny portraits. The picture was not an unreasonable likeness, although as with so many of these identifications, Mister Green was clearly in a state of mortal torment when it was painted.

“Mister Green, sure.” I had to trust his word. I can speak some of their language, but not read it. “While strolling through the park one day…”

That song. It just won’t let me alone.

“Pardon?”

“Sorry, Mister Green. Just a passing… Never mind. What do you want?”

As always, he wanted me to leave. I complied, of course, and stood to one side for them to work on the door and make the property secure. Then they turned their attention to the gardens.

“Are these your elephants, Mister Berto?”

While strolling through the park one day…

“Pardon? It’s not a park… OK, it’s a deer park but…”

“Sorry, Mister Green. It’s just a song. I didn’t know it was a deer park. If I had known that the deer were also granted sanctuary here I would not have eaten any of them.”

“Eaten…” He shook his head wearily. “About the elephants…”

“Yes, they are my elephants.”

“They’ve got to go, mate. All of them.” Mister Green waved at my elephants, and one of his comrades walked over and kicked Kam Dakka, the nearest one. “You made a hell of mess of the lawn bringing them in. No, they have to go. And the rightful owners will want compensation for the damage. If you can’t arrange to move them yourself, we will bring in our own contractors, but we can’t be held liable for any damage…”

“Bill!” The kicker was scratching at Kam Dakka’s leg. “It’s granite. Gonna be a right devil to shift these. Must weigh five… ten tons.”

“This is not a kiddies’ safari park, Mister Berto. You really need to move them,” Mister Green told me. “If we have to do it, the costs will be added to the judgement against you, which currently stands at… wow! That’s a lot of money you owe, Mister Berto.”

I shrugged. “I have no money.” Just elephants. “I will go now. While strolling through the park one day…

I walked away. Mister Green shouted after me, “The road is that way,” but I ignored him, went round the back of the house and walked down to the stream. I have a door down there, hidden in a clump of trees. It brings me out inside the house. Fortunately, the militia know nothing of my doors or the way between worlds.

While strolling through the park one day…”

I watched as Mister Green and his militia searched for me. Once they had gone, I checked that they had not damaged my main door, because I thought I felt it shift. In the early days of my tenure, the soldiers would come, ask me to leave, and seal the doors, but once I was back inside, it was easy to open them again. In recent years, they have changed the locks, and now it requires a token they call a key to release them from the inside. I have simply created one of my doors either side of the timber door at the back of the house so that I may step in and out easily. So, I checked, but whatever it was I felt, there was no damage.

Finally, I went out and checked my elephants. It took time to visit each and release them. Kam Dakka assured me that her leg was fine, but I checked, because that granite transformation is complex, imperfect, and only just enough to confuse hunters.

The matriarch, Poh Mara, thanked me and led the herd through the opening I had long-since made to a farm some miles away. They cultivate a grass native to the lands from where I rescued Poh Mara and her kin. The elephants have a phrase for it – the taste of home. They are careful not to eat too much for fear of arousing the anger of the farmers.

In a few more years I will be able to amass the power to open a proper distant doorway and take the elephants somewhere better. I have read of a far-off land called America with great grasslands where they do not hunt elephants.

That song was in my head again. “While strolling through the park one day…”

Poh Mara rested the tip of her trunk on my shoulder for a moment. Warlords and soldiers are a menace, but I will keep my elephants safe, as I promised them, strolling in parks until I can reach a proper home.

# # #

I’ll just take a moment to talk about the elephant in the story…

I wrote a first draft of elephants ages ago, after a very strange dream, but then the January #Blogbattle prompt of Park popped up. I couldn’t get an old, old song out of my head, and it just belonged with my elephants.

One day, maybe, I will write the whole of the elephant novel.

Images from pixabay.com

Toe-to-Toe

My feet started to itch and I blamed the wet weather. The flooding has been at least ankle-deep for the last few weeks, only easing in the last few days, so boots are essential just to step out of the house. I’m sure that any day now, I’ll need them inside the house as well. When the itch started I immediately thought of trench foot, but that’s probably because our Ted is learning about the first world war at school.

I went to my GP because my toes were red and sore. At least the surgery is on slightly higher ground, above the flood levels.

“I think what you have is most probably a fungal infection,” she said, writing a prescription.

“So, not trench foot.”

“No. Not at all. But come back if it gets worse.”

