*Thanks, Clicky… /lights up and smokes… Hope the Police don’t confiscate non-essential chair…*
Dear Reader, I’ll be reviewing Underdog Anthology XI: Tales of Loch Doon, in a post once it has been published, which will be any day now. However, as a taster, here’s my effort from the book. It’s a ‘Harry Egg’ tale, set in the early days of lockdown, if you can remember what life was like back then… 😉
*Err, Mr Tibbles is not a stray, but otherwise, that’s a great Song selection…*
The Trouble With Tibbles
by Roo B. Doo
Josie’s singsong voice called out to me, rousing me from slumber. I cracked open an eye and saw that I was in a hospital room, lying flat out on a bed, with Josie stood over me. The lost love of my life wore a skimpy nurse outfit that didn’t exactly look NHS approved. Not unless Ann Summers was now supplying the National Health Service with uniforms. This has to be a dream, I decided and settled back in anticipation of what was to come.
“Josie?” I croaked and reached out to stroke the back of her smooth, naked thigh. “Have you come to take care of me?”
“Oh yes, Harry, I’m going to take real good care of you.” Josie pulled herself up onto my bed and lithely straddled my prone body. The studs holding the front of her too tight tunic together popped open to reveal a racy lace and flesh tonic for the eyes. “Hold still,” she purred.
She scooched toward me, bouncing herself up my body until I could feel the weight of her curvaceous buttocks on my chest and the hot promise radiating from her groin. Slowly, Josie took the stethoscope from around her neck and delicately inserted the listening ends in her ears. She smiled down at me seductively, lowering her face until it was within inches of my own. Without saying a word, she placed the end of the stethoscope firmly over my lips.
“Err, do you want to try that again?” I asked out of the corners of my squashed mouth.
Josie did but this time found only my cheek. Then my eye, before finally she crushed the listening bell against the tip of my nose.
“Now for your injection,” she whispered breathlessly over me. Claws suddenly sprang out from the end of the stethoscope and dug painfully into the sides of my nose.
“Oww! Stop it,” I cried, wrenching my face from side to side. Above me Josie meowed.
I became aware of the unctuous, amber eyes observing me intently. Nestled within a fountain of fur, the eyes blinked once before a swift jab, with a smoky grey paw, socked me on the mouth.
Mister Tibbles yawned lazily, stood up to stretch and gracefully one-eighty’d on my chest. The morning view of his backside was unparalleled, exactly as it had been for the past three mornings. I was confused; I’d purposely closed my bedroom door the night before, precisely to avoid a repeat of Mister Tibbles’ morning performance of the sun and full moon rising.
Riding out the Coronavirus lockdown with my best friend Lol seemed like such a good idea at the time. Three weeks, tucked away with my best friend forever, in his fully stocked house and an internet connection to die for? Why wouldn’t I jump at his offer to come and spend lockdown with him? True, either one of us might be infected with the 21st century ‘Hack Death’, but on balance, I decided to risk it. Besides, Lol wouldn’t have asked me to stay over unless he was scared, the big wuss.
What I hadn’t taken into consideration was how Mister Tibbles would feel about the new living arrangements. After only a few days of lockdown, I’d begun to suspect that Lol’s pedigree Persian Blue moggy considered me his personal plaything; I was little more than something Lol had dragged home as a gift, to be laid on the altar of the bed in the spare bedroom, all for Mister Tibbles’ enjoyment.
“Tibbles, as gorgeous as you are, I really don’t need to inspect your arse and bollocks every morning,” I said irritably and batted the kitty away. I reached over and grabbed my phone to check the time. “And at six o’fucking clock! Are you serious?”
Mister Tibbles regarded my exasperation from the foot of the bed, with passive swishes of his tail.
Gingerly, I explored the area around my nose with my fingertips. Thankfully Mister Tibbles’ wake up call hadn’t drawn blood as far as I could tell, but my hooter felt tender and sore. “And now you’ve got me touching my face.” I accused the moggy malevolently. “Don’t you know, we’re not supposed to touch our faces in this time of national emergency?”
