*Clicky! Dear Reader’s here for the latest episode of Ronageddon…/lights up… not an engrossing Woo talk… /drags… on the difference… /streams smoke… between ‘revelation’ and ‘revealing’… /flicks ash… as interesting and pertinent as it may be…*
*Exactly… /pats snout… Btw, that music vid is extremely pertinent too…*
Welcome, Dear Reader! Today is the 21st December and Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year for the northern hemisphere…
*So even though we’re closer to the sun, it’s colder? …/Smokes… Interesting…*
… And also the setting for ‘In The Grotto’, my story for Underdog Anthology XVI: Slay Bells In the Snow…
*There’s top notch contributions from all the authors, Clicky…*
… Which I am happy to present for your entertainment, below. Enjoy! 😀
In The Grotto
By Roo B. Doo
To: Death, Grim Reaper Service
From: Father Christmas, Children Services
Date: 13th December 2021
Re: Christmas Wish Annual Check Up
Greetings, Reaper of Souls and Pyschopomp in Chief!
Can you believe it has been a whole year since I granted your Christmas wish, Big D?
Like my sleigh, time flies, eh?
Whenever you have a moment in the next couple of weeks, I would be grateful if you
could pop by the club so we can have a chat and so forth about any wish-making
consequences you may have experienced in the past year. Any evening before
Christmas Eve is fine but Lapland will be hosting the international finals of Elvis Lives:
Karaoke and Striptease Challenge on the 21st and I would be delighted if you could
make it then.
Whatever date you can manage, I look forward to seeing you again, old friend.
Soda Pops - x
p.s. And speaking of 'suspicious minds', I'd be much obliged if could you come via the
rear entrance as we're trying not to draw attention to our locale from the local killjoys.
As far as the Rona Regime are concerned, everybody, including Elvis, has left the
Death read the week-old she-mail from Father Christmas and then opened his PsiCalendar to check his schedule. So far the year had been horrendously busy and its final 11 days were destined to continue in the same vein. If 2020 had entered the annals of history as the ‘Year Of The Rona’, then 2021 would be infamous as the ‘Year Of Unexplained Sudden Passing’. He had attended to a great many of those during the year but to Death, no passing went unexplained.
I do hope 2022, he mused lugubriously, doesn’t become the ‘Year Of The Great Regret’.
He sighed; with so many souls to transition recently, Death was feeling pooped. The ranks of the Grim Reaper Service were in dire need of bolstering to keep up with demand, but if there was one thing Death shunned more than his bulging inbox, it was initiating a new round of recruitment. With billions of candidates to choose from, to describe the vetting and interview processes as laborious would be a colossal understatement.
And now he had been summoned to Lapland. Death’s opinion of the adult entertainment complex where Father Christmas resided 364 days of year was akin to the one he held on the recruitment process and managing his inbox. Although the club’s exterior was as unassuming as the London backstreet where it was located, its interior was dark and alluring, and had an atmosphere so thick with the tang of sex and smoke that Death could quite literally cut with a scythe.
The tacky upholstery doesn’t bear too close an examination either, he reflected disdainfully, as he continued to tap on the PsiPad screen.
“Ah serendipity,” Death said aloud. “It looks like I’m already booked to appear at Lapland tomorrow night. Winter Solstice it is, although I doubt Soda Pops will be as pleased as he expects.”
He closed the cover on his PsiPad and balanced the slim rectangle on the tips of his distil phalanges. Death considered the elegance and efficiency of the new tech he’d been issued with, and marvelled, not for the first time, at just how many deaths he could now hold in the metacarpals of one hand. Elvis lives? Not according to my records.
Death suddenly had an idea. It too was elegant and efficient in that he would be able to complete three tasks in one fell swoop.
I need to ask favour. Or two, he thought. He opened up his PsiPad and proceeded to write his very first she-mail.
He asked for what?
God was intrigued.
And he actually put the request in writing? Let me see.