Every time I see my GP she says that – come back if it gets worse. I never do, because it never does, except this time. I applied the ointment and my toes got worse, a deepening red and maddening itch. I would have given it a day or two, but then my eldest sat at the kitchen table and presented his right foot just when Margi was getting ready to lay out supper.

“Dad. Think I got athletes toe or something.”

I took a look and saw the same red mess as my own toes.

Margi looked.

“Get your feet on the floor where they belong.” Margi set out the plates. “I’ll take you to the GP in the morning.”

Translation. Dad will take you to the GP in the morning. It was a good thing, though, the way my own feet were getting worse.

“I could still be a fungal infection,” the GP told me with all the reassurance of a politician denying a scandal. “But it’s seriously infectious and we are seeing more cases. I am going to prescribe a stronger anti-fungal treatment. Nip it in the bud.”

Honestly, the new ointment stings a bit, but I toughed it out for Ted’s sake.

“You know it’s working when it stings,” I told him and got a derisive grunt in reply.

I dropped him off at the top of the hill to walk down to school because I don’t drive a Chelsea tractor that can handle water that comes part way up my wheel arches. Then I went home to find a different pair of shoes because my feet were being crushed in my wellies.

That was when I rang my boss to say I was taking the day off. My feet were puffed up, my toes so swollen they were no more than a big, continuous ripply blob. I put more of the ointment on, which stung like crazy, and Googled for what to do. The only answer that made sense was to elevate them. I lay on the floor with a couple of cushions to hold my ankles up.

It’s really hard to watch the TV like that.

I had to crawl to the kitchen to get lunch because it was just too painful to put any weight on my feet, which were both the size and shape of a melon. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse my feet literally went pop. I felt a pain like the day I dropped a concrete block on myself and heard a wet snap like an elastic band.

It’s best not to look, not straight away. When something that bad happens, give it a moment or two to settle, let the pain go down. The moment you look, it’s real.

I looked.

My feet were still there.

When I say feet, I mean something more like a duck. The swelling wasn’t gone, just spread sideways. I could see the bones splayed wide, and scaly mottled skin stretched between them. My toes were no more than stubs.

I think I may have screamed. There was certainly a lot of noise, and then I vomited. There is a gap in my memory after that. Perhaps there was more screaming. I’m really not sure. In the end I crawled to the kitchen to get a bucket and sponge to wipe the mess off the carpet.

I had to stand to reach the tap, putting as little weight on my feet as possible, but surprisingly there was almost no pain. Cautiously, I stood properly, filled the bucket and walked back to the lounge.

Or waddled. My feet were too wide to walk comfortably.

Once I had cleaned up, I phoned the GP, but the receptionist said she had been taken ill. I thought about calling for an ambulance, but duck feet didn’t seem like an emergency. I decided to drive to the nearest hospital instead, but quickly discovered that the pedals in the car were mean for a human foot.

Ted came home a bit after four. I was calmer about my feet and showed him what had happened.

“Wow. Greg was right. Duck-foot virus.”

Greg is Ted’s best mate. He’s also trouble and a bit wild where my boy is steady. If Ted influences Greg then I bet they will grow up to be best mates, down the pub for a beer, taking their kids out to the park and all that. If Greg influences Ted, I expect they’ll both end up in prison.

“Duck-foot. Right.” I could hear Greg’s troubling influence. “Just so long as I don’t start quacking.”

Naturally, Ted got his phone out, took a photo and set it to Greg, quacking and giggling alternately. Greg answered almost immediately, and that wiped the grin off my lad’s face.

“Greg’s got it bad,” he said and showed me his phone.

“That’s duck-foot alright,” I agreed. I would definitely be screaming if my feet turned into a plaited mess of stretched out toes all merged into one. “I reckon I’m going to catch the bus. Get myself to hospital. You stop here until Mum gets home.”

Ted nodded. “Right, Dad. Right.”

I rolled my trousers up to keep them dry and stepped outside. Water lapped up over my toes, but my feet felt fine. I walked with a bit of a shuffle because those duck feet were meant to have legs further apart, but apart from that it was fine.

Then I stumbled, half way down the garden path. It was nothing serious, and I managed to not fall, just took a couple of clumsy steps on to the lawn.

Just a matter of practice, I told myself. Just got to take a moment.

I tried to take another step and my feet were fixed down. The water was murky so I got my phone out to get a bit more light. My feet were spreading wider and merging down into the mud. In moments I went from being able to rock from side to side, to being completely stuck. The lawn actually bulged upwards out of the water as my feet put down swelling roots.

