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Sin Seer

I’m no angel, and when someone offers to easily wash me of my sins, I can smell a scam. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. When that someone comes into my shop and offers me the opportunity to sell the washing service, then I know it’s a scam. The only really important question is: how wide is the profit margin?

This is Barrowhurst-under-Helltide, where demons walk the earth, and since I can’t do magic any more, I need to earn a living somehow. I used to have a demon inside me, but that’s all over now, but it leaves a stain, apparently.

“More like a dark shadow, my friend, but I can soon scrub that out. Trust me.”

How do a I trust a gaunt and ragged man, in jeans and t-shirt that urgently need a very traditional wash, who’s trying to sell me a clean soul. Assuming that I actually want one. I went into the demon trading business with my eyes wide open, so perhaps I ought to own my stains and dark shadows.

“Just let me get this straight. You’re offering to clean my soul, absolutely free of charge, and then you want to set up a sin-rinsing franchise in a corner of my shop?”

“That’s it, my friend. That is exactly it. It’s a location thing, my friend. You have the most perfect place for washing away sins.”

So obviously a scam, which I don’t mind because half of my customers are muppets or morons. In the retail mysticism business, under the helltide and within the jurisdiction of the Barrowhurst Court of Supernatural Justice, all that matters is not ripping off anyone, or anything, that might notice and complain. Life is hard on us forcibly retired Masters of the Dark Arts and I have to be on the look-out for any income opportunities.

“And you really mean this shop?” It’s important to be clear, because I used to have a different shop, which is now a vast shopping mall, all packed in a tiny space with dubious magic and sort of held in trust after the whole debacle of the election of the demonic tyrant of Barrowhurst. “Not my former shop?”

“Former?” the grubby sin-washer asked, raising alarms in my mind and hairs on the back of my neck. Where has this guy been?

“I only moved in here recently.” Right next door to the brand new Hellz Bellz Day Club for those of the less mortal inclination to party until the sun goes down (bring your own mortal, corkage charge applies). Property values took a bit of a plunge in the aftermath, and I bought the new shop for a song. Strictly speaking it was a nineteen bar melody of such ethereal presence that lesser demons will turn into gold on hearing it. One hundred percent genuine, and the guy I bought the shop from went off to be ridiculously wealthy, although he never asked what long-term exposure to that music might do to a mortal. “So, tell me, where does all the sin actually go?”

“That is a mystery, my friend, and I am willing to teach you that mystery.”

Seriously, where does it go is an important question, and mystery is the wrong damned answer. Here in Barrowhurst, after recent bad experiences, the authorities take environmental safety very, very seriously. The Hellz Bellz club chuck body parts in the street without a care, but never, ever anything that would catch the attention of someone with the Sight. Anyone tipping magical residue in anything except the designated hex-a-bins, or pouring raw sin down the sewers, is likely to get a visit from the Council enforcement department. Out in the rest of the world, environmental protection often seems to take a back seat to commercial interests, but within the Barrowhurst helltide, it has teeth, and claws, and a side-splitting sense of humour.

As the demons say, when you have a man by the spine, and pull hard, hearts and minds soon follow, which go down very nicely with some Beelzebub Hellfire Chilli Sauce.

I asked the most important question.

“How long have you been in Barrowhurst?”

“That would be…” He counted on his fingers, which I decided was another bad sign, although he did have the standard complement. “Nine days.”

Long enough to see boundless opportunities, not long enough to really understand how much of the local justice process now involves summary evisceration. And absolutely nowhere near long enough to realise that it is currently very difficult to differentiate duly authorised justice and, say, a demonic mugging gone wrong.

“How about a demonstration?” So that I have a chance to watch whatever he’s up to.

“Yes, yes, that is what I said, just stay still and I will wash you clean…”

“No.” I raised my hand as if I could still do magic. “Perhaps someone less stained.” Because if we’re about to splash the neighbourhood with someone’s sins, let’s keep the mess to a minimum. “How about… how about…” There’s never a stray customer when I need one. “Who have we got?” I went and looked out of my shop window, peering between the tarot display, the cheesy skeleton I got as a sample for next Halloween, and the cascade of pentagram necklaces. “How about Miss Howben? She’s out litter-picking. I mean, she lives in the flat above, but she likes to keep the street tidy.”

Mr Sin-Washer came and stood beside me, so I held my breath. I hadn’t realised how intense his unwashed-and-maybe-something-died odour could get.

“Not a lot of sin on that one,” he complained.

Honestly, a small and safe demonstration was what I was banking on. Miss Howben presented that perfect combination of fastidiousness without too much piety which promised very little sin. Or, of course, concealed a lifetime of egregious misbehaviour. Considering my career in the dark arts, I never really gave potential sin much thought, and certainly have no skill in spotting it, but I felt that a woman prepared to don a pair of marigolds to pick cigarette butts and discarded fingers from the gutter is probably at the decent end of the human behaviour spectrum.

“Just give her a quick rinse.”

Before I could qualify that with anything like but gently, he was out the door and in her face like a deranged evangelist. She tried to fend him off with someone’s gnawed thumb, but he took her by the marigolds and went down on his knees.

I didn’t see exactly what he did, but I did see the moment her sins departed. Miss Howben was like a dusty book on the shelf. Mr Sin-Washer took her down, blew it all away, and set her back in place, clean and pristine. I no longer do magic, but my Sight was drawn by the wispy cloud of light sin around Miss Howben, floating and lost, settling slowly to the ground and gathering in the cracks.

I don’t think my would-be business partner noticed that. He could extract the sin from a mortal, but would he clean up the cracks in the floor?

To be fair, he said it was easy, and it certainly looked easy.

Miss Howben took a step back, stripped off her marigolds and threw them at Mr Sin-Washer. That’s the thing with any supernatural activity, there’s always unforeseen consequences. Miss Howben, a fundamentally decent woman, had been litter-picking to atone for something in her modest collection of sins. Now, the Barrowhurst council would have to take over cleaning up the mess caused by Hellz Bellz (Angry Hour 2-3 pm daily).

“Very good,” I told Mr Sin-Washer, who came back in, clutching the marigolds. “Very impressive, but I think it would spoil the ambience. A dark magic shop needs a bit of an air of sin, don’t you think?”

“But this is a fabulous opportunity…

“Yes, it is, just not quite right for me, but I tell you what, there is a chap called Mickey Twitch who might be able to help. I went to school with him, so I am sure that is something he would be interested in. You should be able to find him either propping up the bar at the Hammer and Tongs, or hustling for business at the Magic Exchange on Prior Street.”

Mr Sin-Washer looked disappointed, but I seriously do not want a load of recently shed sin soaked into my carpets, because I have no idea what it might do, nor how to get it back out again. Mickey, on the other hand, is an avaricious moron with a long history of making a mess, and not caring about anything except cash.

