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I Made £65.70 for Sick Cats Last Week

Hello wonderful readers.

Fear not, work progresses on my ‘Black Door’ serial. I’ll have the next instalment up today or tomorrow, digital gods willing.

Thing is, the latest Black Door is quite long (and pretty dark) so I thought: I’ll post a #Friday Flash as well and I’ll make something a bit, y’know, upbeat. So here it is, my ‘little flashy’. And, I think there’s plenty of quirk in this one, but it’s also too darned long at around 1370 words.

In all conscience, I couldn’t call this Flash Fic, so it’s posted in Short Stories. Yeah, what a dimbo.

As for the serial, I’m probably gonna chop the latest episode in half, or I might wear you all out. On the plus side, it features Mr Softly, and he’s all about chopping things in half.

Stephen.

I

’m Laura [60p!]ing Campbell, and No, I’m not proud of myself.

Did you know that fairies can’t stand bad language?

I didn’t know that.

I mean, I can totally imagine those razzy, little, flittery critters dropping the ‘F-bomb’, so why should it bother them?

Stupid Sindy Dolls with wings.

Well, apparently, fairies have a ‘sensitivity’ to such things, and you aughta’ stop-up your gums if you’re gonna cuss the ‘blue end of a bus’, or a fairy might just jump out and do you in with Chinese rope burns n’ stuff.

Or maybe, a good old cuss-word or two could save your life. How about that?

That’s what I tell my mom, now, every day.

And she says, ‘Little miss, just you stick another 20p in that swear box. I heard that language what you was using, so delicate, like.’

An’ I say, ‘It’s not a box, dearest mama, it’s a [60p!]ing bear with a slot in its head.’ Then she says something equally rude, in the steamy hiss of a kettle, and the Sick Cats of Bearsham and Barthem get £1 for both us slackers.

Shakespeare we ain’t.

Short an’ up, I pretty much got a paper-round to support a forty-a-day F-word habit. I really did – Gordon Ramsey aught’a come cook in my kitchen. Then he’ll learn a word or two.

But think of the kitties – I’ve got them all on-board the ‘rabbit in gravy’ train with every exquisite expletive.

Anyway, there’s this old set of allotments down by the railway. I help out the oldies there: Toothless Tony, Nick the Nettles, Fingers M’ilotment and the rest of the Green Gardening Mafia. It ain’t all Dons, either, so a shout out to Molly Flower, Two Tins Tallulah, an’ the rest of the ‘Rattan Pack’.

Their whole area might once have been romantic, when the steam chuffers went past, taking coals toNewcastle, or whatever (or is that just a euphemism?).

Anyway, now, it’s kind of red crumbling brick at the bottom the hill, grass grown over old plots, walls shrouded by ivy, the occasional hoop of corrugated iron; while to the top, it’s pristine allotments, neat little sheds, shades of blue paint, dahlias dancing in the wind.

They call me Little Sweet Pea Soup up there, on account of me bein’ fourteen and three quarters (which is fifteen goin’ on sixteen right?) an’ a lay-dee an’ all, an’ a Campbell.

That nickname put at least 60p in the tin, day one.

I hate the nicknames those old codgers and codgettes come up with for me. Couldn’t they get a cool name from Ben 10 or something?

But mom says mind your P’s and Q’s [I don’t know any swear words that begin with ‘Q’. Those that start with ‘P’, kick off at around 10p and peak at around £2.10].

Anyway, down at the railway end, they’ve let the allotments grow over. I asked why. They said, “On account of…”

And that was it.

Uh? Hello?

See them little dots. That’s actually what they said. No, not ‘dot, dot, dot’, but nothing. Then, like they forgot or was havin’ a senior moment, they’d add: ‘Oh, hey… there’s a plant that needs watered’ or ‘Hey, Jim, got a lovely set of marrows there.

[To which Jim now owes 30p on account of his ‘Ooooh, Matron!’ shenanigans. That’s 3x10p = 30p for sick cats, which is cheap on the account of no actual rude words bein’ spoken, but plenty of Nintendo].