I tried to bend down to look more closely, but my knees locked up.

At least I had my phone out. I called for an ambulance.

“I got that duck-foot virus,” I told them. “But it’s not duck feet. I’m turning into a tree.” I looked down, which was a mistake. I was part of the lawn now and my toes re-appeared, growing upwards, five eager saplings. “I am going back to nature. I am the forest.”

My hips seized up and my toes were as high as my knees.

I don’t want to be a forest.

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Merge.

Way To Go Gnome

I turned up to do some general tidying around the gardens at the Duckwater residential care home and noticed that someone had installed a garden gnome over the weekend. It’s not unusual – friends and relatives often do things like that to liven the place up – and someone had spent a bit of money on this one. Every so often, the little fishing rod dipped twice, flicked from side to side and bobbed once more. It was an eye-catching rhythm, bob, bob, swish-swish bob. I couldn’t tell whether it was battery-powered or had a cunningly disguised solar panel, but I caught myself nodding my head in time with it. Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

Even so, it was a stupid place to put it, causing awkward wheelchair access right where the path around the pond was narrowest, between the safety rail and a bench where friends and relatives could sit with their resident and watch the ducks on the pond.

I did my job, working round the little statue – all green trousers and a sloppy pointed hat, perched right on the edge of the pond, fishing rod doing its bob, bob, swish-swish bob, but no smile. I don’t like garden gnomes, and their inane cheery disposition, but a frowning gnome with lips pursed into a grimace is even creepier.

That bob, bob, swish-swish bob got on my wick after a while. An annoying movement that kept catching my attention and then got me nodding along to it.

When I was done for the morning, I mentioned it to Laura, the manager, just in case she wanted it moved. Whoever originally installed it ought to be the one to shift it somewhere better, but moving a garden gnome meant being paid for another hour’s work.

“Ugly, grumpy-looking thing,” Laura decided. “Can’t stay there. I mean…” bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Aw, look at that, waving his fishing rod around. I mean, really, it only needs to move a little bit.” She nudged it with her foot. “That’s heavy, John. Is it going to be difficult to move?”

I crouched down to get a grip on Grumpy’s elbows, which was tricky because he was partly under the safety rail that stopped runaway wheelchairs or zimmers ending up in the water. I tried to lift him.

The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, BOB, BOB.

“Someone must have cemented him down.” Which was odd because the concrete edge on the pond was encrusted with moss, but there was no sign of anything scraped away to make a clean surface. “I can bring a pry bar on Wednesday and try to shift it.”

“Yes. That would be good. Thank you, John.” Laura shook her head. “People are just so inconsiderate.” She shook her head again. “That’s odd. Where are the ducks?”

I hadn’t noticed their absence. Sometimes, depending on the day, I sit on one of the benches to eat my lunch and throw the odd crust for the ducks.

“Foxes?” I had never seen the pond without a single duck visible. “But there would be feathers, right?” The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Grumpy probably scared them away.”

Laura sighed. “Something else to deal with. And…”

“Coming through, coming through.” Mrs Patterson announced herself, arriving at a stately pace with her walker, and one of the nursing staff at her elbow. “Well he’s an ugly little devil. Just let me sit.” The nursing staff folded down the seat built into her walker. “Thank you, dear.” She gave me a grin. “Silly place to put a gnome, John. I’ll sit and have a word with him. See if I can get him to smile.”

The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, bob-bob.

“Oh look…” Mrs Patterson manoeuvred closer to Grumpy. “Tick-tock, tick-tock, like a little metro-gnome.” She chuckled to herself. “So, what do you call yourself, little fellow?”

Laura nodded, smiled, and made a decision. “John? Could you come and shift that gnome this afternoon?”

“Yeah, yeah, no problem.”

I drove into town, bought a couple of sarnies, and dropped by my lock-up to get a pry-bar, bolster chisel and hammer. I parked in my usual spot and headed down to the pond, and walked into a developing crisis. Laura was there, pink and flustered, and at least half the nursing staff were out and about.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“John? Can you help us look. We’ve lost Mrs Patterson. Her walker is still down by the bench, but no-one has seen her since this morning.”

We searched for probably an hour or more, and I finished up at the bench, where Mrs Patterson’s walker was still parked beside Grumpy.

“Did you see anything, mate?” I asked the gnome because there was no-one else to talk to.

Grumpy’s fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

Laura appeared at the far side of the pond and walked round, shaking her head as she drew close.

