Tag Archives: #featured

Precious Rodents

Oatmeal caught a mouse this morning, summoning me to the kitchen with a proud come see meow that I initially assumed came from Piper. Instead, there was Oatmeal, presenting his mouse and, as per protocol, I assured him that it was indeed a very fine mouse. I know this doesn’t seem anything exceptional, cat-and-mouse is as old as children’s cartoons, but Oatmeal is no longer what you might consider mouse-catching material.

Oatmeal has three working legs out of four, and those three are not exactly operating at a hundred percent. Realistically, his top speed is shuffle, with a regular stumble, and something wildly unstable and short-range when he is spooked and wants to get out of the way. So, the first question that springs to mind on seeing him with a mouse is who did you get that from?

Ownership of rodents can be a fast-changing market. Cats can lose their catch to a chicken in an eye-blink, and the only thing that can take a mouse from a chicken is another chicken.

I didn’t actually ask Oatmeal because some subjects are just too sensitive. I gave him the benefit of the doubt – maybe it was just a very careless and inattentive mouse that mistook him for a piece of furniture. These things do happen. Many years ago, six-plus kilos of hunting tom-cat called Tigger nearly lost his mouse after he put it down and it chose to hide under this nearby big, warm furry thing. Tigger was not the brightest of cats but he did finally work out that he was sitting on his missing mouse.

In a similar vein, some twenty or more years ago we took on an elderly cat called Tinker, because the cat rescue really struggled to re-home twelve year-old cats. In all honesty, he was a truly unlovable cat and when he turned up his paws a few years later, both we and the other cats in the house were suddenly more relaxed. To be fair, his previous owner had loved and doted on him, only giving him up due to a dire change in personal circumstances, and I don’t think we measured up to expectations.

Like Oatmeal, Tinker was not fast on his feet, and certainly not up to much in the way of mouse-hunting. However, if one of the others happened to bring in a mouse and let it loose… Tinker caught the mouse, smacked it on the carpet three times and then went to sleep with the mouse as a pillow so that he would hear if someone tried to steal it. It was clearly such a precious rodent that we wanted to leave it with him, but they do start to smell after a few days.

So, let’s assume the the mouse belongs to Oatmeal, or that he at least came by it second-hand, in an honest transaction. (And even if he didn’t, these things are very hard to prove. Rodents don’t have serial numbers.) Regardless of provenance, Oatmeal is the one who brought the recently-deceased mouse in through the cat-flap (an impressive act of determination for a cat who struggles to walk) and presented it to his people. Wisely, Oatmeal had chosen to skip the stage where the mouse is released just to show how quickly and efficiently it can be caught again. Having brought it in, pre-deceased, and been told it was a wonderful mouse, I assumed that he was expecting the rest of the protocol – yes, I caught it, but there’s no way I’m eating that, hand me the kitty-nibbles.

That is the way it works – pesky rodent dispatched, treats required, even if it’s just the regular cat food. This fundamental sequence frequently led Tigger to lose a mouse because he would stop at the food bowl by the back door on his way to tell us about his latest catch, and how quickly he could re-catch it and… where did my mouse go? Mice can be so inconsiderate, hiding under the rim of a food bowl.

Oatmeal, however, stared at the saucer of kitty nibbles and then looked at me as if I was deranged, or at least working from a different rule book. He ate a few, probably so that I wouldn’t feel like too much of an idiot, before putting his mouse on the saucer, in the middle of the nibbles, and then eating it. Completely.

His mouse. His meal. A moment beyond price.

It reminded us of a rabbit which Ginge caught many years ago, when Oatmeal was still a solid six kilos to her three, but didn’t have the nerve to take her catch. She ate the rabbit, almost as big as she was, starting at the nose, with Oatmeal watching every mouthful, until only the back legs were left. Oatmeal waited until she was definitely done before crunching down the left-overs.

So, the mouse… my mouse, mine, all mine…

Not only did he eat every scrap of mouse, Oatmeal was clearly pleased beyond measure. The empty space where the mouse had been got purred at, and then I got purred at, followed by the rest of the world, and then he went back out through the cat flap.

A rodent beyond price.