Brian, the pompous goose that ran the God Lobby on behalf of the supreme deity passed the PsiPad he was holding between his wings over to God.
Big D sent it by she-mail?
Brian honked in affirmation.
God looked at the screen.
From: Death, Grim Reaper Service
Date: 20th December 2021
Re: A Request
I would be grateful if you would grant me use of the Situation Room tomorrow
evening. I promise to return it intact.
Big D doesn’t say why he wants to use it.
It was not often that God was surprised, but Death’s odd request was one of those times. She passed the PsiPad back to her chief scribe.
Please send the following reply for me, Brian – ‘Granted’.
Brian tapped the message on screen. He was grateful for the brevity of the response; he much preferred quill, ink and parchment over having to use his beak, which he considered most unbecoming.
I require some focus time, Brian. Please, no interruptions for the next hour or so.
Brian bowed his head and honked.
No, that will be all, thank you.
God started to focus.
To a casual observer sat in the Piccolo cafe, the lone woman sitting at the back table might be considered to be conducting a wireless telephone conversation during her meal. Her table manners may be labelled as rude but one-sided conversations in public are all too common these days, so not unusual. And even if noticed, the empty child’s booster seat on the chair opposite the lone, loquacious woman, probably would not have been factored in by a casual observer in reaching this wholly incorrect conclusion. Unless of course the casual observer was dead.
“Wait.” War continued to chew on black pudding and fried bread with an open mouth. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
Death silently studied his apocalypse comrade over the plastic, blue check tablecloth between them. On it sat a steaming mug of tea and a full English breakfast that War was gleefully attacking.
“No, as I stated previously,” Death said patiently, “I will be evaluating a new recruit this evening for a position in the Grim Reaper Service. I value your opinion, War, and would be grateful for your presence.”
War arched her eyebrows quizzically and poked some masticated food from between her cheek and gums with her index finger. “And that’s all?” she asked suspiciously, as she sucked at a piece of sausage trapped under her talon-like nail.
“Nothing else,” Death said firmly. “You have egg on your chin.”
“Okay, where and what time?” War rubbed the flecks of grease and egg yoke from her face with a paper napkin. “I’m fully booked until eight o’clock tonight and I can’t cancel any of my clients. I’m charging them double rate over Christmas and New Year.”
“There will be no need to cancel any of your fitness classes, War. I have procured the Situation Room for the evening.”
“Whoa, you got a lend of God’s new wheels?” War asked, forking bacon and baked beans into her mouth. “How’d you manage that?”
Although the Situation Room was more like an invisible cube, capable of moving in any direction and to any place or time, than a motor vehicle, Death concurred with War’s description of ‘God’s new wheels’. It was certainly speedy.
“I asked her.”
“Huh.” War slurped back a mouthful of tea. “I’ll have to try that.”
“Well then.” Death slipped down from the booster seat. “It is agreed. Enjoy the rest of your breakfast, I have people to see. Unfortunately for them.”
“Hey, not so fast, short-arse. You still haven’t told me where we’re going. What’s the dress code?”
“We’ll be attending Soda Pops’ International Elvis Lives Karaoke and Striptease Challenge at Lapland. Apparently it’s the final, ironically enough for someone.”
“Sounds cool,” War said taking a bite of buttered toast. “I’ll just wear my blue suede shoes then.”
War smirked and continued eating.
“Please don’t.” Death paused as he turned to leave. “Incidentally, I have to ask. You’re a fitness guru, War – how can you condone let alone participate in the consumption of such a large, fried meal?”
War continued to stuff her face. “Are you kidding? At the rate I burn through calories, if I don’t eat like this three times a day I’d look just like you.”
“Noted.” Death bowed his head and glided out of the cafe.
Before 2020, the final of the International Elvis Lives Karaoke Challenge had been successfully held at Xi Xi Fat’s Lo Fat Cafe, situated just off the seafront at Southend on Sea.