I like it when people make a mess, provided they don’t do it in my shop. I no longer have a demon inside me and the fallout from the Tyrant Election business makes people wary, but when there’s a mystical mess, someone from the council drops by and offers me a generous daily rate to fix it.

I have no idea how to get blood out of a stone, but I’m pretty good at getting money out of people.

# # #

This was written in response to the May #BlogBattle prompt of Extract, and is based in the strange universe of my urban fantasy Demon Trader series, chronologically somewhere after the events of book four (Hell Tied) that I’ve only written the introduction to because, well, life and stuff.

Pictures from pixabay.com

End Of The World

Welcome to the end of the world. I am the archangel Remiel and I will be your guide to the apocalypse and… one moment please, celestial update coming in… sorry Boss… I am the archangel Remiel and I will be your host and guide during this celestial enquiry to determine whether this will be the end of the world. I am sorry for any confusion. I got a little ahead of myself.

Any mortal present, please be aware of the following details. Firstly, I am an archangel, I am not some easy-going, love-is-in-the-air, winged pretty-boy, I am a senior messenger of God. My job is to say it like it is, kick butt and keep you lesser beings in line. Secondly, as some of you will have noticed, Lucifer will not be sitting this enquiry out down below with the demonic hordes. It has been granted special dispensation to observe, pending the planned re-trial, which is not until after the end of the world, if that happens. Here’s hoping.

Sorry Boss. Inappropriate.

Right. Onwards. Thirdly, those mortals who have been invited to attend the end of the world… apologies, the inquiry into the need for an end of the world… may apply to give evidence. Those for the prosecution should approach Abaddon, Angel of the Abyss, and good luck with that. Those for the defence should approach Limpet, Angel of Hanging On Tight, and honestly I wouldn’t hold out much hope there at all.

Fourthly… kick back, relax, enjoy, it’s not the end of the world, unless the jury says different.

Right, here we go, time to actually select the jury, and on the left there Abaddon is stepping up to inspect the options. As the more observant of you will have noticed, we have twenty-one candidates, drawn from the angelic host, the pits of hell and some serious mortal souls who said they were up for giving it a try. The Boss has decided that he wants a jury of five, so that there will definitely be a decision. The word is that any juror choosing to abstain is in deep, deep trouble, and you really don’t want the Boss angry with you at a time like the end of the world. Which is totally not decided yet.

So, the archangel Michael is first up, and Abaddon does not look happy. For those of you who weren’t around at the beginning, there’s a long-running grudge between that pair, and it’s no secret that Michael has grown a bit pro-human. Wait for it, wait for it… yes, that’s Abaddon looking up at the Boss… he could really object to this one… obvious bias… well, that’s a shocker. Archangel Michael is in the jury, unless Limpy Limpet has a problem… no, barnacle-boy is good with that.

Wouldn’t have expected that in a million years. Or so.

Next up we have a human soul, so lets have a big round of heavy sighs as we consider St Jude. I know that there’s been a lot of speculation on this one, but just a friendly reminder, the Boss frowns on office sweepstakes, and you don’t want the Boss frowning this close to the end of the world, which so hasn’t been decided.

OK, OK, Abaddon is giving old St Jude every eyeball he’s got, and I have to say, Limpet is looking a bit leery. That’s the trouble with these big celestial events, you never know when the Boss is serious and when it’s just a test. Having Jude on your side has got to be good, unless you think the opposition is the lost cause and… damnation, well that’s me out of the sweepstake. Hey, Jude, come on pal, you could have at least tried to stay in there.

Right, moving on, we have Sachiel, here to represent all of the cherubim, but you have to wonder about them choosing the old champion of wealth and charity itself. I mean, subtle message or what? Wake up humans, pretty sure this is directed at you. Will it make it on to the jury? There goes Abs the Ab giving the claws up, but what about Limpy? It’s looking a bit uncertain, but hanging in there, just holding on, holding everyone up and… yes, we have our second juror, and I can see from here that the rest of the cherubim are pleased about that.

It looks like there might be a bit of a delay. It was suppose to be Medard up next, patron saint of storms, but there’s a but of commotion in the line and… yes… there’s been a bit of an upset, one of the heavy-hitters pushing to the front of the line… and…

Wowser. It’s Gabriel stepping up. With his trumpet. Give him a big welcome, fiends and friends, number one in the Celestial Charts for the last four thousand years. This is the archangel’s archangel, telling it like it is, and it looks like Abaddon is actually on board with the idea, even though the rumour is he is not a music fan. This one could go either way.

Limpy is smiling, so it’s all good, but then old Gabriel is a decent sort, and they say he did a few rehearsals with Limpy when he was about to audition for the celestial choir. Seriously, though, this could absolutely go either way. Gabriel takes this stuff very seriously and above all, he takes his cue from the Boss.

Give it a minute while they get the line back in order… no, wait, Saint Medard has withdrawn completely, storm in a teacup I suppose… and now we have another serious contender stepping up, Saint Frances of Assisi. Abaddon seems undecided, I suppose it’s the whole simple-living philosophy that clashes with his high life of death and destruction, but seriously, old Franky is known for taking care of animals and loving the environment, so he’s going to have a downer on what you humans have been up to lately. The word in the woods is that he favours a bit of a clean slate, not necessarily the actual end of the world, but give it another thorough hosing down.

We have a decision. Abaddon likes Franky. And… wowser, a trumpet fanfare from old Gabriel. Apparently he likes a good flood as well, so those two will be on the same page. Just have to wait until he finishes his second greatest hit, Ark The Herald Angel Sings.

Fingers out of ears. Abaddon said yes, so now it’s down to Limpy. Aesthetic life, caring for the environment, which really, really could go against him. There’s a lot of vested interests out there. Who cares if it’s the end of the world so long as they make a profit. Come on Limpy, what’s it going to be… and Assissi is in, he is in.

No… wait… apparently Limpy got confused between thumbs down and fingers up… now it goes to the Boss… do we have the great environmentalist on the jury… this is a historic moment… or could be a historic moment… even if we might be right at the end of history… I see a few humans praying, but no way to tell if they’re lobbying for Franky, or trying to keep him out…

In. Franky is in. The Boss has given the Word.

Limpet is looking a bit down after that, but the next candidate is coming up, and it’s Hamaliel, and don’t think anyone has any doubts that the old Angel of Birth, Household and Harvest is not in favour of the end of the world, but it clearly thinks it’s in with a chance here. It’s giving Abaddon the eyeball, a proper staring match. Will the Angel of the Abyss dare say no? That’s the question on everyone’s lips.

Apart from Hamaliel. The whole staring thing was a mistake, because the Abyss stared back.

Abaddon says yes, and Limpy says yes, but I don’t think he was paying attention, because it’s obvious that Hamaliel belongs to Abaddon now.