In August last year he was very nearly put to sleep as he was so ill, and then amazingly rallied before his next visit to the vet. He now has regular check-ups as part of the process of prescribing the steroids that keep him going, and one of the questions the vet always asks is how is his quality of life?

Well, he gets carried up to the Orchard to sit in the sun on nice days, and literally as I typed this sentence he tried to climb up my leg in search of some lap time, but that worry is always there, are we doing him an unkindness keeping him going?

The precious mouse answers the question quite emphatically – Oatmeal is doing fine, thank you very much. Just keep that prednisone coming, with the tuna wrapper, and the (lactose-free) milk chaser.

What a win-win precious rodent moment – it made Oatmeal happy, it made us happy, and the rodent… well, it stayed down. It’s amazing how fast a rodent can come back up if all is not well.

Got to go. Oatmeal purring.

Stop tapping that keyboard and stroke properly. Both hands. That’s it… and behind the ears.

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

Cats understand their people, their wants and needs, and file that information away for leverage in the future, except for yesterday when Oatmeal clearly knew that I didn’t have a clue what to write and obliged with some simple inspiration.

A Tax Of The Furry Sharks

We haven’t had the warmest or driest of summers, and the weather for August is presenting more like September, but we have managed a fair number of days with chairs set up in the orchard. There have to be four chairs, one each for myself and my partner, and then one each for the cats. Strictly speaking, there are four cats, but only two of them insist on spending sunny days relaxing in the orchard, and only one of them can get there under his own power.

Oatmeal is not well. Seriously not well. He can walk back from the orchard, but only does that because his food is at the house, and it can take him an hour to cover the distance. Piper can do it in under two minutes, unless there are chickens chasing him, in which case it’s under one minute, with dirty looks for his people if the kitchen door isn’t open for the dash to safety.

Preparing the nose for action

So, Oatmeal requires transport. He rides up to the Orchard on my arm, which isn’t too stressful as he is down from the six-plus kilos of his prime and is now a very bony three kilos. He expects all the facilities to be ready when he arrives. The chair should have the towel on it, there should be water in the bowl, and food on hand, to be presented on demand and kept out of reach of chickens at all other times.

Above all, the service staff should be attentive and ready to respond promptly to the needs of the Compass Nose. When something is required, Oatmeal sits, quite neatly in spite of his serious leg problems, and points his nose in the air to indicate what’s needed. Unfortunately, the Compass Nose only ever points upwards, so the service staff have to become adept at interpreting the requirements.

This is your final warning

Piper, six and a half kilos of prime, podgy cat, makes his own way to the orchard and indicates his needs by walking on the service staff.

Now that everything is set in the orchard we can sit, have lunch out there, and supper if the evening doesn’t cool off too fast. Provided, of course, that the necessary taxes are paid.

The lunch menu is quite simple – home-baked bread, cheese, fruit, and just at present, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes out of the greenhouse. Supper can be more varied, but just lately there has been a definite theme of egg-related dishes since the hens are laying prolifically.

The taxation system is also quite simple. It is calculated in cheese or omelette and collected primarily by Piper. Oatmeal prefers his kitty biscuits, or perhaps this revenue collection business is really far too much effort. So, Piper gives meaningful looks at plates, whilst Oatmeal quests with the Compass Nose.

The Compass Nose, to the point.

In the period before the taxes fall due, Piper can be invisible, having wandered off to explore the hedges, check for interesting things under the apples trees, and generally be absent, but his finely honed senses detect the subliminal signs of plates passing nearby and as if from nowhere he is there, in the chair, appraising the taxable items.

The rule is simple – three pieces of cheese and he is done. Once the levy has been paid, he will stop trying to balance his weight, on one paw, on the nerve in your leg, and retreat to his own chair to let the tribute settle in. That said, we have noticed in recent weeks that the rule of three now applies to each diner separately.

That’s my bit, right there.

The supper tax is rather more complex. An omelette is easy and just like the cheese – three pieces, per diner, and then you are free to eat. Pancakes, though, are a different matter, and have to be paid in related food-stuffs. The clear winner, in general, is yoghurt because we often have diced melon, or something similar to go with the pancake, dressed with syrups, sauces and miscellaneous dairy products.