Although the restaurant was mostly ignored by the local populous because of its reputation for inedible food and confrontational waiting staff, it had gained a cult following via the internet for exactly the same reasons. That and Xi Xi’s twice weekly, full rhinestone garb performances of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits, which drew in punters from far and wide. When a particularly poignant rendition of ‘Are you Romsome Tonight‘ was immortalized as a meme on social media, Xi Xi decided to capitalise on his new found fame and founded the ‘International Elvis Lives Karaoke Challenge’. Marketed at catering establishments across in the UK as a way of promoting their business, the only thing international about it was the competitors’ cuisine.
As the reigning two-time champion, Xi Xi hungered to be crowned ‘The King’ for a third time. And he was quite sure he would have were it not for the cruel intervention of the Rona Christmas lockdown in 2020. Like the rest of the hospitality sector in the country, the Lo Fat Cafe was forced to close until the spring.
Xi Xi was determined that he would not be forced to cancel the final again this year, so asked his long-time friend Soda Pops if he would host the 2021 final. Soda Pops ran Lapland, a nightclub in London, with a dubious reputation but the only place Xi Xi knew of that had remained open and free from the government’s Rona molestations throughout the pandemic. He didn’t know how Soda Pops had managed it, only that he had, and assumed some of Lapland’s patrons must be very powerful and important indeed.
When Soda Pops agreed to his request, Xi Xi decided to include a striptease element to the competition in honour of his generous friend. Nothing was going to stop Xi Xi from achieving his hat-trick this year, even if he had to wear nothing at all.
Soft, glowing twilight had settling throughout the God Lobby. From the platform office overlooking the swelling expanse of souls, God watched as the sea rippled and parted, allowing two figures to appear. The first figure, was very short and carried a glowing scythe, lighting their path. He glided ahead of the second much taller figure, who walked along behind. Both wore the unmistakable hooded, ebony robes of the Grim Reaper Service. Not a word passed between the two as they exited the soul sea, which collapsed in their wake, and made their way to the elevator that would bring them up to the office where God was waiting.
The elevator doors silently opened and the two figures emerged.
Hello Big D.
“Ma’am.” Death was startled by God’s unexpected greeting but covered it well, although he doubted he had been smooth enough. “I was not expecting to see you this evening.”
I can see that. Who is this with you?
“This is…” Death paused. “Aron. He’s a candidate for the Grim Reaper Service. I will be evaluating his performance in a real-death scenario this evening.”
Aron shook beneath his heavy robes. God gently placed her hand on the sleeve of his shaking arm.
Are you shy?
Don’t be. I promise to take good care of you this evening.
This time Death didn’t try to hide his surprise. “Ma’am? You will be coming with us?” he gasped.
Indeed. I pay very close attention to your she-mail requests.
Death thought for a moment. “But I’d never send a she-mail before.”
Exactly. Now, where is Aron’s evaluation to take place?
Death was nonplussed by the unexpected turn of events; he hadn’t anticipated God’s involvement and strictly speaking, the candidate was not meant to know the time or place of his evaluation. “Ma’am, could I speak to you for one moment in private?”
Of course, Big D.
God led Death aside and then slid into a crouch so that the diminutive Grim Reaper could whisper in her ear.
“Ma’am, Aron must have no foreknowledge of the real-death scenario. It is imperative that he doesn’t gain an advantage over any other possible candidates.”
God nodded her agreement.
I understand. Rigour must be upheld.
“I would also suggest that it is best that you refrain from speaking or communicating with the candidate entirely until the evaluation is over.”
Agreed. So where are we going?
Death cupped his skeletal hand in front of his cowl and whispered into God’s ear, “Lapland-”
Oh goodie. I do so love visiting Soda Pops.
God’s exuberance surprised Death for a third time in the span of as many minutes. “You do?”
Why, yes. I have been taking instruction on pole dancing at Lapland.
Death wondered how many more times God was going to surprise him this evening.
It’s tremendous exercise for developing flexibility and strengthening the inner core.
“I see,” Death replied somewhat sceptically.
I have become quite proficient.
