Story Time: Spring Fevers & Bearded, Clammy Hands

*Ain’t that the truth, Clicky. How in the fuck are we meant to be April Fooled this year?*

Hello there, Dear Reader! Long time, no speaky 😉

My good friend Cade Fon Apollyon sent me a tweet last night, depicting a weather event at his ‘old stomping ground’…

*He says that’s Tyson’s Corner in Virginia and tornadoes there are extremely rare…*

… Which reminded me of a bunch of tweets that crossed my Twitter feed earlier this week, all saying the same thing…

*Nice example, Clicky, butt that’s knot someone I follow… /lights up and smokes… Say, did you know there’s a 137 reference in that Tweeter’s bio?*

*Just a happy coincidence, then? Okay…*

… And that whole Oscars ‘Slap Heard Around the World’ scene at the start of the week put me in mind of Cade’s short story from Underdog Anthology XIV: Dark Ides of March, published in the Spring of 2021…

*Oh yeah. It even syncs… /drags… with a couple of your recent posts, Clicky… /exhales smoke…*

… So, I asked Cade if I could publish his story, here, at the LoL today, and he said, ‘Sure’…

*Knockout, Clicky, indeed…*

… So, here is ‘Spring Fevers and Bearded, Clammy Hands’ for your entertainment, Dear Reader. Enjoy! ❤

*******

Spring Fevers and Bearded, Clammy Hands

by
Cade F.O.N Apollyon

If one were to read “A Novice’s Guide to Understanding Jealousy”, the first sentence of Chapter 1, Page 1 would almost absolutely have to immediately address the subject of a lack of self-awareness. In fact, I cannot see how the entire book could ever get around talking about anything except the topic of self-awareness and identifying one’s own shortcomings within the framework of this concept.

Jealousy, seems to place the offended party in some sort of vacuum. Like a shell or some sort of defensive posture where only the individual and their own interests matter. Their computational systems, assuming they have any, also seem to go offline.

“Mateo! Hel..loooo?!? Are you even fucking listening to me?”

My neighbor, John, was already agitated when he borderline accosted me in my car upon my arrival home from work. My zoning out in contemplation whilst being accused by my neighbor of having an affair with his wife is unlikely to assuage his irritation.

“My name is Matthew, Juan, and yes, I am very much listening to you.”

“I apologize, Matthew,” John fired back sarcastically. “Now, are you fucking my wife?”

“No, John, I am not. I’m standing here in the middle of my own front yard holding an empty lunch box, quasi-talking to you, really just hoping to go inside at some point and take my shoes off.”

I’d retorted with my usual dry and unemotional sarcasm. I tried not too sound precocious though as this was an extremely delicate and dangerous situation, and the last thing I need at this point is my friend thinking I’m trying to be cleverly deceptive.

“Have you, at any point, from the beginning of creation, to this very day, ever, fucked my wife?”

John was struggling, choosing his words for clarity; an obvious frustration and impatience in his voice.

“Yeah. But I only stuck my dick in halfway so I’m not fucking her nearly as much as I could be. And when one considers that my dick is only six inches long, it could be argued that I’m not fucking her very much at all.”

The look of shock and disbelief on his face reflected that my retort had caught him completely off guard. But as the initial look of surprise left his face, and his brain began to compute my actual words, his face contorted in confusion, began to relax, and I could tell it may have finally broke some ice as John’s default facial express returned. That expression then started to crack into a smile, it was obvious he was trying to restrain it, and he turned away from me briefly in order to, I assume, stymie a giggle. The slight hunch in the back, a hand to the face, and a couple of shoulder twitches were a dead-giveaway.

I’d already answered his initial query as to my ‘fucking his wife’, definitely and without hesitation in the negative. Quite easy to do as I was most certainly not ‘fucking’ his wife. Something very odd was going on here. This had to be one of his stupid, drawn out ‘practical jokes’. Surely some utterly ridiculous punchline, for which I will have to feign a fake laugh, is coming.

“Look John,” I said to his back. I have walked…” I glanced down quickly at the pedometer hanging from my belt to check the distance I had walked at work today; 17.3 miles, holy shit, “…seventeen point three miles today and my feet are feeling every foot of that. I’m going in to put my lunchbox down, take my shoes off, grab a beer, and I’ll be right back out. Do you want one?”

He knows, came a female voice in my head.

I froze. A warm tingling sensation suddenly appeared in my head, and quickly began to run from my crown, down my neck, and into my spine, as another warm and tingly feeling began in my feet and started emanating up my legs.

Great, I thought to myself. That’s all I need at this point…her.

The two opposing tingly feelings continued their creep and met somewhere in my lower back: we were connected now. That warm pulsing tingle of The Connection. We were synced.

Hello Matthew, came the woman’s voice again. I feel The Connection. I needed to speak with you. I needed to let you know that he knows. I needed to speak with you about how best to proceed regarding…

The woman’s voice was cut off as John, apparently having finally regained a composure he was comfortable with, turned back towards me.

“Yeah,” John started as he nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I’ll take a beer if it’s cold Matt. You get your shoes off, and I’ll meet you on your porch in a few. I’m going to go ask Patrice about dinner. Any chance you might wanna pop over? Do you have plans?”

John asking me to join he and his wife for dinner was not unusual. I was, after all, a lonely bachelor. A lonely divorcee. A washed-up burnout who over the past nine years had been fixed up with virtually every single woman John and his wife knew. But dinner tonight did not seem appropriate. I was in no way trying to read John’s intentions regarding this particular invitation as we had too much experience between us for me to read into it as being hostile. But I had to seriously consider it inappropriate under the circumstances.

Jesus, how uncomfortable might that dinner be? I thought to myself.

If you come to dinner, I’ll make you cum, came the woman’s voice again. I’ll cum all over your face Matthew, and you can cum on mine, if you want. It will be nothing but cumming for the both of us if you come to dinner.

Dammit Patrice, can you at least allow me to get my shoes off and grab your husband a beer before I make a decision on dinner?