Four down, one juror to go and…

OK, OK, we have a surprise development here, an interim judgement from the Boss. Just give it a minute. Got to get through all the love me, honour me, bow down before me stuff. You know the drill. Just wait until we get to the meat of the message… and… well send me down below for an eternity. I did not see that one coming.

Right. Listen up. Official archangel business. Hear the words of the Boss…

The inquiry is temporarily adjourned, and will reconvene in a thousand years. Deepest apologies to the mortals who clearly won’t be able to make that date, unless they have been proper good, because seriously there will be no holidays from hell to attend. Depending on the outcome of Lucifer’s retrial.

So, that’s it. No end of the world.

Oh, and the Boss says, get it together. Behave yourselves, humans. He’s watching every last one of you and so far he has not been impressed.

It’s not the end of the world, but the jury’s still out on that. Well, technically not yet, but you know what I mean.

Sorry, Boss, just got a bit carried away.

End of the world is officially adjourned.

# # #

So this was my second response to the April BlogBattle prompt of Jury.

It turns out that this may not be the end of the world, either.

Images from Pixabay.

Lemon Sent

I have been an apple all my life, but I only got into trouble when I started selling fruit and veg. I can’t even go back to the old orchard any more. I look up the family tree and all I get is moaning.

“Selling your own kind, Pip? How could you? You know what people do to fruit and veg, don’t you?”

As if that weren’t bad enough, now I’ve got Trading Standards accusing me of selling short measures. My punnets of grapes are a missing a few, but what can you expect? They turn up at my place with delusions of grandeur. You know how it goes.

“I didn’t have to be here, you know? I could have been a Bordeaux.”

“Hah, that’s nothing, I was in the running to be Champagne.”

And then there’s always one snobbish grape. “Well my family have been in Cognac for generations.”

Before you know it, word comes down the grapevine that someone is recruiting for a locally-produced Sauvignon, and a whole bunch of my stock has snuck out the door, and then someone gets in a mood and won’t go in the punnet with someone else. There’s no reasoning with a bunch of angry grapes and before I know it, the grapes of wrath have skipped out on me and Trading Standards are on the premises, talking weights and measures.

So here I am, in court, and the prosecutor has got it in for me. I mean, it’s a plum job, right? Standing there and saying all sorts of rubbish about me.

“I put it to you, Mr Pip, that you are rotten to the core, not only selling your own kind into the food chain, but also defrauding customers. We have already heard from three of your onions that you lock up dissenting grapes in an overly hot room and later sell them as sultanas for no good raisin other than revenge.”

I know my onions, and I wouldn’t trust a word they say. “That’s just complete garlic,” I told them, but I could see that the jury weren’t buying it. The perennial trouble with trying to keep things a secret in the greengrocer world is that there’s always another leek.

“Moving on to more currant offences, we have heard evidence from a bag of potatoes, who saw with their own eyes your reprehensible practice of splitting bananas.”

That is so not fair. I do not split them, I just divide them up a bit more finely, with a knife. There is absolutely no splitting. And those treacherous potatoes had better watch out because I’ll do the same to them and drop them in boiling oil for good measure.

“Isn’t it true, Mr Pip, that you have been seen then throwing the skins away, directly outside of your shop?”

I may have slipped up, there.

“I put it to you, Mr Pip, that your rival, Mr Citrus, does not appear to have any problem with grapes.”

There we go, it’s always been like this, people are always comparing us apples to the Citrus family, which is so inappropriate. At the very least, it’s taking the pith.

The prosecutor is a sly one, because he then suddenly accused me of selling old and poor-quality celery. I just lost my temper at that point and told him where to stick it, which did not go down well with the jury.

Finally, I faced the ultimate indignity. My fate is to be decided by a jury of my pears.

“I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that Mr Pip is a scoundrel, who only understands the stick and not the carrot, and now that we have rooted out his crimes, it is up to you to put this bad apple where he belongs, behind pastry.”

Is it too late for me to plead inanity?

# # #

This was written as in response to the April BlogBattle prompt of Jury. But don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. That’s the second story I wrote in response to Jury…

Images from Pixabay.

Might Sell Any

My latest venture is marketing a collection of poetry, which was going be easy, and profitable, because poetry is everywhere, right? You simply can’t get away from it. It’s as if poetry is the fastest thing in the universe, always able to catch up, like it’s permanently in motion.

It turns out that poetry is complex and confusing, something hard to pin down, even though it is clearly measured in meters.

So, I got some poetry together, all centred around a theme, and got a friend to give it all a read through. I thought it was good, but it turned out to be not proper poetry at all. According to my friend, it stanza reason that it’s all supposed to rhyme, so mine was no good. It’s as if I was going hunting for bear, and someone took my ammo for a prank, replacing everything with blank.

Undaunted by this early reverse, I set about finding some proper rhyming verse, and asked another friend to give me a verdict. It’s totally perverse, and apparently a curse, that what I had gathered was doggerel or worse. On top of all that, the initial advice turns out to be wrong, and there’s no need for poetry to rhyme, or not all of the time.

With my editorial plans in tatters I decided to stick in a recipe for porridge. I know it’s not poetry but I thought it would help even the pace, sort of spice up the gaps between the poems.

So boil up your odes, with the finest sparkling grains of crispy salt garnered from the swelling sea, garnish it with the slickest, smoothest cream lovingly skimmed from atop the finest milk. And that’s it. Simple, right? I mean, no-one’s averse to a bit of porridge between verses, are they?

Then someone suggested putting a few songs in, because they’re just poetry with music. I’ve been given some really bad advice recently, so I called them a lyre. So, just to prove me wrong, they did me a song, specially for me, which to be fair is serious dedication. Anyway…

Morning has broken

No hint of sunrise

Can not return it

Or get it replaced

Been on the phone now

To get a repair man

Can’t come on Monday

Call us next week.

I’m not convinced, but I’ve put it in anyway, just because it doesn’t rhyme. And I need the padding because if I’m going to sell this anthology, it needs stuff in it. Although I’ve now been told I can’t call it an anthology because I got unhitched from my linking theme, which is a bit unfair because it’s all poetry. So there’s a linking theme. Apart from the recipe, but that doesn’t matter, does it?

And the essay, which I put in to explain why my anthology is such a mess, and that doesn’t matter because so long as it sells I don’t care. I know it’s starting to sound more like a magazine, but it’s mine, so I can call it what I like.

So there it is, my anthology of unrelated poetry, and it’s even got its own book number, with a bar-code, so my poetry anthology scans as well. Just to finish off, someone did a final poem, so now all it needs is a title, which I’m currently stuck on. I only mention that because I’m looking for inspiration, and I thought it would amuse.

So, finally,

There once was a muddled anthology

A collection of poem and recipe

All packed in as one

To be cooked and then sung

And sold as a varied miscellany

# # #

I had to actually look up the March #BlogBattle prompt of Miscellanarian , because although I have many things labelled “misc”, it’s just one of those words you accept without necessarily knowing what it really means. Then I read the Wikipedia article and decided to summarise it in a relentless pun-fest.