In reply Mister Tibbles jumped silently to the floor and padded over to the bedroom door, before sauntering around it and out of sight.
“Bloody cat,” I muttered sourly and got out of bed. I needed to inspect the damage. Mister Tibbles was waiting for me just outside my bedroom, presumably to weave himself provocatively about my ankles, to trip me on my way to the bathroom. I thumped a tired fist against Lol’s bedroom door as I stumbled past. “Your bloody cat!”
I washed my hands before examining my face in the bathroom mirror. My eyes looked puffy and dry, no doubt due to the ghastly hour, combined with the two bottles of Merlot that Lol and I had polished off the night before. My nose, on the other hand, was red and scratched, like it had lost a fight to a cheese grater. Argh! Thank god I don’t have to show this in public.
I turned from the mirror to use the toilet and caught sight of Mister Tibbles. He sat serenely on the bath mat, gazing up at me. “No, no. You ruined my lovely dream and disfigured me, you bastard cat. I’m not letting you watch me take a piss. I am not here to entertain you, Tibbles. Get out.”
With an innate sense for impending danger, Mister Tibbles jumped back before my foot could make contact with him. He mewed mournfully at me before running out of the bathroom. I shut the door behind him. Firmly. I don’t know if I can take another two and a half weeks of Tibbles!
“What’s up buttercup?” Lol asked brightly as I entered the kitchen some ten minutes later. He was busy percolating coffee and unloading the dishwasher. He seemed perky, gratingly so.
“We’ve got to talk about Tibbles.”
“That’s Mister Tibbles, Harry,” Lol corrected me, with a mischievous smirk. “Mister T doesn’t like it if you don’t use his proper name.”
I sat down at the kitchen table. “I thought you said his proper name is ‘Prince Pomander the Third?”
“No, that’s his pedigree name,” Lol explained and placed a tiny cup of espresso before me. “He doesn’t like to brag of his royal lineage. That’s why his proper name is Mister Tibbles. What’s happened to your nose?”
“Mister Tibbles is what happened,” I told him bluntly, just managing to stop myself from touching my nose by reflex. “Your Prince Pomander thought it quite the jolly idea to use it as a punch ball, to wake me up.” I couldn’t see the fluffy ratbag anywhere. “Where is he by the way?”
“Back garden, stalking squirrels.” Lol handed me two Paracetamol tablets, which I took with a quick drain of my espresso cup. Molten bitterness hit the back of my throat like an express train. I coughed.
“Are you sure you haven’t got the lurg?” Lol asked suspiciously and gave the kitchen table top the once over with a handy disinfectant wipe. Handy packets of wipes were strategically placed in each room of Lol’s house. He’d been following the spread of the virus since the start of the year, via a financial blog he subscribed to. With some foresight, he’d been gradually gathering essentials before stockpiling suddenly became all the rage.
“Yes, I’m sure,” I replied sullenly. “I wouldn’t mind a regular coffee though. One that doesn’t make me cough. You know, with plenty of milk and two sugars.”
“Then help yourself. Mi casa es tu casa, Harry,” Lol told me with a smile. He pulled a fleece jacket on over his lycra cycling garb and downed his espresso.
“You going out?” I asked innocently.
Lol put his cycle helmet on. “Well, seeing as you found it necessary to wake me up so early, H, I thought I’d take advantage of the beautiful morning and clear roads. Would you like to join me on a cycle ride?”
It was a token offer; Lol knew and I knew it; exercise and me are barely nodding acquaintances.
I got up and put the kettle on. “No, I think I’ll go and do a set of stretch and surf in the front room.”
Lol raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“By utilizing your sofa for maximum support,” I explained, whilst loading a coffee cup with heaped teaspoons of instant Columbian and sugar, “I will be stretching out vigorously, with my coffee, to watch breakfast telly, followed by a session of riding the waves of the internet.”