“Good for you, Ma’am. Practice makes perfect.”
I’m glad you agree, Big D and I hope you keep that in mind when evaluating Aron.
I think my presence has made him nervous, and for that I apologise.
Death felt his rib cage expand at the kind wisdom in God’s apology. “I will.”
God stood up with smooth fluidity.
Shall we go? I’ll drive.
“Oh, one more thing,” Death said. God slid back down into a crouch again. “We will need to collect War along the way.”
War will be joining us? Excellent news. You are full of surprises tonight, Big D.
“Mm mm mm, mm, yay, yay, yay… I’m all shook up!”
The audience at Lapland erupted into thunderous applause as Hector Rodrigues completed his set. Sweat streamed down Hector’s face as he struck his final pose under the hot spotlight, and bounced off the gold medallion nestled in the thick fur matting that cover his swarthy, naked chest.
From the stage wings, Xi Xi watched Hector’s performance. He considered it adequate overall, with a sufficient amount of hip swivels and knee kicks to garner Hector high marks from the judges, although Xi Xi thought Hector’s decision to play it safe and keep his trousers on would lower his final score.
Xi Xi looked out toward the judges table, situated in front of the the audience, to gauge their response. He was most impressed by the caliber of the judging line up Soda Pops had assembled: there was an actual High Court Judge; a former Speaker of the House of Commons and the person Xi Xi wanted to impress the most – TV chef and food campaigner, Freddie Calendar. Freddie could make or break any Michelin Star wannabe’s career and although Xi Xi knew his food could never pass muster, he hoped the ambiance of the Lo Fat Cafe would one day win it a top accolade.
Hector was still milking the applause as Soda Pops bounced onto the stage, one arm outstretched and the other holding a microphone to his lips. “Give it up for Hector Rodrigues of the Jumping Bean Bistro in Weston-Super-Mare, our penultimate competitor. Well, done, Hector!”
Hector took a last bow and left the stage in Xi Xi’s direction.
“Good job, Jumping Bean,” Xi Xi said, clapping Hector on the back several times and handing him a towel.
Hector wiped the sweat from his face. “Gracias, Lo Fat. It is a good crowd tonight.”
Xi Xi jumped up and down and ran rapidly on the spot. He crooked his head until the bones in his neck popped. “Thank you for warming them up.”
“Now then, now then, boys and girls,” Soda Pops address the room. “It’s been a hell of a competition so far, but the question is, have we left the best to last?”
“Oh yes you have!” the audience replied in unison.
Soda Pops chuckled into the mic. “We’ll see, we’ll see.” He wandered to the front of the stage, cracking the mic flex like a whip. He pointed to the judges’ table and snapped the flex again. “No, that’s for later. Am I right, Mr Speaker?”
“Oh no you’re not!” the dapper, but well watered politician bellowed in return.
“Order! Order!” The audience responded with roars of laughter and the sound of palms slapping on tabletops.
Soda Pops flapped his hands, signalling the audience to calm down. “Now, our last competitor tonight is not just any old competitor. No, no. Singing his signature success, ‘Are You Romsome Tonight’ and ‘Way Down’, would you please welcome the two-time reigning champion to the stage. The one and only Xi Xi Fat!”
Hector draped the rolled up towel around his neck. “Good luck, Lo Fat,” he told Xi Xi.
Xi Xi turned to his fellow competitor and curled his lip. “Rock and roll, Jumping Bean,” he drawled before jogging out to the spotlight.
“I’d forgotten what a tight squeeze this is,” War complained loudly, as she entered the Situation Room. She tried maneuvering for space but could only standing crooked, with the right side of her face pushed up against the ceiling. “Hold up, I’ll take my boots off.”
Her crimson, patent leather catsuit creaked as she kneeled down to unzipped her matching boots.
Good evening, War.
“Oh hello, Ma’am. I didn’t see you standing there behind…” War indicated to the tall, hooded figure looming over her. “Are you looking at my tits?”