Sure Matthew. I know my cooking isn’t always that great, but my dessert will make that dark and lonely heart of yours shine like the sun that it actually is. Mmm, I’m getting wet just thinking about having you inside me and seeing your light.

Patrice…

“Matt?” John said, snapping me away from my internal dialogue. “Matt, you’re zoning out again.”

“Sorry John. Been a long day at work and I have an even longer one in store tomorrow. I have a lot of work stuff on my mind,” I said, turning away from my neighbor and heading for the faux safety of my own home.

“Already trying to think of all the stuff I need to do tomorrow. Lemme grab you that beer. About ten minutes.”

I did not glance back to see if John was retreating back to his own property as I neared the relative safety of my own front porch.

Sorry you had a long day. I hope I get a long one tonight, Matthew.

Patrice, I myself would take an explanation of any length as to why your husband is over at my house breaking my balls over allegedly, quote ‘fucking you’, unquote.

I’ll explain in a bit Matt, and it will all make sense. I promise.

As I reached my front door, I tried to put Patrice and her shenanigans out of my head. Just as I began to fumble with my key for the lock, and just as freedom seemed imminent, I heard John call from what sounded like his driveway. I froze, closed my eyes, and tried not to shudder.

“Hey, Matt! Pedometer!” he shouted. “They ought to give those to pedophiles so cops know how many kids they’ve molested!”

I suddenly felt a tinge of fury. My heart knew that I should not be feeling this feeling, but I was. Whatever my neighbor was digging for, and why he was digging for it in me no longer mattered. This asshole has to be begging for a beating, but why he has chosen me to give it to him is a total mystery at this point.

Don’t let him get to you cowboy. You are closer that you know to being free of him forever.

I ignored Patrice’s comment entirely, turned to peek around the corner of my front porch to look over in the direction of the voice. Sure enough, there stood John in his own driveway. Immobile, and looking in my direction with a giant ridiculous smile on his face as if he’d just told the joke of the century and was now eagerly awaiting my guffaws of approval.

“That’s a great idea John,” I said in an absolutely flat tone. “Fantastic in fact. Why don’t you head inside right now and dial 911 and tell them your genius idea. You can tell me all about it when you come back over for your beer.”

The dry and unimpressed nature in my voice appeared to have gotten the message across, as his previously grinning face was now melting into such a pathetic sag that it appeared it may slide off his head.

He turned, looked down and I could tell his face was now twisting with confusion, and began walking dejectedly towards his house.

I turned back towards my front door, inserted my key into the lock, opened it, and stepped inside. Closing the door behind me, I could only think one word…sanctuary.

It may be a sanctuary from John, but not from me. With me, there is no sanctuary Matthew.

I need no sanctuary from you Patrice. You are my sanctuary.

* * *

John and I had become fast ‘friends’ when he and his wife, Patrice, had moved in next door to me a little over nine years ago. ‘Friends’ in the loose sense in that it was quite obvious from the start that John more or less inserted himself into my life whether I wanted him in it or not, and he was the type of fellow that clung to certain others who could provide him with specific things. He had a bombastic way for introducing himself to others, at which point he would size them up for what they could and could not provide.

I never considered him a bad guy, just not exactly a good one. Never seemed to have a thought of his own, which, unfortunately for me and because I was both easily accessible and tolerated his bullshit, just about every crazy idea, weird concept and stupid joke that drifted through John’s transom he would almost certainly parrot to me.

I stood inside my doorway for some time contemplating the nature of my relationship with my neighbors, and wondering what in the hell John was on about. As such, I find myself back at day one of when John and Patrice moved in, and going over every little detail as to how he’s gotten wind of mine and Patrice’s, alleged, affair.

Are you fucking my wife? Who in the hell asks a question like that? He didn’t really seem that peeved or upset. Perhaps the exchange didn’t happen like it does in the movies, and as such, he didn’t know how to react?

You’re contemplating aren’t you Matthew?

Patrice’s voice, in my head again. I’d forgotten we were still actively connected.

Yes Patrice, I am. Can you hear what I’m thinking? Like, the specifics?

No Matt, it’s more of a feeling. When we communicate directly, then yes the information sent along The Connection is very clear. But when you are mumbling internally I get nothing specific. Just maybe a feeling about what it may be regarding.

So, when I jerk off at night, you get no specifics nor details, you simply know I’m masturbating.

Rawr…so saucy Matthew. So aggressive. I like it. And speaking of, what was with that ‘you are my sanctuary Patrice’ nonsense?

For once, Patrice, I guess I just felt I needed to defend myself. The walls were kinda closing in, ya know?

Good on you Matt. That was brilliant. You’ve taken yet another step into…oh wait…John is calling me, needs to talk, he says.

OK, well, I’m going to ground myself and disconnect. I need to get your husband a beer, and I really need to get these fucking shoes off.

Matt, did you really walk seventeen point three miles today?

Yes I did Patrice. It was awful and I’m currently feeling all fifty-five of my years, and then some.

John wants me to come over and talk to you Matt.

What?! You, Patrice? Why you?

He feels that he may have upset you.

He did, Patrice. But that still doesn’t explain why he wants you to come over.

John seems to think that I’ll be able to smooth things over and you’ll come to dinner.

Patrice, I really don’t know if…

Shhhh….Matthew, just, let me come over. I’ll tell John it may take a bit, but I think I can smooth things over.

Patrice, this is weird as hell him sending you over, whom he just accused me of having an affair with. I’m on edge here.

Ground yourself Matt. Grab that beer, and I’ll drink it when I get there.

Patrice wait. Patrice?

“Fuck!” I said aloud.

She’s disconnecting. I could feel the tingly feeling in my back partially unwinding. She was already grounding herself.

I was still standing in the doorway, holding my keys and lunchbox. I felt so alone in the moment. Only recently had I, by some fluke of nature, acquired the ability to speak with anyone, any time, anywhere in the world, and yet at that precise moment I’d never felt more alone.