“And no need to change out of your sleep attire. Excellent! Well, make sure you don’t over exert yourself. I shouldn’t be gone longer than an hour.” Lol opened the back door to a stream of early morning sunshine. “Maybe two. Do you want me to leave this open for Mister Tibbles?”
The sun may be shining but the air had a distinctly chilly feel to it. “No, I’ll let the Prince of Pommels back in when he’s finished terrorising the local wildlife.” I shivered and pulled my dressing gown around me tighter. “Go! The draught is freezing.”
Lol made to kiss me on the cheek but stopped himself short. “This corona business is just too weird, Harry,” he whispered sadly, close to my ear.
“I know, Lol,” I whispered back. We stood there for a second, not touching, but feeling the weight of our previously tactile existence fill the space between us. “Go on, go and get your daily permitted exercise.”
Lol left and I finished making my coffee before settling down in front of the gogglebox. I started flicking through the channels: squeaky clean sofa people looking solemn on BBC1; pernickety house buyers searching for their dream home on Two; Piers Morgan indulging in a bout of hissy-fitting on ITV; and on Channel Four, a careworn repeat of ‘Cheers’. Jesus fuck! What a load of crap. No thanks!
I switched the telly off and opened my laptop. Oh, how I missed work. Not the people so much as the busyness and structure of the day. Working from home is all well and good when there’s actual work to do, but since the Fat Kontroller had decided to furlough the business in the short-term, there wasn’t very much for me to do. I felt redundant.
What I needed was a project, something to keep me occupied or I might end up going stark staring mad. A sudden, fearful notion gripped me: what if I started to miss Shazza, F.A. Kontrell’s mouthy receptionist and bane of my working life? I mentally shuddered. Get a grip, I chastised myself. Purge that image, Harry. Time to work up a sweat.
A soft thump on the front room window, diverted my attention away from the ‘Hot Russian Babes Twerking Workout’ YouTube video on my laptop screen. Mister Tibbles, bane of my lockdown life, sat on the outside ledge, peering in. Oh no, I forgot to let the cat in, I mentally whined.
“Go round to the back,” I shouted. Mister Tibbles didn’t move, except for his eyes, which gave a lazy blink.
I contemplated ignoring him; that generally works with Shazza. Lol, however, would never forgive me, though, if anything happened to his beloved and extremely valuable cat. Reluctantly, I put the laptop on the floor, sighed and got up off the sofa.
“Okay, I’m coming,” I called and opened the front door. Apart from a chorus of bird song, there seemed no other sign of life in the street outside.
Mister Tibbles wasn’t sitting on the front window ledge; the annoying furball was nowhere to be seen. I leaned out and scanned the empty road. “Come along Mister Tibbles. Breakfast,” I called sweetly. I expected to feel the soft rush of fur against my bare feet, but all I felt was a chilly, spring gust of wind on my face. “Tibbles?”
Keeping the front door ajar with my left foot, I stepped forward for a better view of the street. I was totally unprepared for the warm squelch I felt under my right heel, nor for the crunch of small bones.
I lifted my leg with disbelief. A flattened and decidedly dead mouse clung to the bottom of my foot, held in place by its blood and guts. Only its tail moved, which fluttered gently in the breeze.
I hopped outside, toward the patch of lawn at the front of Lol’s house; I had to wipe the foul remains off my being. “Ew, ew, EWWww! Oh My God! That is so disgusting!”
The mouse peeled off easily and lay discarded among the dewy blades, but I continued to scrape my heel and foot through the wet grass, round and around the lawn, determined to remove any rodent residue. My mind shrieked in disgust, Unclean! Unclean!
Mister Tibbles sat on the front step, watching my demented circling with a look of feline bemusement.
“Tibbles!” I rushed toward him but, sensing the murder in my heart, Mister Tibbles quickly scarpered back inside the house. “TIBBLES, NO!”
Too late. In his eagerness to escape, Mister Tibbles bumped the edge of the door with his hightailing. I watched in horror as the front door swung tantalizingly to and fro, before the wind grabbed it and brought it to a close with a click.