Images from Pixabay

A Picture Missing A Thousand Words

I read The Bag Lady’s blog, yesterday, on her desktop pictures. As it happens, I have set my desktop to cycle through pictures from a particular directory, but there is one image in particular that catches my attention every time it goes by.

It’s not my photo, because I really don’t do pictures. This one, like almost every picture I have, was taken by my partner, just like the one of the ginger cat in my avatar. The shot above, of the late, great Oatmeal rolling around, is a favourite of sorts, a bitter-sweet reminder of our second-best ever cat. Clare’s Cosmos blog prompt caught my attention and piqued my interest because it made me realise that people do actually care about the images on their desktop.

That thought might have gone away, but in the evening, my partner prompted me to take a look at a web-comic by KB Spangler and Ale Presser, which she adores. I read it, smiled at some of the jokes, but really had no great interest because a sequence of pictures like that just doesn’t do anything for me. I had a similar reaction a year or so back to a graphic novel in Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London series. I adore the words only books, and recently reread the whole series from the start, but I only got a few pages into the graphic novel before giving up.

I really, really, really don’t do pictures. When I take a photo, it’s usually not right – I’ve not centred it properly, clipped something important, or generally failed to point the camera in the right direction. I know this because my partner tells me. I look at the result and shrug. It’s a picture. What’s the problem?

A year or two back I took a photo under a willow tree that we refer to as Ram Central, because it’s where the boys all hang out after a hard day giving the ewes in the next field the eyeball. I don’t recall why I took it, because I very rarely do, but it was probably to highlight something to my partner when I got back to the house.

I really do like that picture. It makes me think I am back down there, standing under the tree. Because of writing this piece now, I’ve been back to look at the picture for the first time since I took it, which is pretty much par for the course for my “favourite photos”. What I really remember is the sheep deciding that they didn’t like visitors and jogging away into the soft mist, abandoning their moss-laden lounge. Not that you can really see the mist in the picture, and the rams are long gone.

I have no family pictures, other than a few lurking somewhere on the disk, which I rarely look at. I’ve noticed that other people have family photos everywhere, on display on shelves or hanging on the wall, but I have never felt the need nor had any interest. My mother had both of my graduation photos on display, the first one where I am young and clean-shaven taking pride of place, and the PhD photo with the hair and the beard a bit more out of direct sight.

My photos on display… zilch.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about family memories – I have everyday reminders that are in use, often daily use. The first one that springs to mind is a battered half-pint beer glass in the cupboard, chipped on one side but still in regular use, and I’ve had it since my grandfather died thirty years ago. It might not look like much, but that’s because you can’t see the holidays in Sussex, Grandpa teaching how to solder in his shed, watering his tomatoes or revising for a maths exam that I was otherwise set to fail. That’s the sort of memento that works for me.

As a writer, one of my great bugbears is cover art. When people post their joy over the cover for their next book, or ask for feedback on a developing design, I generally stay well away from the discussion because my usual reaction is muted at best, unhelpful at worst. If an image is particularly striking, it might catch my attention, but in general cover art does nothing for me. The only examples I can think of where it has stuck in my mind is when the actual book is a favourite. A while back I reread Julian May’s Saga Of The Exiles, a very satisfying comfort read, and then I was distinctly startled by going on to Goodreads and finding that current editions have completely different artwork. It’s not that the originals necessarily grab my attention, but more that someone changed the packaging on something old and familiar, an integral part of the whole nostalgic experience of where I was when I first read them, all the places I reached when I re-read them, and waiting for later books in the series to come out.

Social media is a jungle of pictures. I created an Instagram account a year or two back, posted twice and walked away. The thing that killed it for me was looking at the stream of pictures it generated from the handful of people I had followed. They really meant very little to me and the big question in my mind was where are the damned words? The idea that a picture is worth a thousand words may work for most people, but please, let me have those words and you keep the picture.

I never used to put pictures in my blog and only started because I discovered I got more interest with a suitable image at the top. Finding that suitable image is a challenge though, because I really don’t get on with pictures, and my idea of suitable can turn out to be a bit bewildering for most people.

Now here comes the odd part, or the oddest of the oddities – one of the comments I have had over the years about my writing is that I have a very visual imagination. Really? Are you sure? This really is me we’re talking about, right? I seriously don’t do pictures. Or perhaps I only do pictures when the words build one in my head. Maybe a visual imagination has nothing to do with pictures, or perhaps the way I put my words together hits the spot for people with heads that work like mine. Whatever the answer, I still twitch at being told I have a visual imagination.

Now I have to face the big challenge – finding a picture to go with a piece about not getting on with pictures. I know what I want, something that expresses my incomprehension on seeing a picture, and my delight when there are words to enjoy. I’m sure I won’t know it when I see it.

# # #

The headline image comes from Pixabay, but the rest are home-grown.

Merchant of Breath

Location,location, location, my old man used to say. When super-storm Zelda swept through a few weeks ago the community safety bunker flooded and it’s going to be another month or more before it’s useable again. As soon as warnings came in for super-storm Archangel, I locked down the house, packed up my family and started the thirty mile trek to the nearest major public bunker, just like everyone else.

“Aw, Dad, just wanna stay…”

No, just no. “It’s not safe, Paul. Get your backpack on.”

Sheila is better at saying no than I am, but she was busy with Paul’s baby brothers. Perhaps one day soon he’ll get over perfecting sibling resentment.

“Be all right down in the shelter.”

“That’s what Mr Hawkins said, remember?”

Paul settled his pack and sulked.

We have our own bunker for ordinary storms, but Nick Hawkins was the last man crazy enough to try to ride out one of the big ones in a domestic shelter. Super-storm Wilderbeast got him when it flooded his air filters. Everyone worries about the wind speeds and property damage, but when you’re hiding underground, close to the coast, and the air is full of sea-spray and rain, you need really fantastic air-con.

We caught the number nine evac bus, me, Sheila, our three boys, my brother Henry and his family, Aunt Edith, Nana May and a couple of cousins.

“Aw, Dad, bus smells funny.”

“Yes, it does.” Damp, mould, vomit and something akin to pig manure. “Safer than driving, though.”

We reached the bunker a good half a day ahead of the storm, because nobody wants to be trying to cram themselves in at the last minute. Even so, the queue from the bus terminus to the outer gates was long.

“Raleigh family… yeah, yeah, we got you… shaft two, level eight, room thirty.” A guy in hi-vis rain gear checked his clipboard. “Any medical issues? Heart or lung conditions? No oxygen cylinders on the wheelchair, right?”

“No. I mean Nana May struggles with her chest a bit, but…”

“Yeah, yeah, fine, just don’t want gas cylinders in there. Oxygen is dangerous stuff. Needs supervision for safe handling. Right, on you go.” He pointed to a queue. “About a ten minute wait time.”