It didn’t help matters that, for the first six months after discovering my ability, I’d been talking, via thought alone, to a someone who originally told me that they were on the other side of the world. But as it turns out, this distant and seemingly completely harmless someone was actually less than fifty feet away the entire time. Patrice. And boy oh boy, once we discovered who each other actually was, did the tone and topics of the conversations ever change. The small talk and vagaries were gone. She was suddenly a firebrand, passionate, but a rogue, a rebel and downright nasty at times: and I don’t mean just and only sexual stuff either. For the last four months, she had toyed with me and psychologically beaten on me relentlessly. I had no idea what to make of any of it. Still don’t. Perhaps she’ll explain it someday if I can keep myself from tying cinder blocks to my feet and jumping into a lake.

You’re drifting again Matt. You really should ground before some sneaky someone you don’t know tries to connect.

I reached up with the hand holding my key ring, and selected the key that allowed itself to be singled out, as which key I used did not matter. This time it was the key to my one and only padlock.

I don’t even know where in the hell that padlock is, I thought to myself. No idea why I still have the key to it on my key ring.

No response from Patrice, nor anyone else for that matter, doesn’t feel like anyone else is connected nor trying to connect, so now all that remained was for me to close the current connection completely.

I reached out with the key, and touched it to the metal screw holding the face-plate cover to the light switch on the wall. Almost immediately, I could feel the somewhat diminished ball of coursing energy in my back begin to unwind like electrically charged noodles being slurped out via my head and feet, and then vanish completely.

I pulled the key away from the screw; disconnected. With little very little gusto and no thanks given to the key for its additional service, I hung my key ring on the key rack above the light switch, and retreated inward to get my shoes off my aching feet.

* * *

The doorbell rang and my hands suddenly went clammy.

How should I greet her? Should I shake her hand? Just say hello and immediately hand her a beer, while shuffling myself outside so that she does not attempt to come in? Should I go out into my backyard, toss the beer over the roof and into the front yard, and cry ‘My mom says I can’t come out to play right now, but there’s your beer crazy woman! Just like you like it! Shaken and stirred and every other fucking thing!’

It was just now dawning on me that, not only did I not really know my neighbor Patrice, we had never really spoken before. Not at any length, and most certainly never alone. Well, not ‘in person’ anyway. And most of the “remote” stuff was so scattered, unintelligible and seemingly pointless that the fact we’d been speaking almost non-stop for ten months, now too felt more like we’d never spoken at all.

Should I check my breath? Wait a second Matt…this isn’t a date. Relax.

Only now did a calmness fall upon me. The absolute absurdity of being thrown into a tangent over nothing at all. I was rattled over basically, nothing. A married woman is standing at my door, ringing the bell, because her husband, my neighbor, not fifteen minutes ago accused me of having an affair with his wife, the woman in question is now standing at my door, and he now wants her to smooth things over so I’ll come to dinner with them. Simple. I had not a damn thing to worry about. Except…

Patrice and I have not spoken in person about our, less than conventional conversations. Wait, that doesn’t sound very good at all. “Less than conventional’ sounds exactly like what John was just accusing me of.

The doorbell rang again. My chest started to tighten.

Holy hell. It’d never occurred to me that myself and Patrice had not yet talked in person about our abilities. What if…oh my God…what if all this time, I wasn’t actually communicating telepathically with Patrice. What if some malicious asshole with psychic powers has been toying with me this entire time, and passing it off as if I was speaking to a neighbor because of some clue I’ve given away. Some game psychics play to amuse themselves, similar to a cat playing with a mouse.

I felt a very cold chill at the base of my neck, and for the first time in a very long time, I actually felt afraid. My mind was awash and digging through the memory banks for the last time that I’d even seen Patrice, let alone talked to her.

A knock now at the door. They are getting impatient and require a response. Doorbells fail, malfunction and sometimes just go unheard, but not knocks.

Face the music Matt. Grab a beer, this very second, then go answer the door.

“Hey Patrice. How are you?” I attempted to sound as nonchalant as possible as I pushed open the outward-facing glass door and made my way outside.

“Hello Matt. Is that beer for me? Or you.”

I could not tell if she was being playfully ignorant or not, so I just played it as cool as humanly possible for now.

“Why don’t you have a seat on the porch swing, I’ll sit in this chair here opposite you, and we can figure out who this beer is for.”

“Oh, OK, well, I hadn’t planned on staying long, but I guess I can sit for a moment Matt.”

“Whatever you want to do is fine Patrice,” I said while trying not to allow my face to twist with a confused look. “It’s just that I don’t think you’ve ever come over here before, so I guess I just assumed maybe you came to talk a bit, considering the circumstances and recent events.”

Patrice sat on the porch swing opposite me, and once she was seated I chose one of the four porch bar-chairs that were place around a small round table I’d picked up at a garage sale a few years back. The table was small, the chairs uncomfortable and I’d really only purchased the set as decoration as I had no friends to speak of and almost never had guests. For once, the table would come in handy and I placed the unopened can of beer on it.

Hands folded in her lap, Patrice was looking at me almost impatiently as if waiting for me to situate myself. For the first time I noticed that she had very beautiful blue crystalline eyes. I tended not to like blue eyes very much, crystalline blue even less, but in this case they suited her. She was attractive. I snapped out of my study of her form as it suddenly occurred to me that I was in great danger.

My heart was pumping at this point. Not from lust, nor anger, nor even fear nor any other emotion I could think of…this was a feeling of confusion that I’ve never before felt, and it was causing my heart a stress it had never before known. Not even twelve years ago when my wife of eighteen years told me she was through with me and my broken self, did my heart suffer this kind of trauma.

“Matt,” Patrice’s voice snapped me out of my waking coma, “John just told me about what happened earlier, and I must tell you that I am horrified.”

“I admit that I am quite confused as to exactly what just transpired Patrice.”

“Did he really shout out in a very loud voice from across the yard something about pedophiles to you?”

