At last! Dear Reader, Underdog Anthology XIV: The Dark Ides of March has finally been published and is now available for purchase…
*Wrong book, Clicky, although finking about it… /lights up and smokes… I did write my anthology story over the Easter weekend…*
After writing ‘What Time Do You Finish?’ and following that up with ‘Christmas Death Wish’, I’d decided I would write a third installment in what is turning out to be a ‘Ronageddon’ series. If you haven’t read those stories yet, Dear Reader, please avail yourself of the links, below…
Synchronicity provided me with the title of the story you are about to read. That and Cade Fon Apollyon: I’d been mulling over story ideas for weeks, wracking my brains for an angle, when I hit upon an idea. I was very excited and headed straight to Twitter DMs to tell my best bud, but what I saw when I arrived was a poem, waiting. One that Cade had just written for me…
*/flicks ash… And on mum’s birthday too…*
Anyway, Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy ‘Walk I, With You’. See you at the bottom of the post for a Song 😉
Walk I, With You
By Roo B. Doo
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking umpteen…
God paused at the end of the first sentence on the first page of the battered book in her hand.
Disconcerted yet curious, God checked the cover of the book to make sure that the title and author’s name were correct before continuing to read on.
The Grim Reaper, skull nuzzled deep within the cowl of his robe, silently glided up to the bench closest to the duck pond in Victory Park. The ‘Do Not Use’ warning tape adorning it had deterred everyone from sitting there, but not Death. The Grim Reaper climbed up onto the bench and waited.
On a tree nearby, a coloured poster, too large for the display, had been tacked up. It simply depicted an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a middle-aged man, with tousled, blond hair, baggy eyes and jowly jawline. It was one of those pictures which are designed so that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BRO IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.
God snapped the book shut and sighed.
I knew it! Somebody is monkeying about with Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Again!
She called for the fat, smug goose who administered the comings and going in the vast area known as the God Lobby.
Come with me, Brian. We need to make a site visit.
Spring was in the air and Victory Park was packed with people exercising in the pale April sunshine. Despite the brightness, the air remained frosty cool from both the transition of the seasons and the earliness of the hour. Death sat on a bench close to the duck pond and watched the hordes walking, running and star jumping in socially distanced formation. All their faces were dutifully masked.
Why are they torturing themselves? Death wondered as he watched a stream of hot breath pour through the sweaty face-mask of a passing jogger. They may as well be carrying a bundle of posies in front of their faces for all the protection those things give. Ah, the Black Death. Now that was a proper pandemic.
Death pulled a slim, black rectangle from the depths of his robe and flipped open the cover to reveal a bright, smooth screen decorated with coloured icons. Following the disastrous crash of the Cosmic Consciousness Neural Net (CCNN) that occurred on Halloween in 2020, God had resolved that an upgrade in tech was very much required, and the PsiPad was born. The Psion organiser, which had been gainfully employed by the Grim Reaper Service up until that point, was finally relegated to the Scrapheap of Obsolescence. There it languished alone; the hourglass having escaped the same fate by presciently forging a long-standing relationship with eggs.
Tapping the screen of the PsiPad with a bony digit, Death opened the PsiCalendar and studied his schedule for the day. He had arrived a little early for his next appointment but didn’t mind waiting. Having existed throughout all of time, Death was not opposed to occasionally killing the bastard.
A message flashed up on the screen which simply read ‘Molly’, and although the Grim Reaper shouldn’t be able to feel anything, Death experienced a sense of apprehension and anticipation prickle his bones.
Molly Darling was the pure soul child, whose poorly spelled letter to Santa had inadvertently instigated Armageddon and had caused Death nothing but trouble. Her letter, and her sincere Christmas wish contained within it, to end war, famine and pollution for the benefit of mankind, had fallen into the hands of Satan, and Old Scratch never wasted an opportunity for some devilment. Whether or not he’d had a hand in the CCNN crash that occurred at the same time was as yet unknown. Investigations into the matter were said to be ongoing.