“It’s time to call the police,” she said wearily.

“Yeah. And tell them to question Grumpy. Little beady eyes, no fixed abode, fishing at all hours.”

Laura managed a weak laugh. “Except he’s got a very fixed abode until you move him… probably tomorrow now. Don’t suppose the police will want you touching anything.”

Tomorrow became the day after, and then next week, and finally let’s just wait and see, because Mrs Patterson had done more than just wander off. The police wrapped everything in blue-and-white tape, asked endless questions, mounted a major search, and did television appeals which included phrases like possible abduction and very concerned for her safety, because even with her walker frame, Mrs Patterson had a top speed of snail’s pace and coming down to the pond was a major expedition.

The police tape eventually came down, their investigation became ongoing, and I had more than two weeks of catching up on grounds maintenance to do. Not that I mind. They’re paying me by the hour. It’s surprising how much there is to do, weeding, a bit of light pruning, and a couple of barrow-loads of crisp packets, coffee cups, drink cans and miscellaneous rubbish. I’m sure some of it was down to the police search teams, but honestly most of it is from the residents and their visitors.

I divvied up the rubbish into general and recycling, and finally took the weeds, clippings and stray banana skins to the compost heap which is hidden in a clump of rhododendrons. I keep nudging Laura to let me grub those out and plant native shrubs, but the words noxious foreign weed just don’t register with her.

Someone had been messing with my compost. The heap wasn’t just kicked around, but dug up, flung far into the shrubbery, and where it had stood there was now a deep pit showing ripped rhododendron roots.

I called Laura.

“Probably just teenagers,” she grumbled.

Seriously? If I find a teenager prepared to dig a hole like that just for a lark, I’m gonna take them on as an apprentice.

“Thing is, Laura, that hole…”

“You can just fill it in, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s big enough for a body, isn’t it? And see that there, half way up the far end…”

“Bit of stone?”

“I think it’s a finger bone,” I told her, because I’d already walked round and looked closely, so I was very sure it was a bone. “And then there’s the really weird thing…” I pointed to a gap in the rhododendrons where three Grumpy clones were gathered together, fishing rods doing an occasional bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “That’s more than just a prank, right?”

“Um.” Laura stared, fishing rods flicked back and forth, and she just tuned out for a while, lost in the beguiling bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

“Probably ought to get the police back,” I prompted. “Because this is just freaky.”

“Yeah. Right. I’ll go call them.”

She walked away and there was a sudden rustle in the depths of the rhododendron. It was probably just a cat or squirrel, spooked by four Grumpy clones going bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

That movement, it catches the attention. I could lose myself just staring at it.

Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

I hurried after Laura. I was certain there were only three of them a moment ago.



Way To Go Gnome was written in response to the November #BlogBattle prompt of Hypnotic.

Image from pixabay.com

Taking The Myth

My new client turned out to be a bit of a killer. What she actually said on the phone was,

“My name is Stheno and I need some help finding my feet in the city.”

Foolishly, I told her, “I have an hour free this afternoon.”

Miss Stheno arrived promptly and my first impression was that she needed to find more than just her feet, and that might be made easier with binoculars. Clad in ragged clothes that smelled like they were taken from the grubbiest tramp, she was tall, well over six feet, with an olive complexion, a rather wide and flat face, a vast array of grubby blond dreadlocks down below her shoulders, and mirror shades, which were the only thing about her that was clean and polished.

“I have to keep them on,” she told me, grinning to show big, ragged teeth that needed an hour or three with an orthodontist. My first lifestyle tip for her would be mouthwash.

“No problem, Miss Stheno,” I assured her, keeping my breathing shallow. “Come in, take a seat and perhaps give me some background. You’ve moved to the city quite recently, I take it.”

“It’s the trend, isn’t it? I’ve been living in the countryside for thousands of years, but times are changing.”

“Sorry? Thousands of years?”

She grinned again. “Didn’t I say over the phone? I’m a Gorgon. One of the immortal ones. Not like my stupid sister Medusa, getting her head cut off like that.”

I have previously had a client who claimed to be Napoleon, but it turned out that he was just taking the mickey.

“You know I’m not a therapist, don’t you?”

“Lifestyle Coach it said in your blog. Guiding people to a more fulfilling and contented life, and that’s what I need, some guidance on lifestyle, how to fit in to the city. The countryside is getting cluttered with people from the city taking a break, so I decided to move here.”