The bottom of the entire Universe just fell out from under me.

“Um, pedophiles?” I was trying to hold it together, but it was now clear that this slimy asshole is playing some kind of twisted game with me. He basically assaults me over adultery with his wife, and he goes home and makes up some bullshit story about a very in poor taste joke, completely omitting the adultery parts? “Yeah Patrice he did, and I guess he was trying to make a joke about the pedometer that I have to wear for work. It wasn’t very funny, was in poor taste, and I admit it upset me. Perhaps more than it should, but I do have to wear this thing every single work day, and to be completely honest and open, his comment is likely going to haunt me for some time for that very reason.”

“Well, I’m sorry that it upset you Matt, but that’s really not my concern nor why I came over,” Patrice said rather flatly.

The entire Universe just exploded. This is the kind of sick twisted games that my ex-wife used to play. Say, anything. Do, anything. Nothing, matters. She, held all the cards, she, was the dealer, and I had to play her games and take whatever she dealt out because I had nothing and no one in all creation, except for her. I was nothing more than a dislodged piece of navel lint in a wind storm.

“Matt, are you okay?” Patrice suddenly sounded exactly like her husband.

“I am contemplating what you’ve said,” I fired back calmly. “Were you expecting me to say something?”

“I guess maybe I expected you to ask me why I came over.”

“You’ve mentioned that you’re aware of something your husband said to me.”

“Yes, but that’s not the real reason I came over.”

“You said that already, Patrice.”

“Matt, are you angry about something?”

The alarm bells were most certainly going off now, full tilt, and this was absolutely turning into a life and death situation.

“Patrice, perhaps you should just tell me what you need since I don’t know you that well, and I’m certainly not a mind-reader.”

Patrice did not really react to my statement, but strangely reached around behind her back, and produced a large, letter-sized envelope. She leaned forward and offered it to me.

“Oh, haha, a mind-reader!” she said in an obviously forced tone, whilst simultaneously urging me with her eyes to take the envelope. “Me and John went to see a mind-reader once, except this one was a hypnotizer. Is that right? Hypnotizer?”

“Hypnotist,” I corrected her as I leaned forward and took the envelope. “I’m quite sure that hypnotists are those who hypnotize people for various reasons.”

A look of relief crossed Patrice’s face as I took the envelope from her hand, and I fell face-first into whatever new game she was now playing.

“Well, me and John went to this show where a hypnotist would pick people from the audience.” After finishing her thought, Patrice raised her hands in an mock envelope-opening type motion, implying that I should open it now, here, in her presence. “Anyway, John of course volunteered us both, and we both got to go up on stage and get hypnotized.”

Only moments before, my fear levels had just about caused my entire existence to seize and stop entirely, but now there was suddenly this strange feeling of…clarity. Perhaps everything leading up to this very moment in time was some kind of test to see if I could in any way handle the horrors that were almost sure to materialize from this envelope’s contents.

I noticed that Patrice was arching her eyebrows as if to hurry me along. I looked for a moment deeply into her eyes, and that gloomy image which was beginning to form of Patrice being John’s soulmate or clone or whatever it was had disappeared. Odd that it continued to rattle on outwardly as I peeled back the flap on the envelope and produced what appeared to be no less than five folded pages.

“John barked like a chicken and clucked like a dog.”

I had only just started to open the letter when it struck me what Patrice had just said.

“He barked like a chicken and clucked like a dog? Don’t you mean that he barked like a dog and clucked like a chicken Patrice?”

“That’s what the hypnotist said Matt. He told John to bark like a chicken and cluck like a dog. I don’t know how John did it, but he did.”

“That’s…frightening, Patrice. I don’t even want to know…”

‘GROUND YOURSELF RIGHT NOW!’

The first line of the first page jumped off the paper and hit me like a lightning bolt. Instinctively I started to reach down and grab one of the metal legs on the small table, but my survival instincts kicked in and I resisted the urge, thinking that this may be a trap of some kind. But almost as quickly as I began to doubt, I remember the odd feelings that I’ve felt during the processes of being grounded, ungrounded and The Connection. Being both an electrician and a semi-amateur radio enthusiast, there are things that have been happening over the past ten months that I can in no way begin to explain.

I looked up from the letter and at Patrice. She gave a small nod, and there was a calmness to her being which provided just enough assurance for me to throw caution to the wind and play along. Knowing that the table’s legs were a poor ground, I reached out and grabbed one anyway and continued to read as Patrice continued to ramble.

“I don’t really remember being hypnotized, but everyone said I was. They said I got trapped in a box that wasn’t there, and I couldn’t get out.”

‘Dear Matthew,

For the time being, please read down only to where it says ‘STOP HERE!’, keep reading until you get there, and I’ll ramble on about hypnotists in the meantime. Also, keep your hand firmly wrapped around that metal leg on the table until we finish here, and please do not begin to wonder internally how I know all of this. I do, and answers will come later.’

“John says that he can remember being hypnotized, and he can remember everything he did, but I don’t remember anything at all,” Patrice continued. “He says he only did what he was told because he knew he was part of the act. But me? He says that I was absolutely terrified and screaming. He said I really honestly thought that I was trapped in a box even though there was no box.”

‘We are both of us in great danger because of our, ‘gifts’. I would ask that you, later at some point this evening, find yourself a proper grounding point, and read the remainder of this letter ONLY when grounded. I will go ahead and tell you that I am a beard. My marriage is an arranged sham so that my husband can collect his inheritance, and myself and John will not be married much longer as he is already arranging the divorce and planning to move to somewhere in Java. I will of course get a piece of his inheritance as payment for services tendered over the past fifteen years of marriage. More on that later though. The Great Magician is awake, and I have reason to believe that The Great Magician has somehow found the both of us…meaning you and I. Does this mean anything to you? I am so very sorry for all of this. Hopefully, the rest of the letter will better explain what I know, and what I don’t. P

STOP HERE!