Take me home, driver.

On those occasions that cream is involved, the taxation rate increases dramatically.

We haven’t risked tuna-related meals in the orchard since last year when Ginge (three kilos of single-minded persistence) climbed out along the length of my out-stretched arm in her attempt to reach my plate and apply the basic sea-food taxation rate of one hundred percent. (When we eat indoors, that’s Squeak’s territory and Ginge doesn’t venture in.)

There it is, the taxation system, apart from transporting Oatmeal back to the house. He is generally very clear when it is time for his medication, although it’s probably the concealing snack that comes wrapped around the medication that is foremost in his furry mind.

There’s only three certain things in this world, death, taxes and cats.

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This was written for the #BlogBattle August prompt of Tribute.

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

May, The Lambs

At this time of year I blog about the first lambs, if only as an excuse for gratuitously posting cute lamb photos. This year, the lambs happened, the photos were taken, and then… nothing.

Finally, I am catching up.

At the time, right at the beginning of May, things were a little busy. I was doing some gardening – a bit of weeding, planting a few trees, that sort of thing. I’d even hired a few tools to help: a one-and-a-quarter tonne excavator and a one tonne dumper. Forty trees is heavy work.

The books tell you that a pregnant ewe’s udder will fill just before lambing, but “just before” means somewhere between two hours and two weeks. Calypso was already drifting into week three and looking so wide we even wondered if it might be triplets, though that is very rare with Soay sheep.

Finally, on the Friday, Calypso moved on to picking out a spot well away from the other sheep, so this was it, lambs coming at any moment. Every time I went past on the way to where the trees were going, I checked on Calypso and confidently told my partner that today was the day.

On the move…

On Saturday, Calypso got serious about a spot well away from the other sheep, so this was really it. (The trees were going well, but the small and manoeuvrable trailer chose that moment to have it’s suspension collapse.) Every time I went past with another batch of trees, I paused and checked, and yes Calypso really, really meant it today.

Natural camouflage

On Sunday, as the last of the trees were headed for their new homes, Calypso held down that isolated spot, just to show what really serious meant. I had no doubt, and firmly predicted that the lambs (got to be triplets, or maybe quads, because how much wider can a sheep get without exploding?) would arrive today, or maybe tomorrow, unless she’s just messing with us and has Wednesday in mind.

By the end of the day, Wednesday was starting to look like the favourite.

On a whim, we went out to do a final check at ten on the Sunday evening, arriving just after the first lamb. Then we went back to the house to consult the books, Google, old photos, anything that might hint whether we ought to be expecting more.

At about half ten, we inspected again, just after lamb number two arrived. As ever, even a ewe that’s grown as wide as she is long, knows that twins are the limit.

Say hello to a pair of ewe lambs, Speckles and Spot.

Eyes In The Dark

About this time, ten years ago, our cat Bitsy died at the age of eighteen. He left behind a legacy of fluff, entertainment and a young companion called Holly. Honestly, I don’t think he liked Holly, and probably wished that we never took her on, but he was lonely after his brother died and driving us nuts at dusk when he wanted company to hunt the hedgerows, so we took on the “small and non-aggressive, non-dominant cat”.

Sometimes the description on the packet is misleading.

Bitsy, taking a stroll

Holly is still with us, although we only ever use that name for the vet’s paperwork. Holly has various names, as did Bitsy, and as did his amazing fluffy tail, which alone would need another thousand words. When she first arrived, Holly became known as Small Cat since she was half the size of Bitsy, and perhaps because she had clearly failed to graduate in any of her Basic Cat Skills training courses.

A rare action shot

Bitsy, the Fluffy Master, taught her to climb trees, walk along fences, balance on the top of a fence post (although she never mastered scratching her ear at the same time), and generally fake it as a fully qualified cat. The faking it is the operative term, because Holly never quite got it right. As we used to say, anything that Big Cat can do, Small Cat can do eventually, sort of. Holly would produce something that almost looked right, even if she completely missed the point.

Holly, aka Little Missy Trouble

At every lesson, and every attempt, the words were writ clear…

No, Small One, more like this…

Yes, Oh Fluffy Master, like this?