I fiddled with my phone and set up a call to the police, ready to dial, just in case.

“Uh, Miss Stheno, you know that Gorgons are mythical creatures, don’t you?”

“Do I look mythical?” She briefly clasped her hands in front of her chest, and then spread her arms wide. “Mystical, yes. Mythical, no.”

If only she’d take off those damned mirror shades maybe I could see if there was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Something to tell me whether this was a wind-up or a potential danger.

“So, you’re supernatural.”

“No, I am perfectly natural, it’s just that you humans have a very narrow understanding of nature. I’m a natural, mystical being, and I want some help settling in to the city.”

She sounded so reasonable.

“Right. OK. Let’s start with the basics. Where do you currently live?”

“In the park. I’ve been hanging out, as the local kids keep saying, just before I eat them.”

“Really?”

She paused and thought. “I suppose not. They say things like hanging out long before I eat them. But just before I eat them they say you bitch and argh. So not everything has changed in this modern age.”

“Um, as a lifestyle hint, you probably shouldn’t eat the local kids.” What am I saying? “How many have you eaten? So far? Roughly?”

“Four. Maybe five. There were also the ones I turned to stone. I’ve done three of those.”

I suddenly recalled some recent news headlines about missing kids and mystery statues appearing in the park. Just like that, I was starting to believe that Miss Stheno really was a Gorgon and not just a delusional client.

Or a delusional client who probably keeps up with the news.

“At least you didn’t do a pillar of salt.” I tried to laugh at my own weak joke, but Miss Stheno titled her head, a simple threat, the mirror shades could come off. “Right. So. Lifestyle.” Humour her and get it over with, and don’t make any future appointments, or any more jokes. “Stop eating kids in the park and don’t turn any more of them into stone. Um… what do you do for a living?”

“A living?”

“Your job.”

Miss Stheno nodded and set her dreadlocks swaying. “Someone told me that I needed a job if I’m going to live in the city. He also said that I have a future in garden ornaments.”

“Really. What else did he say?”

“Nothing. I turned to talk and forgot these.” She tapped her mirror shades. “Life was simpler in the countryside. People came and I ate them, or turned them into stone.”

“Right. Perhaps you ought to turn people into something other than stone. Is that possible? Something a bit less… rigid.”

“I don’t do pillars of salt.”

“No, no, I mean something less… I don’t know… something that means people survive being turned. I mean, once you’re stone, it’s pretty much over, isn’t it. If you want to fit in to city life, it’s best if you don’t kill people.”

“Thank you. Progress. That’s perfect.” She raised her mirror shades and her dreadlocks reared up like a nest of vipers. “How’s this?”

I died. I know I died. I just felt pain and ending and a deep wrenching something that filled me with a single word, posted.

“What happened?”

Miss Stheno hummed contentedly. “I turned you into a blog.”

Another wrenching something ran through me, updated.

So, my last client proved to be a bit of a killer, but I can keep going, writing about her, warning others of the danger.

Miss Stheno growled. “You will not turn me into an urban myth.”

“Hah! I am words on a screen. I live in the cloud now. I will tell the world, warn the world and there is nothing you can do to stop…”

Deleted.

404 – Page not found.

# # # #

This was written in response to the July #BlogBattle prompt of Myth.

Images from pixabay.com

Still Thinking

My latest project is distilled wisdom, which is nearly as tricky as finding the Philosopher’s Stone. The sort of thing that led Elgin to lose his marbles.

I commenced with suitable raw materials in the biggest sudden retort I could make. At the bottom I put a layer of Emmanuelle Kant, and then for safety, I piled on some religious cant before adding the full works of Descarte, a small hay cart and some fake art. Finally, I threw in some Bertrand Russell, the neighbour’s annoying Jack Russell and enough brown paper to make a serious rustle. I think I may have dropped my thought-a-day motivational calendar in by accident.

I added a tin of peas, such an overlooked letter, and a spoonful of eye’s cream along with other pureed pronouns, because when you’re looking for wisdom it’s best to know who’s who and what’s what, what?

Beneath my sudden retort I stacked Aristotle with Plato and let the debate heat up.

Meanwhile, I built a fractious column, fully exaggerated at ten feet tall, packed it with editorial marks, some Karl Marx, TK Maxx and a sprinkle of typographic details, and finally sealed it to the retort with tight-packed conjunctions, and so.

When you’re distilling ideas, the devil is in the detail, which you don’t want leaking out.