A quick thumb through the sheets indicated that this letter was approximately eight pages long. Visions of Armageddon suddenly swirled in my head as my mind flashed back to the horrible tales of the end times taught me in church as a youth. But that’s exactly what this moment felt like. I felt like I had just walked out of the sunshine and green grasses onto the burning and bloody fields of Megiddo, and me right in the big middle of the fighting between the warring factions of good and evil.

“Which reminds me, Matt. John did ask me to tell you that he was sorry about his joke he made earlier, but the real reason that I came over was I wanted to know if I could borrow a cup of milk. I’m making John some cornbread for dinner, and I need some milk.”

“Patrice,” I said calmly, looking up from the letter. “Did you know that you can substitute beer for milk in certain baked goods?”

Patrice’s face was aghast. Honestly, aghast and unknowing. I’d hit her with a curve-ball.

“Really?” she said.

I folded the letter and thoughtfully placed it back into the envelope, before sliding the envelope into my shirt pocket as I stood.

“Yeah really really. I have a beer sitting right here, which I am going to give you. I’m going to go inside and get you…how much milk do you need?”

“I only needed one cup of milk. Whole milk if you have it,” she said rather sheepishly.

“Okay Patrice, I’m going to go inside and get you one cup of whole milk, and if you decide that you would like to give the beer a whirl, only use half of a cup of the milk in your cornbread, and use a half of a cup of the beer in substitution for the other half-cup of milk.”

“Will that really work?” Patrice asked disbelievingly. “What…what does this do?

“It gives the cornbread a bit of a different flavor is all. Better in biscuits, but it works with cornbread too. And you’ll have exactly four ounces of beer leftover you can sip on if you want.”

“Sure Matt, I’ll…give that a try. Thank you. Do I need…”

“This beer has already gotten kinda warm,” I said, not letting her finish. “Just make sure you allow it get a little warmer before adding it to the mix. I’ll be right back with your milk.”

I retreated into the house thinking that I had no idea what answers, if any, Patrice’s letter might contain. At this point, it was apparent that her rather substantial looking letter was more likely to contain mystery than clarity. One thing was certain though, I’d had just about enough of being at the mercy of the whims of an assembly of douchebag neighbors and cryptic mystics playing their god games. It was time for me to stop being a leaf in the wind, get serious, and hit the books to start researching this insanity. It was time that I become the storm.

Right after I get Patrice her milk, of course.

*******

*Wait. he tweets out ‘it’s Friday once again’ each week, Clicky… /stubs butt… Doesn’t he?*

*Ah, ya got me…*

We hope you have enjoyed today’s post. If you’d like to read Cade’s story in proper book form, as well as 12 other short stories and a substantial poem from a variety of authors, then Underdog Anthology XIV is available for a staggeringly low price…

*You could get a full set of Underdog Anthologies for well under twenty quid. That’s fantastic value…*

Until next time, Dear Reader, have a Song 😀

Story Time: Walk I, With You

At last! Dear Reader, Underdog Anthology XIV: The Dark Ides of March has finally been published and is now available for purchase…

*Wrong book, Clicky, although finking about it… /lights up and smokes… I did write my anthology story over the Easter weekend…*

After writing ‘What Time Do You Finish?’ and following that up with ‘Christmas Death Wish’, I’d decided I would write a third installment in what is turning out to be a ‘Ronageddon’ series. If you haven’t read those stories yet, Dear Reader, please avail yourself of the links, below…

Synchronicity provided me with the title of the story you are about to read. That and Cade Fon Apollyon: I’d been mulling over story ideas for weeks, wracking my brains for an angle, when I hit upon an idea. I was very excited and headed straight to Twitter DMs to tell my best bud, but what I saw when I arrived was a poem, waiting. One that Cade had just written for me…

*/flicks ash… And on mum’s birthday too…*

Anyway, Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy ‘Walk I, With You’. See you at the bottom of the post for a Song 😉

*******

Walk I, With You

By Roo B. Doo

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking umpteen…

God paused at the end of the first sentence on the first page of the battered book in her hand.

Umpteen?

Disconcerted yet curious, God checked the cover of the book to make sure that the title and author’s name were correct before continuing to read on.

The Grim Reaper, skull nuzzled deep within the cowl of his robe, silently glided up to the bench closest to the duck pond in Victory Park. The ‘Do Not Use’ warning tape adorning it had deterred everyone from sitting there, but not Death. The Grim Reaper climbed up onto the bench and waited.

On a tree nearby, a coloured poster, too large for the display, had been tacked up. It simply depicted an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a middle-aged man, with tousled, blond hair, baggy eyes and jowly jawline. It was one of those pictures which are designed so that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BRO IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

God snapped the book shut and sighed.

I knew it! Somebody is monkeying about with Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Again!

She called for the fat, smug goose who administered the comings and going in the vast area known as the God Lobby.

Come with me, Brian. We need to make a site visit.

***

Spring was in the air and Victory Park was packed with people exercising in the pale April sunshine. Despite the brightness, the air remained frosty cool from both the transition of the seasons and the earliness of the hour. Death sat on a bench close to the duck pond and watched the hordes walking, running and star jumping in socially distanced formation. All their faces were dutifully masked.

Why are they torturing themselves? Death wondered as he watched a stream of hot breath pour through the sweaty face-mask of a passing jogger. They may as well be carrying a bundle of posies in front of their faces for all the protection those things give. Ah, the Black Death. Now that was a proper pandemic.

Death pulled a slim, black rectangle from the depths of his robe and flipped open the cover to reveal a bright, smooth screen decorated with coloured icons. Following the disastrous crash of the Cosmic Consciousness Neural Net (CCNN) that occurred on Halloween in 2020, God had resolved that an upgrade in tech was very much required, and the PsiPad was born. The Psion organiser, which had been gainfully employed by the Grim Reaper Service up until that point, was finally relegated to the Scrapheap of Obsolescence. There it languished alone; the hourglass having escaped the same fate by presciently forging a long-standing relationship with eggs.