This is why no one wants to be there at the last minute.

“We got a room,” Paul announced loudly. “We got a room.”

“Sort of.” I checked Aunt Edith was OK in her wheelchair. Nana May gave me a thumbs up even though she was turning blue, and the rest of the family clustered around to shield them from the wind. “Going to be sharing.”

“Sharing? Don’t like sharing.”

“No choice, Paul. It’s just like the community bunker. There isn’t enough room for everyone to have their own space.”

“Don’t like the ‘munity bunker.”

“It’s going to be fine, Paul. A big adventure.”

Paul sulked again. I expect in the good old days, before the super-storms, there would have been time for counselling to help him get over this.

“See. At the doors already.” Where it was even more crowded as people pushed to get inside and under cover. “Be at the lifts in no-time.”

The lifts were not working, so cousin John and I had to carry Aunt Edith down the stairs. My brother Henry brought her wheelchair whilst Nana May kept pace, wheezing with every step. One of the stewards found us a place to unfold the wheelchair and we joined fifty or more people in a dorm room designed for thirty.

“Smells funny,” Paul decided.

“Yeah, I suppose, now stay close to Mum.”

Henry and I got Aunt Edith settled, Nana May sat next to her on a folding chair, and before I knew it, the pair of them had spotted an old friend and were deep in gossip.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Need any oxy, mate?” A skinny, bearded guy gave me a friendly smile. He hefted an old polypropylene sack that had probably once been white, packed with gas cylinders that had also once been white. “Two hundred litres, prime oxy, a hundred quid each. Get a good twelve hours out of that if you sit nice and still and keep the flow-rate down low. Thirty quid deposit on the cylinders.”

“No, thanks…”

“You sure, mate? Got a couple of oldies there. Bunker’s running at thirty percent over capacity. Maybe the filters are up for it, maybe not. Got four cylinders left. Sure you don’t need any? Amazing how fast those oldies can start to struggle when the air gets a bit thick.”

Aunt Edith was probably fine – good lungs and bad legs – but Nana May does struggle sometimes. Last time we hid in the community bunker for a smaller storm, she had to be right up close to where the aircon came in. I think some of that’s in her head, but her lungs aren’t great.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Yeah, mate, no problem. Gonna be around a while. You need me, ask for Foxy the Oxy.”

“Wait, the guy at the top… he said gas cylinders need to be supervised, or something.”

“Mate, you got to decide. You going to follow the rules, or you going to get out of here with you and yours all still breathing. Just remember, Foxy the Oxy, and keep it down, right? Don’t want some supervisor telling you what you’re allowed to breathe.”

“What’s oxy, Dad?” Paul asked.

“Something in the air we need to breathe.”

“Plenty air.” Paul sniffed. “Smells funny. Is that the oxy?”

“No, that’s just people. You go sit with Nana.”

I went and caught up with Foxy and bought a cylinder.

“Just keep it out of sight, mate,” he warned me. “Don’t want to get fined. I’ll be outside when it’s all over. Collect the cylinder. Return your deposit.”

I took my sweatshirt off and wrapped it around the battered cylinder. When I got back to the family again, I tucked it out of sight under the wheelchair, but Sheila spotted me.


“In case Nana needs it. She’s still looking a bit…”

I was interrupted by a sudden commotion just outside the door, and everyone hushed to listen to a loud and angry voice.

“Gotcha, Foxy, you little devil… oxy cylinders again… how many have you sold?”

“Sold? Sold? Personal use, mate.”

“OK, Foxy, you are under arrest on suspicion of bringing a hazardous item into a controlled public space…”

“Close your mouth and breathe,” Sheila told me. “And when we leave, that cylinder stays behind. Out of sight.”

That made sense. “What about the deposit?”

“Seriously?” Sheila gave me the look. “The bloke with the deposit just got arrested.”

“Right. Yes. Got it.”

“Now breathe normally. And stop drawing attention.”

It’s amazingly hard to breathe normally when I know I’ve messed up and the evidence is wrapped in my sweatshirt under Aunt Edith’s wheelchair. Especially when Paul is ferreting around under there and likely to haul out an illicit oxygen cylinder at any moment.

“Come sit with me and Nana,” I told him.

The super-storms was due to pass in a day and a half, two days tops. That’s a long time to try to breathe normally when every breath reminds me that I bought an oxygen cylinder off a dodgy bloke inside a public bunker. Any moment now, Paul is going to start asking me about oxy again, and what it’s for.

As Sheila will tell you, I’m the sort of bloke that will buy a three-legged donkey from a dodgy salesman.

“Hey. Paul. Settle down, son. Did I ever tell you about the donkey I didn’t buy?”

# # #

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

Pictures from pixabay.com

Rise of the Ginger Ninja: Habitat Habits

Cats are creatures of habit, and have a habit of changing their habits. As cat service staff, we’ve all been there.

Here you go, a nice bowl full of kitty-nibbles-number-one.

Me? Eat that? Smells like mouse droppings. How about some actual mouse?

Or that all time favourite, no, I don’t like that chair any more, so I will sleep here on the keyboard instead, now stop typing, it’s keeping me awake.

Ginge, who has been with us for nearly nine years, is known as the Ginger Ninja for the way she effortlessly leaps and lands, scales high points and generally gives the impression that she is a feather in cat-form. From experience, I know that underlying the visual impression is a solid little cat who arrives like a furry brick when she jumps down from the back of the sofa.

Ginge the Ninje is very much an outdoor cat. In the summer we might only see her a couple of times a day, when she pops in for a snack, or in a chance meeting whilst strolling across the fields when she will drop whatever she is doing for long enough to say hello. Last year she actually spent a lot more time close to the house, and took a particular liking to the “kitty hutch”, a shelter that we built for Oatmeal the previous year so that he could sit outside, protected from the weather even when he was very ill.

Over this winter, Ginge has increasingly been around the house, inside much more than usual and has now started easing her way into the lounge, which is Squeak’s domain. To be fair, the whole fourteen acres was once Squeak’s domain until the Year Of The Cats when both Ginge and the late, great Oatmeal arrived, got their paws under the table and decided to stay.

So, Ginge has eased her way in to the lounge, staying for a short while at first and then adopting the desk near the door where we have the computer and the household paperwork. It turns out that there’s nothing more comfortable to sleep on than a pile of bills, unless it’s a pile of bills that’s been shuffled by a demonic card-sharp.

In this time of rising prices, Ginge is only trying to help. Your electricity bill is now much lower. About three feet lower. I think it went under the table, but I’m not sure because I was watching the credit card bill. I may have to pounce on that later and scratch out the minimum payment.

It’s a slow and delicate business moving into someone else’s territory, shifting the balance of ownership. Defeating a menacing water bill is only the start.