On the whole, Death was against the making and granting of wishes of any kind; however, he’d been manoeuvred into making a wish of his own, with Molly as the beneficiary. He’d been presented with a choice; God always provides a choice: the removal of Molly Darling from life before she could send her letter, thus averting the end of the world, or rectify the matter in some other way. Death’s ethics forbade him from taking the first course of action, so he had plumped for some other way. Death’s wish had been granted by Father Christmas and subsequently Molly Darling had been born with the innate ability to correctly spell.
And that should have been the end of the matter, but for the unintended consequence rider that accompanies every wish granted, one that practically no one considers when making one. In this case, the very act of wishing had inextricably linked Molly to Death and attracted deaths to Molly.
Death scrolled back through the years on the PsiCalendar, counting the number of ‘Molly alerts’ that littered them. By definition, Death was only concerned with the dead, paying scant attention to the living around them. Now, courtesy of the newly issued bit of tremendous tech under his distal phalanges, Death was aware of just how many times his path and Molly’s had crossed during her short life so far. It was sporadic but not inconsiderable.
He found the date of the first Molly alert: 1st January 2013; the day Molly Darling was born. She had arrived in the early hours of the morning as Death was transitioning the soul of one Barry Munroe, a poor unfortunate struck by a speeding taxi, following a night of heavy drinking in celebration of the birth of the new year. The speeding taxi had been delivering a screaming woman to hospital, who was making a rapid delivery of her own on the back seat of the cab.
Death had given no consideration to the wailing bundle of new life at the time – why should he? – but in hindsight, the significance of Molly’s place of birth was not lost on Death, as it was in the back of a taxi on Halloween in 2020 that the savage deletion from existence of his good friends, War, Famine and Pestilence had occurred and Armageddon began. Death had changed Molly’s past to affect mankind’s future, yet he still retained the memory of that terrible night. For Death, Halloween 2020, both with and without that fateful taxi ride, existed at the same time, and within the same space.
It’s like Schrödinger’s Cab, Death mused deeply.
The PsiPad had also revealed to Death what lay behind a strange incident that coincided with one of the Molly Alerts, an incident that had baffled him until now. On 16th July 2016, Death had sat on this same bench, watching swaths of people roam across Victory Park. The insufferably hot weather had done little to deter the excited crowd from hunting virtual monsters augmented with their reality; it was the latest fashion. Instead of face-masks, mobile phones and electronic devices of all kinds covered peoples’ faces, which now caused Death to ponder upon the origin of the phrase ‘Track and Trace’.
On that day, Death had been awaiting the arrival of one Davy Keith, an otherwise healthy lad of 14, except for the undiagnosed hole in his heart and an all-consuming passion for collecting simulated Japanese monsters. Death watched passively as a pudgy toddler rushed along the path toward the bench upon which he sat, a tired looking woman pushing a stroller followed in the child’s wake. The little girl had all the grace of a drunken sailor and Death had assumed her wide milk-tooth grin and incoherent babble was aimed at the sun blazing high in the sky above Death’s head. That was until she tried to hug him.
A thought which had occurred to Death in that moment, on that day had haunted him ever since. Am I a monster?
Now Death knew that child had been Molly Darling and she had seen him. Following the aborted hug, and before her mother had whisked her away, Molly’s hand gestures had been her attempt to communicate with him: ‘Hello. My name is M-O-L-L-Y. I am deaf.’
It’s augmented reality, alright, Death decided with a sigh. He closed the cover on the PsiPad and returned it to the folds of his robe. Not long to wait now.
“Keep it up squad. Pump those arms,” the long-legged woman barked, as she strode purposefully among the regimented lines of exercisers performing push-ups beneath her gaze. She was a colossus of female physical perfection: full, round breasts, a washboard stomach and thighs so muscular they looked capable of pulverizing anyone’s head fortunate enough to be caught between them.
Lockdown had been very good for Wanda Warren. Before the arrival of the Rona and the restrictions that ensued, she’d struggled to attract many clients to her fledgling business: Fighting Fit. Whilst it was true that the small number of clients she did have were dedicated to not only her tough methods but also to Wanda herself, she was only a one woman band and the indoor gym in town, with its flashy machines, coffee shop and showers, had attracted many more members.