The would be reaper’s hooded head snapped up from it’s down-turned position, as if to attention. “Pardon me, miss.”
“Nah, you’re alright,” War laughed. She pulled the zip on the front of her skintight catsuit down a notch and studied her cleavage. “Hello, boys!”
“War, this is Aron, this evening’s candidate for evaluation,” Death explained. “Aron, this is War. You should both refrain from interacting with each other until after the test.”
“That might prove difficult in here,” War said, standing up with boots in hand. She was still taller than the ceiling height, but only slightly so that she now only needed to tilt her head. “Ma’am, did you ever consider making the Situation Room a convertible?”
I have not.
Death eyed the wicked sharp stiletto heels of War’s boots, held just in front of his cowl. “War, those heels are lethal.”
“Well, you should know.” War turned her head and winked at Aron. “Are we picking anyone else up?”
“No,” Death replied.
“Good. Let’s get to Lap-”
“Don’t-” Death started to tell War not to divulge their destination, but was interrupted when God pulled on the light bulb cord hanging down from the centre of the ceiling. For a moment, darkness was all.
“-land. Whoa there!” War burst into raucous laughter at the sight of the quivering, naked buttocks presented before them. “I was not expecting that!”
“Way down where it feels so good,” Xi Xi sang lustily, “Way down where I hoped it would.”
“Ma’am, we seem to be at the back of the stage,” Death informed God.
It is where I normally park when I come for my pole-dancing lessons, Big D.
Out front, Xi Xi Fat had worked the Lapland audience into a fever pitch with his performance, and was about to reach the climax of his second song. He was naked, stripped of all clothing save for his cowboy boots, sunglasses and a glittering, sequin thong. He removed his sunglasses and flung them into the whooping audience.
“Way down where I never could. Way down, down.” Xi Xi whipped off his thong and the audience went wild.
“Oh…my…fucking…word…” War continued to stare at singer’s backside, as he bowed from the waist to the ecstatic audience before him. “I can see right up the crack of his-”
“Is that..?” Death peered forward for a closer look. “That’s Famine.”
Famine had been missing since Halloween the previous year, when War had inadvertently eaten him whilst they were travelling in the back of a London taxi, driven by Satan. Pestilence, too, had been eaten and was still missing since that day, although Death had become keenly aware throughout the course of the year that Pesto was very much at large and active. Somewhere.
“What?! Where?” War shifted her gaze away from the singer’s bottom. “No way!”
Xi Xi turned to face the back of the stage, unaware of the invisible Situation Room and the ethereal audience it contained. He smiled rapturously and laughed with joy and relief. Lifting his arms above his head, the thong still tightly in his grip, he punched the air. “Yesss!!”
“It is! It fucking is, an’ all! Famine! Famine!” War shouted and banged the palm of her hand on the transparent wall, trying to get Xi Xi’s attention.
God placed a hand on War’s shoulder.
Famine cannot see or hear us, War.
Soda Pops ran on stage. “Splendid! Splendid!” he boomed into the mic, and wrapped his ermine trimmed, red velvet cloak around Xi Xi’s shoulders. “Xi Xi Fat, ladies and gentlemen! The true naked chef!”
The audience were on their feet cheering and calling for more. Xi Xi’s fellow competitors, who had crowded into the stage wings to watch his electric and revealing performance, now spilled out onto the stage, clapping and calling for an encore.
Xi Xi kissed his sequin thong and held it aloft before throwing it out into the darkness. It landed on the judge’s table, where Freddie Calendar quickly seized it and placed it over his face, to everyone’s great amusement.
Freddie got to his feet unsteadily; he’d taken full advantage of the complimentary booze that came with his judging responsibilities. With the thong stretched tight across his face he announced, “We the dudges are unam…unanamanapus.” He pulled the thong to one side of his nose and mouth to breath. “Ugh, this smells… Where was I? …Umanamus…yes we are, we have decided! We have, we have…Shush, everyone… Decided that G…Cheeky Fat is the winner!”