Squeak and Ginge get on like a house on fire, the Terry Pratchett definition – screams, flames, people running for safety. However, they get along fine so long as Squeak doesn’t see Ginge, which is most of the time as Squeak likes to sleep under a blanket. In fact, Squeak wails at the support staff if the blanket is not quite to her liking, not draped just so, not properly tucked in around the edges.

There are in fact two cats in this photo – the mound under the blanket on the left is Squeak. She knows that black cats do not photograph well, so is modelling this grey-brown micro-fibre creation as featured on catwalks from here to next door.

A few days ago, with Squeak oblivious under her blanket, we had the pair of them asleep on the sofa, no more than a few paw-lengths apart. This morning, in a daring escalation, I thought we were about to have a less harmonious version as Ginge seemed to be sizing up the possibility of going to sleep on top of the blanket.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Squeak would have noticed the extra weight,

In fact, Ginge was actually working her way up to the arm of the sofa. But, you know, this is a cat, and the certainty is palpable. I could so sleep there if I really wanted to.

As it turns out, they don’t even need the blanket. A night or two back, when Squeak was asleep on my partner’s lap, Ginge floated up and settled on my partner’s shins. Technically, we think this was I know this is uncomfortable, but I am going to balance here until you stand up because I’ve got dibs on that footstool. Fine details aside, the Ginger Ninja seemed utterly oblivious that there was only a pair of knees between her and Squeak, who was so deeply asleep that she also failed to notice.

Really, the only thing that doesn’t work is Ginge trying to jump up on to the sofa whilst Squeak is watching. That ends badly, with fragile support staff having to risk life and limb, or at least a hand, to keep the two of them apart. The thing about being in cat service is, unlike corporate employment, there is no handy policy that says physical and verbal abuse of our staff will not be tolerated. Just keep the tissues and antiseptic handy, and never work alone because when both hands are bleeding, you need help.

So, we start the new year with new habits. Squeak wakes up in the morning, emerges from her blanket, wails at the staff to ensure that breakfast and attention are delivered, and growls in the general direction of where Ginge might be. It’s good to get a head-start on expressing the day’s displeasure.

Ginge, by this point, is already awake, power-purring to ensure that treats and attention are delivered, ignoring the growling, and trying to decide whether it’s time for a morning constitutional, or just climb back up to the currently favoured high ground where growling is so much easier to ignore.

Ginge and Squeak have a fast evolving, dynamic relationship, punctuated by long hours of sleep, where it seems that every day brings something new. It is an ongoing negotiation, a matter of give and take, with emphasis on the take. The challenge for us is to know when to snap photos and when to be the peacekeeping force, fired upon by both sides.

It will be Spring before we know it and the Ginger Ninja will find somewhere new to spent her day. Squeak, a creature of much more fixed habits, will go back to sleep under her blanket.

Carpe cubile, as any cat will tell you.

# # #

This was written for the January BlogBattle prompt of Dynamic, and inspired by watching the cats whilst I couldn’t think of anything to write.

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Shame about the humans.

All the pictures are mine, but I am sure that Ginge and Squeak will demand to control the moggyrights.

Going Nowhere

I’ll write a bucket-list if it’s the last thing I do. That was probably not the smartest thing to say, but my mates pushed it, so I wrote it. Top of the list was sleep with Suzi Sharpnell, the sexiest girl when we were at school, and completely impossible, but my mates arranged it, squared it with Suzi and her husband, sorted out the baby-sitters, everything.

Separate beds. But, you know, I spent the night with Suzi.

That’s the sort of bucket-list I had. Everything ridiculous or impossible, and a laugh every time my mates found a way to make it happen. Like the mystical mystery tour I put at number seven. It’s amazing the things you can find on Google.

The bus even picked me up outside my door, engine rumbling, lights a-flashing and flickering, The Grand and Glorious Mystical Mystery Tour to Nowhere. My mates were all there to have a laugh, and help me onboard.

“Roll up, roll up, and roll aboard!” The tour guide hammed it up perfectly. “Round and round we goes, heading for somewhere nobody knows.”

So I rolled up, got lifted up, rolled into a conveniently empty spot, locked the brakes on my wheels, and gave my mates a serious thumbs-up as we pulled away. It was a shame they couldn’t come along. It’s not like the bus was busy.

I must have dozed off because the next thing I know, the tour guide was running his spiel again, loud and wild, and just the sort of thing number seven on the bucket list should have.

“Here we are, here you go, time to step out and follow the Great Road to Nowhere. The road most travelled, good sir, so, best foot forward… and I will see you at the end.”

I stood, and stepped, without even thinking about it. It’s amazing what I can do when I forget what’s impossible.

The Great Road crunched under foot, as wide as a motorway, but surfaced with loosely packed gravel that didn’t spit or spray as the bus drove away, leaving me to walk. This time I did think about it and on such a nice day didn’t care that it was impossible. The sun was shining, the road ahead curving gently to the right, and rolling fields lining the way. I should have put this on the bucket list, get out of my chair and take a stroll on a perfect day, but somehow that impossible or highly improbable idea never occurred to me before.

The Great Road was amazingly well maintained, smooth and soft underfoot, with no ruts or potholes, an impressive feat for loose grit. Far out across the fields to my right, I saw that there was another road, long and empty, except for the Mystic Mystery Tour bus. The driver must have stopped for a break, or maybe lunch.

I strolled on, following the curve, gravel crunching softly, fields rippling in a light breeze, and came upon a tree, one sturdy branch stretched out across the road with a noose hanging down. A little chalk board was set up, with curly writing in blue, a quick way out.

Two ravens perched on the branch above, giving me the eyeball, pecking at the rope. Someone had tied a note to the noose, nothing to do here, nothing to see, keep walking to Nowhere.

I know it was supposed to be a joke, because everything on my bucket list was a joke, but I really didn’t get that one. It was also weird, and a bit creepy, so I walked past on the farthest side of the gravel road.

I must have walked for an hour or more when I came on a small van parked up, with folding tables and chairs laid out. The biggest, coldest beer I had ever seen stood proudly beside a disposable plate of macaroni cheese and chips. A note read eat me, drink me, if you dare.

Of course I dared. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer, and I have really, really missed the mac-and-cheese. The last time I had any, it just made me utterly nauseous, but I sat, I ate, and it was perfect.

I sipped the beer and stared across the field to the other road where the bus still waited. Finally, I got the joke, the Road to Nowhere was a circle. The only way back to the bus was across the fields. I decided to finish the beer, because honestly, if I’m going to be sick later, I might as well enjoy the before.

When I was ready, I headed directly towards the bus. At the edge of the road I saw a warning sign. Keep off the grass. I ignored it, because my bucket list definitely ought to include walking on the grass whatever the sign says. A few more paces on and I found another sign. I told you to keep off the grass. I had to keep going, didn’t I?

The third sign was weird. Warning, undiscovered country beyond. I mean, what the hell? I was on a Mystical Mystery Tour to Nowhere, so I might as well go hiking somewhere completely new.