Now the gym was closed due to the Rona and the only place to exercise was outside. Competitive advantage had shifted firmly in Wanda’s favour, and Fighting Fit scooped up a substantial amount of new devotees. All males desperate to retain their fitness, blow off the excess energy built up from their now enforced sedentary lifestyle, and the outside possibility of being crushed between Wanda Warren’s dangerous thighs.
She caught sight of a familiar figure across the park. “And once you reach a hundred, give me one full circuit of the park. Now move it!” she ordered, before sprinting off in the direction of the duck pond.
“War,” the Grim Reaper replied.
Wanda pulled down her face-mask and sprawled on the bench next to Death. The difference in stature between the two cardinal colleagues was stark: whereas War was long and rangy, the diminutive Grim Reaper was small enough to reach into all the nooks and crannies.
War smiled radiantly. “I thought it was you.”
“I see you’re building up quite an army, dear lady.”
“Pfft. Early days yet.” War punched Death on the arm. “What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since…” Her brow furrowed as she tried to recall the last time they’d met.
Death turned to his beautiful colleague: in ancient Troy her face had launched a thousand ships; today it could launch a thousand more, all armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. The last time he’d seen War, however, she’d been ripping Famine and Pestilence apart with carnal ferocity in the back of a London black taxi being driven by Old Scratch. “I am here waiting.”
“Oh, right. Not for any of my lot, I hope,” War inquired hesitantly.
“Possibly.” Death produced the PsiPad from his robes.
“Ooh nice kit. You got an upgrade?” War snatched the PsiPad from Death, opened the PsiCalendar and read the name of Death’s next appointment. “Really? No way!”
Death pulled the PsiPad from War’s grasp. “Yes and very much way.”
War stretched her arms out along the back of the bench and flicked at a stray end of warning tape. “Pesto’s played a fucking blinder with this Rona business, eh? It’s done my little enterprise no end of good.”
Death remained silent; he was far from convinced that Pestilence had any involvement in the disease that had swept the world in the last year. He’d certainly had to deal with a rise in suicidees and murder victims, but pretty much all the usual causes of death had remained relatively stable. Certainly all the deaths solely attributed to the Rona were vanishingly small. “Have you seen Pesto recently?”
“Not since…” Once again War’s furrowed her brow.
“How about Famine?” Death asked.
“AWOL,” War snorted. “Fuck knows where he is. Have you seen how fat these cunts are?”
“Good for business.”
“Indeed, business is booming.”
War stood up and pulled her face-mask back up over the cruel smirk that marred her lips; the first of the Fighting Fit squad would be coming through soon, and as their leader, it was imperative that Wanda uphold standards for the group. “I tell ya, the buggers love being told what to do. And the harsher you are, the more they fucking love it.”
“Until pushed too far.”
“I know! Brilliant, isn’t it? A win-win,” War laughed, briefly lowering her mask to suck air noisily up her quivering nostrils. “Can you smell the resentment and aggression simmering, Death? Itsa gonna be a spicy meat ball!”
“Lacking an olfactory system, War, I am unable to concur with your assessment,” Death replied drily. “But I’ll take your word for it.”
“Ha ha. You do that, short arse,” she smirked, affixing her mask back into place.
Wanda turned her attention to the first of her squad to appear, smacking his backside as he ran by. “Attaboy, Malc. Only a mile to go.” As each member passed they received the same backside slap from Wanda, but her words of encouragement changed with her assessment of their individual performance.
The last straggler stopped and stooped over with hands on knees, gasping for breath.
“What’s up, Jimbo? Don’t you have the heart for it today?” Wanda stood over the bent back of James ‘Jimbo’ Collins and gave Death a double thumbs up sign. “Here, have a sit down, old fella. Take five and then catch up with us once you get your breath back.”
She steered Jimbo toward the bench. Despite his apparent distress, he still managed to give her righteous backside a firm squeeze. Wanda rolled her eyes at Death and saluted before sprinting away to catch up with the rest of her Fighting Fit squad and finish the circuit of Victory Park.
Death ignored Jimbo’s ragged breathing and continued to wait.