No… no… oh, no…

Climbing trees is a prime example. When Bitsy and his late brother, Tigger, played tag they would race up and down our apple trees as if the trunks were just another piece of level ground. Holly worked up to climbing the three-metre high cypress hedge behind the house, but that was comprised of multiple trunks with regular and intertwining horizontal branches, so not so much a hedge as a living climbing frame which appeared to be uniform wall of green from the outside, rustling to the movement of the cat within.

No, Small One, come down smoothly, with grace, and flounce that tail, and…

But, Oh Fluffy Master, I can… wheeee! Ow. Ow-ow. Ow. Ow-ow-ow…

Holly proved skilled at falling out of cypress trees, and rattling down in a controlled tumble like the ball in a pinball machine, progress marked by the quivering foliage, until she finally emerged at the bottom, where she then failed that other essential cat skill, the nonchalant air which says I meant to do that, and didn’t I do it well?

Perhaps that was when she first practised dark glares, because embarrassment can do that to a Small Cat.

Bitsy completely failed to teach her to fight, which is probably just as well, and also a testament to his amiable nature. Holly ignored Bitsy’s refusal to teach fighting, and attempted to wrestle with him on a regular basis, pitching her two-plus kilos of incompetence against his five-plus kilos of zen-like judo mastery. Holly would leap, and grab, and wrap herself around his neck. Bitsy would shrug and dump a pile of frustrated black fur on the ground.

That is probably when she also gained the moniker of Little Missy Trouble. Being the epitome of unstoppable persistence, she would leapt again, grab again, and again, and eventually Bitsy would get irritated, reach out with one big, fluffy paw and hold her head to the ground.

Enough, Small One.

Yes, Oh Fluffy Master….

Stop wriggling, Small One.

Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master.

Still wriggling, Small One. And stop squeaking.

Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master. Promise.

And then leap again…

Perhaps she first started developing those furious stares and furious squeaks when her head was held down, because that sort of embarrassment can leave a mark on even the blackest cats, and trouble the most persistent of Little Missy Troubles.

After Bitsy turned up his furry feet, Holly took over the patch, made it her own, and firmly adopted the name Squeak, largely because in keeping with her stature, she has a small voice. Loud, but small, and perhaps a little bit whiny.

Without Bitsy’s guidance, and weary but superior glance, Squeak caught a rat, brought it into the house without killing it, and then let it loose. Clearly Bitsy missed passing on the basics, or Squeak wasn’t paying attention.

Yes, Small One, play with the mice all you like, but rats get it in the neck, immediately.

But I wanna play a bit, Oh Fluffy Master.

No Small One, pay attention now, mice play good, rat play bad. And stop smacking my tail.

Yes, oh Fluffy Master, but…

Wise as he was in the Way Of The Cat, it never occurred to Bitsy to mention that with rats, don’t let the little beast at your food bowl because it will only get bigger. In Bitsy’s world, no cat brought a live rat inside.

I did finally managed to catch the rat after it had chewed a hole in the cupboard under the sink, eaten half a bag of raw potatoes, and for the main course, devoured the internal wiring of the dish-washer.

Perhaps that was when Holly-the-Squeak started upping the intensity of the dark looks. For a Squeak to be out-squeaked by a rat has to be pretty embarrassing. Especially when the Fluffy Master told her not to.

I know the whole black cat thing means that all of her looks have a certain measure of intrinsic dark to them, but Squeak does glare, and brooding, and serious scowl at the lightless end of the spectrum. Those dark looks earned her the the most recent name of Scowly-owl, and are at least something which she does well. The Scowly-owl can glower from the sofa, sulk on my chair, or crawl under a pile of blanket and leave one perfectly sour green eye radiating disapproval out into the world.

If Bitsy were still with us, I think the Scowly-owl could out-scowl him.

If she couldn’t, I dare not imagine how dark the embarrassment would make her stares.

Oh.

Gotta go.

Squeak is calling from the sofa.

Lap time is required, so again she almost learned something. Bitsy would never shout.