What I’m saying is, that all I got was ‘On account of…’ avoid, avoid, avoid.

And I knew the mysterious thing wasn’t dry plants, or Jim and his oogly marrows, but something strange that made the committee of Red Barns and West Allotment Association let their greenest and most abundant plots – judging by the size of those hocks – go to waste.

But another thing, didn’t my grandfather have one of those plots? If he did, well, there’s a kind of inheritance scheme up here…

So I went through the records, secretly one night, then tabled a hostile motion over a wheelbarrow. The Sunflowers (the ‘yays’) carried the day, but the Sprouts (the ‘nays’) weren’t too happy about it.

Elbows nudged back and fore, glances exchanged, there were dull harrumphing sounds behind soup strainers, the odd heave of a bosom and potting trowl, until one Mr Roy-Boy Berloti was pachinkoed forward, hat in hand. His fingers ran along the peaked brim of his cap like he was typing LOL over and over.

He says – wait for it – he says, “Sweet P” –”  [20p in the bear] – “SP,” he says. “You can’t go dig that allotment on the account you may get grabbed.”

“Grabbed?” says I.

“Grabbed. Yeah. Your old man, Al Capon [Gramps, on account of his chickens] knew what’s what and he let that strip go fallow.”

“Well tough rhubarb,” I say. “It’s time for a stiff broom, and afore that, a stout spade and a spruce up with a fork.” What-the-fork? Ha, ha. [0p – No, that doesn’t count. Besides, I only thought it.].

“Anyone got a scythe?”

“Out back,” said the long faces.

I went and got it and a whetting stone and some oil. Grass flew and then I broke and I spaded and finally I pricked out some seeds.

The sun was shining, there wasn’t an F-word in sight.

When, I was grabbed [£3!].

Old door and peeling paint, crawled up and crazy-paved like that old painting mom has over the fridge (I call that poster ‘Moaning Lisa’, on account of  her looking a right moany moo, and she’s obviously hot-breathing a few choice words).

Anyway, grabbed.

And when I say grabbed – really grabbed. I couldn’t move. At first I think I’m lying on a compost heap. There’s old wizened carrots, and leaf, and an earthy smell, of rot and humus, sweet beets maybe. Tar from the roof.

My new, best joggies were covered in clart [20p!]. I looked around. It was cold [20p!], dark [40p!] and unfamiliar [50p!].

There could’ve been [80p!]ing rats.

Only faint slivers of sunlight rafted in through the wood roof, and even those gaps were shrouded in leaves. Dust motes danced in the fingers of light. I tried to sit up. Nothing doing.

Then the mound shifted. [£1.50!].

I was sprawled in the lap of what can only be charitably called a heafter of a huge, fat hag (my, my how delightfully PC).

There was no fee, fi, fo, fum. But this old, bearded besom had me held tight, my head resting aside her crook chin, back to her breasts. I could see right up her nose, to nose-hair like root-bound geranium. Warts bulged like splitting rose buds, fingers clasped around me like roots and twigs grown in.

“Stop with your yammering, child. Your mother teach you to talk with a mouth like that? All cussing up words like old broken stones? No good trying to twist n’ turn, little missy, I got you held, as close as ivy spreading its leaves, or flesh grown to the bone.”

And her organic fingers synched in all the tighter.

I was of course polite and reserved, in this situation of extremis.

“Well, I wish I was a pile of [£1.85!]ing [£3!] what you was holding. How’s about them potatoes?” My voice was all hand on hip, red lippy, snark-snark.

The hag twisted uncomfortably, her stubble scraping my neck.

“And another thing,” – as those hands crushed tighter – “you old [50p!]er, you aughta stop [£1.50!]ing around and let us go. Eh?”

With that, ma exquisite potty-mouth was too much for the old dear. A hag all dainty and proper you say? What courtly places she been lately? But still, there’s a screech that could lay-off a slug at fifty meters on a cloche frame.

