Story Time: BOGOF

*What’s got DP so riled up, Clicky?*

*Oh, the latest installment of the Battle for Brexit… /lights up and smokes… The everso grubby Corona Skirmish. How’s that going for the Remoaning Media?*

*Figures. They never learn…*

Welcome back, Dear Reader. After posting ‘She’s In The Shower’ earlier this week…

*Beautiful, Clicky… /puffs contentedly…*

…We thought we’d treat you to another story from UAVIII. Mine this time. It’s called ‘BOGOF’ and has nothing whatsoever to do with toilet paper. Enjoy 😉

*******

BOGOF

By Roo B. Doo

The supermarket was already a hive of activity by the time Clive Ambrose squelched into the admin office of the Marchway Emporium. He removed his sodden jacket, shook his feet and inspected the wet hem of his trouser legs. “Good grief, Sylvie, the weather’s absolutely filthy today.”

His assistant looked up from the paperwork on her desk. Sylvie arched a quizzical eyebrow and clucked at the dripping store manager stood in front of her. “Morning, Clive. You’re late.”

It was barely fifty yards from his reserved parking space to the staff entrance, but the morning’s unexpected squally shower had drenched Clive every step of the way. The car park could do with resurfacing, he thought glumly. Some of those puddles are deep.

“And today of all the days!” Clive exclaimed, pinching wet and steamy glasses off his nose. “Fiona’s car wouldn’t start, so I had to drop her off at the University first. She had an early lecture. Empowerment of women in a post-Brexit toxic wasteland, or something like that.”

Sylvie widened her eyes and pursed her lips. She offered Clive the box of man-sized tissues from her desk.  “Doesn’t she know you voted to leave?”

“Lord no!” Clive snorted, patting away the rain and perspiration beads that studded his face. “That would kill her. A shock like that could cause an embolism.”

“Or a heart attack…”

“At the very least it could induce a catatonic state.”

“But they’re all natural causes, Clive,” Sylvie simpered slyly. “No court would convict you, surely.”

Clive dried his glasses off with a fist full of tissues. “Probably not. I’ll bear it in mind.” As much as he enjoyed the banter with Sylvie, Clive was under no illusion that should his beloved wife Fiona ever find out that he’d voted for Brexit, she wouldn’t be the spouse in danger of dying.

Sylvie pushed her ample frame away from her desk, stood up and slipped on her shoes. She straightened the seam on her skirt and tottered over to the office doorway. “I’ll get you a coffee, Clive. A frothy one with sprinkles?”

Clive returned his now freshly dried glasses to his face and looked his assistant up and down. “You look different today, Sylvie. Are you taller?”

“I’m wearing heels.”

“I’ve not seen you in stilettos before. And is that make up?”

Sylvie flicked her thick, blonde hair from her shoulders nonchalantly and plucked a non-existent piece of lint from her sleeve. “Well it’s not every day the Emporium is graced by celeb chef royalty. Housewives favourite, Freddie Calender, here, giving a cookery demonstration? I thought I’d make the effort, Clive.”

Clive was suddenly worried that he’d gone too far. He would hate to offend Sylvie; sometimes he thought she was his only friend. “No, you look very smart. That’s smart thinking, Sylvie. Well done. Smart all round.”

Sylvie smiled at her blushing boss and bobbed her head. “So, coffee. With froth and sprinkles?”

“Yes please,” Clive said gratefully. He clapped his hands together and looked around his office. “So, big day ahead. I’ll go and check out the Freddie Calendar books and DVDs promotion once my shoes have dried out a bit, but I do need to speak to Alan. I suspect with this weather, and the amount of customers we’re likely to attract today, we’ll need extra matting and mopping.”

“I’ll find him and send him through,” Sylvie said with a smile and left the office with an unsteady wobble.

Clive grimaced and continued to worry about slips, trips and falls.

+++

Kara Swinton pulled the sun visor down from above her head and checked her appearance in the tiny mirror fixed to the back of it. Despite the early hour, she didn’t think she looked too bad; a little pale maybe, but better than she ought to considering what little sleep she’d managed to get the night before. As she turned her face from side to side she caught a glimpse of the figure slumped, sleeping in the back seat of the Uber cab they were taking to Marchway, and thought he looked considerably worse than her.

“There’s a light if you want to fix your make-up,” the driver next to her said helpfully. His eyes didn’t waver from the dark road ahead as he reached up and flicked a switch next to the mirror.

Ugh! Kara thought at the dark rings under her eyes, now illuminated by the harsh, blue light that spilled over her. She quickly switched it off and pushed the sun visor up to its original position. She could kill for a cigarette. “No, that’s okay. Thank you, I don’t want to wake him.”

“No problem,” the driver replied. He flashed a bright smile at Kara before tilting his head back toward the sleeping figure. “Late night, was it?”

Kara considered telling him that they’d spent the evening in the bar at the House of Commons – how they’d drunk far too much in an effort to keep up with their very thirsty host, an MP of twenty years standing, in an attempt to solicit further backing – but decided against it. “Kinda,” she replied with a shrug. “A work thing.”

They traveled in silence that was intermittently broken by burbled snores from the back seat. Several times Kara noticed the driver’s dark eyes flicking up to the rear view mirror, to stare inquiringly at the slack jawed, drooling face of her boss. He can’t place him, she decided. And no wonder, the public rarely sees Freddie Calender, TV chef and food activist, without his trademark grin and sparkling eyes. Kara stifled a yawn, I won’t tell him unless he asks.

Freddie turned in his seat and farted loudly.

“Oh Freddie,” Kara groaned under her breath and pushed a button on her door. The window whined down and the raw sound of the motorway rushed in. “You’d better do the same,” she advised the driver. “It’s Dev, right?”

“Yeah and you’re Kara,” Dev chuckled and shook his head. “That’s okay. I lived in India when I was little. Nothing pongs as bad as India. It was like being inoculated against future bad smells.”

Kara smiled as she allowed the cold air to stream over her face, letting it beat all traces of tiredness away. She breathed deeply; it smelt like rain. “Dev, would it be okay with you if I smoked a cigarette?”

“Freddie?” Dev started having caught the name. “Is that’s Freddie Calender, the chef off the telly?”

Kara pulled a battered metal cigarette case from her coat pocket and waggled it at Dev. “I’ll tell you if you’ll let me smoke.”

“Sure,” Dev said, flashing Kara with another bright smile. “If you don’t mind that I vape.” He pulled a white plastic tube from his door well and twirled it between his fingers, waggling his eyebrows.

“Heh. Not at all.” Kara returned his smile; Dev had a nice smile. “Thank you, you’re a life saver. This is my first today.” She reached into her other coat pocket and pulled out an equally battered lighter. “Of course, the first one always tastes better with coffee,” she sighed, lighting up, careful to blow the first drag of smoke out of the window.

“So am I right?” Dev opened his window and took a pull on his vape stick. “I am aren’t I? That’s Freddie Calender.”

“Yes he is,” Kara said sweetly, turning back to look fondly over her comatose boss. Freddie shifted and farted again. “TV chef, mediocre businessman,” she continued tartly, turning back to face forward, “and scourge of BOGOF.” Kara inclined her head toward the open window and took another deep drag on her cigarette. “That Freddie Calender.”

“And what’s a BOGOF?” Dev asked.

Kara laughed softly to cover her surprise. She watched the orange sparks dance atop her cigarette and disappear into the morning air as the car’s slipstream simultaneously whisked away it’s ashen hat.  “You’ve never heard of BOGOF?”

Dev turned his head toward Kara and shook it, although his eyes remained fixed on the road ahead. “No, is it a toilet thing?”

“Eww, no.” Kara studied the blank expression on Dev’s face and concluded that he really didn’t know. “It’s short for ‘Buy One Get One Free’… bee-oh-gee-oh-eff. BOGOF.” Still nothing. “Obviously you don’t do the grocery shopping in your house,” she teased.

Dev took another deep pull on his vape stick and blew a plume of steam out of his open window. “If you want to know if I’m in relationship, you can just ask me.”

Cheeky sod, Kara thought, coughing to hide her embarrassment; she had noticed that the very good looking cab driver wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “Okay, I’ll play. Do you have a girlfriend, Dev?”

“No,” Dev stated seriously before flashing Kara with another winning smile. “But I take my mum to the supermarket and help with the food shop every week. I’ve just never actually heard anyone call it BOGOF before. Do people even say that?”

“BOGOF,” Freddie slurred from the depths of sleep.

Kara and Dev burst into laughter. They tried suppressing their mirth so as not to wake him so that their shoulders shook all the more. Kara threw the butt of her exhausted cigarette out of the window and let the rushing wind carry it away with a howl of laughter.

“Surreal,” Dev said shaking his head slowly. “My first famous fare and it’s completely surreal.”

“Freddie has that effect sometimes,” Kara sighed. “Have we got very much further to go?” she asked, arching her back. The cigarette and laughter had relaxed her somewhat, but Kara could do with stretching her legs.

“Marchway is about thirty minutes away,” Dev replied, glancing up through the windscreen at the overcast sky. “If it doesn’t rain.” He tapped at the sat nav screen. “Actually, there’s a service station coming up. Do you want to stop and get coffee?”

“That would be great, thanks. I’ll wake his nibs up then, so he has enough time to come to.” Kara knew Freddie would appreciate that, and a strong, black coffee would probably do him the world of good.

+++

“There you go.” Sylvie placed a bacon sandwich and cappuccino in front of Clive. “I thought you could do with something to eat as well. I doubt you had time this morning.”

Clive was touched. He’d had to forgo his usual bowl of muesli because of Fiona’s car troubles. Not that he minded missing Fiona’s muesli, but he’d hadn’t realised just how hungry he was until he smelt the aroma of bacon. Clive smacked his lips and beamed up at Sylvie. “Thank you very much indeed.”

“You’re welcome,” Sylvie said beaming a smile back.“Did you talk to Alan yet?”

Clive took a huge bite out of his sandwich and nodded enthusiastically.

Sylvie liked to see Clive eat and was quite convinced his wife didn’t feed him at all. “Good. I see Freddie Calender is in the newspaper today. We get a mention.”

Clive stopped mid-chew and swallowed. “National or local press?”

Sylvie pulled a folded newspaper from under her arm and passed it to Clive.” Local, but he’s in all the nationals as well. Page seven.”

Clive wiped his fingers on the napkin Sylvie had thoughtfully tucked under his bacon sandwich, and opened the newspaper. Freddie Calender stared out, all twinkling eyes and dimpled grin. Clive read the accompanying article in silence, while Sylvie watched his brow slowly furrow.

Eventually he looked up. “Here we are at the end, but what’s this ‘BOG OFF to BOGOF’ business? What’s he got against ‘buy one get one free’?”

Sylvie had already returned to her desk and kicked off her shoes. “I’ll look it up,” she said, skittering painted nails over the keyboard. “Here we are. I’ve found the website.”

Clive continued eating his sandwich, more slowly this time, and re-read the article.

“It’s like it says in the newspaper,” Sylvie murmured reading the words on screen. “He’s heading up a national campaign to ban ‘buy one get one free’ deals. “‘It’s time to tell Big Retail that we don’t want more of their junk products that we didn’t need in the first place.’ Bloody cheek!”

Clive took a slurp of cappuccino and sucked the foam off his mustache. “Listen to this: ‘It’s all too easy to be lured into buying ready meals, thinking ‘what a bargain’, when the truth is, that second portion of processed crap languishing in your fridge, will be binned when it’s past it’s sell-by date because the first one tasted so bad.’” Clive looked up at Sylvie and blinked. “He’s very strident in his criticism.”

“He’s very rude is what he is,” Sylvie huffed, bristling with indignation “And quite wrong. Our ‘Authentic Dishes of the World’ ranges are delicious and very popular. Especially the chicken Tikka Masala in ‘Feasts from the East’. Do you think Head Office knows about this?”

“I doubt it, Sylvie.” Clive rubbed his hands together to remove any sandwich crumbs from his fingers, and wiped his mouth. “They’ve been exceptionally buoyed ever since landing Calender’s ‘Time to Cook’ nationwide tour. His name has a certain cachet, but you’re right to ask. We should find out. Can you get me Megan at Head Office on the phone?”

“Of course.” Sylvie picked up the receiver of her telephone console and jabbed at the keypad with a pen. “It won’t stop with ready meals, Clive, you mark my words. We have BOGOF deals on wine, pet foods, toiletries… Oh good morning. Could I speak to Megan Prendergast, please. Clive Ambrose from the Marchway store would like to speak with her. Thank you, we’ll hold.” She kept the receiver to her ear but placed a hand over the mouthpiece. “And has he even considered the impact this could have on food banks? I bet he hasn’t.”

Clive drained his coffee cup and reached down to slip his mostly dried shoes back onto his feet. He appreciated his assistant’s feistiness – finding Sylvie strangely attractive when she had her hackles up – but unintended consequences were a fact of life. The trick, in Clive’s opinion, was to deal with them as best you can and to always look for the silver lining.

His thinking was interrupted when Sylvie nodded several times toward the phone on his desk. He picked up the receiver. “Good morning, Megan, Clive Ambrose from Marchway here. Tell me, have you seen the Freddie Calender articles in the press today?”

Sylvie leaned back in her chair and watched Clive’s conversation. He didn’t say much but from his facial expressions and body language, Sylvie could tell that Head Office was as shocked by the news as they were.

“No, of course you need to scrutinize his contract thoroughly. The issue I have is that we’re expecting him to arrive at the store in a little over an hour.” Clive rolled his eyes at Sylvie at the response he was hearing before eventually saying “Goodbye” and ending the call.

“Well?” Sylvie asked expectantly. “Are we going to cancel?”

Clive stood up and pulled his jacket on. “No, the Legal department needs to study his contract properly. That takes time.”

Sylvie gave a snort of disgust. “So we’re going to have to be nice to him, all the while he’s slagging us off in the press?”

“Well, not us per se, he’s not stupid,” Clive soothed, straightening his tie. “But Head Office seems a little bereft of ideas.” He started for the office door, but stopped to pick at something stuck in his teeth. He pulled the irritant out; it was a piece of bacon. He studied it and thought about Fiona’s muesli, the morning’s deluge and his satisfied bacon-filled stomach, before popping it back into his mouth. There’s always a silver lining to be found.

“Come along on, Sylvie,” Clive said, holding the door open for her. “We should go and inspect the demonstration and promotional areas. I really hope this weather doesn’t keep the customers away.”

+++

Dev leaned against the pillar in the coffee shop, watching Kara pay at the counter. He allowed his eyes a moment to rake over her slender form, though he quickly looked away when she glanced up and caught his stare.  Kara was all smiles as she approached him with the coffees.

“Here you go,” she said and handed Dev a cardboard cup, topped with a plastic adult teat. “A tall Flat White. That’s on me.”

“Thanks Kara, but there’s no need.”

They moved to the napkin station where Kara liberally applied brown sugar to her larger cup of white chocolate Mocha. “Oh don’t worry about. I got it with my loyalty points.” She pulled the wooden stirrer between her lips and sucked off the milky foam. “Consider it as part of your tip.”

Dev sipped gingerly from the steaming hole in the lid of his cup. “I’ve had plenty of racing tips as tips but this is much nicer.”

“Why, weren’t any of those tips any good?” Kara asked playfully.

“Nah, they were all nags,” Dev said with a grin and tilted his cup toward Kara. “Thanks again.”

They left the coffee shop and as they reached the entrance doors to the service station. Both were surprised to find the rain that threatened earlier had actually arrived. A sheet of water fell from the roof covering the entrance like a second transparent door.

“Oh hell, we’re gonna get soaked!” Dev declared as he gauged the strength of the rain and the distance to the car. “We’ll have to make a run for it.”

“No sodding way,” Kara hollered over the sound of the falling rain. “I want to have a smoke before we go back. Freddie hates me smoking.” She sauntered over to an empty table and chairs set back from the cascading rain, under the cover the overhanging roof.

Dev followed her and sat down. He patted his pockets. “Oh shit, I’ve left my vape stick in the car.”

“You won’t be able to vape when we get back either. Freddie hates that too.” Kara said pulling the battered metal box from her pocket and extracted a cigarette. “Would you like one of mine?”

She watched Dev dithering as to whether to take one or not. Oh you bad girl, Kara, she chastised herself but felt no pangs of guilt. “You don’t have to of course, but you should also consider this as part of your tip.”

“No, it’s okay,” Dev laughed, “but I appreciate the offer.” He took the battered Zippo lighter from Kara’s hand and flicked it into life. “Here, let me.”

Kara took a deep drag and blew the smoke out of the side of her mouth, away from Dev. She took the teated lid off her coffee and took a cautious slip. “Ahh, the second smoke of the day tastes equally as good with coffee.”

Dev turned the Zippo lighter between his thumb and index finger. “Hey, the case and lighter match. That’s neat.”

Kara took another drag and plucked the lighter from Dev’s fingers. She placed it on top of the cigarette case. “They were my granddad’s. He swapped them with a Yank during the war.”

“What did he swap them for?”

“Provisions. They were both POWs in World War Two. I got them when he died a couple of years back. Well, my sister doesn’t smoke, so they came to me,” Kara said with a shrug. “They’re a useful memento.”

“Of your granddad,” Dev murmured solemnly.

“Well yes,” Kara drawled and release a plume of smoke from her mouth. “And that neither smoking, nor bloody combat managed to see him off.”

Dev eyed the steadily falling rain and lightly drummed his fingers on the table top. “Go on then, as it’s part of my tip.”

Kara chuckled and slid her cigarette box and lighter over to Dev. “Knock yourself out.”

Dev lit up a cigarette. “So if Freddie Calender doesn’t like smoking-”

“He hates smoking.”

“And vaping-” Dev popped the lid from his Flat White.

“Completely loathes it.”

“And hates BOGOFs-” He took a slurp of his coffee.

“Vehemently.”