Everybody on stage and in the audience roared their approval at the judge’s decision. Everybody except Freddie, who was suddenly still. A look of confusion crossed his face and his head wobbled.
“I…” Freddie started to say, as his eyes glazed over, and he dropped to the floor in a dead slump.
Death pulled the vibrating PsiPad from his robes. “Aron, would you please follow me. Your real-death test is about to begin.”
As Aron started to follow Death out of the Situation Room and onto the stage, God placed her hand once again on the sleeve of his robe and whispered.
“Ma’am, thank you very much.”
“What’s occurring?” Soda Pops boomed into the mic. He shielded his eyes from the spotlight to try and see what the commotion was in the audience. “Is someone being naughty?”
Nobody laughed. Instead the squeal of scraping chair legs and sober concern filled the room.
“He’s collapsed,” a voice called from the audience.
“Somebody call for an ambulance,” pleaded another.
“Who’s collapsed?” Xi Xi asked Soda Pops.
“That would be celebrity chef, Frederick Trevor Calendar,” Death announced. He appeared between Xi Xi and Soda Pops as they looked out into the audience. Death closed the cover on his PsiPad and passed it to a taller grim reaper standing behind him. “You’ll find him over there,” he said and pointed his scythe in the direction of the melee.
Aron jumped off the stage.
“One moment,” Death said, passing down his scythe. “You’ll need this.”
Presumptuous, Death thought.
“Death?” Xi Xi’s eyes bulged; his face was tight with shock as he stared down at Death. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“Hello Famine. We’ve been looking for you.”
Soda Pop’s scowled. “I knew it. It couldn’t just be pleasure for you, Big D, could it? It had to be business.”
“Regrettable though my presence may be, Soda Pops” Death said solemnly, “I really did appreciate receiving your invitation and I fully intend on making it up to you.”
“Oh yes, when?”
Death nodded out to the darkness. “As soon as my colleague down there reaps his first soul and you clear the rest of the premises.”
“That’ll be easy,” Soda Pops exclaimed. “Look, half of them have already left.”
It was true. Although a more than decent number of people were still rubber-necking, a steady stream of audience members were already making their way out of the exits. In the distance, a faint pierce of sirens could be detected.
“Oh bugger!” Soda Pops swore. “It may take a little longer if the Rona Regime turn up. What is it you have planned, Big D?”
Death plucked a stray thong sequin from the cuff of his robe. “Something spectacular.”
It was the longest night of the year and Lapland was finally quiet and still. The cabaret room was in darkness, except for its stage which was brightly lit. Death silently glided into the centre of the spotlight and addressed the small and select audience of four sitting in the front row.
“I will keep my introduction short-”
Soda Pops burst into guffaws; he found Death’s vertically challenging stature endlessly amusing.
Death sighed. “I should say brief-”
“Get on with it,” War shouted.
God held up her hand for quiet.
Please. All of you.
“I didn’t say anything,” Famine grumbled.
Carry on, Big D.
Death nodded. “Ma’am. I would just like to introduce you all to the Grim Reaper Service’s newest recruit. As you know, the service have been extremely busy of late and-”
Get on with it!
Death bowed his head. “Ladies and gentlemen…”
A rumbling of kettle drums and crash of cymbals suddenly poured forth from the speakers at the side of the stage.
“You met him earlier as Aron, but tonight…” Death continued.
The sound of a full orchestra filled the room as Aron emerged from the Situation Room and began to sing with a dark, soulful voice. “When no-one else can understand me…”
“Elvis Presley is in the room.”
*Wait… That just happened? …/stubs butt… Gotta love synchronicity, Clicky…*
We hope you’re enjoying the Ronageddon series. The story will continue in Underdog Anthology XVII, in spring 2022 with ‘Pale Glider’ 😉
And remember, Dear Reader, that however dark Winter Solstice gets, once passed, life starts to get lighter. Have a Song ❤
*♫…That’s the wonder, the wonder of woo…♫*