“[2/6d!] Take her away!” she commands.

There’s a patter of ickle wings. Zoot I’m out cold, zoot I’m back on the ground, earth in my hair, ants on my face, grit on my tongue, and sunstroke, so they say.

–oOo–

“Laura Campbell? Yeah, that’s the [50p!]ing ragamuffin down the bottom of the [50p!]ing allotments. She’s got us all [60p!]ing swearing, on account of the [80p, 60p, 60p!]ing fairies!”

 

September 16, 2011   10 Comments

How to Catch a ‘Noo-noo’

Noo Noo How to Catch a ‘Noo noo’

I

want a real fairy!” says Jess, stamping her foot. A small piece of Lego pings away.

Her father, Jonathan, is not at all keen on this tone of voice. It is what – as far as he is concerned – leads to a ‘stramash.’

“Claire, you deal with her,” he says. “I’m off to the club.”

“Great,” says Claire.

An hour later, and Jess is sneaking along behind the sofa. She has prepared a Little Miss Sparkle Barbie outfit stuffed on a dolly made of sticks, and to this she has attached a noose with a long, trailing string. The ‘decoy fairy’ is now looking disconsolate at the top of the family Christmas tree – one of those expensive ones, from Fortnums.

In a plump hand, Jess has the string end. She is ready to pull this really, really, really, fast. Fast like a silly kitty when you pull its tail and you laugh a lot! That’s how fast!

“Come on, noo-noo,” she mutters, gap-teeth whistling – the ‘terrible twos’ and the elusive tooth fairy have not been kind.

Five minutes of patient waiting later – which is about five hundred years as far as Jess is concerned – and nothing has stuck its head in the tempting noose, even though the dolly has a smile drawn on it in red crayon, and clearly wants to be friends.

“Dickilus, noo-noo. Dickilus!” She stomps off and returns to add a tiara. This requires an interesting trick, balancing on an antique steamer trunk, a box of toys, and the flatscreen TV. Dickilus! – how many sparkles does she have to add? Stupid noo-noo!

This is much harder than last year.

Finally, there is a flutter of wings; a rustle in amongst the chocolate, tree-decorations (followed by a disgraceful tinkle of foil slipping from branch to branch); and then a snarling fury at the very top of the tree.

Whatever is up there is clearly territorial, and isn’t about to allow some other ‘Jumped up be-atch troll queen spend another second at the top of her tree, thank you very much’.

When the fairy dust is really flying, there is a tempting tug on the string.

Too soon. Jess has made this mistake before and only ended up with a tiny nut-shoe and a smear of butterfly dust.

Another tug.

Steady…

Tug, tug.

Now! Jess gives the string a vicious pull. Yoink! There is a puff of fake snow at the top of the tree and then the snarling begins.

The other end of the string clatters through the fairy lights, blunders around the lampshade, dislodges cobwebs, patters – yowling – along the tops of the curtains, but now Jess is reeling it in; her musical fishing rod playing ‘half a pound of tuppeny rice,’ plink by plonk.

Time to fire up the plastic stove and find Mr Bear.

Jess has the noo-noo sellotaped to a Cindy chair, next to the disappointingly crunchy remains of last year’s noo-noo. She is ecstatic.

“Noo-noo want coffee or tea? Noo-noo is Jessica’s best friend! Silly Noo-noo. Okay, mummy will pour.”

The ‘noo-noo’ says nothing – it’s too busy trying to gnaw its way out of a sarcophagus of sellotape. There is only terror in its eyes.

December 17, 2010   13 Comments

The Mushroom Culture

MushroomCulture e1287612487595 The Mushroom Culture

T

he trouble with bloody fairies is the look that comes into people’s eyes when you tell them, that, not only have they been discoing down the bottom of your garden in Costa Del Toadstool-os, next to Barry the broken garden gnome, but they’ve been in your home too. There it is, that look of shiny eyed disinterest and an, “Oh, you have?” expressed in one tone removed from the ‘koochie koo’ noises designed for babies and the clinically insane. “Fairies? You’ve seen fairies?”