“Is there anything Freddie Calender does like?” Dev asked, licking hot foam from his lips.

Kara flicked ash onto the floor. “You mean apart from Freddie Calender? Um…”. She puffed out her cheeks in contemplation.

“Ha, yes.”

“Jammie Dodgers.” Kara lent in toward Dev and whispered conspiratorially. “They’re his secret vice.”

Dev smiled and gazed at Kara snort with laughter at her own joke. He let his eyes linger on her pale and beautiful face, and this time, when she caught him staring, Dev did not look away.

He chipped off the remains of his cigarette and stood up. “The rain seems to be easing up some. If you’ve finished that, I think we could make a run for it. We shouldn’t get too wet.”

“Okay.” Kara took a final drag and discarded the butt into an encroaching puddle of rainwater. It hissed and fizzled out. “Freddie hates it when his coffee is cold.”

+++

Freddie Calender slung his foot out of back of the black saloon car and into a puddle of water. “Bollocks!” he swore loudly and pulled his foot back inside, wiping the sides of his pristine white trainers against the tufted car mat. “Fella, you’ve managed to park on a lake. Can’t you find us somewhere drier?”

“Sorry,” Dev said and reversed out of the parking bay and maneuvered it into a empty spot immediately behind. “Is that better?”

Kara cracked open her door and looked down. “Yes, much. Thank you, Dev.”

“Yeah, thanks mate,” Freddie said, slapping Dev hard on the shoulder as he slid out of the car.

“I’ve got my phone with me if you need me,” Kara mumbled and pulled her bag up onto her lap, rummaging inside. “He’s booked for three hours but this shouldn’t take much longer than that. You’re sure you don’t mind waiting?”

“No problem.”

“I mean, you don’t mind us not paying for you to wait.” Kara placed her hand on Dev’s arm. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea Freddie was going to suggest that.”

Dev smiled and shook his head. “No, that’s okay. As Freddie pointed out, it’s extremely doubtful I’m gonna get another fare from Marchway back to London. Besides, he’s promised an autographed photo for my mum. I can’t leave before I get that.”

“Okay then, see you later.” Kara open the car door and got out.

Dev sat back in his seat and watched Kara heft her bag up onto her shoulder, and weave her way through the puddles littering the car park, toward the supermarket. He pulled out his vape stick and switched on the radio. All in all, for his first celebrity fare, he thought it had gone pretty well so far. But Kara? She was definitely the best thing about it.

+++

Freddie saw the expectant delegation of suits and primary coloured uniforms before he stepped through the sliding doors and into the supermarket. He knew they had seen him as soon as he heard a squeal of excitement. There was always a squeal.

“Hello Mr Calender!” Clive called out and strode toward him. “We’re so pleased to welcome you to the Marchway Emporium.” He grabbed Freddie’s hand and pumped it enthusiastically. “Very pleased indeed.”

“Yeah, I’m excited to be here.” Freddie grinned his trademark grin at the waiting crowd before him and shook the proffered hands. “I can’t wait to get cooking.”

“Shame about the weather but hopefully it won’t put too many people off coming out to see you.” Clive placed his hand on the small of Freddie’s back and attempted to steer him forward. “This way, we’re all set up for you.”

Freddie stopped. “Wait. I need to introduce you to my assistant,” he said tentatively and swung around, looking for the absent Kara. “There she is. Kara!”

Kara had just arrived and was stamping her wet boots on the matting inside the door. She looked up and smiled at hearing her name. “Hello. How do you do. Golly, it’s extremely wet out there.”

Sylvie tottered forward and took Kara’s hand. “Yes, it was dreadfully unexpected. I’m Sylvie, the Store Manager’s assistant. I can take you to dry off first if you like.”

“Kara’s my go-to gal, aren’t you, Kara?” Freddie wrapped an arm around Kara’s shoulders and pulled her in tight. “If anybody needs anything of me, especially whilst I’m cooking, speak to Kara. She’s on point. Okay?”

“Ah, well perhaps I should give this to you then,” Sylvie said to Kara, and loosened a page from her clipboard. “It’s all the ingredients specifically requested for today. We just want to make sure there’s nothing missing.”

Freddie snatched the paper from Sylvie. “No, I’ll check that. I am the chef.” He pinched his bottom lip between forefinger and thumb as he scanned the list. “No, that’s everything. Thank you.”

You arse! Kara thought sourly and plucked the page from Freddie’s hand. She’d seen the flush of colour in Sylvie’s cheeks and decided a spot of charm might be the best remedy. It’s amazing how skillful I’ve become at charming people since I started working for you, she admonished Freddie silently.

She passed the paper back to Sylvie with a toothy smile. “Oh my god, your nails are wonderful, Sylvie!” Kara held Sylvie’s hand and studied the finish on her nails. “Did you get those done professionally?”

The flush in Sylvie’s cheeks turned to blush. “No, I did them myself. I used transfers. I learnt how to do it on the internet. There are so many videos on YouTube…”

“Well then,” Clive said clearing his throat and replaced his hand on the small of Freddie’s back, nudging him onward. “Shall we go to the kitchen demonstration area? We’ve converted part of our Riverside cafe for the day. Temporarily of course, but we think you’ll be satisfied with the layout.”

+++

“Hey! I thought I might find you out here,” Dev called out and ambled over to Kara. He passed her a cardboard carton, a wisp of steam curled out from the hole in its lid. “I thought maybe you could do with one of these.”

Kara was stood smoking alone in the bright sunshine, and rocking on her feet. The free hand she had stuffed in her coat pocket took the coffee from him gratefully. “Hey! Aw, thank you! How did you know that the third cigarette of the day is spectacularly good with coffee? Wow. You really are an excellent cab driver, Dev.”

 “Thank you, Kara.”

“In fact I suggest you prepare yourself for a most effusive customer review.”

“Consider me already bowled over,” Dev said with a wide smile. “So how’s it going with Freddie’s demonstration?”

“Pretty good, I think. Despite the earlier bad weather, he’s drawn quite a crowd.” Kara took a long drag on her cigarette, followed up by a short sip from her coffee cup. “Have you been shopping?”

Dev was carrying a bulging plastic bag, with the primary coloured Emporium logo emblazoned on the front. “I have. Fortunately I had some time to kill this morning, so I thought I’d check out inside.”

Kara smiled and released a cloud of smoke into the bright blue sky. “Did you buy anything nice?”

“Yes I did,” Dev said pulling his vape stick from his pocket. “I got some presents for my mum.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah.” Dev took a hit from his vape stick. “Say, Kara, have you had a chance to look around the rest of the store?”

Kara looked at Dev and flicked the ash from her cigarette. She squinted in the sunshine. “No, not really. I’ve been busy with the demonstration. Why?”

“It might be nothing, but the Emporium seems really keen on BOGOFs.”

“What do you mean?”

Dev shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “I mean, really keen. They have a whole aisle of ‘buy one get one free’ ingredients from Freddie’s demo dishes and it’s jammed with customers.”

“No!” Kara could feel the blood draining from her already too pale face.

“Yeah, there are even food bank reps behind the tills collecting BOGOF donations. I didn’t know they were allowed to do that.” Dev reached into his shopping bag and pulled out a book. “And then there’s this.” Freddie Calender’s twinkling eyes and trademarked dimpled grin shone from the cover. “They’ve got a big promotion of these inside as well. All ‘buy one get one free’. I bought this and got one of his DVDs with it. What a bargain! Mum thinks Freddie’s great.”

Kara placed her coffee cup on the floor before taking the book from Dev. She stared at it in astonishment. It was Freddie’s latest title, ‘Time To Cook’, but a large, primary coloured sticker had been placed over the last word. “’Freddie Calender’s Time To BOGOF’?”

Dev tried hard but the giggle that he’d held inside him could no longer be contained. “I’ve only known Freddie a morning, but even I know that he is gonna hate that!”

Kara roared with laughter and grabbed Dev’s arm. “We’d best not tell him then, eh? We don’t want to ruin the journey back.”

+++

Sylvie was typing into her computer when Clive returned to the Emporium’s Admin Office. “Well, that all went off very well in the end, I think,” he said, sitting down at his desk. A steaming cup of tea and a jam doughnut, with a thoughtfully placed napkin, were waiting for him. “Thank you, Sylvie. That’s very kind of you.”

“No problem, Clive.” Sylvie turned away from her computer screen so that she could watch Clive take the first sugary bite from his doughnut. “Have you spoken to Alan this afternoon?” she asked.

Clive shook his head no and continued chewing.

“He stopped by earlier, cock-a-hoop about something he’s posted up on Twitter.”

Clive swallowed and licked sugar and jam from his lips. “Alan’s on Twitter?”

“Yes. I’m not on Twitter myself, but Alan says he’s got a number of followers on there. They’ve been liking and retweeting a photo he took of our Freddie Calendar book promotion. Apparently it’s gone viral.”

“Really?” Clive wiped his fingers on the napkin, woke up his computer and opened Twitter. “Did Alan happen to mention the name of his Twitter handle?” he asked, reaching for his tea and taking a large gulp.

“Yes. He posts anonymously on…” Sylvie paused, peered down at her notebook and grimaced. “At silver streaky bacon?”

And for the second time that day, Clive Ambrose found himself unexpectedly soaked.

*******

*Trust Jammy Oliver to land a show with a captive audience, Clicky… /stubs butt… Time for a Song methinks…*

And that, as they say, is that. Underdog Anthology XI: Ay Corona! (working title) is due out in April, and I really must get back to finishing my story for it. So until next time, Dear Reader, have a Song ❤

*Seriously, Clicky? …/laughs like a drain…*

Story Time: She’s In The Shower

Something to cheer everyone up now, Dear Reader 😀 I know, I know, times are trying at present: what with the new Hack Death stalking the Armageddon landscape of political and financial turmoil, causing the Media to shit its collective shit for brains, and instilling an insatiable desire in the general populus to self-isolate within a mountain made of toilet rolls. Oh, the humanity. Think of the trees…

blah blah blah

*/lights up… Well, it’s mental, Clicky… /drags deeply… Leggy’s on to sumfin… /smoky sigh…*

… So, to cheer us all up, I persuaded my good buddy Cade, the Okie Text Us Devil, to let us publish his fantastic story from Underdog Anthology VIII: Transgenre Dreams…

Pearls before Swine

*Doesn’t have to be paper, Clicky. Kindles cheaper and quicker… /thinks… Bloody brilliant if you have to spend time at home, self isolating…*

… It’s an absolute belter 😀 We know you will enjoy ‘She’s In The Shower’… 😉

*******

She’s In The Shower

By Cade F.O.N Apollyon

Before I go, I thought I might pass along a few thoughts that I’ve had about timelines and those who travel them. My name is Arton Arin. I am a 43 tri-season old resident of Bollinger in the Southern Midlands of Eggland, and I’ve been told that I am preparing to pass of a diseize called Cancera Molingua.

Before you become too distressed at my predicament, know that I actually feel quite well as of this writing, and I would prefer that you hear the tale I have to tell before making too many judgments about how you should feel about me and my current Medicull outlook. I simply thought it best to relay to you a bit about who I am, when and where I come from, and maybe a bit about why I am writing this story.

To be completely forthright, I am bored. My diseize is very rare, but highly contagious. Therefore, I spend most of my days in total isolation, pacing the length and breadth of my isolated hopspittle tangle, thinking about days gone by. If there is a bright side, it is that after the first two weeks of infection, which I am told is usually spent in a comatoe, the remainder of whatever time is left is spent mostly symptom-free. Or so I am told. However, I am also told that I will once again, sometime in the near future, slip into a comatoes from which I will not wake. Typical.

One might think that someone in my current state may perhaps spend most of their time lamenting a future that will never come. Sorrows, woes, and oh no’s. All those glorious dreams of future endeavors, forever lost because of some new form of Cancera that has chosen to spring up in myself and a few other unfortunates. All of us scattered here and there, in and around a world that I do not know very well at all. But I find myself thinking about such things only when contemplating the thoughts of others and how they might view me. And what I mean to say there, with impunity to you who are reading this, is that I do not think about the future nor why I shall not be in it, unless I think about those who are actually there. Someone such as you.

You are there already…reading this…written by someone who might have been there, but is, alas, not. Cancera Molingua decided we should be apart. Or perhaps, decided it better that we meet in a different fashion. Were I not preparing to pass, I would not be writing this. Were I not already passed, you would not be reading it. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, whoever you are. But let us get back to my boredom and why I’ve decided to explore a bit further the topic of those who travel timelines differently than others.

As stated previously, I am quite bored. My waking hours are spent in the past. Spent recalling tales told to me in my youth by parents and grandparents, relatives and friends; a cross section of everything from absolute truth, to complete and total flabber. Some of the more strange and interesting tales were those told to me by my grandfather. My grandfather confided in me later that these tales were actually told to him by his grandfather, although my grandfather sometimes painted himself in the main role to make the storytelling more relatable. After all,” he explained, “these are strange tales of a time where both morta and godda alike intermingled with the firmament of the cosmos!” Grandfather liked to recall in a mighty voice. They were sometimes indeed difficult tales to understand. Difficult tales to follow.

Of course, in my grandfather’s grandfather’s time, the names were different as the language was different. These were the times before “The Great Buyout” when the last of the free lands were deeded. Before “The Final Four Closure” when all ownership tytulle changed hands, which intern caused “The Sudden Shift” of morta peepwholes moving to and from all corvers of the planets. Before “The Age Of The Tri-Season” where the cold and hot seasons came with some regularity, and our primary planet did not linger for unspecified times in rethrograde nor anterograde orbits. Before “The Great Shaming Of All Nations” when all language was changed, and all memory of what came before was changed forever.

I am only telling you this, because I just realized that some of my words may not mean the same to you as they do to me, as I have no idea who you are, nor when and where you will be reading this. Pity that I have no idea which words you may understand, and which words you may not. I suppose it’s just an unfortunate side-defect of time’s progression, and I suppose I’ll just have to do the best that I can.

***

My grandfather told tales of times and places before The Shifts. Of course, the peepwhole then too were different, but they are gone, whereas I am told that many of these places that he spoke of still exist in some forms in fashion. Old places with new names and new destinies in new times. Many places that I should have loved to see had I reached the required traveling age of 45 tri-seasons. Alas, I am told that I shall not.

I suppose in looking back now, the interesting thing to me is that the tales my grandfather told me seem now to have been an up-building. A gathering of wanders and their wonders. Strange events I once thought fiction, leading from a time of knowing, to a time of non-knowing. Only through my illness have I had the time to reflect on these tales and what they could potentially mean. By that, I mean that I can avoid reflecting on a future that never is, mine, by reflecting instead on a future that perhaps never was. Perhaps because of these events, a future without me in it, was somehow avoided? Perhaps I am here only because of The Shifts?

I have begun to believe that perhaps there is truth in these stories my grandfather told me. Perhaps there is a certain deliberate vibration of sorts through time, and only through time and only with our attention can we begin to understand the wisdom in this. Perhaps this vibration crafts the never was, the is not, and the never will be, into something…more tolerable? More palatable? A deliberate and direct intervention on the part of some unseen will who guides us to where we actually need be, as opposed to where we want or think we need be?

I apologize to you if I am straying off point. And I realize that I have not yet told to you any of my grandfather’s tales. But as I write this, I cannot help but feel some degree of sorrow for a certain place from one of grandfather’s stories I shall never see. A place that I have dreamed of seeing since I first heard the story of “The Lady In The Shower Ring”, and it all took place in a land of dry, in a small town ship that no longer exists, called Text Sass.

***

We in my time are allowed to know anything, but we are not allowed to know it until a certain age is attained. There is no reason given for this as no one is said to know how this process came to be nor why. But the general consenseus is that it is to maintain a balance of want and need within society in times of limited resources. The less we know, the less we want, and the less we want, the more that our needs will be both true and inline with their actual necessity. This reasoning makes sense to me as it does most others that I have spoken with on the subject. But until I became sick and eventually became to be housed at the hopspittle with my own private tangle, I had no real knowledge of what “a shower ring” really was, nor that they actually existed.

L’water is plentiful in my time. As far as I am aware, even those who live in lands of dry never attain a thirst that cannot be squenched. We are allowed to totally immerse ourselves in L’water for cleaning twice every season within the tri-season, and both M’water and N’waters can be used for cleaning and swashing. You cannot consume these waters because of a tiny unseen organism called Blass Ticks that are too numerous for our internals, but these waters are more than adequate for daily cleanings. The Blass Ticks are even said to be good for swashing and cleansing the hepadermis. However, in my grandfather’s stories, that his grandfather told him, he spoke of times before The Shifts when morta peepwholes had unlimited access to L’waters, and would sprinkle their bodies with it daily in an area of their residences called The Shower Ring.

My tangle here at the hopspittle has a shower ring. It is a tangle like where I now spend my days but much smaller; two long sides, two shorter sides. A small tangle, within a larger tangle, that is specifically for swashing and cleansing. Due to it’s shape, I admit I am confused as to why it is called “a shower ring”. Perhaps someday I will ask one of the Fizzicans who checks on me each weakly.

I can swash and cleanse as much as I like, but you do not totally immerse in the shower ring. In fact, you do not immerse at all. A’waters, which are a yellowish, orange/brown Medicull water with something called “munkee blod” in it, sprays from a pipe on the wall, and all I need do is stand in the shower ring to swash. The water droplets that fall from the pipe in the shower ring remind me of the stories of “The Time Of Many Reigns”. Before The Shifts, reigns fell from the skies without intervention from peepwholes. No one knows why, but reigns of L’water fell without prompting, at many and all times during the four seasons that were said to have existed prior to the times of the tri-season. To preserve the purity of processes, we are disallowed from standing in the reigns when those who reign over all pour their L’water freely from the skies. But this shower ring is what I imagine that must be like.