Jocasta Darling luxuriated in the bright spring sunshine that came as a welcome relief after the unmitigated gloom of winter and lockdown. Not that Jocasta thought lockdown would be ending any time soon, not if the government’s broken promises over the past year were anything to go by. Still it was nice to get out for a walk, and despite the cold, the sunshine was glorious and lifted Jocasta’s spirits for the first time since the start of the year.
Her daughter Molly skipped alongside, occasionally pausing to smell the newly budding flowers or point out the birds traversing the powder blue sky. The pair made their way toward the pond at the heart of Victory Park, where Molly liked to serve breakfast to the ducks each morning. Jocasta just liked to see her daughter happy. Molly had been in and out of hospital since birth with one thing or another, and it broke Jocasta’s heart at what Molly had had to endure. And now her schooling had been disrupted, all because of the Rona, which appeared to ignore kids like a bad parent. Jocasta often wondered just exactly where the blessed government’s priorities actually lay.
Although the park was busy with exercisers, the pond area looked to be empty to Jocasta, except for a jogger sitting slumped over on a bench. As they drew closer, Molly eagerly grabbed the plastic bag from her mother’s hands and pulled out a crust of bread.
“Okay be careful. Don’t fall in,” Jocasta instructed her daughter.
Molly beamed at her mother, flashing an ‘OK’ sign, and made her way to the shady side of the pond where the ducks and swans were congregated, all the while ripping the crust into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Jocasta wasn’t sure what the government’s guidelines were this week on the usefulness of benches, but this one was still clearly marked as out of bounds. She wondered if she should go and say something to the jogger: it really didn’t pay to attract the attentions of the Rona marshals that now patrolled the park. Even the slightest infraction was pounced upon, and she herself had been lectured several times on the essential need to wear a face-mask, despite both she and Molly holding medical exemptions due to her daughter’s deafness. At her age, Jocasta was finding it hard enough to master a new language, without being hampered by half of it being obscured by face coverings; sign language was so much more than just hand signs. But try telling that to the oiks in uniforms with quotas to fill. At least Jocasta assumed the marshals had quotas to fill; everything today appeared to be run on targets, quotas and guidelines.
Jocasta approached the bench. “Excuse me. Do you know if it’s okay to sit here?”
The jogger looked up at her, giving Jocasta a fixed stare whilst the fabric of his face-mask ballooned in and out with every whooping breath. “What?”
He thinks I’m a Karen, Jocasta thought, shocked at the aggression in his eyes. “No, I’m asking if you know whether we’re permitted to sit on the bench yet. It’s still taped off,” Jocasta explained. “I’d love a sit down too if it’s allowed.”
“Oh… I see,” the jogger replied, as he attempted to control his breathing. “Yes… yes, I think so… since the start of the week… I’m sure of it.”
Jocasta smiled at the jogger; her smile was as bright as the morning but much warmer. “That is good news. I wonder why the council haven’t removed the tape yet.”
“They’ll get… around to it… eventually.”
Still, the forbidding tape unnerved Jocasta and she hesitated to sit down. “I’m with my daughter Molly. She’s over there feeding the ducks.”
The jogger nodded without removing his gaze from the floor, as he focused on this laboured breathing.
“Are you feeling alright?” Jocasta asked anxiously.
“Fine… thank you,” the jogger replied. “Over-exertion… I’ll be okay…”
Jocasta didn’t think the man looked okay at all. Apart from his breathing, he was sweating profusely and massaging his left arm. From what she could see of his face and neck, the jogger was coloured puce, and Jocasta was certain that wasn’t a good sign for a man his age. “You know it might help if you remove your mask,” she tentatively suggested.
The jogger gave Jocasta another fixed stare, but the aggression had gone from his eyes. He reached up with his right hand and unhooked the mask from his ears. “Yes, you’re probably right,” he said, sucking in a great gulp of air.
Jocasta recognised her local MP immediately but didn’t acknowledge that she knew who James Collins was. Although she had never once voted for him, he’d been her representative in Parliament for what seemed like forever. He’d also been very vocal on the importance of lockdowns, mask-wearing and, now, mandatory vaccinations. That was something else Jocasta disagreed with him over, but if James Collins was using the bench, then she felt sure it was okay for her to use it too.