Yeah, I’ve seen the little bastards – they’re so goddamn cute, I want to pound them with a mallet. You get me? Strap ‘em into a Black and Decker Workmate and go to town with a hacksaw. You ever peel the wings off a blue bottle as a kid? Peeling a fairy is just like that, only more satisfying.

I almost appreciate the disbelief, rather than the koochie koo fairy eyes. At least disbelievers have some kind of informed opinion: they thought about it carefully, went through the pros-and-cons and, ‘we’re so sorry Brenda, but believing in fairies means you’re whacko, pure and simple.’ It’s as if it were an infallible test for the ‘fringe community’ exams.

Well, for my money, crop circles are tornadoes, UFO’s are marsh gas, crystals are rocks, psychic powers are wishful thinking, and bloody fairies are really, fucking good at avoiding fairy cake in mouse traps.

The cat got a couple yesterday, but I’ve already had to rescue him twice from the fairy ring next to the compost heap – you know what they say, ‘step in a ring and stay forever’. Now I’m trying to train him to avoid pouncing while the little buggers are dancing in amongst the polka dot, red-and-white toadstools, but unfortunately the cat has real instincts involving small, twitchy things, and I did spend quite a few hours bobbing a ‘My Little Fairy Friend’ toy in front of his nose, splutched all over in ‘Go Cat.’ At least I’m generally on hand in the middle of the night – you know, kicking in small toadstool housing estates with a stout pair of steel-toe-capped Doc Martin boots, and brushing down spider web picket fences with the aid of a flashlight – to rescue Mackerel prior to an extended knees-up with the Seeley Court at sunrise.

My reputation as ‘Brenda the madwoman spiritualist type’ has been made all the more infuriating by the fact that the winged vermin can choose who gets to see them. They quickly figured out I wasn’t going to take any of the ‘twee dancing around in tights,’ bullshit, or ‘bathing in moonbeams,’ malarkey and set up camp.

When my friends come to visit, somewhat unwillingly these days, it must be said, they see only the wild, sleep-haunted look in my eyes, teeth bared, white-knuckles gripping the armrest in rigid indignation, rather then the Tiller-Girl-style dancing rings amongst the Digestive Biscuits or, even worse, the synchronized swimming routines in the toilet. The only nightmare that most people have to put up with in there is the cat taking an occasional drink…

Trying to deny the fairy madness in hand, I once – up to my arse in kicked-in shroom houses –  tried a piece of a particularly striking, yellow toadstool with a small outdoor pool attached. I recognised it from my Collins Guide to Fungi under the Shamanic Culture in Northern Siberia section (apparently, the pool was an optional extra). For three or four blissful hours, wild hallucinations ensued. I didn’t see a single, maniacally dancing figure in the fridge, bread bin or washing machine – it was amazing. Of course, they came back in droves when the fungus wore off…

After that, the only thing that kept me from a midnight run with the rotovator was the shop assistant in the Tool Pigeon who caught me browsing the poisons and animal-maiming devices…

What are ‘mole bombs?’ Sound promising…

“Want some help?”

Sure I have fucking fairies – yup, the morris-dancing, twice-round-a-hill-top, don’t-eat-the-cheese-dip-in-fairyland, kind. Can I have a No 6 Brownie trap, please?

“Yeah… I’m looking for a steel-sprung trap, one of those heavy ones for… mice…maybe… a rat?”

“Have you thought about humane traps? You catch one, you can release it after.”

People want to release them after? I just call the cat…

He held up a brown, cardboard box for me to look at. Printed on the outside was a picture of a housewife with a big smile, arm-in-arm with her benevolent, moustachioed husband, as their kid happily released a mouse into the grass. Even the mouse had a little smile. Behind them was the happy family home with a revolving wash-line; this was the ‘Mouse Master’ from Humanitek.