After walking for absolutely ages, I came to a fourth sign. Welcome to the middle of Nowhere. The Road to Nowhere encircled me, and dead ahead, the Mystical Mystery Tour bus was waiting, ebullient tour guide waving. I walked on, out of the Middle of Nowhere and heading for the edge.

The bus had gone when I reached the road, but the tour guide was still there, waiting with my wheelchair.

“All done and ready to go home?”

Already? “No rush. I was going to walk some more.”

“Ah. Number twenty-one.” The tour guide held up my bucket list. “Keep on walking. Just after number twenty. Keep fighting until the end.”

“I don’t remember writing that one. In fact… there’s only twenty on the list.”

“I can scrub it out…” He posed with a pen over item number twenty-one.

“Keep on walking,” I decided. “I know the way. Going Nowhere. Got nowhere better to be.”

The gravel felt good under my feet, and I could see a sunset hovering around the curve of the circular road.

A perfect end to a perfect day.

# # #

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

Images from Pixabay.

Jacked-up Beansprout

I went to see a man by the name of Jack about a new bean crop. As an experienced officer in His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Magically Modified Crops, I like to arrive unannounced and catch people by surprise, but my bicycle has a squeaky wheel so Mr Jack heard me coming.

“Should have walked the last bit,” my talking hamster said from my shoulder.

I miss the days when I rode a talking horse.

“Can I help you, Mister?” Jack said, doing all those annoying yokel things, chewing on a piece of straw, leaning on a pitchfork and mopping his brow with a very grubby kerchief, against a background of a field of gently wafting wheat. Honestly, you have to watch these rural folks carefully because all of that stuff is just to distract the unwary Royal Inspector – that pitchfork could do me a lot of damage if Mr Jack was trying to hide illicit magical modification.

“I am Inspector Aculeos and I received reports of a magically modified bean, Mr Jack.”

“It’s Just Jack, Mister. No Mr at all.” He gave his straw a contemplative chew which convinced me that I was dealing with a sharp and dangerous character. “Don’t you fellas normally ride a talking horse?”

“Cut-backs,” I told him.

In my grandfather’s day, it was a winged chariot, but there were so many problems. I remember, when I was growing up, grandfather complaining about the feed shortages for the chariots and the child-tax, because one medium-sized chariot could eat three kids a month. That’s why they moved to unicorns in my father’s day, which was another poor choice. There was apparently no problem in finding young women who wanted to be unicorn wranglers, but then there was a sudden surge in the number of handsome young princes and before you know it the unicorn wranglers have been swept off their feet and the recruitment process has to start all over again.

Unicorns can turn nasty without an appropriate young woman to look after them.

“So, you’ll be wanting to see the beanstalk,” Jack said, shifting his weight off the pitchfork.

I tried not to tense up, and keep light on my feet, because these country-types can hurl a pitchfork with blinding speed and accuracy. Instead he propped it against a bush, causing a faint tinkle of magical bell-flowers. It’s best to overlook that sort of thing with a pitchfork still so close to hand.

“So it’s just the one beanstalk?”

“Yeah, yeah, Mister. I thought I’d start small. This way.”

I followed him on a winding track through fields of corn, perfectly ordinary corn, not the gold stuff that crashed the economy three years ago and led to the talking horses being phased out in favour of talking hamsters and a bicycle. The path brought us into the shade of a looming tree.

“Here it is, Mister.” Jack showed me his beanstalk, which honestly looked like a sickly carrot, growing in the shadow. “Not bad, eh?”

I stared at the carrotish bean sprout. “Seriously?”

“What?” Jack shook his head. “Sorry, fella, that’s just my rabbit who keeps planting carrots. I tell him they needs sunshine, but he keeps on putting them under here.” Jack pointed up. “Just look at them beans.”

I looked, up, and felt a chill in my bones. The beanstalk tree was tall, very tall, and hung with maturing seed pods as long as my arm, heavy enough to cause harm if they fell.

“How do you harvest?” I asked, picturing a man in armour.

“Work in progress, Mister,” Jack said. “Probably have to use a pitchfork.”

“Right. Of course. So what do these beans do? What’s the advantage over ordinary beans?”

“Glad you asked that, Mister, glad you asked. Just look at the size of them, right? One pod will feed a family for a day, but when they’re ripe, one bean will feed a family for a week.”

“What happens if a bean falls?” From the look of them, one bean dropping from the top of the beanstalk, or tree as I like to call it, would kill a whole family instantly.

“That’s not a problem, Mister. They just float down, soft as you like, with a bit of magic, or float away sometimes, which is where the pitchfork comes in handy.”

That, as we say in the business, is a problem. “Wait, you mean these are magic beans. Not just magically modified?”

“You got it, fella. Proper magic beans.”

“That people are supposed to eat?”

“Yeah, yeah, a bit of magic in every bite. It will put hairs on your chest.”

That’s the sort of thing I was afraid of. “Is it safe?”

Frankly, magically modified crops can have all sorts of surprising consequences, but actual magical crops are like the Wild West, which is far less wild now that all of those Handsome Princes have settled out that way with their former unicorn-wrangler princesses. It turns out that witches’ curses are a big concern in Royal circles, so they have field after field of dwarf ogre bushes since finely ground baby ogre bones are excellent for warding off curses, and fully grown dwarf ogres are both very loyal and excellent at law-enforcement.

For those of us in the know, there are problems ahead, because one day the dwarf ogres will notice how many young dwarf ogres are picked from the bush far too young and ground up to ward off curses. It will be just like the old High Kings of West Loathing who worked out how to bottle trouble in great glass jars and have an easy life, until that pesky earthquake.

Jack gave me a joyful smile. “Fella, I’ve been eating magic since I were a kid. Look at me now.” He opened his shirt to reveal a jungle of hair. “My dear widdered mother knits a new doormat from that every month. Fetch a pretty penny, they do. Jack’s Widdered Mother’s Famous Doormat. Nice little earner, fella. Magic just sucks the dirt off yer boots.”

“Mister Jack…” I hesitated as he gave me a look that said he could fetch his pitchfork in no time. “I mean Just Jack… do you have a magic licence?”

“Me? Course I do, Mister.” He delved back inside his shirt and pulled out a battered scroll. “Here you go, fella, magic licence.”

I unrolled it.

“Jack, heretofore known as Just Jack, is hereby licensed and approved in the use, manipulation, promulgation and baking of magic in all crops, livestock, dairy products and other foodstuffs, by order of His Majesty’s Expectorate of Magical Practitioners.”

I examined the watermark, which sloshed exactly the way it’s supposed to, and the King’s Seal clapped its flippers before diving into the watermark exactly right, but it ought to say His Majesty’s Inspectorate, not Expectorate. So, it might be a fake, or it might be that the scribe was having an off-day.