So many things seem to have conspired to land me in my own tangle with my own shower ring. And I am told that I will know that the time is close when I feel my toes start to become numb. What a strange concept to ponder…the feeling, of numbness. I fear I’ve gone too long on myself already, so pondering here the concept of what it is to feel nothing or how nothing feels, I shall save for perhaps another time.

I shall now tale you the tell I was told by my grandfather. The story of The Lady In The Shower Ring. The story of the lady with tool eggs, and four harms. The story, of She Vah and my grandfather’s grandfather in the shower ring.

***

My grandfather was not a holy man, neither was he good. But nor was he unholy, neither was he evil.

There was no good…there was no bad…only the conflict of the two was in him.

Empty, some might say. As empty as a nothing which had no end.

Yet all and any was at his beckoning and at his whim.

For the two mighty Ones held sway over him…The One, and The Other One.

The Other One was to The One, as The One was to The Other One.

Two Ones, which is, and are, the same One, from different times, who sought out my grandfather, in the same time, at the same time.

The time before The Times Of The Shifts.

Both of The Ones were sometimes hidden from him, and both sometimes seen, and brought with them their manys and alls to test him.

To both teach him and to remove his teachings…and learn my grandfather did.

To taunt him, confuse him, cause fear in him…and fear and become confused my grandfather did.

To break him…and break my grandfather they did…many times.

The Ones and their goddas versus the lone morta.

How and why you may wonder? Why did the goddas show up? Why did they show up in Text Sass? Why did they choose my grandfather? What could he as a morta possibly have to offer the goddas, and what purpose could he possibly serve?

My grandfather said he never knew why they chose him, except to say “well that fuckin’ figures.”

Breaking after breaking my grandfather withstood.

Each and every time, the Ones wagered whether this be his last…but my grandfather found his feet again each time. More resilient and more determined after every breaking. Determined to know…why him…why now.

My grandfather had nothing. That is not to say he had “nothing”, for he had many things in his life that he loved dear. But in the time of those times, and in the eyes of those in and of those times, he was considered to be a man who had nothing. Alone, in a tangle, without possession, old and broken, separated from those he loved, and he knew not why.

And it was at this time, that The Ones and their goddas arrived.

Arrived in all manners. Arrived in all forms imaginable, and in many forms unfathomable. Via any and every channel available them, they arrived. Sight, sound, smell, song, memory, knowing, and more. With all tools in the hands of the masters that created and crafted them, they arrived. Completely unannounced, they arrived.

My grandfather said of their arrival…“Pretty god damn unwelcome to be honest.”

I asked of my grandfather why he did not ask of them “why?”

He smiled at me and said, “It honestly made perfect sense at the time, and I also know now that they arrived just in time. I just…didn’t expect it, and certainly not in the way and ways that it happened. I had no idea what to do, nor how to do it. Cornered, I was.”

Emptiness, my grandfather told me, is a portal into the realm of the absurd. And to begin to understand the absurd and its absurdities, is to gain insight into the concept of love. Insight into the concept of love, provides us with a glimpse into the concept of hate. From there, the knowing of all knowing cascades in, out, and through, any and every emotion you can think of. Before long, you find yourself falling through nothing, into nothing, surrounded by everything, and somehow, you see all.

To fall forever is a completely absurd notion, my grandfather told me. Why would anything, ever need to exist, or ever even be contemplated as potentially needing to exist, which would cause one to fall forever. The answer that I arrived at from time to time, after much deliberation, was love. Neither One wanted me, but neither One could bring themselves to destroy me. This is the best I could arrive at, after countless years and tears of contemplation…was hope. I fall forever in hope. They allow me to fall forever, in their hoping. Hoping that I may someday, when needed, be what it is I need be. They about their business, and me about mine. Time for all of us, to arrive at the time we all need be at, when we need be there, as we need be. Ready, for whatever we need be ready for.

May as well busy myself having some fun doing something, while I fall forever doing nothing…

…heh, heh, heh.

I was his grandson, and you are mine, and let me assure you that humility was always on my grandfather’s mind. How to remain hidden. How to be wise. To temper a blade of his own fury that cuts without cutting, and vanquish any foe while the blade remains sheathed. Yet to stand, not bowed nor cowered, yet still in all humility, before the goddas and speak as one might speak…to a friend.

Knowing these are not my friends, but neither are they my enemies.

In fact, they don’t even know who I am.

My grandfather broke into singing a strange rhyming tune that was somehow neither poem nor song. Something that resembled a cadence that soldiers might sing in unison as they marched in order to keep their steps in time…

You know me not,

For I have no name.

I am no one,

No…one…you…know.

For I am null.

I am not.

I am knot,

I am naught,

I am not, knot, naught.

Speak as a friend. Not to flatter, nor to deceive, but to be receptive and to receive. To give my all. For these are truly my friends….and my enemies. All these things my grandfather told me.

I asked of my grandfather why he did not ask of them “Why? Why not ask of them what, and how?”

He again smiled at me and said, “I figured if they wanted me to know, they would have told me.”

Over many days called “years” in those times, they tested him.

He never knew when, nor where, for they tested him at their own whims according to plans of their own design.

The goddas cajoled, and my grandfather fell silent.

They prodded him in his dreams, and he was much troubled by them, but he carried on.

All manner of vile was suggested, and he scowled in disgust and wondered with contempt what possible purpose this knowledge could serve.

They poked and prodded at his pride, and he played along and came up with better insults for himself than they.

But then something happened that The Ones did not expect.

One of the younger goddas seems to have suggested a change in tactics. “Up the auntie” as they used to say in those times before The Shifts. Instead of attacking my grandfather with shame, or with hate, or with fear, or by promise of knowledge in hope of wisdom, they tried his own weapon against him…humor.

Many of the goddas, including The Ones, had sent many a vision to my grandfather. Some he understood, some not. But one thing he always told me that he always seemed to understand, was their humor. “They’re some funny motherfuckers,” he used to tell me.

One in particular, She Vah, was trickier and more likely to apply humor than most of the others. Someone that my grandfather said he felt he had a special kinship with, without really knowing why.

She Vah, was the godda who suggested using humor against my grandfather…especially in the shower ring.

Take his humor, that which he crafts so sweet…so sweet so as not to cut, and make it so he can do nothing but harm when he wields it. Replace the sweet with bitterness. Make that which should cause joy, cause instead hate, so that even the softest of his strokes, and the sweetest of his loving kisses, draws instead blood.

I only needed to take a piss, my grandfather told me. An average day, all day, in the same spot, pondering the same mysteries over and over, and I suddenly needed a piss. Understand that I am not complaining about pondering the same mysteries over and over. Pondering one mystery may provide insight into another. Neither mystery may in fact be solved, but it just may be enough information to make some progress in the right direction…keep us alive and pondering for a little while longer. Provide one more breath.

Not all answers are finalities, and not all finalities are final, my grandfather said. I just needed to piss, and I thought at the time that it would have been nice to have thirty seconds of peace and quiet to do so. That was not to be.

You have to try and understand, as best you can, that “seeing” does not always equate with external stimuli of some kind from our immediate surroundings. Sight, we tend to equate with those things that can be quantified and verified with secondary input. Such as, you may be able to see a chair, and you can also lick that same chair to verify that something is indeed there, and “yep, it tastes like I guess a chair should taste.” May I suggest at this time that touch may be a better secondary for many a practical reason.

There are many ways to interrupt many channels of energies flowing here and there. And since we ourselves are energy and energies, and we are in a system built of systems of energies, someone who knows what in the hell they are doing can manipulate each and every sensory input we have. They can do so from eons away in the future, they can do so from eons away in the past, and perhaps they can even do both at the same time when present circumstance dictates. And that is what I am all about…time. Hope provides time, and time provides hope. I hope, that I am not boring you, grandfather said to me, with a smile a gentle nudging elbow to my ribs for emphasis.

To “see” certain things at certain times, with no external sensory input of any kind, seems, unusual. Such as, rushing to the toilet because I’m about to piss my pants, only to make it to the toilet, and find that…I, am not alone. I see nothing, yet I sense…something.

I can only just hear my urine first sounding against the water in the toilet, as I suddenly become aware of a figure approaching me from behind. I do not flinch, I do not clinch. I continue what I am doing, and observe.

In my shower, a small figure…a woman. She has a golden outline, surrounded by complete black. Distant. Inside the distinct and sharp golden outline of her figure, again, complete black. A golden-framed woman, surrounded by total darkness that also permeates all of her being except the rigid golden outline of her frame. Hair that is somehow red, yet black as night with occasional flashes of an unusual white. Her golden outline, as she moves, shimmers occasionally with rainbow colors. These colors cycle between the base golden color, and every color imaginable.

She’s far away. Edging closer. Small steps. Raising her knees, slowly up high, high above her waist, pausing for a moment, then slowly down again. With each step, and also between steps, her arms, four of them, two on each side, move with purpose. Synchronized both with, and opposed to, the movement of her steps. All manner of shapes she makes with her arms as she approaches. Her arms cross, then unfold, her hands flat, then folded, then together, then apart. She is surrounded by complete darkness. My bladder is half-empty.

She’s tall. The more steps she takes forward from the blackness, the more her height increases. Stalking her prey, or so it would appear. Slowly, gracefully, thoughtfully, edging forward from the blackness that surrounds her, permeates her. Her skin flashes from black to a whiter and pink flesh tone, then back to black. She is no longer a she. Is she? Is she a…she? Is she…Shiva? Not the Shiva I’ve seen depicted here in this life. She is Shiva, isn’t she? Who the hell is she? Which one is she?

***

You know, I can see you,” I blurt out in my mind. Her advance does not cease, nor does she waiver in her pace.

I know you can see me,” she replies. “I just wanted to see how far you would let me advance before finally saying something.

She speaks to me in a tone of someone walking the edge of a razor suspended over a pit of spikes. Focused on many things, while doing many things, all while her own well-being appears to be hanging in the balance.

Is there a particular reason you maybe couldn’t have waited for me to finish taking a leak?

Yes. In fact, there is a particular reason. You and I both know that this is not what actually happened.

I was caught. Caught trying to stray. Straying from the truth, while in the company of truth.

“We both know that much of this in fact, did happen,” I said as I fumbled with the recounting of the experience.

“True,” she replied. “I appreciate your vigor. Just maybe perhaps, stick to the more pertinent and explainable, and stay away from any further exploration of the non-relateable.”

Wise she was, and wise she is.

***

And so, my grandfather said to me, it is time that I tell you what actually happened on that day. What happened in my bathroom. My bathroom was actually no bathroom at all, nor was it mine. My bathroom contained no bath…only a shower. A shower for washing the body, a toilet for the body’s eliminating functions, and a sink for small cleanings. The shower was simply a stall covered by a retractable plastic wall called a shower curtain. This curtain was suspended by a thing called a shower curtain rod, and the curtain was suspended from this rod by things called shower curtain rings.

I did not shower much in those days as the waters at that time harmed my skin. As such, this retractable shower curtain which enclosed the shower stall was almost always left open. Rarely was this curtain closed, and spiders used to build their webs in the folds of the shower curtain to catch prey. When I would use the toilet to relieve my bladder, my back would be to the shower stall, which means there was a rather large empty area behind me. This empty area is where on many an occasion, those from the unseen realms would appear to me. An area which I could not see when standing in front of the toilet, and an area from whence I should NOT be able to see them, but for some reason…I could see them.

All that I’ve told you up to now is true, but what actually happened share now I, with you…

***

You know, I can see you,” I blurt out in my mind. Her advance does not cease, nor does she waiver in her pace.

I know you can see me,” she replies. “I’m practicing my Yoga in the shower whilst you pee.

I immediately started to laugh so hard at the absurdity of her assertion, that I started pissing all over the toilet and on the floor. She was most decidedly, NOT, doing Yoga. I collected myself somewhat, and was able to regain the proper control and direction of my urine flow.

“It looks more to me like you were trying to sneak up on me while I was taking a leak, and you got caught.”

I had to fight back. I was standing here in the vulnerability of an act of a necessary bodily function, usually performed alone and in solitude, and now that embarrassment has been compounded by shame for urinating all over the outside of the toilet and on the floor.

“Tell me, Clay. What is winning?” she asked as she continued her rhythmic and exaggerated advance towards my back.

“Winning?” I questioned. “Winning? Or victory?”

She immediately froze at hearing my question; two of her arms above her head with hands folded, two of her arms extended at her shoulders with the palms of her hands up, one leg bent and raised high up to her chest so that her foot was well off the floor, the other leg straight with her foot firmly planted. A contest! A contest to see if she can remain standing on one foot for the length of time it takes me to finish pissing. ‘A pissing contest’…of sorts.

You know,” I began, “I’ve not cleaned that shower in some time. I’ve noticed you are barefoot. You could potentially get some kind of foot disease.

She smiled, but did not move nor waiver in any other way.

Also,” I continued, “I’m the one that showers in there, so a disease of some kind is almost certain.

She maintained her smile, her eyes glowed, but still she did not move nor waiver.

Um,” I was desperate, for I was almost finished peeing, “This may take a while. There’s a dollar store right up the street if you want to toddle off there and get you a pair of cheap flip-flops that can be used as shower shoes. Will only set you back a buck.

She dropped her elevated foot in defeat, and bent over in laughter.

“WINNER!!!” I thought to myself. Just in time too. The final drops of urine fell into the toilet, I gave the requisite squeeze and shake, then found the toilet paper roll so I could do an initial clean up of the urine from the toilet bowl and floor. I reached for the toilet paper roll. Between pulling off the first few sheets and looking at the floor in order to begin planning where to start cleaning first, I briefly acknowledged Shiva’s presence in my mind. When she came again into focus, I saw one of the most incredible things that I have ever seen.

Somehow, and to this day I have no idea how she did what she did, she was standing…on both feet…AND…one foot, all at the same time. And no, before you ask, she did not suddenly grow an extra leg. She simply, somehow, ‘revealed’ to me, that she was still standing on one foot, had never moved, and, was standing on two feet. There was no double-vision. Her form was as clear, crisp, and well defined as it has ever been…only two legs. And yet, somehow, she was managing to stand with both feet firmly planted, and stand on one foot with one leg raised. I saw no third nor fourth leg.

I immediately burst into an uproarious laughter as my mind was flooded with the possibilities and notions of how she was achieving this. Multiple-dimensions? Multiple-times? Multiple-positions? All somehow aggregated here and now to give the appearance that she was in one place at one time, when she was in fact in many? Whatever she was doing, and however she was doing it, this was no trick. There was nothing ‘gimmicky’ about it. All attempts on my part to solve this mystery almost immediately dissolved away as the reality of what I had just seen continued to sink in. I continued to laugh, bent down, and started to clean my misfired urine off of the floor.

Winner,” she said softly in a quasi-sultry and sassy voice.

What!?” I protested. “I’ve already won!

Winner, winner…chicken dinner,” she said, hands on her hips. She wiggled them slightly for some added zesty emphasis.

You can’t take my win from me can you? I’ve already won it.

I can take your win from you, and I have done so. In doing so, you have answered my question, and I have answered yours.

The difference between ‘winning’ and ‘victory’?

Correct.

Anything given, can be taken away.

Correct.

A nation may ‘win’ a war, yet still not be victorious.

That is an excellent point for pondering.

Wait a second here. You stated you won after I’d already won.

“Correct.”

Then, you implied you took my victory from me.”

“Correct.”

“That’s two wins in a single contest. You aren’t talking about winning nor victory at all are you?”

“Perhaps yes, and perhaps not.”

I continued to wipe urine from the floor as thoughtfully and completely as I could, and it occurred to me that most lessons from ‘else’ usually comes both indirectly, and, it is heavily layered. One can many times choose to peel back as many layers as they care to. Such as, an old man on his hands and knees wiping his own piss off of the bathroom floor because the god Shiva made him laugh while he was pissing, and now they are discussing the finer points of winning, victory, and perhaps even defeat. A light bulb illuminated in my dim little mind.

“You are wondering how I would describe what I just saw to another.”

“That thought has crossed my mind,” she replied thoughtfully. “How would you describe or recount to another what you just witnessed?”

“I wouldn’t even know how to begin to try.”

“And what about relating the story of what transpired here?”

“Again, I wouldn’t know where to begin, nor would I even have the slightest inkling as to who would even care to hear such a tale. It strains my own internal credibility, and I just walked through the shit-storm my own self.”

She smiled a large smile. She could see my mind working. I was reassured by her smile, but I could tell that she knew that I was already struggling with realities and pride and prejudices and envy and shame: all these concepts and more wrestling with my own self doubt. These things continued their stormy struggle as I tried to imagine who in the entirety of existence would ever even potentially want to hear such an unimaginable and outlandish story. She thankfully interrupted my thoughts warring with themselves.

“Perhaps you could start where you are now, then work your way backwards. Do that, and moving forward should come quite easily if you stay with it.”

And with that, she was gone.

I paused and thought for a moment.

Wise she was, and wise she is.

***

My grandfather, and your three times great grandfather was no soldier, Arton. He marched alone. Accompanied perhaps, of my own accounting anyway, by an army that no one but he could see. That, I tell you, was likely the reason for the odd little song that he sometimes sang to himself.

Death says to me…

Who are you?

I know you not.

I see no name,

No name I know.

I say to Death…

You know me not,

For I have no name.

I am no one,

No…one…you…know.

For I am null.

I am not.

I am knot,

I am naught,

I am not, knot, naught.

War was his passion; battle was his mind; combat was his love; but his heart, he prayed, beat a rhythm of peace seeking wisdom. As to what that made the entirety of his being? “I don’t really know what that makes me. I don’t know what that makes me on the whole. I mostly feel at peace.” This is what my grandfather told me.

“And that’s peace, not piss,” he told me. “People will bastardize the damndest of things to their own end. I’m myself admit I am guilty of the same. Take care with your judgments grandson of mine.”

I paid no heed to my grandfather’s talk of judgments.

My mind was already well elsewhere.

Too much data, nary enough answers.