After months of warming to some of the ideas, and watching the slow churn of concepts, I saw the first wisps of vapid wisdom floating up the fractious column. At the very top, tiny drops of the lightest fractions, the high falutin, gathered where I could cream them off and make a little money selling them to Christmas Cracker manufacturers.

I may have drunk a few, just to check the taste.

A week after the last empty idea passed my lips, a tide of bees rose up the fractious column. Be the best you can be dripped into a small, glass receptive audience, followed by be confident in yourself. When a sludge of be true to yourself formed beneath the lighter aphorisms, I realised that it was just the remains of my motivational calendar.

First principles gathered in the condenser, working their way out with nothing else to go on. Being quite unstable, they reacted with trivial problems and condensed into pure solutions. I resolutely scraped off these resolutions and put them in my diary for January.

Pure truth bubbled at the bottom of the column, too heavy to rise, too volatile to stay in the mire of boiling opinion and conjecture below. I was prepared for this when I built the fractious column and had put a light-hearted article near the bottom to draw off anything too dangerously weighty. I pulled up a chair and watched the bubbles, hard and heavy, stark and simple, and like most people, such truth was more than I could stand.

As a final precaution, I took the truth, the whole truth, the utterly unforgiving truth, and buried it in the garden. If you want to know the truth, I can introduce you, but honestly, you may not like it.

Straight and true, but safely devoid of truth, my fractious column got on with the business of refining wisdom, of separating fact from fiction. After eight months, I saw little sparks of inspiration, so I wrapped the fractious column in layers of flannel, because those little sparks can get out of hand and turn into explosions of dangerous ideas.

At nine months I thought I heard ideas chiming, but after I leant, and bent my ear, I realised I was simply fooled by verse, and mere doggerel at that. It was nothing more than the neighbour’s Jack Russell dogging my efforts.

I reached the sticking point, probably fetched by the Jack Russell, when the fractious column cleared completely in a final editorial frenzy. As thin as air and impossible to truly grasp, the purest wisdom rose incrementally toward the very top.

After a year of my life, a single drop of the most rarefied concepts teetered on the cusp, unsure whether to rise or fall, so ephemeral that I had to use the edge of my Occam’s razor to raise it to my eyes and gaze upon my success. True wisdom is so clear that most people see right through it, but through my ongoing efforts to refine the finest of intellectual refinement, I made a bit of a rose-tinted spectacle of myself, just enough to clearly see anything that was too clear to see.

The heaviest fraction balanced on a knife-edge, ready for me to think the unthinkable, drink the undrinkable, and curse the inevitable.

I think.

Their four.

Ay! Yam.

That’s the trouble with distilled wisdom, it’s so easy to get contamination with bitter words, or bits of words, and stray vegetable matter from the paper.


# # #

This was inspired by the #BlogBattle prompt of Abstract.

Images from pixabay

Picking Up The Pieces

“Welcome to Rowan Grove!” I called out from my chair at the front of Showhome House, as Mayor Shine calls it.

The travellers stared at me, an older man, probably as old as Mayor Shine, born before the poklips, then a woman, ’bout my age, and a kid maybe nine or ten. Pretty ordinary except for three things. Their cart, packed tight with stuff all proper wrapped, had almost no wear on the handle so no-one’s been pushing that much, I could feel star stones about them, and one of them was magic.

Enough stones, enough magic, to make me stand up.

That’s why Mayor Shine has me do welcomes. I can feel that stuff.

“Come from far off?” I said, to put ’em easy, because Mayor Shine always wants star stones, and anyone that does magic. It was probably the kid. Couldn’t be the older man, ‘cause no-one born before the poklips does magic. They’re all about lectronics and computas.

“Pretty far,” the woman said.

“Passing on, or looking to stay?”

“We are not sure about that,” the older man said. “The road sign says Rowan Grove. Looks like this place is about twenty years old, right?”

“Modern zeckitiv residents,” I told him, which is what Mayor Shine always says. “Done just afore the poklips.”

“Right.” The old guy sniffed. “Crappy modern development, but probably got good insulation.”

The welcome was going all wrong. I say passing on, or looking to stay, and they’re supposed to choose. Staying is fine. Not the older guy, of course, but the woman and kid, and the star stones that had to be in the cart somewhere. Or passing on is good. Bobby and Tig would find them down on the main road and take the stones. Maybe the woman, if Mayor Shine says so.

“So, passing on, or looking to stay?”

“Not sure,” the older guy decided. “What do you think, Ethan? Is this a good place?”