I handed the licence back. “That’s fine.” Because one way of dealing with an inspector who spots a fake licence involves blinding speed and accuracy with a pitchfork. “How many beans are you expecting to produce?”

“Ah, now there I’ve got a problem, fella.” He nudged the bean tree a couple of times with his shoulder and half a bone dropped out of the air. A very human-looking leg bone in fact.

“HEY!” A thunderous shout echoed overhead. “Stop shaking the beanstalk. I’m trying to make my bread.”

Jack pointed up. “I’ve got a giant infestation. If I can’t get that sorted, I could lose the whole crop. When they can’t find people to eat they start on the beans.”

All giant infestations have to be reported, and then exterminated, which might shut Jack’s farm down completely. Or burn it down, depending on how bad the problem is.

“I can ask the new pest-control department to take a look,” I offered, my mind on getting away without pitchfork interaction. “They’ve got all sorts of new methods for getting rid of giant infestations.” Mostly, now, they use dragons, which are faster and hotter than traditional burning techniques. “Would that help?”

Just Jack gave me a huge smile. “Thanks fella. Say, could I interest you in a flying pitchfork? Better than that old bicycle of yours.”

“Flying pitchfork?” Flying towards me, perhaps? “I thought it was broomsticks.”

“Too many associations with witches, fella. Flying pitchforks are the thing, you just gotta be careful reversing.”

I was more certain than ever that Jack, like his pitchfork, was a sharp and dangerous character.

“Are they cheap to run?”

“Dead cheap.”

“Oh. Excellent. The Chief Inspector will drop by next week.” With backup, and dragons, and pitchfork-resistant armour. “He’s always looking for new opportunities. You could join the Inspectorate’s preferred supplier list.” Or, more likely, our recently detained list.

I bade farewell to Just Jack, after buying a new doormat from his mother, and pedalled as fast as my squeaky bicycle would go, only finally feeling safe when I was away from the growing shadow of the beanstalk tree.

Just as I like to arrive unannounced and catch people by surprise, I like to leave in a hurry before people can catch me by surprise. A whole fleet of flying pitchforks might be just what the Inspectorate needs if we can sort out traffic-safety during reversing.

My talking hamster whispered in my ear.

“Next job, is a man called Cousin Jack with a goose that lays golden eggs.”

Oh, please, not more gold. It was bad enough when it grew on trees.

# # #

This was inspired by the November #BlogBattle prompt of Cultivate, because it was the wrong time of year to talk about what’s growing in the greenhouse.

Images from pixabay,com.


A meme, a myth and a legend walk into a bar – it’s not a joke, this is our Thursday evening Metaphoricals Anonymous self-help group, which is also a serious Huddle In the Corner stereotype. For those who know him, Huddle In the Corner won’t be coming any more because apparently he can’t stand the same old thing, time and time again.

So. About me.

My name is Stuff, and I am a meme. I also have a brother called Stuff, but it’s more of a title, or perhaps a family name. In our immediate relatives there’s Uncle Right, Cousins Good and Hot, and my nephews Sterner, Strut and Nonsense. The point, the real point, is my brother, who always gets the good stuff, being the Stuff of Dreams. You don’t see him joining support groups, or going to therapy. In fact, the last time I saw him he was heading off for a rustic picnic with those dewy-eyed idiots Nostalgia, Close-knit Family and Idyllic Childhood.

Why do they do that? I just want to take the lot of them by the throat and shake some sense into them. Wake up and smell the reality. Of course Dreamy never wants to wake up when the good stuff is happening.

That’s family for you. By the way, has anyone seen Feud recently? According to Happy, there was some big bust-up with Rift.

Anyway, I don’t know why, but I really hit a low this week, which is why I’m standing up here, with my clothes on, because honestly it would be such a tedious stereotype if I was naked. Or had forgotten my presentation notes, which I don’t actually have, and it wouldn’t bother me anyway. I have been doing this stuff, or being this stuff, ever since Stuff of Dreams needed a night off and left me to handle the details.

Honestly, who does that? Leaves a highly skilled job to a completely untrained meme without even a hint as to what is needed? No wonder I stuffed it up completely. I mean, it looks so easy when Dreamy does it, play out a story in a mortal head, no need for logic or narrative consistency, just have a bit of fun.

The first time, that was a shocker, the sudden screams in the dark, night-sweats, all that stuff, but after the first few thousand years of being a fully mature meme, long before mortals even invented the idea of the meme, I’m used to it. Dreamy is busy, or got bored, and I step in with all my teeth fell out, or the tiger is gaining on me. The whole naked at work thing is a new one, but now I’ve had millennia of clothes, and work, it’s just ordinary stuff.

Which is my problem.

I can’t take any more ordinary. I want new narrative styles, dreams with a twist, perhaps excruciating guest stars, but not the way that Dreamy sneaks in the boy-or-girl next door, unexpectedly naked at work, and let’s just step into my office. I want to explore new themes, do new stuff, and expand my horizons, but mortals just cling on to what they know, being late, being naked, frantically hunting for a parking space. And the teeth, thing, of course. I am so, so, so bored of teeth falling out that I have taken to carrying spare pairs of dentures to work.

Oddly enough, that was a newer one. Dreamy had a good laugh when I mentioned the whole my dentures keep falling out story. Apparently, that is humorous.

So, this week, I did actually try something completely new. I thought it was going to be a big hit, give the first mortal a taste, let them talk about it at work, with their clothes on, and let the new scenario spread. It goes like this – you are a tap, with a drip, because of a worn washer and all you do is drip and drip and drip and no matter how hard someone turns you off you still drip and all the time you just want someone to turn you on so that you can gush, but no it’s just drip, drip, drip…

That was my high point, and let’s be honest, we all know what an irritating stereotype Dripping Tap can be, so I was sure the mortals would love it. I thought I had scaled the heights and plumbed the depths, until the next day.

Hey, babe, weird dream last night. I was a dripping tap.

Dripping tap?

Yeah. Said it was weird.

Wow. I dreamt I was naked at work.

Hey, babe, I dream about you naked at work and…

I did try my big new idea on a few mortals, but nothing. No buzz, no excitement, not even a whimper of dismay in the middle of the night. The nearest I got was the one who went and checked the bathroom and then gave me that ultimate critical thumbs down – ah, it was just a dream. Every damn mortal I tried it on completely failed to relate to a dripping tap. In fact, most of them were too busy trying to stop their teeth from being washed down the plughole.

Seriously, how is a meme supposed to handle this stuff?

It’s like the ultimate negative review, right? I really, really hate that…. sorry One Star, no offence.

So that’s me. Bad week.

Thank you. My name is Stuff, of Nightmares, and I am a meme who has become a stereotype of sibling rivalry, performance anxiety, job dissatisfaction and failed ambitions.

Could someone get me a drink? A Martini with a stuffed olive would be good.

# # #

This was written in response to the October #Blogbattle prompt of Dream.

Images from pixabay.com