Tapping the screen of the PsiPad with a bony digit, Death opened the PsiCalendar and studied his schedule for the day. He had arrived a little early for his next appointment but didn’t mind waiting. Having existed throughout all of time, Death was not opposed to occasionally killing the bastard.

Bing!

A message flashed up on the screen which simply read ‘Molly’, and although the Grim Reaper shouldn’t be able to feel anything, Death experienced a sense of apprehension and anticipation prickle his bones.

Molly Darling was the pure soul child, whose poorly spelled letter to Santa had inadvertently instigated Armageddon and had caused Death nothing but trouble. Her letter, and her sincere Christmas wish contained within it, to end war, famine and pollution for the benefit of mankind, had fallen into the hands of Satan, and Old Scratch never wasted an opportunity for some devilment. Whether or not he’d had a hand in the CCNN crash that occurred at the same time was as yet unknown. Investigations into the matter were said to be ongoing.

On the whole, Death was against the making and granting of wishes of any kind; however, he’d been manoeuvred into making a wish of his own, with Molly as the beneficiary. He’d been presented with a choice; God always provides a choice: the removal of Molly Darling from life before she could send her letter, thus averting the end of the world, or rectify the matter in some other way. Death’s ethics forbade him from taking the first course of action, so he had plumped for some other way. Death’s wish had been granted by Father Christmas and subsequently Molly Darling had been born with the innate ability to correctly spell.

And that should have been the end of the matter, but for the unintended consequence rider that accompanies every wish granted, one that practically no one considers when making one. In this case, the very act of wishing had inextricably linked Molly to Death and attracted deaths to Molly.

Death scrolled back through the years on the PsiCalendar, counting the number of ‘Molly alerts’ that littered them. By definition, Death was only concerned with the dead, paying scant attention to the living around them. Now, courtesy of the newly issued bit of tremendous tech under his distal phalanges, Death was aware of just how many times his path and Molly’s had crossed during her short life so far. It was sporadic but not inconsiderable.

He found the date of the first Molly alert: 1st January 2013; the day Molly Darling was born. She had arrived in the early hours of the morning as Death was transitioning the soul of one Barry Munroe, a poor unfortunate struck by a speeding taxi, following a night of heavy drinking in celebration of the birth of the new year. The speeding taxi had been delivering a screaming woman to hospital, who was making a rapid delivery of her own on the back seat of the cab.

Death had given no consideration to the wailing bundle of new life at the time – why should he? – but in hindsight, the significance of Molly’s place of birth was not lost on Death, as it was in the back of a taxi on Halloween in 2020 that the savage deletion from existence of his good friends, War, Famine and Pestilence had occurred and Armageddon began. Death had changed Molly’s past to affect mankind’s future, yet he still retained the memory of that terrible night. For Death, Halloween 2020, both with and without that fateful taxi ride, existed at the same time, and within the same space.

It’s like Schrödinger’s Cab, Death mused deeply.

The PsiPad had also revealed to Death what lay behind a strange incident that coincided with one of the Molly Alerts, an incident that had baffled him until now. On 16th July 2016, Death had sat on this same bench, watching swaths of people roam across Victory Park. The insufferably hot weather had done little to deter the excited crowd from hunting virtual monsters augmented with their reality; it was the latest fashion. Instead of face-masks, mobile phones and electronic devices of all kinds covered peoples’ faces, which now caused Death to ponder upon the origin of the phrase ‘Track and Trace’.

On that day, Death had been awaiting the arrival of one Davy Keith, an otherwise healthy lad of 14, except for the undiagnosed hole in his heart and an all-consuming passion for collecting simulated Japanese monsters. Death watched passively as a pudgy toddler rushed along the path toward the bench upon which he sat, a tired looking woman pushing a stroller followed in the child’s wake. The little girl had all the grace of a drunken sailor and Death had assumed her wide milk-tooth grin and incoherent babble was aimed at the sun blazing high in the sky above Death’s head. That was until she tried to hug him.

A thought which had occurred to Death in that moment, on that day had haunted him ever since. Am I a monster?

Now Death knew that child had been Molly Darling and she had seen him. Following the aborted hug, and before her mother had whisked her away, Molly’s hand gestures had been her attempt to communicate with him: ‘Hello. My name is M-O-L-L-Y. I am deaf.’

It’s augmented reality, alright, Death decided with a sigh. He closed the cover on the PsiPad and returned it to the folds of his robe. Not long to wait now.

***

“Keep it up squad. Pump those arms,” the long-legged woman barked, as she strode purposefully among the regimented lines of exercisers performing push-ups beneath her gaze. She was a colossus of female physical perfection: full, round breasts, a washboard stomach and thighs so muscular they looked capable of pulverizing anyone’s head fortunate enough to be caught between them.

Lockdown had been very good for Wanda Warren. Before the arrival of the Rona and the restrictions that ensued, she’d struggled to attract many clients to her fledgling business: Fighting Fit. Whilst it was true that the small number of clients she did have were dedicated to not only her tough methods but also to Wanda herself, she was only a one woman band and the indoor gym in town, with its flashy machines, coffee shop and showers, had attracted many more members.

Now the gym was closed due to the Rona and the only place to exercise was outside. Competitive advantage had shifted firmly in Wanda’s favour, and Fighting Fit scooped up a substantial amount of new devotees. All males desperate to retain their fitness, blow off the excess energy built up from their now enforced sedentary lifestyle, and the outside possibility of being crushed between Wanda Warren’s dangerous thighs.

She caught sight of a familiar figure across the park. “And once you reach a hundred, give me one full circuit of the park. Now move it!” she ordered, before sprinting off in the direction of the duck pond.

“Death?”

“War,” the Grim Reaper replied.

Wanda pulled down her face-mask and sprawled on the bench next to Death. The difference in stature between the two cardinal colleagues was stark: whereas War was long and rangy, the diminutive Grim Reaper was small enough to reach into all the nooks and crannies.