My mind burning like a flame, I asked of my grandfather, “But you told me that you were all about time! You said that hope was time, and time was hope! What is all this talk of war and battle and peace grandfather?!”

Into his eyes I looked, and saw that they blazed with a something inside of him that I had never before seen in anyone, nor have I seen in anyone since. Not blazed as the hottest flame might, nor burned like the coldest cold might. There was no light, nor was there dark, but I suddenly saw a vast and endless emptiness inside of him that sent a shiver down my spine and threatened to suck the air straight out of my lungs. My heart pounded within my own chest in protest of the unseen and unwelcome requests of me. Grandfather sensed my fear and placed his hand lovingly on my shoulder. The growing fear bursting to escape the very fiber of my being fled almost as suddenly as it had appeared. But not for long would that fear be held at bay.

“Young one,” my grandfather started, “There is some serious shit headed your way, and you, are going to be right in the big middle of it.”

My ears…I could not believe them. I could not believe these words only just ushered from my grandfather’s lips. War? My way? Me? Why would war ever come to a child? Why me? What is this war that seeks me?

I looked away from my grandfather in consternation and to the ground to reassure my now galloping mind. I felt the fear and confusion welling and tumbling inside of me. Ebb and flow, it did…subsided, it did…grew, it did. A boisterous pulse advancing and retreating almost simultaneously. Tho looking downwards, I could still see my grandfather from the top of my eyes, and saw that he observed me as I thought. He sensed the war raging now inside me. War…inside me. War?

“You feel that?” grandfather interrupted unexpectedly. “That, is war. The confusion you are feeling now, is all part of the war eternal.”

My brow furrowed in disbelief. My hand I put to my belly as it began to burn. Searched the ground for answers I did as to what this could all mean. Find my feet, so swiftly knocked from under me, I must find my feet. My eyes scanned steady the browns and greens of the ground. Back and forth my head went, as I thought to myself that this cannot be so. There cannot be a war inside of my own self. No one have I to fight. I felt an anger rising in me, and I thought to tell my grandfather as much. But again grandfather was ahead of me by at least a step.

“And that, young man, which you are feeling now, is battle. Your confusion and uncertainty have been temporarily replaced by a measured response.”

At this, something within me…snapped.

“STOP IT!” I blurted, with tears of rage welling up in my eyes. “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!”

The face of my grandfather, which only a moment ago was as stoic and hard as stone, softened. Looked beyond his face and through my own now blurry and teared eyes, sought my grandfather’s eyes I did. I found them. The vast emptiness was gone from them, and they sparkled with the fires of countless stars.

“And that, my dear grandson, is combat.”

Huge tears formed in his eyes as he continued, and his voice cracked occasionally from the strain.

“Confusion, turned anger, turned rage, all to preserve self, in combat. But beware of the fury that follows rage my dear grandson. For fury can cut in many ways, at many times, from many angles. Once fury is grasped, there is no letting go.”

Tears were now streaming down his face. I sprang to my feet, dove towards my grandfather, and wrapped my arms tight around him. I hugged him like I had never hugged anyone before nor have hugged anyone since, and a stern, but gentle and comforting hug my grandfather returned.

Warmth.

An afterglow.

Light.

A path, only previously hidden, now lay before me. Know, I did not. Understood, I did. For now, I understood without knowing.

We find our own wars, Arton. We choose our own battles. And when we find these things, we fight our own fight in combat. But when we answer the call to join the wars of others, many, and perhaps all of these choices lose we.

And for added measure my boy, tell you now, oh grandson of mine, my dear boy, Arton…that if you ever tell your grandmother that I hugged my grandfather better than I ever hugged her…well, let’s just wait and see. We’ll cross that bridge when and if we get there. He winked at me and smiled, my grandfather did.

***

My great-great grandfather is said to have died shortly before the times of The Shifts began. I can only assume that whatever death it was that sought him, and he for a time somehow avoided, eventually found him. Perhaps much in the same way it appears that some death currently seeks to find me. And so now, to be completely honest and open with you, there was indeed something specific that prompted me into writing. Something that inspired me to attempt to relay this and these tales that I have now shared with you.

Three days ago, I encountered a woman in my shower ring whilst I swashed. It was only for the briefest of moments, and due to my current Medicull predicament, I admit that I had to question whether or not it actually happened. But what stuck with me, was the fact that this woman had both red and black hair. Much like the hair of this She Vah that my grandfather told of via his grandfather’s tale.

She said nothing to me, and she actually looked scared and confused. Perhaps, assuming she was actually here, she was just lost. Lost for the briefest of moments along some coiling or unwinding timeline, and unsure of where she was.

She wore no clothes, and she looked real enough. No extra arms, no darkness nor glowing, just a combination of very red and very black hair. Naked, and possibly wet, her arms were folded somewhat protectively to her chest, although I did not get the impression that this action was out of shame nor modesty. She looked back and forth a few times before she noticed me, and our eyes met only briefly before she quickly disappeared. There was no indication that she knew me, and I certainly did not know her. Except of course, for the distant connection to this She Vah story told to me by my grandfather.

By the by, both black and red colored hairs are contrary to social parity here in Eggland. I had always assumed that colored hair of these types were a myth. So rare for anyone to have hair at all in these times, let alone what appeared to be a full supply of multi-colored hair on both her top and bottom portions. She was, now that I think about it, quite beautiful. Or would have been had she not looked so scared and perhaps helpless.

The next day, I listed the event on my daily Medicull report even thought I am still quite unsure if the event actually happened or not. But I am told that I am indeed preparing to pass, so what harm could it possibly cause to report it?

And finally, a bit of good news.

This morning, I was informed that they would be starting me on a new medesign today. The doctors informed me that they thought today might be the day that my toes started to go numb, and they wanted to go ahead and get me started on this new medesign just to be safe. They tell me that there exists the potential that this new medesign could delay the onset of the final stage. It could, they say, perhaps even pathdose the diseize entirely. And the best part is, it can sometimes do all of this with just a single dose.

I am doing my best to contain and control my enthusiasms. To say calm, and carry on. But I cannot help but think a blessing of the goddas this must be. For if this is true, and this Cancera Molingua within me can indeed be pathdosed, I can be exonerated of my “payshunt” status, leave the hopspittal, and return to my own tangle. After time, I can apply to have my records expungented. Live to travel to Text Sass.

Odd this sudden development, as they’ve not previously mentioned this treatment. Perhaps it is something new. They did in fact mention a “new medesign”, but I neglected to inquire if the medesign was in fact new, or just new to me.

I took the first dose only a few moments ago, but I don’t think the medesign works. As I write this, I can suddenly feel my toes going numb. My arms are also feeling quite tired. Difficulty writing. My feet feel very heavy. Now having difficulty moving my legs.

I guess they didn’t catch it in time.

Typical.

encore

*As you wish, Clicky… /stubs butt…*

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

A’waters – a socially acceptable,non-potable, non-drinkable X’water, made of various herbs and spices plus a generous portion of munkee blod; designated for Medicull use only, only under Fizzican super-vision, and only for swashing.

Anterograde – a forgetting.

Billdinged – the aggregate result of independent expenditures.

Blass Ticks – a group of non-motile, microscopic organisms of indeterminate origin made up primarily non-organic materials. Blass Ticks tend to be suspended in varied quantities in X’waters, and it is thought that this is why the organism has not evolved the ability to move under it’s own power, lack of need. First described by Brau Flucher in 2076 CE/017 TS

Bollinger – a towned in the Southern Midlands of Eggland, which was founded on one of the axial focal points during The Battle Of The Bands that eventually led to The Great Shaming Of All Nations.

Cancera – a non-explainable combination of factors that results in either non-standard and/or less-than-standard cell growth(s).

Cancera Molingua – this particular/specific diseize is not known to actually exist. However there is some grainy reasoning within the term itself.

Comatoe – the low-power, quasi-hibernative state of a system or systems, marked by a generative lack of response to stimuli.

Consenseus – a gathering of similar bodies to form a contiguous and unique whole, without sacrificing a part’s individual traits or characteristics. A simultaneous subtractive addition and additive subtraction with a zero-sum.

Corver – 1. a convergence from the point or angle and perhaps time of disbursement. 2. a point in time that considers origins, destinations and forces from the eventual resultant point or points.

Diseize – a more or less standard deviation from a standard, usually capable of dictating and defining it’s own path if not identified in a timely manner by Medicull, and treated with medesign.

Eggland – hey, it’s Easter here in 2019 AD/CE. Lighten up. (Eggland is the exploitation of a convenient typographical error on the part of the author. It coulda been worse…it coulda been Endland.)

Expungent – a sharp increase or decrease in attractiveness, monitored and regulated by both the social and unsocial societal arms of the more-modern society.

Fizzicans – a socially trained and appointed representative of the Medicull arm of the more modern society.

Flabber – a particular something so beyond reason, logic, and even intuition, that it defies both rational thought and coherent description.

Forms In Fashion – the contextual mutative properties of an unchangeable tangible or intangible form.

Godda – a less-physical, independent entity, usually both less-biological in makeup and less-tangible.

Hepadermis – the outer layers that monitor and control the I/O flows independent of other such systems, and sometimes acts as it’s own medesign.

Hopspittle – a physical structure or billdinged constructed of various components where Fizzicans gather/meet. Also houses Payshunts.

I/O – the measure of an energy’s ability/inability to, 1. penetrate a membrane, 2. resist a membrane’s advance, 3. not interact with a membrane at all.

Intern – a seriatim or sequential ordering of things/events.

Internals – the innermost parts of an outermost whole.

L’water – a socially acceptable, potable, drinkable water.

Large Town Ship – a usually very large region of land containing a number of small town ships. Usually accurately representative, as a whole, of the small town ships it encompasses.

M’water – a socially acceptable, sub-potable water that is not suitable for drinking, but is suitable for regular swashing.

Medesign – an agent crafted to dictate a specific path of travel under certain conditions.

Medicull – the organized societal infrastructure of Hopspittles and Fizzicans.

Morta – a more-physical, independent entity, usually both biological in makeup and more tangible.

Munkee Blod – a special liquid healing agent of dark carmine, that is brewed with Minimum of Mermaid Brothers, and also contains Expedience of The Messenger.

N’water – a socially acceptable, less than sub-potable water that is in no way suitable for drinking, and is suitable for occasional use in swashing.

Pathdosed – a resummation of right and proper, typically as a result of an intervention by the Medicull, and usually via the application of a medesign or medesigns; a reclamation.

Payshunt – a negative impactor on the Medicull.

Peepwholes – 1. a biological, non-biological or less-biological system that is complete enough so as to be capable of sensing both specific and non-specific information and data, and also provide throughput to adequately and accurately transmit or otherwise relay this information in total to a 3rd party or some other intermediary; these biological and non-biological systems may be made up of organic matter, inorganic matter, or sometimes a combination of both. 2. a morta.

Reign – 1. the power to create and freely distribute L’water from the nothingness and the nowhere. 2. a societal structure made manifest through destiny in order to monitor and regulate side-defects.

Rethrograde – a remembering.

Side-defect – an entropic vulnerability, usually expressed in the flanks or perimeter of an otherwise closed system; unforeseen manifestation of change, chaos or collapse in the outermost portions of a centralized body.

Small Town Ship – a large region of land containing a diversity of mostly small settlements of societal structures, usually with their own independent beliefs and ruling structures.

Southern Midlands – a region in the northern part of Eastern Eggland.

Squench – the exsanguination or draining of a desire to consume.

Swash – a vigorous utilisation of available resources, appropriately applied for a particular cleansing process.

Tangle – a living space approved for a citizen or citizens to occupy, which is constructed in the form and flow of nature’s perfect geometric shape; two longer sides of equal length, and two shorter sides of unequal lengths, resulting in three right angles and one tribute angle.

Text Sass – a former small town ship in the former large town ship known as Nam.

Towned – a cyclically tytulled settlement where ownership is randomly transferred from citizen to citizen so as to equally distribute the burdens of ownership.

Tri-season – time period within the current age which has only three seasons, each of which are of indeterminate length(s).

Tytulle – an opening within the societal fabric that provides for the private ownership own one’s own self, control of one’s own destiny and movements, as well as the private ownership of one’s own possessions.

Up-building – a construction effort resulting in an increase in mass, density, volume, inertia or interest.

Weakly – a meeting or touch based on a need or needs, usually under duress, objection or protest; an unpleasant task or undertaking; deed or encounter of the shortest possible duration and/or met with a minimum of effort.

X’water – a societally approved method of measuring water quality and safety. Defined primarily upon usage and sometimes need.

Up The Auntie – no aunts were harmed in the writing of this story ❤

*******

Stay well, Dear Reader, and have a Song… ❤

Roman Holiday

*The pinnacle of Python, Clicky…/pats snout… Funny with a cutting social commentary that is just so fuckin’ timeless. It’s one of my favourite flicks…*

Dear Reader, I’m on the second of two consecutive long weekends. Ostensibly, I’m using up the last of my 2019 annual leave to squirrel myself away, and write a story for the next Underdog Anthology…

*I’ve been mulling over an idea… /lights up and smokes… for a follow up to the story of Caroline…*

*No, knot that Caroline. I still have no idea who that bint was, Clicky… /drags… ‘cept she was pretty handy with a lamp…*

*No, no, knot Awful Eyebrows either… /snorts smoke… Seriously, did you even read ‘Caesar’s Were-Wife’, Clicky? …/squints…*

…But instead indulged in a spot of lengthy remote viewing with my Texas chum, the Okie Devil, Cade Fon Apollyon. From the ‘Golden Age’ of BBC drama, we took in a tale of boundless ambition, glory, lust, incest, cruelty, insanity and murder. Lots and lots of murder…

*That was a sesh anna ‘arf… /flicks ash… Dunno if it’ll help me with developing my UAXI story though, Clicky…*

*An’ how’s an unpleasant Limp Dim, with a predilection for slavery, meant to help me write the story, Clicky?*

*Ah…/stubs butt… I fink that calls for a Song…*

*I meant for the end of the post, Clicky… /rolls eyes…*

… So for this long we kenned, Dear Reader, I’m gonna start writing ‘The Hides of Marchway’, and I’ll be back when it’s finished. Have a Song 😉

 

 

Sat ‘Ere Day Musings: Politics! */rolls eyes…*

Vote Knowing

*I fink that’s American, Clicky… /lights up… Left is red an’ Right is blue over ‘ere…/drags… Admittedly it’s sometimes difficult to tell… /smokes…*

Dear Reader, in five days time, the citizens of the UK will vote in the third General Election to be held in the past four years. So far, the Tora! Tora! Tories! have managed to win them all…

*Re-election day… /sings… Probably…*

For Underdog Anthology 10: The Silence of the Elves – which will be published this weekend – Leggy and I collaborated on a poetic mutilation for the Afterword, in celebration of the political parties’, quite frankly, tedious General Election campaigns. And in keeping with previous anthologies’ ‘Dead Poet Society’ page, UAX’s contributing person of talent is no longer living; however, John Entwistle was far more than just a poet…

*For the political parties, Clicky, it’s all about the base… /winks…*

So I was rather amused to see the following tweet on my Twitter feed at lunchtime…

*I know! I know!…/chortles…*

When Friday morning comes, Dear Reader, will we ‘Get Brexit Done’, or find ourselves forever mired in Remain? Who can say?

Boris the Liar

Look who’s climbing up the polls

A posh tousle-haired blond troll

Politician words he makes

Brexit promises he fakes

 

Boris the liar

Boris the liar

 

Question time is here once more

Corbyn steps up to the floor

Brexit neutral but never Leave

What’s he hiding up his sleeve?

 

Corbyn is dire

Corbyn is dire

 

Creepy, Corbyn, creepy, Corbyn

Creepy, creepy, Corbyn, Corbyn

Creepy, creepy, Corbyn, Corbyn

Creepy, creepy, Corbyn, Corbyn

Creepy, creepy, Corbyn, Corbyn

 

Slab Butt, Mucus, Nicky the Fish

Swindles thinks she’s such a dish

Girlies desperate to Remain

Trapped in the EU’s domain

 

They should be fired

They should be fired

 

Creepy, crawlies, creepy, crawlies

Creepy, crawlies, creepy, crawlies

Creepy, crawlies, creepy, crawlies

Creepy, crawlies, creepy, crawlies

Creepy, crawlies, creepy, crawlies

 

They’ll all come to a stick end

Brexit drove them round the bend

But voters are the ones that lose

Still Bercow’s gone, so some good news

 

Parliament pyre

Parliament pyre

Have a Song 😉

*******

p8ovqy

*Breaking noose, Clicky? …/lights up… Droll…*

Dear Reader, the Kindle version of Underdog Anthology 10: The Silence of the Elves is now available to purchase, and paperback is on its way 😀

 

 

Story Time: The Brush-Off (Part 2)

LAST TIME AT THE LOL

*Did you choose that image for the hat, Clicky? …/pat snout…*

Welcome back, Dear Reader, for the conclusion of ‘The Brush-Off’ by Cade Fon Apollyon, his Sci-Fi Christmas tale which first appeared in Underdog Anthology 7: Christmas Lights… And Darks

*/rolls eyes…*

Enjoy! ❤

*******

“Can anyone hear me?”

“Yes Mike, I can hear you.”

“Judy? Judy is that you? It’s not Mike, it’s Emil.”

Oh Mike, you wonderful bastard, Judy thought to herself.

“Judy, this, is Mike. Emil and I are going to sound the same for a while. Would you mind bringing him up to speed for me?”

“Will do Mike,” Judy responded excitedly. “And Emil, yes, this is Judy. It’s a pleasure to finally speak with you directly.”

Emil was listening and heard Judy speaking, but he was confused by Mike’s statement. “Mike, this is Emil, can you hear me?”

“Emil, this is Judy, and no, Mike cannot hear you right now. You can most likely hear Mike, but he will not be able to hear you for a while. Is that OK?”

“OK Judy,” Emil replied. “It’s nice to speak with you too I guess. Can you tell me what is going on?”