I stopped in my tracks, and for a split second the birds ceased their conversations and the wind dropped. There was only silence, complete silence, and I felt as if the eyes of the Universe were upon me. I stood there, utterly alone, wearing only my pyjamas, a dressing gown and some dead mouse. Then from one of the trees that lined the suburban street I heard the sound of a crow caw. To my ears it sounded like a guffaw.
A flicker of smokey grey movement caught my attention from the corner of my eye. Inside the house, Mister Tibbles had jumped up onto the front room window sill and was prowling along it, beating the glass pane with his tail.
You are so dead! I banged on the window with my fists.
Mister Tibbles didn’t flinch. He meowed and leapt to the floor, before strutting over to the sofa, where he curled up in the comfy spot that until recently I’d been happily occupying. Seemingly ignorant of my impotent knocking, Mister Tibbles then cocked his back leg above his head and set about licking his balls.
“I’m gonna get you,” I growled menacingly at the cat.
For the birds too, it appeared entertainment time was over as they went back to their noisy discussions. Not to be left out, a stream of cold air whistled past, stinging my still tender shnozz and flapping the ends of my dressing gown. I tried the front door but it was shut tight. I inspected the bottom of my foot to make sure it was mouse-free and wondered what the hell I was going to do until Lol returned. I hoped to fuck that he’d thought to take a key with him.
Did he lock the back door when he left? Lol had closed the back door, but had he locked it? I wave of hope surged through me: Maybe I can get in through the back!
As befitting his status of local branch bank manager, Lol’s home was a modest, three bedroom terrace house. The houses either side of his were semi-detached and next to one was a side alley that led to Lol’s back garden. Not wanting to track dirt into his pristine abode, Lol always used the passage to access his house when he went out cycling. I could get to his garden! Even if Lol had locked the back door, at least I could get off the street. I hadn’t seen anybody walk by yet, but that was no guarantee that there wouldn’t be any passersby. I decided to go for it.
Fortified with a plan of action, I belted my dressing gown tight and sprinted out of the front garden and onto the street, passing the neighbour’s house until I reached the entrance to the side alley. Not being a cyclist, I’d never used the entrance before, so my heart sank when I saw the 6ft wood gate blocking the entrance. It rattled and creaked when I pushed at it but the gate wouldn’t open. Locked! Shit! I’ll have to climb over it.
With my right hand grabbing the top of the gate, I climbed up onto the neighbour’s low garden wall adjacent to it. Now, if I can just get my leg over…
“Wot you doin?”
I froze at the sound of the voice coming from behind me.
“Yeah, wot you up to lady? You tryna break in?” a second voice, chimed in.
Oh great! Company!
I turned my head and saw two boys loitering on the street, staring at me. They were dressed in the ubiquitous teenage uniform of the day: hoodies, jeans, trainers, insolence.
“Kind of, yes,” I said climbing off the wall to face them. “I’ve got locked out of my house.”
The two boys looked at each other and then back at me. “Figures,” the taller of the two boys said. “That’s the wrong gear to wear for breakin’ in to ‘ouses.”
“Yeah, no gloves, no shoes. That’s like trailin’ your DNA shit everywhere, innit?” the second boy confirmed.
Oh God. Idiots. I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, quite.”
The boys turned away and conferred for a moment. I waited patiently for them to finish, acutely aware of the ridiculousness of my situation.
Eventually the taller boy spoke. “You wanna boost?”
“Yeah, lady. You wanna boost?”
Oh God. Stereo idiots. Despite my misgivings, I decided to accept their offer. By now all I wanted to do is get inside and have a hot bath. “Yes, please. That would be lovely, thank you.”
The boys approached me and the taller idiot crouched down in front of the gate with his hands held out in front of him, fingers interlocked. “So how come you got locked out then?”
“Yeah, how come?” came his echo.
I placed my left foot on the outcupped hands and grabbed the top of the gate with both hands. “That’s not really any business of yours, is it?”
The fingers under my foot unlaced and it slammed to the floor. “Oww!”