War smiled radiantly. “I thought it was you.”

“I see you’re building up quite an army, dear lady.”

“Pfft. Early days yet.” War punched Death on the arm. “What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since…” Her brow furrowed as she tried to recall the last time they’d met.

Death turned to his beautiful colleague: in ancient Troy her face had launched a thousand ships; today it could launch a thousand more, all armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. The last time he’d seen War, however, she’d been ripping Famine and Pestilence apart with carnal ferocity in the back of a London black taxi being driven by Old Scratch. “I am here waiting.”

“Oh, right. Not for any of my lot, I hope,” War inquired hesitantly.

“Possibly.” Death produced the PsiPad from his robes.

“Ooh nice kit. You got an upgrade?” War snatched the PsiPad from Death, opened the PsiCalendar and read the name of Death’s next appointment. “Really? No way!”

Death pulled the PsiPad from War’s grasp. “Yes and very much way.”

War stretched her arms out along the back of the bench and flicked at a stray end of warning tape. “Pesto’s played a fucking blinder with this Rona business, eh? It’s done my little enterprise no end of good.”

Death remained silent; he was far from convinced that Pestilence had any involvement in the disease that had swept the world in the last year. He’d certainly had to deal with a rise in suicidees and murder victims, but pretty much all the usual causes of death had remained relatively stable. Certainly all the deaths solely attributed to the Rona were vanishingly small. “Have you seen Pesto recently?”

“Not since…” Once again War’s furrowed her brow.

“How about Famine?” Death asked.

“AWOL,” War snorted. “Fuck knows where he is. Have you seen how fat these cunts are?”

“Good for business.”

“Indeed, business is booming.”

War stood up and pulled her face-mask back up over the cruel smirk that marred her lips; the first of the Fighting Fit squad would be coming through soon, and as their leader, it was imperative that Wanda uphold standards for the group. “I tell ya, the buggers love being told what to do. And the harsher you are, the more they fucking love it.”

“Until pushed too far.”

“I know! Brilliant, isn’t it? A win-win,” War laughed, briefly lowering her mask to suck air noisily up her quivering nostrils. “Can you smell the resentment and aggression simmering, Death? Itsa gonna be a spicy meat ball!”

“Lacking an olfactory system, War, I am unable to concur with your assessment,” Death replied drily. “But I’ll take your word for it.”

“Ha ha. You do that, short arse,” she smirked, affixing her mask back into place.

Wanda turned her attention to the first of her squad to appear, smacking his backside as he ran by. “Attaboy, Malc. Only a mile to go.” As each member passed they received the same backside slap from Wanda, but her words of encouragement changed with her assessment of their individual performance.

The last straggler stopped and stooped over with hands on knees, gasping for breath.

“What’s up, Jimbo? Don’t you have the heart for it today?” Wanda stood over the bent back of James ‘Jimbo’ Collins and gave Death a double thumbs up sign. “Here, have a sit down, old fella. Take five and then catch up with us once you get your breath back.”

She steered Jimbo toward the bench. Despite his apparent distress, he still managed to give her righteous backside a firm squeeze. Wanda rolled her eyes at Death and saluted before sprinting away to catch up with the rest of her Fighting Fit squad and finish the circuit of Victory Park.

Death ignored Jimbo’s ragged breathing and continued to wait.

***

Jocasta Darling luxuriated in the bright spring sunshine that came as a welcome relief after the unmitigated gloom of winter and lockdown. Not that Jocasta thought lockdown would be ending any time soon, not if the government’s broken promises over the past year were anything to go by. Still it was nice to get out for a walk, and despite the cold, the sunshine was glorious and lifted Jocasta’s spirits for the first time since the start of the year.

Her daughter Molly skipped alongside, occasionally pausing to smell the newly budding flowers or point out the birds traversing the powder blue sky. The pair made their way toward the pond at the heart of Victory Park, where Molly liked to serve breakfast to the ducks each morning. Jocasta just liked to see her daughter happy. Molly had been in and out of hospital since birth with one thing or another, and it broke Jocasta’s heart at what Molly had had to endure. And now her schooling had been disrupted, all because of the Rona, which appeared to ignore kids like a bad parent. Jocasta often wondered just exactly where the blessed government’s priorities actually lay.

Although the park was busy with exercisers, the pond area looked to be empty to Jocasta, except for a jogger sitting slumped over on a bench. As they drew closer, Molly eagerly grabbed the plastic bag from her mother’s hands and pulled out a crust of bread.

“Okay be careful. Don’t fall in,” Jocasta instructed her daughter.

Molly beamed at her mother, flashing an ‘OK’ sign, and made her way to the shady side of the pond where the ducks and swans were congregated, all the while ripping the crust into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Jocasta wasn’t sure what the government’s guidelines were this week on the usefulness of benches, but this one was still clearly marked as out of bounds. She wondered if she should go and say something to the jogger: it really didn’t pay to attract the attentions of the Rona marshals that now patrolled the park. Even the slightest infraction was pounced upon, and she herself had been lectured several times on the essential need to wear a face-mask, despite both she and Molly holding medical exemptions due to her daughter’s deafness. At her age, Jocasta was finding it hard enough to master a new language, without being hampered by half of it being obscured by face coverings; sign language was so much more than just hand signs. But try telling that to the oiks in uniforms with quotas to fill. At least Jocasta assumed the marshals had quotas to fill; everything today appeared to be run on targets, quotas and guidelines.

Jocasta approached the bench. “Excuse me. Do you know if it’s okay to sit here?”

The jogger looked up at her, giving Jocasta a fixed stare whilst the fabric of his face-mask ballooned in and out with every whooping breath. “What?”

He thinks I’m a Karen, Jocasta thought, shocked at the aggression in his eyes. “No, I’m asking if you know whether we’re permitted to sit on the bench yet. It’s still taped off,” Jocasta explained. “I’d love a sit down too if it’s allowed.”