Damn. I felt guilty about the Paraquat…

He made the mistake of asking me if I wanted some bait.

“Let me see: given the shortage of virgin school girls, a small saucer of Carlsberg Special Brew usually does the trick – especially the draught stuff – or a couple of spoons of Pillsbury Vindaloo mix on a poppadom, freshly prepared at around 3:00 am. That does it every time. Everybody has an opinion about bait. But I know what works.”

For the next few weeks I laid humane traps for the local fairy population. I even tried to keep Mackerel in my room at nights, cutting down on the number of dismembered corpses he usually left under his favourite chair in the kitchen. Apparently, fairies can talk to animals, but this is probably limited to: ‘Hey, did you see a bloody big – arrrgh!’ when chatting with Mackerel, and predominantly this would be said to his lower intestine.

Mackerel had also mastered the art of bringing them back alive, but was definitely getting suspicious of my now ‘benevolent’ motives for calling him over to show me what he’d got, then pouncing on his jaws as the cat yowled and struggled, clawing my hands and arms, while the fairy swore blue-bloody murder and cursed the TV remote again. Ever channel, sporting bloody highlights…

The other night, I spotted a nixie running along the skirting-board while I was watching Casualty, and another – which I’d already rescued from Mackerel’s jaws by levering open his teeth, much to the cats disgust – made an unfortunate and extremely slim reappearance the next morning under the sheepskin rug in the lounge.

Traps or no traps, this was going to have to stop.

Each day I’d come downstairs to find twenty or thirty so-called ‘fair folk’ in each Mouse Master penitentiary, hands on bars, unwashed and reeking of booze. Most of them had the look of terminal alcoholics, or were out of their minds on Moonbeams and Duneberry Dew. Hangovers and vomit stains were in profusion.

I tossed them into the back of the car – followed by a persistent Mackerel – and drove the twenty or thirty miles out of town to a very nice country copse. There were plenty of toadstool rings, one or two outstanding oaks to bond with – even the local spider population was fairy friendly (I checked with a library book and a bit of hands-and-knees work in the hedgerow). So I let them out there, shaking out the cans on a log or a mossy stone. Mostly, the fairies just tumble out in a groaning heap, far too hung-over from dancing and drinking the night before. A couple might have looked around, wondering where the fuck I’d brought them, but mostly they just wanted to throw up in the nearest patch of ground elder, or blink at the bright light through tortured eyeballs, like little red rowan berries.

Three months of this, and the catch wasn’t going down. Repeat offences were becoming the norm and my band of fantastical delinquents was actually increasing in number.

I should have gotten suspicious when I found two of them trying to get into a trap one morning and had to pop them inside as Mackerel tried to pick off stragglers. By that point, I was getting a lot less bothered about trying to restrain his killer instinct.

Every night till 7:00AM (sunrise) the sound of a succession of Hard-Ass Techno Trance Beats from the Mushroom Culture could be heard while they raved it up in the rhubarb patch. Another week of the ‘ooom cha, ooom cha, ooom cha, ooom cha …’ super-bass reverberating the foundations, and I was going to snap in a very folklore-unfriendly manner.

Straight after, on the next car run to the distant copse, I found a whole spread of holiday-condo ‘Wizard’s Knob’ bracket fungi and self-catering ‘Crete-os Agaric’ death-cap parasols with ‘river’ view, and a great many more under construction, with en-suit nutshell and candygrass plumbing.

So much for humanitarian traps – I was running a weekend break cum package tour to the countryside!

I began to retrain Mackerel to kill, kill, kill!

Now I’ve limbered up with a variety of kitchen implements they’d never let me use on Master Chef because they are far too well weighted for throwing – and the use I’ve found for a meat tenderizer definitely extends beyond whacking rump-steak.

I’ve got it in for the little bastards now, and the next coffee shop owner that offers me a chocolate brownie gets stabbed in the eye with an extremely in-humane melon-baller.

Mythology is hell – it’s fucking folklore out there…

October 14, 2010   2 Comments