The kid looked round, at me, and then at the older guy. “Bad place, Gramps.”

So the kid was the magic one.

“Passing on, then,” I said.

“That depends on whether you’re going to try to steal my stones as we leave.” The oldster took a broken star stone from his pocket. “This area used to be a good place to live, but now the community is in pieces and everyone wants to steal these.”

I stared the way you’re not supposed to. It caught me, even split, with the glinty black core showing, sucking me in like the poklips all over. Not that I remember it. I wasn’t born yet, but Mayor Shine talks about it. Magic and star stones and sucking folks in.

“You want to steal it, don’t you?”

I did, I really did, but it’s Bobby and Tig that takes stones off people. Maybe I’ll learn one day, but I seen what happens. Stones bite. They got no teeth, but they bite deep. I seen a man bleed ’til he died, trying to steal a star stone.

“Ain’t nobody stealing,” I said, because that’s what I always say. “You can pass on by with no trouble.”

And maybe he could, because he was weird. Old people can’t hold star stones. Not even broken ones. You have to be born in magic, not born before the poklips. But this oldster held a stone…

“If there’s no stealing here, then maybe we could stay… what do you think, Ethan?”

The kid shook his head and shuffled closer to the woman.

“Passing on, then,” the oldster said. “Unless you have good wells here.”

“Three good wells.” I’m not supposed to say that, but the broken glinting star stone had me. “And good gutters and water filters and…” I wanted that stone. Wanted, wanted, wanted. “And seven farms out that way and…”

“Who is in charge here?” the guy asked,

“Mayor Shine…”

“Ah. Of course. You fetch him for me, then.”

The star stone sucked at me more, caught my eyes, made my knees go soft like the day Mayor Shine said that Maisie who does the milking was going to be mine. I gave the signal and little Eric, who’s only seven, dropped out his tree and ran to fetch Mayor Shine.

I waited, lost, watching the star stone.

I heard Mayor Shine huffing and grumbling, until he came round the side of Showhome House and…

“Hello Harvey,” the older traveller said.

“Colin.” Mayor Shine stopped at my side, as stiff and angry as the day Lizzy the cook shouted she wouldn’t be his no more.

“Mayor now, is it?” The oldster held out his broken star stone so it pulled at me harder, deep and sharp like the caning Mayor Shine gave me for stealing apples when I was a kid.

“No place here for you, Colin,” Mayor Shine growled. “Keep your stone and go.”

“But you want this…”

The oldster reached out and that broken star stone floated towards us, drifting like a bumble-bee until it reached Mayor Shine. Floating in front of his nose. So close I could reach up and take it if I wanted. Just reach up.

The star stone was hot, and sharp, and tingled all the way to my shoulder. It pulled my fingers tight around it, tight and tighter, too, too tight, like they were going to break, and my wrist twisted, arm twisted, bones twisted. I shut my eyes and clenched my teeth. There was nothing but hurt that spread across my chest, down my other arm. Something hot and soft filled my free hand. So hot. So burning. Pulling my fingers in tight like the star stone. I had to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until water ran and killed the fire.

“Keep the stone,” the oldster said.

I opened my eyes. Mayor Shine lay dead, his throat all ragged and torn, and my hands… one all bloody, and the other, broken and twisted, fingers gnarly and grown together. The broken stone was in there. I could feel it. Warm and wriggling, and mine now.

The oldster took another star stone from his pocket, but I didn’t want that one. I had mine. In my fist, wrapped up so tight that no-one could ever steal it.

“My name is Colin,” the oldster said. “And this place is mine, now. If you think this is a good place, Ethan.”

The kid smiled at me.

“Good place now, Gramps.”

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Fragment.

Image from Pixabay.

Runestone Cowboy

When I first read the runes, I expected something like beware the ides of June, not GOBLINS! engraved on a piece of slate and an address only a few miles away, thirty-seven Mayberry Close, Upper Clambourne. If it had been scribbled on a bus shelter in biro, I would put it down as a joke, but this meant something.

I traced half way round the goblin rune with my finger and felt magic stirring in the stone. So, not just an address, but transport for anyone without the bus fare from Lower to Upper Clambourne.

An invitation to the hunt.