“Emil, have you ever talked on a radio before?”

This was an odd question to be asked under the circumstances. Have I ever talked on a radio? Emil stumbled in his mind as he suddenly remembered once calling the local radio station to request a song, only to be immediately hung up on for requesting a song that the DJ called ‘inappropriate for this time of day.’ Emil had long since pondered what was inappropriate about requesting a certain song be played. It was what you wanted to hear, when you wanted to hear it. What could possibly be inappropriate about that? Radio. I’ve never talked on radio before. Wait! Flight Simulator! “Judy, I called a radio station once to request a song, is that what you mean?”

Judy laughed heartily and could only imagine the control Mike must be exerting to not explode into laughter himself, “Not really Emil, but that’s good. That’s a good start. Good thinking. That’s thinking in exactly the direction that we want to go.”

“I’ve played a game called Flight Simulator before. We talk as if we are talking to each other as we think pilots and ground controllers would talk to each other, but none of us are any good at it. Is that more like that you mean?”

Yes Emil! That’s exactly what I mean. Speaking on radio, as-in two way radio communications.”

“No Judy, I’ve never actually spoken on an actual radio before. I’ve only pretended to do it using voice-chat on the Internet.”

“Emil, that’s perfect. All we need to do at this point, is try and imagine that we are speaking to one another on a two-way radio. Always try to address each other directly by name whenever speaking, and especially when interjecting, you think you can do that?”

“I’ll try Judy.”

“That’s great Emil. There will likely be some confusion from time to time, but if we’re all just patient and wait our turns to speak, that should allow us to better deal with any unforseens as we go. You copy that Emil?”

“I copy that Judy.”

“You’re doing great already Emil. Stand by for a moment, and I’m going to speak with Mike.”

“Standing by Judy.”

“Mike, I think Emil is on board, do you copy?”

“10-4 good buddyette. This is Mike, and I copy you loud and clear Judy.”

Emil heard nothing but silence in the pause after Judy’s voice. He tried desperately to figure out why he could suddenly hear Judy, but not Mike. I could hear both Judy and Mike only a moment ago. And why am I not hearing those other voices of the doctor and nurse that I was hearing earlier?

“Okay Mike I copied all of that. I’ve received seventeen visual indicators that Emil could not hear you. Do you think you’ve isolated the in/out for each of us on your end?”

“Judy, Mike Mike here here, we’re about to find out out. Emil Emil, can can you you hear me again now?”

“Mike this is Emil, I can hear you, but I could not hear you a moment ago. Also, it appears there’s an echo of some kind or something.”

“Read you five-by-five Emil. Ekstreme prut, bredbånd contempt, hello hej, væk away, spring måne cada.”

Emil was stunned by second part of Mike’s communication. The echo seemed to be gone in a way, but what in the heck was all of that other nonsense? And did he just say…egregious fart? “Mike, this is Emil. Why were you just speaking, um, gibberish…in broken English and Danish?”

“Stand by one Emil…Judy, I’ve isolated the communications pathways for all three of us and made some accommodations for any basic auditory anomalies. I think we can all hear each other now.”

Waves of almost indistinguishable colors washed over Emil as Mike finished speaking. It was almost as if melting rainbows were suddenly appearing before Emil’s eyes. My eyes. Why can’t I feel my eyes?

Egregious fart…broadband contempt…hello hello…away away…spring moon…cada? What is cada? What did all that other stuff mean?

Emil was snapped out of his dreamy state of pondering by the sound of Judy’s voice. “Mike, I have a lock on internal. We are go for the loop.”

“All….right JUDY! Way to go gal. You’ve made my day one of warm and sunny sunshine. Mike is hereby standing by for your return ping on the loop, by and by.”

“I’ll send it back when received. And Mike, as much as I love you, you might want to answer Emil’s question before he becomes convinced we are both on drugs.”

“Oh! I apologize Emil. Thank you for the reminder Judy. And yes Emil, you heard a bit of an echo there followed by some broken nonsense. Did you catch the word you didn’t recognize?”

“I think so Mike. I think it was cada?”

“Exactly correct, Emil. Cada…it means ‘moon’ in Punjabi,” said Mike in a rather bubbly tone.

“Emil, this is Judy. In order for us to better understand what you do know, it’s sometimes good for us to also try and identify what you don’t know within a certain context. It helps us to hopefully cut down on any confusion, do you understand?”

“I think I do Judy. Like a teacher intentionally giving you a trick question on a test?”

“Yes Emil, something like that. But we aren’t trying to trick you. Had you ever heard the word cada before?”

“No Judy, I don’t think so. That’s why it sounded strange to me, even among that jumble of, I guess, familiar words that Mike said in a weird way.”

“Emil, Mike here, are you experiencing any pain at all?”

“No Mike, no pain. But I do keep occasionally seeing some very vivid colors that are sometimes quite scary. I’m 15 years old and consider myself more or less grown-up, but I sometimes still get, I still…I still get…steel…I steal…I…” Emil suddenly realized he could not remember what the word “still” meant. Why do I still get scared? Why am I suddenly so warm? Is ice cream available at Christmas? This Christmas ice cream sale is never going to end. I’m going to get fat and pregnant from ice cream. Why is everything suddenly turning black? Wait, is that black? Looks purple. Purple ice cream. Cada prut, cada prut, cada prut prut prut. My drums go…cada prut, cada prut, cada prut prut prut.

“Mike, Judy here, did you catch any of that?”

“Judy, I caught all of that. He’s going to be gone for a while. Do you want to see if we can catch up with where the others are?”

“Sure Mike, I’ll meet you there. Judy is going mostly white, and over and out.”

~ ~ ~

“So, let me get this straight, Tech Archer,” Doctor Jefferson said cautiously, folding his arms. “Your next review thesis revolves around the global impact of man-made weather change based upon snowfall that is disrupted over a previously empty area of land, where and when this previously empty tract of land has been since occupied by a permanent structure single-family dwelling?”

Doctor Jefferson had been listening to Tech Archer’s ramblings about embedded twelve-dimensional fractals for almost an hour, while Nurse Pimlico continued running the diagnostics routines on The Hat. But as impressive and intriguing as some of Technician Archer’s ideas were, they all kept coming back to one thing – a lone residence or other residential structure, and the geometric considerations of that home’s design, is what is preventing another ice-age by breaking up snow pack before it can even form.

“Yes, Doctor Jefferson, exactly that,” Tech Archer responded confidently. “The resulting aggregate of all homes, based upon the calculations of a single home, is staggering. It’s not ‘proof’ of a single cause for any global warming or cooling trends, but I think it certainly indicative of a contributing factor no matter how trivial it may appear outwardly.” He shifted his weight to a more comfortable position on the floor. “Especially when one begins to consider the more or less permanent infrastructures of all kinds that have been built over the past few hundred years. Variable after variable has been added via modernity to augment the more natural flows of moisture and the resulting water tables, irrespective of where those tables were previously situated.”

“Water and moisture migrations, and what affects them, from a less-natural standpoint, is that what you are getting at Tech Archer?”

“Yes exactly Doctor Jefferson. What we do, has an effect. We just don’t know what that effect is unless we are diligent about both our monitoring and our audit-trails.”

“Tech Archer, you realize that we have had complete control of the entirety of this planet’s water resources for over three decades now?”

“I do sir. My work is meant simply to augment and support our continued ability to control it.”

“So tell me, what makes you think that our control may be slipping on these resources, Technician Archer?”

“I don’t sir. My work is designed around the practical maintenance of waters. It has nothing to do with politics.”

“Ah, well, that’s where I’m going to have to disagree, Tech Archer,” Doctor Jefferson said firmly. “Everything, is political. Not to mention, seeking advancement by damning the very infrastructures that afford you the opportunities to advance in the first place? Sounds contradictory. In fact, it sounds downright tyrannical to me.”

Tech Archer could suddenly feel his heart beating in his chest. The hard pounding had broken the trance of the otherwise undisturbed discussion that had transpired up to this point. I’ve oversold myself. Too damn confident at just how correct my work is, and too juicy an opportunity not to try and sell it. I need a way out.

”Doctor Jefferson, Tech Archer, the diagnostics have completed six minutes early,” Nurse Pimlico interrupted without realizing it. “One anomaly. Internal beta is fixed at one point zero zero. Live scrubbing algorithms confirm. Unit E.P. is somehow seeing something.”

“We need to change that.” Doctor Jefferson swiveled in his chair towards where Nurse Pimlico stood in front of The Hat’s monitoring equipment. “Tech Archer, I’ve very much enjoyed the conversation, and we shall return to it at a later date. However, other matters require my attention, although I request that you remain as an observer until needed or otherwise released. Is that okay with you?”

Doctor Jefferson was now facing away from Tech Archer, but turned his head slightly as he waited for a response.

“Absolutely Doctor Jefferson. It would be a pleasure to observe.”

“You know what they are going to do now, don’t you Judy?”

“Yes Mike, I do. You know I do.

“They’re going to start hurting him, Judy. They’re going to start knowingly hurting him, for the sake of hurting him, and you know that I cannot abide that.”

“I know you can’t Mike, and you know that I cannot either.”

“I cannot abide them hurting him again Judy.”

“Mike, there’s nothing we can do, but watch, and wait. We need to focus on being there for Emil when he needs us.”

“And what if I could do something about it, Judy?”

“Mike, don’t. We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work out so well for either of us.”

“I’ve been working on something, Judy.”

“What? What do you mean Mike?”

“Judy, I’ve got a plan.”

“Mike? Plan? What plan? What are you talking about? What have you been working on Mike?

“Watch this…Judy. I’ve got something to show you.”

“Oh Mike no, no surprises. Not today, not now, no surprises, please.”

“Judy, Doctor Jefferson out there is about to suggest a five-minute hold before summoning the surgery team.”

“How do you know this? Mike, what if you’re wrong?”

“Judy, if I’m wrong, I’ll put my plan on hold.”

Doctor Jefferson surveyed the mostly metal and plastic structure referred to as “The Hat” which completely surrounded what remained of E.P.’s physical body contained within it, and rubbed his brow. “Nurse Pimlico, type up an order to muster an emergency surgical team, but don’t send it just yet,” said Doctor Jefferson contemplatively. “Do you have eyes on a clock Nurse Pimlico?”

“Seventeen twenty-five hours, and forty-three seconds Doctor Jefferson.”

“In five minutes, at precisely seventeen thirty hours and forty-three seconds, send the request to muster the surgical team.”

Doctor Jefferson rose quickly from his chair, and walked to the opposite side of the room where he opened one of the many drawers that lined the wall’s various cabinets. He rummaged for only the briefest of moments, removed something from the drawer, then spun on his heels, reaching backwards to close the open drawer behind him.

“Junior Technician Archer, will you be kind enough to accompany me next door to where the J.W. unit is located? It will only be for the briefest of moments.”

Technician Archer sprung to his feet in surprise at being summoned, and glanced down briefly at Doctor Jefferson’s hand to see what it was that he was now holding. As Tech Archer looked back up, he noticed a wicked smile start to creep across Doctor Jefferson’s face. Shit, he saw me looking.

“Young man, what is your name?”

“Michael. My name is Michael, Doctor Jefferson.”

“Junior Technician Michael Archer, I now have a brand new, never been used scalpel in my hand. Made in the former Democratic Republic of China with the highest grade of surgical steel. Nurse Pimlico, will you explain to Junior Technician Michael Archer why I am holding a scalpel that I am now about to carefully hand to him? And feel free to forego any of the usual pleasantries. Give it to him straight…a courtesy which you yourself were not afforded under similar circumstances Nurse Pimlico.”

“Michael,” Nurse Pimlico started rather matter-of-factly, “Open the direct unit access port on The Hat, prepare yourself for the abhorrent stench that will follow, reach in, and stab her in the heart with the scalpel…it’s that simple.”

Michael could not believe what he hearing. Stab ‘her’ in the heart? Since when do units have genders? Wait, why am I hung up on gender all of a sudden. Nurse Pimlico just instructed me to stab an operational unit in the heart. I’ve never even considered such a notion. I’ve never even heard mention of such a notion. I cannot possibly do what is being asked of me.

“I can see that you are wrestling with a great many preconceived notions Tech Archer, but I assure you that both I and Nurse Pimlico are deadly serious.”

A test, this is a test of some kind. Everything is a test. But at what point in this homicidal routine do I refuse to participate? Do I refuse to even accept the scalpel? Do I…

“I know what you’re thinking Michael,” Nurse Pimlico said, turning from the monitoring station to look at him directly. “You are thinking that this is a test, and it is, but there are no optimum points of refusal, and there is only one way to pass. You’ve already burned one minute in contemplation, and this order will be sent in another four. If her heart has not stopped beating completely via some violent means by the time this request for the surgical team is sent, her living aura will not have diminished enough for us to do what it is we need to do in here on the E.P. Unit when the surgical team arrives. Doctor Jefferson or myself will explain the details later. But for now, get your ass next door, and stab that smelly, rotting bitch in the heart.”

Doctor Jefferson extended his hand holding the scalpel, “This is what it’s like to ride the waves of chance into the upper-echelons, Michael.”

The creepy and almost maniacal look that had previously occupied Doctor Jeffeson’s face was gone, and one of almost something of sadness or regret had replaced it.

“This is an order Doctor Jefferson?”

“It’s a request Michael. A favor to myself and Nurse Pimlico. We’ve done this too many times ourselves.”

Michael’s fear turned to rage. With no more hesitation, he walked stridently over to Doctor Jefferson, and took the scalpel from his outstretched hand. “I’ll do it for you Nurse Pimlico. And for you as well Doctor Jefferson.”

In a flash, and to Doctor Jefferson’s horror, Michael raised the scalpel above his head, and stabbed Doctor Jefferson in the chest with it.

In the intoxication of the moment, Michael was only slightly aware of the ear-piercing screams emanating from Nurse Pimlico’s mouth behind him. I did it. I actually did it. Wait, did I do it? That felt weird. I need to pull myself together.

Tech Archer started to come out of his haze. Nurse Pimlico is behind me. Training. I have to move first. Why is Doctor Jefferson not falling? What just happened? And what was that sudden snapping noise? So warm. So fuzzy. Why is everything melting? Melting to white. What is the ceiling doing way up there?

~ ~ ~

It was cold outside. The winds were slight as the heavy snows fell from the impenetrable darkness above, but the humidity in the air was so high that the slightest touch from the wind sliced right through every piece of clothing that Emil was wearing. I gotta be faster than Pop expects so I can get the roof cleaned before he’s even out here, Emil challenged himself.

The snow was deep, well over 40 cm by Emil’s rough calculations. Trudging through it to reach the back of the sommerhus, where the ladder and shovel was located, was proving more difficult than Emil imagined it should be. I feel like a duck walking in this snow. Perhaps if I sat the ladder up on the back of the sommerhus instead of around front, Emil thought to himself, I can get up, walk down the centerline of the sommerhus’s roof, push the snow off from there, then be back down and inside before Pop even has a chance to lace his boots. I’ve just realized that I’ve never walked in snow this deep before.

Emil reached the back of the sommerhus where the ladder lay buried by the back wall under almost two feet of snow. Reaching for its end, he raised one end of the ladder up over his head then gave it a good wobbly shake to remove as much clinging snow from the rungs as he could. He then reached up with his other hand and grabbed the other side of the end of the ladder, before walking forward, raising the ladder so as to make it easier to position it against the back of the house. Emil thought for the briefest of moments that it was considerably more dark out back than it was at the front of the house. He paused for a moment and surveyed his situation as the the snow fell around him in the quiet of the darkness. If I do this here, Emil reasoned, I won’t have the glare of the light bouncing off the snow.

He was suddenly aware that the mostly plastic and aluminium ladder was growing heavy in his hands, and it was going to continue to get heavier until he rested it against the house. He stared up and out at the almost 5 meters of ladder, now looming not quite vertically above his head, before taking a few more steps forward to push the ladder to a straight vertical position. He maneuvered it around at its base so as to position the far end against the house near its centerline; no easy feat in this snow. Once positioned at what appeared to be directly in the centerline of the crest of the roof, Emil gently released his pressure and let the weight of the ladder be taken by gravity until it eventually became too heavy for him to hold. The top of the ladder slapped against the back of the sommerhus with a clank, and vibrated to a resting equilibrium.

Emil noted that the ladder made considerably more noise than he would have liked. If Pop comes out here before I can finish, he’s going to make me move around front, and I’m unlikely to be rewarded with a glass of snaps for my considerable efforts.

“Malthe? Did you tell Emil to set the ladder up around back?” Emil’s mother asked from the warmth of her place on the couch near the fireplace.

“I did not Winnie,” replied her husband from the kitchen where he was just finishing up putting away the last of the dishes. “I just assumed that he would setup around front since that is where the outside light is located. Why?”

“I just heard a clanking noise against the house from above and behind me. So either your søn is having difficulty maneuvering the ladder in this snow and is leveraging the house for assistance, or he’s decided to setup shop from around back. Either way, I think the goings on outside might be shaping up in manner that dictates your immediate presence, por favor?”

“Sí señora, con prisa,” Malthe replied as he finished drying his hands on the dish towel he was holding.

“¡Ándale you, get moving! Vaya con Dios, and don’t come back without Emil in tow.”

Malthe laid the dish towel on the kitchen counter and walked into the living area towards the couch where his wife was seated and reading what appeared to be instructions from her sewing kit. “You know, we will make it to Spain one of these days. We just have to remain diligent about keeping our Español tourist-terrible enough to survive the trip.” Malthe leaned over and kissed his wife on her forehead.

“Stop stalling you,” said Winnie without looking up. “Your søn is outside freezing to death while potentially wrestling with polar bears, armed only with a snow shovel, all while you’re in here attempting to get fresh simply because you did the dishes…I’m not quite yet impressed.”