Jocasta felt an icy blast at her back as she lowered herself onto the bench seat, at the farthest end from where her Member of Parliament sat. “Gosh, that feels very cold,” she said with a shiver. She felt the cold settle into her but, strangely, it did not feel unpleasant.
Fishing into her handbag, she pulled out a covered ashtray, which she placed on the arm rest of the bench, before lighting a cigarette. She dragged deeply and let out a satisfying whoosh of smoke, blowing it in the direction away from the bench. Jocasta had really missed not being able to sit down and smoke outside, and felt particularly aggrieved at the ban on sitting in public. For the longest time, outside had been the only place the public were allowed to smoke, and now she was expected to stand up to do it.
“I say… Could you put that out?” James Collins asked gruffly and gripped his left arm tighter. “Having trouble breathing… here.”
The sudden icy blast Jocasta had felt at sitting down now migrated to her eyes. She turned both barrels on her MP.
“No,” she stated, flatly.
“That’s… not very courteous…”
Jocasta took another puff of her cigarette and tapped the loose ash into the the ashtray. Again, she blew the smoke away from the bench. “We are appropriately socially distanced, are we not? I am not blowing smoke in your direction and there is no law against smoking outside.”
James Collins started coughing and waving his hand limply in front of his nose. Fat droplets of sweat poured from his grimacing face. “Can’t you see I’m… in trouble?”
“Yes you are.” Jocasta wasn’t sure what had come over her, but she felt very certain that the words coming out of her mouth were being said with the confidence of another’s voice. “You, James Collins MP, are a sell out. Not only are you a liar, a lecher and a rubber-stamp for oppression, but you’ve caused dis-ease, and I am sorry to tell you, but you will be going to hell.”
Jocasta looked over at Molly busily feeding the noisy ducks and waved. Molly waved back, tilting her head to one side with a curious look on her face. ‘Having fun?’ Jocasta signed to her daughter.
Molly nodded vigorously and signed back, ‘There’s a goose and he’s eating all the bread. Come and see.’
Jocasta chipped the end of her cigarette off in the ashtray and returned both to her handbag. She stood up, squared her shoulders, giving her MP a final withering stare. “Good-bye.”
She walked away, back along to the path to join Molly, leaving James Collins with a look of abject terror on this face.
“Hello, Jimbo,” Death said, pulling the PsiPad from the folds of his robe.
“So this is Hell?” Jimbo Collins asked, as Death guided him into the vaulted expanse of the God Lobby and placed him at the end of a queue of souls. Like Jimbo, they were all dressed in white and wore face-masks. “Looks like Heaven to me.”
“For some it is both,” Death replied. “Just follow the white line. You’ll get there eventually.”
The queue shuffled forwards, taking Jimbo along with it.
Death took the express elevator up to the Office. From there he could look across the vastness of the God Lobby, and see just how long the queue he’d placed Jimbo Collins in was. It snaked back and forth, up and down and crossed itself in numerous places.
Looks like a commercial for toilet paper, does it not, Big D? All that’s missing is a great, big, playful puppy.
Death turned to the voice of God whispering over his shoulder and bowed. “It’s certainly the most appropriate place to deposit little shits, Ma’am.”
God tittered; she did appreciate Death’s sense of humour.
“I take it you were there,” Death said.
How did you know?
“Molly’s ‘Come and see’ was a dead giveaway. That and Brian’s disguise. He put no effort into it at all.”
On the reception desk Brian, who was forever eavesdropping, ruffled his feathers and hissed.
Yes, we were there. The situation looks grim.
“Indeed it does.”
God moved away from the balcony overlooking the God Lobby. Death glided along behind at a respectful distance.
“Ma’am, I’m worried about the disappearance of Famine and Pestilence. I can’t find any trace of them since…”
Halloween? Yes, it is concerning.
“War’s nose is never wrong. Without Famine and Pesto to provide balance, I fear for the future of humanity.”
Then you must find them, Big D.
“Me?” Death felt a sense of déjà vu; he’d been in this position before.
Of course. You find everyone. Eventually.
God smiled at Death and her smile was a bright as an April morning.
*You fink I should feature Famine in the next one, Clicky? …/stubs butt… Maybe…*