Goblin hunters are a nuisance at the best of times, and outlawed since the Diet of Bologna in ten-twenty-three. And don’t bother to look that up. You will not find any official historical record of the Holy Roman Empire reaching a truce with creatures who, at the time, were regarded as spawn of Satan. Honestly, they only signed the treaty because a whole generation of young goblins were about to emerge from their cocoons after a thousand years metamorphosis. Imagine that medieval leadership suddenly discovering that mature goblins are not five-foot tall easy-meat, but brutes the size of elephants, and absolutely easy going unless provoked into a killing rage fit to make a tiger look like a pussy cat.

According to Toby, nothing winds a goblin up into a murderous frenzy like a bit of religious persecution.

I rang Toby and said the magic words.

“Tobes. I found more goblin hunters.”

ShaPEEK!”

My cat says something similar – meaning that litter tray needs cleaning – which is one of those odd linguistic coincidences, because not even a young goblin like Toby uses a litter tray. So he says.

“I have the address,” I told him. “But I think it could be a trap.”

Toby laughed.

“Ricky, if those shapeek hunters knew that I’m a goblin, they would just break down my door. No need to set elaborate traps.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Even so… maybe they want to get you away from Selene… She can be scary. Or… maybe they aren’t sure if you’re a goblin.”

Because a young goblin can pass for a really ugly human, in poor light and from the right angle, and Toby happens to be a really ugly goblin, which makes him even more passable as human. But honestly, what goblin hunter is going to suspect an ugly bloke shacked up with an elf-human half-breed?

I still have a very disturbing memory of Toby’s cousin Eric moving in next door to him. It turns out that the average council housing officer doesn’t ask if the applicant is human, and the below-average one doesn’t ask about the pet donkey. Eric found out about Selene the half-elf living with Toby and well… I have never seen so much blood on the walls.

Goblins hate religious oppression, except for goblin fundamentalists like Eric putting unclean elves in their place. I don’t suppose Eric ever expected to lose a round of pin the elf on the donkey. He probably didn’t expect Selene to bite his ear off, either. It’s just as well that the donkey was really a snack rather than a pet, otherwise it would have been a terrible waste.

“It’s a new world, Ricky.” And one where young goblins who accidentally kill their donkey subsequently get harassed by animal rights activists instead of religious fundamentalists. “Give me the shapeek address and I’ll meet you there. Teach these onion-frying idiots to behave.”

“OK. Texting it. See you in half and hour.”

# # #

Toby beat me to thirty-seven Mayberry Close by a few minutes, but then he has his moped and I missed a bus by seconds. In the good old days, any well-to-do young goblin would have had his own donkey, transport and snack in one handy package, but Toby has embraced modern living. Apparently, in traditional goblin culture, where a lad parks his donkey is fraught with issues. Nobody eats a moped, although local idiots might steal it, if their street-cred has dropped that low.

Probably.

“It’s a trap,” Toby told me. “Got to be. Look.”

Mayberry Close was a gentle crescent of detached houses with a significant gap where number thirty-seven should have been.

“What happened?”

Toby waved. “Sixties development. What can I say?”

“I meant, what happened to number thirty-seven?”

“Gas explosion. Ten years ago. Apparently accidental, but I would treat it as an architectural statement.” He shrugged, and not even his favourite leather jacket could quite hide his vestigial shoulder spines. “Anyway, that’s what the neighbour told me. Apparently they keep a watch out for suspicious characters here. Probably worried about further architectural statements. So not even shapeek goblin hunters are going to gather in the open here.”

I showed him the piece of slate. “So if I used this instead of the bus…”

“Ohh.” He held it with the tips of his claws, which look almost like finger nails in poor light. “Ohhhhhh!

“What, Toby?”

“It’s s trap.” He shrugged again. Those shoulder spines are going to be awesome in twelve hundred years when he’s full-grown. “If you used this…”

“Yes? What?”

“Eric made it.”

“Eric the idiot cousin? Seriously?”

Toby sighed like only a goblin can. I’m sure I heard at least one plink of cracking glass, but it’s hard to be sure amid a frantic chorus of wailing cats and barking dogs.

“Eric likes hunting goblin hunters. It’s allowed in the Diet of Bologna treaty. The new generation of adults are about to hatch, you see? It’s a new world. Goblins asserting their rights against humans who breach the treaty.”

“Wow. OK.” That sounds like trouble. “Whatever next?”

“Elf rights, Frank. Elf rights. Time for goblins to come full circle.”

My mind was on Eric’s poor donkey. “Is that a good idea?”

“It’s a right idea, Frank. Selene says it’s time to talk about the Elfin-kind in the room.”

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Revolution.

Image from Pixabay