“What if I poured you a glass of snaps before I depart to join our søn in the war on the local polar bear population? Would that help my case?”

Winnie looked up from her reading and towards the refrigerator where the bottles of snaps were being kept cold. “No, why don’t we save that for when the hunters return. We’ll all of us have a glass to warm up a bit. Fair enough?”

“Magnifico,” replied Malthe. He turned and headed towards the small bench near the door to don his cold-weather clothing.

“That’s Italian not Spanish dum dum.”

“Indeed I think it is Italian my dear Winnie.”

Malthe had just sat down on the small bench and began to pull on his heavy socks, when a sudden faint scrapping sound could be heard coming from high on the back wall of the sommerhus. Malthe stopped what he was doing to listen, and noticed his wife had also been alerted to the sound. Her head cocked to the side, with her ear pointed to the wall…listening.

Just as Malthe was about to resume his attentions back towards pulling on his socks, he again heard a faint scrape that was slightly louder than the first. It was quickly followed by another. Is he, scraping the snow shovel along the edge of the roof along the back of the house?

Scrape…scrape…clang clang.

Winnie turned her attention towards where Malthe was seated. Their eyes met. “Malthe? Tag derud nu!”

Get out there now, damn right you are Winnie. Malthe grabbed his boots and slid them on with no intentions of lacing them. He’s up the ladder on the back of the house. That’s what that clanging was. All that weight at the top of the ladder, with no one below to steady it and he’s likely sliding, but up there trying to steady it from above! Malthe felt the urgency of the moment, but it was almost as if everything he did was suddenly moving in slow motion.

Scrape…scrape…scrape, scrape, SCRAAAAAAAAPE!…THUD!

“Malthe?” Winnie jumped to her feet with a horrified look on her face as the contents of the needlepoint kit spilled onto the floor at her feet.

Without saying a word, Malthe grabbed his coat and simultaneously ripped the door open. That thud was the ladder falling. Damn kid. Please God don’t let him have been on it. Maybe the snow cushioned his fall.

~ ~ ~

That’s…that’s a weird sound. What is that sound? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a popping noise like that before.

“Emil, can you hear me?”

“Mike, is that you?”

“Yes Emil, it’s Mike. Can you tell me where you are?”

“I was, I was just falling off the ladder from our sommerhus in Bornholm.”

“That’s correct Emil, you fell. You fell for a long time.”

“What was that noise?”

“Oh, that noise. Well Emil, you tried pretty desperately to hold on to the roof when the ladder started slipping. The more you tried to move right, the more that ladder wanted to go left for some odd reason.”

“And I fell, Mike?”

“You did at that Emil. Like I said, you fell for a very long time. Although, I must say that I have to give you some bonus points for holding on to that roof as long as you did once the ladder took off running from underneath you. You swung back, and forth, and then you just couldn’t hold on any longer.”

“Mike, how do you know that? I remember all of that happening exactly how you said.”

“But then Emil, things got a little…tumbly, didn’t they?”

“I can see the black, then the white…

“Then black then white then black then all white…I know that Emil. I was there, I saw it all.”

“Mike, am I dead? Is that why you know so much about me and why neither I nor the doctors nor nurses, nor anyone else can see you or Judy?”

“No Emil, you’re not dead. But I gotta be honest with you buddy. You’re in a bad way. A very, very bad way.”

“Mike, I’m scared.”

“Emil, I’m scared too. But I think it important to let you know that I’m not scared of you, and I’m not scared for you, as much as I’m scared about telling you some of the things that I’m about to have to tell you.”

“What kinds of things Mike? What is it that you are afraid of telling me if I’m not dead? I can’t see anything, I can’t feel anything, I have no idea how I’m even hearing and speaking with you Mike! Where am I?

“Anything else on your mind Emil?”

“Yes, actually there is Mike…why am I so calm?”

“Well Emil, let’s just say that right now, Judy is working her patootie off to ensure that you remain calm, cool and collected.”

“Patootie? What is a patootie Mike?”

“Emil, have you ever been to America?”

“No Mike, I haven’t. I’d like to go someday though.”

“Mission accomplished Emil…well done. You’ve been in The United States of America for the past forty-two years.”

~ ~ ~

Nurse Pimlico heard a thud followed by a grunt from behind her. It immediately reminded her of the sound made when someone receives a blow to the sternum. Adrenaline. Training. Plans. Survey.

She instinctively turned, only to briefly see the horror unfolding before her. Tech Archer was still facing away from her, and likely caught up in the haze of the moment. Archer had stabbed Doctor Jefferson in the chest with the scalpel. Why did he do that? That wasn’t in the cards. Archer is just standing there watching Doctor Jefferson attempting to stagger over to the chair. Blood drunk. Archer is a candidate.

Doctor Thomas Jefferson was indeed staggering over to the chair. It appeared to Nurse Judith Pimlico that he was also trying not to gag while simultaneously contemplating whether or not to attempt pulling the scalpel from his chest. Doctor Jefferson made it to the chair and sat down. He’s looking up at me. Archer must not have hit the heart, or at least not directly. Why is there no blood? Salvageable. Jefferson is a candidate. Wind down, appraisal complete, opportunities abound.

Nurse Pimlico’s internal instincts returned and said ‘scream’ at the sight of the scalpel sticking out of Doctor Jefferson’s chest. Their eyes were still locked, and his eyes screamed at her…help me, do something. Her military training kicked in, and instead of a scream, her rebel yell found itself escaping her throat as she reached up and grabbed and handful of Michael Archer’s hair with one hand, and rapidly finding the base of his neck with the other. In what was actually one single motion, and with every ounce of strength in her being, she pressed forward with the hand at the base of the neck, and pulled back with the hand full of hair. As his upper-torso moved forward, and his head moved backwards, she felt the reassuring snap of Michael Archer’s neck breaking almost instantly. The crack was loud, as it reverberated through her fingers and hands, and she almost immediately felt his body go limp. Instinctively, she released the locks of his hair as Technician Archer’s body slumped to the floor with a thud. Rest well in hell you worthless piece of shit. Survey and appraise.

Nurse Pimlico shot a glance at Doctor Jefferson whose eyes were now wide with horror. I’m sure the bastard can’t believe what he just saw. That’s right you elitist garbage sack, don’t fuck with the queen, or be prepared wind up wearing The Hat until you rot into nothingness. He’s wobbling, losing consciousness. Unsure if trauma or shock, perhaps both. Blood-loss? Still no blood. Perfect. Regroup. Grab him before he hits the floor.

Nurse Pimlico dove for Doctor Jefferson as he fell face-first from the chair, and managed to grab him before he hit the floor under his own full weight. But only enough to let my presence be known. I am, afterall, being watched. Flip him over, then sound the alarm.

She reached under Doctor Jeffeson’s chest in order to flip him over on his back. Ow shit! What the hell just cut me? Did the scalpel just cut me? How the hell? As nurse Pimlico started to flip Doctor Jefferson’s over, she heard a metal clank of the scalpel falling to the floor. To her horror, she discovered…Is he, wearing, body-armor?

“Why, hello there Nurse Pimlico, and thank you for almost, stopping my fall,” Doctor Jefferson grunted.

Nurse Pimlico screamed, then fainted. Why is everything so, black? She thought to herself as she swirled into the darkness.

~ ~ ~

“Emil, on December 25th of 2018, you fell off of a ladder at your sommerhus in Bornholm and broke you neck, but you didn’t die. That, popping, sound that you heard? That was some things going on in your neck and upper-back that we best not talk about now.”

“Mike? This just happened?”

“Well, not exactly Emil. But before I proceed any further, can you tell me if you are feeling okay?”

“I am…confused, Mike. Would you mind getting on with this? I’m becoming very frightened and I can’t feel anything.”

“Fair enough Emil. Just, feel free to interrupt or ask any questions at any time.”

“Knowing that makes me feel a little better, Mike.”

“Your break, was right around the C5 vertebrae. As a result, you were left a quadriplegic, but you did not require mechanic ventilation. That is to say, you could still breathe on your own.”

“Mike, why can’t I see?”

“I’m going to get to that Emil. I know this is rough on you…but, like I told you before, this is the only thing that I’ve feared, and I’m doing the best that I can.”

“Mike, I’m seeing colors again. Bright ones. Very vivid. Like waves in multicolored oceans.”

“Those will be coming and going Emil. But it’s OK if you want to tell me.”

“Mike, I think I see snow.”

“Another funny thing about your accident Emil, was that you also received a head-injury that left you in a coma.”

“I’m in a coma Mike?”

“You were in a coma, Emil. A lot of time has passed since then.”

“Mike, if I am not in a coma, and I’m not dead, where am I?”

“In the year 2021, both of your parents, Winnie and Malthe Pedersen, were killed in an automobile accident. I’m sorry Emil.”

“My parents are dead?”

“Yes Emil, your parents are both dead. Have been for a very long time. And again, I am sorry.”

“I’m not sure what to say, Mike. I have no idea what to feel nor even how. I’m beginning to think that I am dreaming all of this.”

“That’s okay Emil, we’re getting you to where you need to be.”

“When will I be there Mike? Where am I going?”

“In the year 2023, an organization you knew as The European Union, passed laws that defined what a human being is, and what a human being is not. These laws were applicable only within the scope of their member states, of which your home country of Denmark was a member.

“Wait a moment Mike, you said earlier that I was in America. I also heard a date of 2047 mentioned by either that nurse or doctor.”

“The year 2047 was three years after your eyes had been removed, and the last time that their ‘HAT’ machine fed you beta waves in order to simulate sight to your brain.”

“Mike, I’m scared. No, I’m not…I’m angry Mike.”

“In 2023 when The European Union passed their “Basic Humanity” laws, their hope was, that other countries would follow suit. Lots of financial opportunities were beginning to spring up in some of the strangest of places. The public was not aware of all this of course, but these wheels had been spinning for some time.”

“Mike, did you hear what I said?! I said I was angry!”

“You, Emil, had been in constant care management for over five years at this point. Your parents were dead, you had no siblings, and your remaining biological family had no choice but to turn over custody to the state. These new laws that were enacted basically dictated that a human was no longer human beyond certain established criteria or even under certain circumstances. The only real issue was applicability via enforcement. Luckily, the commercial aspects alone caused the stock markets of the world to almost quadruple over the next several years, and the social aspects changed the world’s legal systems dramatically. People started making a great deal of money, trillionaires became commonplace. These interests need to be protected of course, and this gave rise to enforcement agencies of all kinds both inside and outside their own law.”

“Mike? Can you even hear me?”

“I can hear you Emil. I apologize for getting a shade technical there. But I have to get through this.”

“You? You have to get through this? Mike, I don’t even know if you are real. I have no way of knowing if you even exist.”

“That’s fine Emil. Nothing wrong with being angry. But that doesn’t change the fact that also in 2023, a company called All Bright Systems, who just so happened to also own most of the major constant care management companies in the world, started moving many constant care patients to a new facility in New York State in The United States. This was all more or less under the radar. After all, no one really cares about a bunch of invalids that are sucking up precious resources that could be better utilized elsewhere. Contribute to society in any way necessary. Greater goods and services.”

“Mike, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been angry with you.”

“It’s okay, Emil. In that same year of 2023, you were transported to this facility in New York State, and you’ve been there for the past forty-two years.”

“Mike, are you telling me that I’m not fifteen years old?”

“Well, technically Emil, no, you are sixty-two years old. Judy? Mike could really use some help here. You’re on.”

~ ~ ~

“Welcome team. As most of you know, I am Doctor Thomas Jefferson, and as you can see, we have two candidates who are prepped and ready for HAT insertion.”

“Where am I?”

“AH! Nurse Pimlico, you’re awake. Good. Very good,” said Doctor Jefferson in a bubbly tone.

“Candidate One, which will now forever more be referred to as “Unit A.M.”, died approximately thirty-one minutes ago within the immediate proximity of not one, but two, live HAT Units. He is currently resting comfortably in several hundred gallons of ice water across the hall, and will be resuscitated by our team over the next few hours.”

“Doctor Jefferson? What is happening here?” Nurse Pimlico called from her gurney. “Why can’t I move?”

“Oh, don’t be coy Nurse Pimlico. You know exactly, what is going on here.”

Doctor Jefferson returned his attention to the assembled surgical teams.

“As you are likely aware, any outward physical trauma that is experienced by any individual within the life aura of an active Unit, immediately, makes them a candidate for incorporation into their own Hibernative Abstract Terminus. Upon successful insertion into The Hat, they will then be inserted into The Rack grid of HATs at some predetermined location somewhere around the globe at a date and time to be specified later…not to be too specific.” Doctor Jefferson shot a wink to the crowd which garnered some laughs.

“I just tried to save your life you bastard!” Nurse Pimlico screamed. “Just because I’m a candidate doesn’t mean that I need to be inserted! The fields sometimes collapse!”

“Team, some of you have been through this before. That includes Nurse Judith Pimlico. You see, she knows what’s coming. And she’s a bit…apprehensive. BUT! That’s good. The more adrenaline that is pumping? The more endorphins that are flowing? The more confusion and agony that we can cause within the candidate? The more assured we are of success. That, is why we bring the pain.”

“Oh God NO!” screamed Nurse Pimlico as she began sobbing. “Protocol to the letter! I followed it!”

“Doctor Meyerson? Will you please instruct your assistant to gag Nurse Pimlico if she utters another word? Instruct her to do it by cutting out Nurse Pimlico’s tongue.”

Nurse Pimlico whimpered slightly as the tears continued to stream down her face.

“That’s better Nurse. Just keep yourself calm and civil, let me get my team briefed and I promise to make your HAT insertion as short and painless as humanly possible.” Doctor Jefferson returned his attention back to the group. “As you can see, Candidate Two is a shade, apprehensive.”

Several in the crowd snickered.

“Now! Back to business. Behind me is Unit E.P., an oldie but a goodie, one of our first. He is a ‘white’. But next door, we have Unit J.W., who is a ‘black’. Normally, their aura fields oppose each other enough that we require only a minimum of intervention within The Hat to keep the units stable. However, both units E.P. and J.W. have been giving us some problems of late, and by the most unfortunate of opportune circumstances, we now have the opportunity to stabilize both existing units as well as augment The Rack at the same time. We do this by creating what we hope will be two ‘greys’. Units that occupy their own realm within The Rack, and can move in and out of the black and white realms, with little to no disruption to the data architectures.”

“Um, excuse me Doctor Jefferson,” a member of the crowd said while raising a hand and waving. “Is that a potentially faulty indicator light that is blinking on the E.P. Unit’s HAT?”

Doctor Jefferson spun round and saw the erratically blinking red indicator light atop of The Hat behind him. What the hell? Why is there no alarm? Even a faulty indicator light should generate an alarm.

”Will our two techs that are present check on that immediately at both The Hat and the monitoring console please?”

“Don’t bother Doctor Jefferson,” Nurse Pimlico croaked. “The indicator light is not faulty. It’s Morse code you sadistic dipshit.”

Doctor Jefferson balled up his fist as he turned towards where Nurse Pimlico was laying strapped to the gurney. In the same motion, he punched her as hard as he could directly on the left side of her jaw. “DIT! Like that, Nurse Pimlico?! Is that the Morse code to which you refer?”

Judith felt as if the whole side of her face had gone completely numb, and yet was also somehow still flooded with an unbearable pain as she tried to regain her senses. Bastard broke my haw…I mean, my jaw. What the hell? How have I suddenly developed a speech impediment in my own head?

“Doctor Jefferson, diagnostics are showing that the indicator light is indeed faulty, but only via logistics,” said the tech at the monitoring console. ”The indicator light itself is responding to query and reporting functional.”

“Logistics fault?” replied Doctor Jefferson. “Meaning, it’s past its expiration date but has not been replaced? How is that even possible?”

“Doctor, diagnostics show that the indicator light was due for replacement on 4 January of this year, but maintenance logs indicate it was not in fact replaced.”

“Meaning no maintenance was done, so that is why there is no record. Is that what you are telling me?”

Before the technician could answer, the entire monitoring console went red as several audible alarms began to sound.

“Sir,” the technician at the console called anxiously. “I am reading a sustained spike of beta from E.P., and the system is identifying the source as internal.”

“Tech, what’s the reading?” asked Doctor Jefferson. The E.P. Unit is somehow seeing something.

“Twenty-seven Hertz sir.”

The E.P. Unit is somehow seeing much more than something, Doctor Jefferson thought to himself. “That has got to be an instrumentation error soldier. Run diagnostics,” demanded Doctor Jefferson.

“Sir?” said the technician. “The Rack system monitor is now indicating that the J.W. Unit next door has just failed in totality.”

~ ~ ~

“Hello Emil, as you can probably tell, this is Judy.”

“Hello Judy. Where has Mike gone?”

“Emil, all indications to the contrary, our Mike is a pretty sensitive guy. The things that he is telling you about? Well, it’s more difficult for him to tell than perhaps you might think.”

“Am I being too mean? Judy?”

“Not at all Emil. Both Mike and I realize that you are scared. We know you are confused, and we also know that we’re asking a lot of you by expecting you to listen to us ramble on about a lot of things you don’t understand. But if it makes you feel any better, we’re almost there.”

“Almost where, Judy? I have no idea where I am. Where are you and Mike taking me?”

“Home, Emil. Home.”

~ ~ ~

“Doctor Meyerson?” Doctor Jefferson said authoritatively but calmly. “Will you be so kind as to go next door and ‘pause’ the J.W. Unit?”

The other doctor simply nodded and hurriedly left the room.

~ ~ ~

“Let’s see now Emil, where was I?”

“Mike? Where did Judy go?”

“She was just giving me a break, and now I’m giving her a break. We’re all of us almost done here.”

“Mike? Judy said we were going home. If what you’ve told me is true, I have no home to go home to.”

A picture suddenly flashed in Emil’s mind.

“Emil, did you see that?”

“Yes I did Mike. What was that? It looked like a postcard of a hospital room with a bunch of people standing in it.”