Pay attention, Small One, this is how you train your people to be properly attentive. Today, we practice the purr of submission…

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This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Owl, because the day after the prompt came out, Squeak gave me the scowl from my partner’s lap, and I reflexively commented on the Scowly-owl.

Cocka-what-a-coup

Some years ago, at a particularly hectic time in our lives, we had a pair of chicks hatch who turned very poorly when only about a week old. We were struggling to care for them, had no idea what was wrong, and consulted our chicken-keeping neighbour to see if she had any thoughts. She very kindly offered to look after them for a couple of days, and brought them back from the edge of death.

Sadly, one still died, but the other, which she named Neo, did well, grew into a very fine cockerel, and somewhere around 2016, he beat the proverbial out of the alpha cockerel Party Pants and took the top spot for himself.

Neo and his challenger

Roll on to the Autumn of 2020 and Neo was showing his age, whilst three lively young lads hatched just over a year earlier were jockeying for position to challenge him. Before anything could be settled, avian flu arrived in the UK, protection orders were issued, and we suddenly had to confine our birds to their shelter, and segregate them from wild birds.

Four cockerels, fourteen hens and a war of succession all in twenty-five square meters did not promise a peaceful time for the hens, so we put the three young lads in the greenhouse to settle their hierarchy. This also gave Neo a final peaceful winter with his girls, because even with the eye of optimism, he was getting old and shaky, and only holding on to his dominance by force of habit.

On the first of April (someone’s idea of a joke?) the avian flu restrictions eased. Our birds went out for the first time in five months, although we left the lads in the greenhouse for the day just to give the hens a head-start on the world.

On the second of April we had two cock-fights. Not some horrible sporting event to entertain barbarians, but three cockerels settling who gets to be Top Bird.

Yes, I know the arithmetic doesn’t add up, but that’s because a couple of weeks back we got a call from friends who run a small holiday complex on an old farm. Their pretty-boy cockerel just died – did we perhaps have a spare? We hadn’t given youngster number three a name (apart from in my head where he was called Drumsticks) because he was the bottom of the hierarchy. Now he has a proper name, half a dozen girls all to himself, and no competition in the business of being the chicken eye-candy.

So, on the second of April, the dominant one of the youngsters, with the snazzy purple sheen to his feathers – whom we call Purple Cock – was randomly assaulted by Neo, probably for looking at The Top Bird in a funny way. That, as it turned out, was a mistake of epic proportions, but it’s remarkably difficult to have the necessary conversation with an old cockerel: listen mate, you’re getting on, slowing down, time to retire gracefully and let someone younger take over.

The victorious Purple Cock

Purple Cock beat seven shades of ow-that-hurts out of Neo, with us standing by to prevent serious injury. It’s not easy intervening in a fight like that – two cockerels hell-bent on flattening each other don’t care about collateral damage. In due course, we did separate them and Neo staggered away in the company of some of his girls.

Which is a problem.

Neo lost. Big time. Except Neo didn’t see it that way. Not in his head. And Purple Cock was mocking him by not running away.

Neo hunted down Purple Cock and got pulverised again. And again. And again. Much of the morning was spent breaking it up, even when Neo reached the point that he was so tired he couldn’t raise his head. Somewhere in that little bird brain, a whispering memory of his youth was uttering sweet stupidity – yes I know you can barely stand, you can’t breathe, you can’t see, but if you stagger around in small circles with your head between your knees, you can really lay a proper smack on that young upstart.

In due course, we put Neo into the greenhouse to get his breath back and hopefully give him time to properly process ow that hurt. We’ll let him out again in a day or two.

Meanwhile, Junior League, the number two youngster, took advantage of the fight and spent the morning hanging out with the hens, the other side of the field and well away from all the excitement. Somewhere around lunchtime, he ran into Purple Cock, still triumphant, and kicked the living victory out of him.

Junior, hanging out with the girls

None of us saw that coup coming, especially Purple Cock.

Today, having had the night to contemplate the mistake and prepare for his comeback, Purple Cock has decided that victory is over-rated and that that dark corner over there looks like a perfect hiding place.

Life is full of surprises.

Now we need a proper name for Junior League.

# # #

PS

When I went to check on the sheep this evening, there were a pair of male blackbirds trying to hammer each other flat.

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