“Oh… I see,” the jogger replied, as he attempted to control his breathing. “Yes… yes, I think so… since the start of the week… I’m sure of it.”

Jocasta smiled at the jogger; her smile was as bright as the morning but much warmer. “That is good news. I wonder why the council haven’t removed the tape yet.”

“They’ll get… around to it… eventually.”

Still, the forbidding tape unnerved Jocasta and she hesitated to sit down. “I’m with my daughter Molly. She’s over there feeding the ducks.”

The jogger nodded without removing his gaze from the floor, as he focused on this laboured breathing.

“Are you feeling alright?” Jocasta asked anxiously.

“Fine… thank you,” the jogger replied. “Over-exertion… I’ll be okay…”

Jocasta didn’t think the man looked okay at all. Apart from his breathing, he was sweating profusely and massaging his left arm. From what she could see of his face and neck, the jogger was coloured puce, and Jocasta was certain that wasn’t a good sign for a man his age. “You know it might help if you remove your mask,” she tentatively suggested.

The jogger gave Jocasta another fixed stare, but the aggression had gone from his eyes. He reached up with his right hand and unhooked the mask from his ears. “Yes, you’re probably right,” he said, sucking in a great gulp of air.

Jocasta recognised her local MP immediately but didn’t acknowledge that she knew who James Collins was. Although she had never once voted for him, he’d been her representative in Parliament for what seemed like forever. He’d also been very vocal on the importance of lockdowns, mask-wearing and, now, mandatory vaccinations. That was something else Jocasta disagreed with him over, but if James Collins was using the bench, then she felt sure it was okay for her to use it too.

Jocasta felt an icy blast at her back as she lowered herself onto the bench seat, at the farthest end from where her Member of Parliament sat. “Gosh, that feels very cold,” she said with a shiver. She felt the cold settle into her but, strangely, it did not feel unpleasant.

Fishing into her handbag, she pulled out a covered ashtray, which she placed on the arm rest of the bench, before lighting a cigarette. She dragged deeply and let out a satisfying whoosh of smoke, blowing it in the direction away from the bench. Jocasta had really missed not being able to sit down and smoke outside, and felt particularly aggrieved at the ban on sitting in public. For the longest time, outside had been the only place the public were allowed to smoke, and now she was expected to stand up to do it.

“I say… Could you put that out?” James Collins asked gruffly and gripped his left arm tighter. “Having trouble breathing… here.”

The sudden icy blast Jocasta had felt at sitting down now migrated to her eyes. She turned both barrels on her MP.

“No,” she stated, flatly.

“That’s… not very courteous…”

Jocasta took another puff of her cigarette and tapped the loose ash into the the ashtray. Again, she blew the smoke away from the bench. “We are appropriately socially distanced, are we not? I am not blowing smoke in your direction and there is no law against smoking outside.”

James Collins started coughing and waving his hand limply in front of his nose. Fat droplets of sweat poured from his grimacing face. “Can’t you see I’m… in trouble?”

“Yes you are.” Jocasta wasn’t sure what had come over her, but she felt very certain that the words coming out of her mouth were being said with the confidence of another’s voice. “You, James Collins MP, are a sell out. Not only are you a liar, a lecher and a rubber-stamp for oppression, but you’ve caused dis-ease, and I am sorry to tell you, but you will be going to hell.”

Jocasta looked over at Molly busily feeding the noisy ducks and waved. Molly waved back, tilting her head to one side with a curious look on her face. ‘Having fun?’ Jocasta signed to her daughter.

Molly nodded vigorously and signed back, ‘There’s a goose and he’s eating all the bread. Come and see.’

Jocasta chipped the end of her cigarette off in the ashtray and returned both to her handbag. She stood up, squared her shoulders, giving her MP a final withering stare. “Good-bye.”

She walked away, back along to the path to join Molly, leaving James Collins with a look of abject terror on this face.

Bing!

“Hello, Jimbo,” Death said, pulling the PsiPad from the folds of his robe.

***

“So this is Hell?” Jimbo Collins asked, as Death guided him into the vaulted expanse of the God Lobby and placed him at the end of a queue of souls. Like Jimbo, they were all dressed in white and wore face-masks. “Looks like Heaven to me.”

“For some it is both,” Death replied. “Just follow the white line. You’ll get there eventually.”

The queue shuffled forwards, taking Jimbo along with it.

Death took the express elevator up to the Office. From there he could look across the vastness of the God Lobby, and see just how long the queue he’d placed Jimbo Collins in was. It snaked back and forth, up and down and crossed itself in numerous places.

Looks like a commercial for toilet paper, does it not, Big D? All that’s missing is a great, big, playful puppy.

Death turned to the voice of God whispering over his shoulder and bowed. “It’s certainly the most appropriate place to deposit little shits, Ma’am.”

God tittered; she did appreciate Death’s sense of humour.

“I take it you were there,” Death said.

How did you know?

“Molly’s ‘Come and see’ was a dead giveaway. That and Brian’s disguise. He put no effort into it at all.”

On the reception desk Brian, who was forever eavesdropping, ruffled his feathers and hissed.

Yes, we were there. The situation looks grim.

“Indeed it does.”

God moved away from the balcony overlooking the God Lobby. Death glided along behind at a respectful distance.

“Ma’am, I’m worried about the disappearance of Famine and Pestilence. I can’t find any trace of them since…”

Halloween? Yes, it is concerning.

“War’s nose is never wrong. Without Famine and Pesto to provide balance, I fear for the future of humanity.”

Then you must find them, Big D.

“Me?” Death felt a sense of déjà vu; he’d been in this position before.

Of course. You find everyone. Eventually.

God smiled at Death and her smile was a bright as an April morning.

*******

*You fink I should feature Famine in the next one, Clicky? …/stubs butt… Maybe…*

So, please do consider buying a copy of Underdog Anthology XIV. It has 13 top notch stories and 2 poems to delight and terrify you…

Have a Song, Dear Reader… ❤