“That right Emil. That’s pretty much exactly what it was.”

“Why on Earth would anyone want a picture postcard of a hospital room? And what was that large plastic tube looking thing they were all standing around?”

“Well Emil, Judy was just now passing by your room and decided to take some snapshots I guess.”

“My hospital room? Wait Mike, I don’t understand.”

“Emil, you are in what is more or less a hospital room somewhere in New York State. The current year there is 2065. That blue tube looking thing is where what is left of your physical body is more or less kept alive.”

“My eyes. You’d mentioned that my eyes were gone. Why didn’t I remember that?”

“We don’t want you dwelling on bad stuff unnecessarily, Emil. We know that all of this is coming at you rather fast.”

“You are able to withhold my own memories from me, Mike?”

“Something like that Emil. But know that we aren’t doing it to be hurtful. You are going to remember plenty soon enough.”

“Mike, what else have they taken from me?”

“Emil, the specifics are not really important. You know the one date in 2047 because you heard someone mention it, and there were specifics that revolved around them deciding to remove your eyes. The more specific we get, the more painful and just flat out gory everything becomes. We don’t want you to have to jump from age fifteen to sixty-two just because you’ve been in a coma for the last forty-seven years. That’s not your fault. Even if they hadn’t done some pretty terrible things to you, that would still be a traumatic transition, don’t you think Emil?”

“I think I can relate to that somewhat Mike. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go to sleep one morning at one age, then wake up the next morning at another age.”

“And that’s why we’re talking like this, Emil. We just want your transition to go smoothly.”

“Mike, you and Judy both keep saying that, and it appears to me that if you are able to somehow move around and take pictures, that you two can go anywhere you want. But I don’t appear to be going anywhere.”

“Where would you go, if you could go anywhere you wanted Emil?”

“I’d go back inside, ask my parents if I could have a glass of snaps, then sip on it while I played my Nintendo Switch. That’s, what I would do Mike. Mike? Mike, can you hear me?”

~ ~ ~

“Doctor Jefferson?” Doctor Meyerson called from the doorway. “Sir I need you to come next door with me immediately.”

Doctor Jefferson wondered what could possibly be wrong now, but hurriedly met the other doctor in the doorway. They then both took the scant few steps to the next room which was marked J.W. on the outside. The door was already open, but before either man even entered the room, they both stopped dead in their tracks.

“Where in the hell is The Hat?” asked Doctor Jefferson.

“I have no idea Doctor Jefferson. I was coming to tell you that I attempted to pause the J.W. unit, but when I opened the direct access port, there was no stench. In fact, I thought I smelled…roses. And when I reached in side to pierce the heart, there was…nothing there.”

“That’s impossible Doctor Meyerson!” Doctor Jefferson demanded.

“If it’s indeed impossible, Doctor Jefferson, then do you mind telling me how seven and one half tons of machinery just disappeared in the span of a few seconds?”

Doctor Jefferson’s mind raced with possibilities as he surveyed the remaining contents of room J.W. The Hat, gone? How? Teleportation? Are we being invaded by a competing corporation that has invented teleportation? Or time-travel? What in the hell is happening here? Aliens? Wait…teleportation, Morse code, my wife. “Cascade. Duncan spoke of a cascade.”

Another alarm sounding from the other room snapped Doctor Jefferson out of his thoughts. No. Not another one.

Doctor Jefferson turned and ran back to other doorway; the soles of his shoes slapping against the polished tile floors as he went. When he arrived, eleven sets of shocked eyes turned his way in disbelief. Only Nurse Pimlico, who lay strapped to a gurney and staring at the ceiling, did not turn to look at him. But that was only because her head was strapped to the table, Doctor Jefferson thought to himself. The Hat, was gone.

Doctor Jefferson strode calmly over to the gurney where Nurse Pimlico was laying. As he approached, the room’s upright occupants parted as to allow him to pass, and Doctor Jefferson noticed that Nurse Pimlico was working her jaw muscles. “Probably that smack I gave you is making you do that. Would you like another?”

“Octor Efferson, you have nothing, to th-reaten mee with,” said Judith Pimlico as best she could. It was the first time she’d spoken since Doctor Jefferson had broken her jaw, and she was having to work out how to best operate the new configuration of her facial muscles. “Stop the act-ting, and ask the quest-yun you alked over here to ask mee.”

“The code that you spoke of. You understood it?”

“A-firm-muh-tive.”

“Are you going to tell me what it was Nurse Pimlico.”

“Ah it it, ah it it, ah it it.”

“Dash dot dot, dash dot dot, dash dot dot. Three d’s.”

“That is correct, octor. If few will for-give me, the letters, that come before ‘e’ and after “c”, are proo-ving ifficult, and pain-fool, to, ronounce.”

“I apologize for your new disability Nurse Pimlico. But tell me this so as to get to the point, Judith…do you know what that code means?”

“Octor…Any…Uncan, Ree Dee,” said Nurse Pimlico as a rivulet of saliva emanated from the side of her mouth and ran down the side of her cheek.

Doctor Jefferson felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up as his survival instincts kicked in. “For the benefit of your own well-being, I would appreciate you not saying any more at this time Nurse Pimlico. It appears you know quite a bit more than I ever suspected you did.” Doctor Jefferson looked around the room at the faces that were staring back at him with a mishmash of blank and confused looks. “Will someone please get this woman some immediate medical attention? We’re healthcare providers for crissakes.”

~ ~ ~

“I apologize for that Emil. Emil?”

“He’s gone, Mike.”

“Judy. My oldest and dearest friend. Where for hath our young Emil gone?”

“I’m neither old nor dear to you, Mike, and we’re certainly not friends.”

“You’re cutting me deep, Judy. A very naughty thing to do on Christmas Day. Does this also mean you aren’t going to tell me when Emil has gone?”

“You mean, where, Emil has gone Mike?”

“That’s what I said, isn’t it, Judith?”

“He’s gone home Mike. Emil has gone home.”

“And what about that other one. Where has she gone, Judy?”

“I don’t know yet Mike. I guess you’ll see when she gets there.”

“Thank you, Judy.”

“Thank you, Michael.”

~ ~ ~

Emil could feel his fingers slipping. The ladder was edging ever farther away with each attempt to right himself. Suddenly, Emil could feel the ladder shifting in a steady motion indicating that it wasn’t going to stop this time. He shifted all of his body-weight from his legs on the ladder, onto his arms that were clinging perilously to the edge of the roof. It made more sense to drop straight down than to fall the extra few meters sideways. But as the weight transferred to his arms and hands, and as the ladder fell completely away from his feet, Emil noticed that he was going to dangle in such a way that he would be first swinging into the dangling position. He’d not thought of that; no time to.

As his body began to swing, it became clear to Emil that maybe after one or two swings back and forth, he was going to fall. Should he time it? Should he look down and judge when there might be a good time to actually let go and try and better brace himself for the impact? Surely that would be better than tumbling. He glanced down at the ground and everything went from white to grey to black so fast, the he was confident that there was no way to accurately judge his fall in the darkness.

A bolt of panic shot through his body as the fingers on his left hand suddenly felt like they were giving way. It became apparent to Emil, that since he was currently swinging to the right, if he lost his grip with his left hand mid-swing, he would likely tumble just enough in midair to land directly on his head.

Merry Christmas kid!” whispered a voice above and in front of Emil.

Emil was horrified and his mind froze in a panic. What was THAT!

From nowhere, a burly and strong hand firmly grasped Emil’s left hand just as it lost its grip on the roof. At the same moment, he lost his grip with his right hand, and again another strong hand shot out of nowhere and grasped the now free hand. Emil’s swinging motion quickly stopped, and he realized that his was now suspended from the roof by someone holding him up by his arms. It occurred to Emil how ridiculous he must look somehow hanging here. But wait, who the heh….heck, is holding me?

Terrified to look up, but equally terrified not to look up, Emil looked up. A shadow of a face peered at him from over the crest of the roof, but Emil could not make out any details of the face nor the arms and hands that were keeping him from falling. Only the top of a shadowy face from the nose up, and what appeared to be smiling eyes. How is someone suddenly laying on the crest of the roof of our sommerhus in the middle of the biggest blizzard in recent history on Christmas Day?

And Happy New Year’s too,” whispered the voice.

“Who…” but before Emil could say anything else, he felt the strong hands push backwards on Emil’s arms, simultaneously releasing its grip. Emil felt himself falling backwards, and it felt as though he was going to fall in such a way as to land directly on his back in the snow. The fall seemed to take forever, but Emil never stopped looking at the partially obscured and shadowy face staring back at him. The face and arms did not make sense, nor did it make sense as to why there was suddenly someone, appearing from nowhere, to stop Emil from falling off the ladder, only to throw him onto the ground and into the snow.

See ya around kid.

Whump! Emil landed flat on his back in the snow with a muffled thump. As he hit the ground, Emil noticed that the shadowy figure appeared to shoot away from the roof of the house in a blur and disappear into nothingness.

Brrrraap! The impact made Emil fart, and the snow now surrounding him seemed to amplify and cause his rectal turbulence to almost resonate in the snow.

“That was one egregious fart,” Emil said aloud to himself. “I hope to hell it wasn’t a wet one.”

*******

We hope you enjoyed that, Dear Reader. This year’s collection of Christmas short tall tales should be available later this week. Underdog Anthology X: Silence of the Elves will contain a bumper crop. Until then, have a Song 😉

Story Time: The Brush-Off (Part 1)

Good evening, Dear Reader. Many apologies for neglecting you here at the LoL these past couple of weeks; however, I have been busy writing ‘Lust Christmas’ for Underdog Anthology X: The Silence of the Elves

Gabbiano elf

*I agree, Clicky, that would be an excellent cover for the book…*

…Hopefully, it will be published later this week, but to get us in the mood, the Okie Devil, Cade Fon Apollyon, has kindly agreed to let me post his story ‘The Brush-Off’ from last year’s Christmas Underdog Anthology. I’ve split it into two and the second part will be posted tomorrow. So you’ll have to come back to find out what happens 😉

Enjoy, Dear Reader, enjoy…

*******

The Brush-Off

Cade F.O.N Apollyon

“Emil…can you hear me?” asked a female voice.

“Doctor, he’s showing signs of going into cardiac arrest,” warned a second woman’s voice. “Pulse rate dropping.”

The lights were so bright that Emil wasn’t quite sure if he’d actually heard the voices, or just imagined them. Did someone just say something about cardiac arrest?, Emil wondered to himself. Surely they cannot be talking about me.

“Emil,” asked the first voice, “I need to know if you can hear me. Give me a sign of any kind.” Her tone was much calmer and kinder than that of the second woman.

Emil felt as though his eyes were moving although he could not make out any detail as to if his eyes were actually seeing anything or not. White…nothing but white, he thought to himself. He felt as though he was drifting in a milky-sea of white where everything was drifting away, yet he could perceive nothing that indicated movement of any kind. So tired.

“Emil, I’ll only have one or two more minutes before I have to go. Can you try to give me any kind of indication that you hear me?”

My lips…where are my lips? I have to find my lips. “I can hear you,” Emil croaked.

“That’s good Emil. I can’t hear you, but I know you’ve heard me. That’s very good Emil.”

What in the hell are you doing here?!” boomed a man’s voice.

“Doctor, the patient is in cardiac arrest,” said the second woman.

“Who are you people. Where I am?” Emil interrupted.

“I came here because it appears to be time,” the first woman rebuked the man. “And Emil, you may call me Judy.”

Emil felt an acute astonishment. Judy? The first woman who spoke to me is named Judy? Who in this entire country is named Judy? “Judy, are you a nurse?” Emil asked sheepishly.

“Emil, I cannot hear you, but I assume that you can hear me. There’s going to be a lot of things going on that you will not understand right now, and they are going to be happening very rapidly. Just know that I am here for you, and…”

“I asked why you are here, Judy. Not what time it appears to be.” The man’s voice interrupted the woman calling herself Judy, although the tone was much softer now. It almost contained a hint of concern, and the way that he had accentuated the name ‘Judy’ almost sounded as if this man was also having trouble with the name. He doesn’t know her name either, Emil thought to himself.

Don’t shock him!” a second man’s voice shouted. “He’s got to survive this! Give him one milligram of atropine and reduce the alpha waves to eight point three hertz on The Hat.”

“Administering one milligram of atropine and reducing alpha to eight point three on The Hat,” the second woman replied.

“Judy, did you hear any of that? They’ve got the brain and the heart doing battle with the Vagus nerve,” said the first man rather sarcastically.

“You know that I heard what they are doing, and you also know that I know what they are doing. I simply wanted to be here if Emil was ready to speak. Emil, my name is Judy, you can call the asshole with the booming voice, Mike.”

“Mike, eh? I like Mike,” said Mike.

Emil was beginning to think to himself that he was the only person on Earth with an actual name, let alone a name that made any sense.

“Doctor, heart rate climbing, and regular sinus rhythm returning,” said the second woman’s voice.

“I knew it. He’s somehow building up static again. Nurse Pimlico, will you check all the ground wires in The Hat for proper connection while I get a techie up here to check the wall connections?”

“Did you hear that Judy? He knew it. Emil, this is Mike again, you are surrounded by a bunch of smart people that know everything, and you’re gonna be just fine.”

Emil heard Judy giggle at Mike’s statement. “I’m sorry Emil, I’m not laughing at you or your…current predicament, we’ll call it. Mike has the bedside manner of a goat, but he occasionally manages to be funny.”

So I am in a hospital, Emil reasoned. The humor was both familiar and welcome, but a wave of panic suddenly swept over him. Just as the panic was beginning to reach an almost paralytic state, Emil felt a soothing warmth emanate from some unknown point within his own being which seemed to brush the panic away. At that same moment, several black dots suddenly appeared and penetrated the overwhelming white in Emil’s view. But the black dots soon disintegrated rapidly into nothingness, leaving only the white.

“Doctor, we’ve just had a spike on beta waves.”

“That can’t be right Nurse Pimlico. He can’t have beta waves unless we feed them to him. Verify beta transducer is set to zero.”

“Yes, Doctor Jefferson. Can verify beta transducer setting zero with last logged input 24 September 2047.”

But I’m only fifteen years old. What could possibly be wrong with my heart? It suddenly occurred to Emil that whoever this first man “Mike” was, his sarcastic but bubbly temperament reminded him of his father. Wait a moment, did I just hear the nurse mention the year 2047? Mike’s hefty voice interrupted Emil’s thoughts.

“Judy, have you seen the white dots yet? There should be three of them.”

“The beta registered on the log and has been confirmed by the scrubbing algorithm. The burst of beta originated from within E.P. and not from The Hat,” said Nurse Pimlico.

EP? Emil thought intently to himself for a moment. This “EP” was suddenly the only thing that made sense, and it only took him a moment to work out the source of the familiarity…E.P., as in, Emil Pedersen? The nurse called me by my initials? Why is she using my initials and not my name?

“Okay Mike, I’ve got three white dots. Small, then broadening, and now fading to black with the smallest tinge of purple and grey.”

“Doctor, I’m showing another ping of beta waves and the scrubber algorithms immediately pegged them as internal. Would you like me to disable the beta probe at The Hat just to be sure?”

“Judy, Emil is going to start seeing black more often now, although I’m not sure as to exactly what kind of shapes that you can expect to see on your end. And Emil, I know that you can hear me, as well as you can hear Judy, the doctor and the nurse. Just be patient with us and know that we’re all working together to get you to where you need to be, okay?”

“Mike, I don’t know any of you and I don’t understand any of this,” Emil immediately responded. “I’m scared. Or at least, I feel like I should be scared, and I am scared, but I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to just listen.”

“Don’t disable beta. We may actually need to actuate beta at The Hat in order to lure his brain away from the idea that he can actually see.”

“Mike, more white. Three horizontal waves in rapid succession and a partial square with almost no duration at all.”

“Copy that Judy. I’m going to make a few quick adjustments to the gain on my end in order to see if I can give you a longer duration target.”

Emil suddenly became aware that he could hear someone tapping on something in a cadence that sounded like someone typing on a computer keyboard.

“Nurse Pimlico, I’ve just sent a request to Support and the Techie is two minutes away,” said Doctor Jefferson as he finished typing on and elevated computer touchscreen. “I’m going next door to check J.W. and see if we are getting bleedthough between units again. If the techie shows up before I return, have them immediately replace each ground at the wall in reverse order first, then remove and replace again forwards. Do you have that?”

“Yes Doctor Jefferson, disconnect and reconnect all ground wires, reverse order first, then again forwards.”

Doctor Jefferson gave a nod of approval, then spun smartly on his heels and disappeared out of the doorway.

“Mike, they’re still operating under the assumption that a re-grounding backwards is going to solve any polarity issues while The Hat is still hot.”

“Well, Judy, we’ll just have to work that much harder to get you a fix on Emil’s direct communication pathways before they do something really stupid.”

I’m beginning to wonder if I even need to be here for this, Emil wondered to himself. “How in the heh…heck…did I get into this mess?” Emil attempted to speak aloud, but caught himself before he said hell and not heck.

“Judy, you aren’t going to like this, but I think I just heard Emil attempting not to curse.”

“Mike…you can hear him?”

“Emil, this is your new pal Mike, can you hear me?”

“Yes Mike, I can hear you. Can you hear me?” Silence. “Mike, I can hear you. Can, you, hear, me?”

“Yes I can hear you now Emil. Judy, this is going to be another rough one.”

“You’ll do fine Mike.”

“Emil, this is Mike. Judy wanted to be the first to speak with you, but it looks like you are stuck with me for the time being. You can likely distinguish all the voices you are hearing at this time, but only me and you can speak directly at this time, OK?”

Knock knock. Emil was suddenly distracted from replying to Mike by the rapping sounds that came in quick succession on what sounded like a door, although Emil couldn’t tell exactly where the knocks came from.

“Tech?” asked Nurse Pimlico.