The crouching idiot look up at me from beneath his hood. “Do you want our ‘elp?”
“Yeah, do ya?” the second idiot asked from behind his mobile phone.
“Hold on, are you filming this?”
The first idiot stood up, towering over me. “See it’s like this. We can get stuff from school for doing good works. Like vouchers for stuff. Microsoft points for the X-Box-”
“Yeah, X-Box points.”
“And other things,” the taller idiot continued, “But we have to be able to prove it. We’ve gotta have evidence of our good works, see?”
“Yeah, we gotta provide the evidence.”
I was fuming but not really in a position to argue: I did need their help. I inspected the bottom of my foot and rubbed the gravel and grit embedded in it. “Okay, I’ll tell you. But swap places with me so I can use my other foot.”
I took a deep breath and addressed the phone camera. “Hello. My name is Harry Egg. I’ve been locked out of my friend Lol’s house, where I’m staying for lockdown, by Prince Pomander the Third, and these two lovely chaps are going help me get back in.”
“Wait, who’s Prince Pom… Pom whatever?” the camera idiot asked. Ha! You’re not just an echo, I thought, but you’re still an idiot.
“Prince Pomander. The Third. He’s a cat, also known as Mister Tibbles and he left a dead mouse on the doorstep for me this morning.”
“Nasty!” the taller idiot said, crouching down.
“Very nasty indeed.” I placed my right foot in the crouching idiot’s hands, grabbed the top of the gate and lightly bounced on my standing leg. “You should have seen the blood and guts squirt out everywhere when I trod on it.”
“No way! What foot?” camera idiot asked.
I pushed down hard with my right foot on crouching idiot’s hands and bounced up. With a mighty heave, I pulled myself up onto the top of the gate. “The one he’s holding.”
“WHAA?!” Crouching idiot sprang to his feet forcefully and propelled me up and over the gate. “Nah, nah, nah. Stop filming!”
I lay flat on the ground in a daze. I could hear the boys arguing on the other side of the gate. I didn’t care, I just wanted to get up and back to the house. I raised myself up into a sitting position and fought back tears.
Camera idiot’s head and phone appeared over the gate. “Hey lady, you alright?”
Am I alright? I didn’t think anything was broken except my pride. “Yes, fine thank you,” I replied, getting to my feet and putting on a brave face. “No bones broken.”
“That was wicked! I’ve never seen anyone fly so high!” camera idiot said enthusiastically.
“You’re welcome.” I turned and trailing my hand along the neighbour’s high wooden fence to keep me steady, started to hobble along the alley. “And tell your friend to wash his hands.”
A second gate prevented direct access to Lol’s back garden, but this one wasn’t so high. I would have barged it down if I’d had to, but managed to scramble over it. At last, I was in the safety of the back garden. Whereas the street was bathed in the shadow of the house, the back garden suffered no deficit of sunlight. The grass looked green and lush, sparkling with diamonds as the dew drops amplified the light, and only the gentlest of breezes caused Lol’s saffron headed daffodils to bob as I passed. It’s really nice out here, I thought. I should have just sat out here this morning.
I reached the back door, grabbed the handle and turned. Please God, please God, please God.
The door swung open. Hallelujah!
“Harry.” Lol was opening the back gate and wheeling his bicycle into the garden. He looked athletic and ruddy. The bastard!
“Hello Lol. How was your ride? Busy out there?”
“Yeah, it was great. Hardly any traffic.” Lol leaned his bike up against the wall of the house. “You look dreadful, Harry. Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I said, stepping over the door threshold and into the kitchen. “I’m going to have a long, hot bath. You can come up and sit with me if you like and I’ll tell you all about it.” I paused. “Mister Tibbles is not invited.”
*Mister Tibbles certainly has the measure of Harry, Clicky…*
Underdog Anthology XI will be available on Kindle from Amazon for the super low price of 99p/99c for the duration of lockdown, as indeed are all the anthologies and novels from Leg Iron Books…
*Well done, Leggy! …/stubs butt… That’s seriously good value, Clicky…*