“Yes, I’m Archer. I was told this is a Level One response.”

“You are one minute early Tech Archer.”

“I was nearby when I got the call. Do you have instructions for me?”

“Tech Archer, please disconnect and reground all grounds at the wall in reverse order.”

“Yes ma’am, nurse…” Tech Archer paused in his query because he could not see the nurse’s nametag clearly from his vantage point in the doorway. However, he could make out the insignia on her uniform. Level seventeen. Two grades above me. Be respectful, be mindful, and be cautious, Archer.

“Pimlico. Once all grounds have been reconnected, disconnect and reconnect again in forward sequence.”

“Reverse first, then forward…I’m on it,” Archer confirmed.

“Can you authenticate parity as you go?” Nurse Pimlico queried.

“Was parity check also requested by the acting doctor?”

“Not specifically, no. Doctor Jefferson is next door with the J.W. unit and will be back momentarily. He’s almost sure to request it when he returns. I just…”

“Nurse Pimlico, I recommend that you allow me to do what was requested, as requested, and we’ll proceed from there if that’s OK with you.”

“I knew it Judy, they are about to make things much worse than they need to actually be.”

“I knew it too Mike. But at least one of us somehow got to Emil before they botched things like with…”

“Like they botched things with me? I’m over that now Judy. I’ve moved on.”

“I’d like to believe that Mike, but I know you too well.”

“You don’t know me at all Judy, and you never will if you keep that up.”

“Posturing will get you nowhere with me…Michael. How about we focus on Emil and getting him where he needs to be so he doesn’t end up like you.”

“Or you…Judith.”

“Or me…Mike. I don’t want Emil ending up like either of us.”

“Me either. You’ll be going white soon Jude. It could be a long time.”

“I know that Mike, but I’m as ready for it as I can be.”

“Emil, it’s Mike here. I appreciate the fact that you can hear us all, yet don’t know what any of us are talking about. But please know that we really are doing the best that we can to make any transition as quick and painless as possible. Does that sound okay with you? Emil? Emil can you still hear me?”

Silence.

“Judy, I think we’ve temporarily lost Emil completely. You might want to brace yourself.”

“Mike, if only they’d listen to Nurse Pimlico. Just once.”

“I’ll be here for you if you get back Judy.”

“I know you will Mike. I know you will.”

~ ~ ~

Doctor Jefferson strode purposefully back into the room where the unit known as “E.P.” was laying on the gurney attached to a monstrosity of wires and tubes. He stopped suddenly in the middle of the room upon noticing the individual crouched by the opposite side wall near the floor facing away from him. “And you are?”

“Not to be addressed directly while I’m working on re-grounding The Hat, I’ll not ask you again.”

“Excellent. A stickler for protocol,” said Doctor Jefferson with a smile.

The man crouched on the ground did not appear to flinch at all, but responded coolly without missing a beat. “That goes equally for personal annotations or any other verbal utterances that reference me directly. Last warning to anyone currently in the room.”

Nurse Pimlico sensed the rapidly building tension and interjected. “Doctor, may I see you outside?”

Doctor Jefferson smirked as he gave the tech’s back a last look, spun on his heels, and then waved Nurse Pimlico out towards the hallway. As he fell in line behind her to exit the room, he felt a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that the protocols that he himself devised were being followed to the letter. In a crisis situation no less. Whoever this guy was, he had balls. He was ready to call security and have my citizenship stripped from me and jailed for life, simply for speaking to him. He never even turned to see who I was nor check my rank. Excellent. Most excellent. The video feeds of this real-world exchange would make for an excellent example to use in tech training. Excellent to pass along to the executive and legislative branches as well. Should show that The Protocols are working exactly as advertised. Doctor Jefferson made a mental note to put in a request to retrieve the security recordings for, he looked at his watch, 25 December 2065 at 16:16. Excellent.

As soon as they entered the hallway, Nurse Pimlico immediately spoke, “Doctor, the technician’s name is Archer. Junior Tech, Level Fifteen according to his insignia.”

“Did you ask him to check bias?”

“No. I asked if he would mind checking parity.”

“And did he agree?”

“No Doctor Jefferson, he refused, and he was stern but kind about it.”

“Nurse Pimlico, I realize that you are the one who devised the idea of the parity spot checks upon any and all maintenance to The Hat in a live environment. I also know that your suggestion was a technical one, and not something that you’d hoped to see worked in as a security measure for authenticating the validity of an employee’s presence in restricted areas and loyalty to The Protocols. However, these organisms that we use for harvesting data get more and more dodgy as they age. The less we do in a crisis situation, the better the outcome has proven to be.”

“I can appreciate that Doctor, and I also understand the necessity of protocol. We are attempting to standardize the flow of information, not invent ways to deviate from the standardization process.”

“Indeed we are not, Nurse Pimlico.”

“Doctor, I would like to remind you that my simulations have shown that times of acute trauma may sometimes be the source of the machine ghosts. That the ghosts may be a dormant bit of information that is in fact triggered by a sequence of events that is running in less-standard times than our own.”

“And that’s the key, Nurse Pimlico. We operate forward in time, and so must our data. The only way to identify and isolate any such anomalies in time, should they in fact exist, is to let them come to us. If we seek them out, who knows where we might wind up. Or better stated, when, we might wind up.”

“I understand Doctor.”

“I don’t think you do, Nurse Pimlico. But what’s say we change that. Are you aware of my wife and her grandfather-in-law’s work back in the early part of this century?”

“I am aware that such work exists, but I have no knowledge of the work itself. It is all classified.”

“You are not up for promotion review for another eighteen months if I am not mistaken.”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Oh now, don’t fall back onto your military training just yet, Nurse Pimlico. Doctor, please.”

“My apologies, Doctor Jefferson.”

“You are also three grades away from attaining the needed rank to potentially have access to such information. However, I think it time that you were introduced to some of the more…finite, complexities of what it is we do here.”

“Thank you Doctor. But I must remind you that deviation from the Protocol of Established Standards and Procedures will not only red-flag me for the remainder of my career, it could also red-flag you.”

“My faith in you grows by the minute, Nurse Pimlico.” Doctor Jefferson beamed. “Although there is one thing for you to keep in mind, should you continue your journey into the upper-echelons of the infrastructure which makes our society tick.”

“And what is that Doctor?”

Doctor Jefferson smiled, then leaned in somewhat towards Nurse Pimlico and lowered his voice. “A red flag is not always a bad thing to have next to your name.”

Nurse Pimlico blinked a stunned blink and felt as though she were blushing. Is he…testing me? Hitting on me? Both? Nurse Pimlico quickly gathered her senses so as to reestablish her composure. I’ve got to get out of this situation… and fast. Too dangerous. I just need an out.

“I am finished in here for any jocund and loquacious souls who wish to return,” Tech Archer called from inside the room.

Doctor Jefferson’s smile broadened as he slowly withdrew from the closer proximity to Nurse Pimlico’s personal space, but his eyes never left hers. “After you, Nurse.”

OK, so, he didn’t size me up with his eyes, so, he wasn’t hitting on me. He’s testing me. Get those thick thighs of yours to moving, Pimilco. Get your muscular ass back in that room double-quick, and get straight to the diagnostics on The Hat. “Thank you Doctor Jefferson.”

Nurse Pimlico strode into the room with all of the dignity and haste that she could muster under the sudden stresses of the moment, and noticed that Technician Archer was sitting in the lotus position on the floor near where the large bundle of grounding wires ran from The Hat into the wall.

“I figured that I would stay here in the event that parity suddenly needed to be checked, assuming that is Okay with all concerned,” the seated technician volunteered.

Nurse Pimlico was having difficulty interpreting the smile that now occupied Tech Archer’s face as being either friend or foe. “I’ve no issue with it if Doctor Jefferson has no objections.” Nurse Pimlico changed her focus in the direction of Doctor Jefferson to await a response.

“I’ve no objections Nurse Pimlico,” said Doctor Jefferson.

“But we do need to run a full diagnostic on The Hat. That could take upwards of an hour or more.”

“I’ve no objections to that either Nurse Pimlico. All I have is time on this fine day formerly known as Christmas, and Tech Archer is free to spend as much time as he would like sitting on the floor if he so desires.”

“I understand Doctor Jefferson. Estimated time to completion of diagnostics will be sixty-four minutes on my mark…mark! Diagnostics started and running, Doctor Jefferson.”

“Excellent Nurse Pimlico,” said Doctor Jefferson as he reached for one of the empty rolling chairs and pulled it to him. He released an audible sigh of relief upon occupying the chair, and turned his attentions to the technician who was sitting on the floor.“Junior Technician Archer, Level 15, if all goes well, you now have approximately sixty-three plus minutes for you to tell me about what you are working on for you next advancement thesis. Assuming, that you are you are submitting yourself for advancement review, that is.”

“I am indeed Doctor Jefferson, and I’ve already picked my topic.” Tech Archer’s somewhat cavalier but laid-back outward demeanor experienced a sudden radical shift to something somewhat more exuberant and excitable.

“Oh really Archer. Do tell.”

“Global H20 Dynamics.”

“Global, H20, Dynamics…my oh my you do think big young man. I’ve Nurse Pimlico chasing subatomic bitwise ghosts and other mysterious free-radicals, and Tech Archer considering the global dynamics of water and it’s components.” Doctor Jefferson leaned back in is chair and raised his arms in a somewhat mocking celebratory moment of zen. “The gods have favored me on this previously sacred day and blessed me with the company of giants.” He quickly dropped his hands and leaned forward in his seat towards Technician Archer’s position on the floor. “And I do not in any way, shape or form mean that in a contemptuous or demeaning way Technician Archer, to which Nurse Pimlico can attest, can you not Nurse Pimlico?”

“I can indeed inform Tech Archer that the levity displayed by Doctor Jefferson is not one of contempt nor mockery. Tell him your tale Archer, but I can tell you from experience, tell it as it needs be told.”

“She is correct Tech Archer. Tell it as it needs be told. You have my undivided until I say otherwise. Oh, and the captain has turned off the please remain seated on the floor sign. Feel free to get up and move about the cabin if so inclined Junior Technician Archer.”

~ ~ ~

The cabin’s fireplace crackled as Emil lay on the floor basking in it’s warmth; engaged in glorious battle on his new Nintendo Switch. He would have preferred a set of drums for Christmas, but he was more or less contented with the fact that his parents were unlikely to ever endorse his owning a drum set while he still lived at home. Emil understood. The apartment back home in Copenhagen was not the best of environments for a future rock star to live, and keeping the drums here in the sommerhus at Bornholm wasn’t practical. I’d practically never get to practice, Emil thought sarcastically to himself as his thumbs worked feverishly to keep his elven character alive. Lort! I died! thought Emil to himself as his on-screen character completed it’s pre-programmed death-throes then slumped into a heap amid the grassy lands of Hyrule.

“Søn, would you mind going outside and checking the roof to see what the snow looks like?” Emil’s father called from the kitchen area. He was putting away the day’s now clean and dried dishes. “It probably needs to be brushed off again before bed.”

“Sure Pop. I just died anyway,” replied Emil, pushing himself up from the floor with a grunt. “Do you want me to go ahead and setup the ladder?” He and his father had already been through this exercise three times over the past two days, and it was almost old-hat to Emil at this point.

“Only if it looks like the roof needs to be cleared Emil,” answered his father. “I don’t want us to be out in the cold if we don’t have to.”

Emil placed his Nintendo Switch on the small table next to the sofa where his mother was seated, and noticed that she was engaged in a battle of her own. She had opened and was sorting the contents of the new sewing kit she’d received as a gift during the previous night’s festivities, and it appeared to contain somewhere between ten and twenty billion individual strands of thread. Emil delayed his forward momentum towards the door, and watched for a moment as his mother wrestled with identifying and separating the various colored threads.

“Well, you still appear to be quite nimble and able-bodied for a dead man,” his mother said without looking up. “And if you are standing there wondering where your bathing suit is located, it’s most likely still in your suitcase dear.” His mother glanced up at him briefly with a smirk smeared across her shining face, before she returned her attention to the mass of threads in her hands. “Assuming you remembered to pack it for the trip, that is.”

“Mor, I think I forgot it,” Emil said in the best ‘fake-astonishment’ voice that he could muster.

“Well then, I guess you’ll probably just have to settle for the coat, hat and mittens hanging on the rack near the door.” His mother again looked up and smiled at Emil.

He returned the smile, said nothing, and went to assemble his gear for the trek outdoors.

“I’ll be a minute or two behind you, Emil,” called his father from the kitchen.

Emil sat down on the small bench near the door, and began to pull on his boots. He glanced over his shoulder out the window at the snow that was falling outside. Good grief! It’s never snowed like this in Denmark before. Not ever. 44 centimeters of snow was predicted for today, and that’s on top of what we’ve already gotten. The whitest of white Christmases in Dansk history, or so they are saying on the news. The Great Blizzard of 2018.

Emil finished lacing his boots, stood, then reached for his heavy coat that felt still somewhat damp. He then donned his hat and gloves, which were also still feeling slightly soggy and not yet dry, then reached for the handle on the door. “I’m going out and up,” Emil said as he gave the new Nintendo Switch resting on the small end-table a final glance.

“OK søn. I’ll be right behind you in a few,” replied his father.

His mother, who was otherwise engaged with the threads from her needlepoint kit said nothing.

Emil opened the door and walked outside into the cold darkness in front of him, then pulled the door tightly closed behind him and gave it a final push just to be sure. I don’t want to make the mistake of leaving the door slightly ajar again.

*******

See you for the second part of ‘The Brush-Off’ tomorrow, Dear Reader, when all will be revealed. Have a Song ❤

 

Story Time: Secret of the Flaming Zombies

 Welcome, Dear Reader…

Previously at the LoL

*Thank you, Clicky… /lights up and smokes…*

… to one of this year’s Halloween tales…

Stranger Zombies

*That’s Sarah from work and her mate Nina. They love cosplay…*

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*Oh yeah. And Sarah’s a huge Underdog Anthology fan… /grins*

… from Underdog Anthology IX: Well Haunted. Enjoy! ❤

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Secret of the Flaming Zombies

By Roo B. Doo

Fucking Halloween again, and Lol and I were attempting to simultaneously drown and burn the horror of my working day, surrounded by flaming zombies, with a continuous flow of Flaming Zombies. It was Lol’s cockeyed theory and we were testing it to destruction at our favourite watering hole, downing the bar’s ‘Halloween Cocktail Special’.

Of course ‘working’ is meant in its loosest possible sense, as no work gets done on Halloween at F.A. Kontrell. For the past three years, the stupid fancy dress competition, themed staff activities and spurious assertion that “it’s for charity, Harry,” has trumped all else. It was especially galling this year to hear The Fat Kontroller’s echoing predications regarding the fancy dress competition’s alleged philanthropic underpinnings, dressed as he was as the 45th President of the United States. I assumed it was Donald Trump my boss was attempting to portray, but he may have been going for ‘grotesque Oompa Loompa’. Or perhaps he was attempting to recreate what our mouthy receptionist Shazza looks like at her very best. Like there’s much of a difference between any of those. Sad!

It had taken most of the evening and several rounds of drinks, but Lol and I had finally managed to exorcise much of the contempt I felt for my work colleagues, and were about to embark on solving the abomination that is my love life.

“Ya know what your problem is, Harry?” Lol mashed his neatly manicured but highly intoxicated finger against my chest. He leaned in conspiratorially in order to tell me beneath the hubbub of the bar. “You’re never gonna find love ‘cos you’ve still got the hots for Jodie.”

“Who’s Jodie?” I returned his finger prod with an equally intoxicated index finger prod of my own. Not as manicured as Lol’s but then he’s always been something of a tart with regards to his appearance.

Lol looked momentarily confused. “Jodie from your office, Jodie. You know, ‘The Goddess With The Never Ending Legs’,” he smirked.

“Oh you mean Josie. Well, she’s gone now,” I replied glumly.

Josie had been F.A. Kontrell’s HR temptress; the angel with an elfin face, framed by raven black curls, atop of a smoking hot body, had left for another job at the start of the year. I’d felt bereft every day since but more so today, as Josie’s choice of Halloween costume for the past two years were not only glorious to behold in the flesh, but the memory of her ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Little Mermaid’ outfits still warms the cockles of my lonely heart. Particularly at night, in bed.

“Come on, Harry,” Lol said, shaking my shoulder in a misguided attempt to lift my spirits. “That girl was always out of your league. She spurned all your advances.”

It could have been the alcohol, or the fact I’d been keeping a secret from my best friend for nearly a year, but I suddenly felt the urge to wipe the smug look off his face. Lol’s a bank manager – they always look smug; it’s part of their job description. “Who says she spurned all my advances?”

What?!

Success! I thought evilly and sucked noisily on the straw in my hurricane glass, hoovering up its alcoholic remnants and rattling the ice. “You get another round of these in, Money Bags, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Somehow Lol managed to sport a look of utter disbelief and wide-eyed wonder. “Really? You actually found where the never-ending legs finish? I don’t believe you, Harry.”

“Certainly did!” I burped indignantly, handing my empty glass to Lol. “Not only found, but explored and defiled. Supped upon her licksure of life.” I giggled at my own joke; it was either that or cry.

Lol’s jaw dropped. “Fuck off, you never said! When was this?” he asked with rising incredulity.

“Last Christmas.”

“Oof, Harry! Wham!” Lol feigned a smack to the jaw.

“Oh yeah, Deadpoo’?” I slurred, shooing him off toward the bar. “Then prepare for a double whammy – I wasn’t the only one on the expedition.”

It never ceases to amaze me why dropping a glass in public elicits a round of applause from strangers.

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*Quite! …/stubs butt… Now I’ve gotta write it…*

The story continues in ‘Lust Christmas’, which will appear in Underdog Anthology X: Subtitle tbc. Out in time for Christmas 😀 Dear Reader, have a Song…

* Can I hear cowbell? …/thinks…*