Toast – part 2

2.

I’ve tried not sleeping; I thought it might help. But sleep is so all persuasive; you always surrender to it sooner or later. And even a brief second of true sleep is enough to shunt me someplace else, it seems.
Still, I’ve certainly never been on a spaceship before. And I seem to have made a friend. I look down to Magicat. It, or he (or she) must be some kind of illusion, an imagined familiar that will fade away if I stare at her (or him) for too long.
Magicat swishes her (or his) tail against my shin, then gently pads away from me. I can’t help myself, and stare intently at him (or her) as she (or he) walks away from me.
“I’m a girl” she softly purrs, before walking away and out of sight around the corner of the corridor.
At least now, I know she wasn’t real. Hah! A talking cat. I’ve witnessed horrors, seen unbelievable sights, on my travels. But a talking cat. If she was real, I think I’d really begin to lose my grip on reality.
Magicat pokes her head around the corner.
“Are you coming or not?” she asks, before slinking out of sight again.
So I’ve finally gone mad.

I limp after my imaginary cat, and when I turn the corner, my fears are confirmed. Magicat is nowhere to be seen. But there, in the corridor, is a man. He is obviously a crew member for this ship. Giddy, I run to him. He is posing as if for a photograph, his stance in mid walk, one foot in front of him, firmly on the floor, his other behind him, just the toes touching the floor. His arms are by his sides. He looks calm and focused.
I try to speak, but it’s been so long, and my voice sounds thin and wispy, even to me. For so long, I’ve just wanted to find another Human. He may not be, for all I know, but he’s immobile, ignorant to my presence.
I wave in his face, and he does not blink. He does not register, or acknowledge my presence.
My frustration at his lack of awareness grows, builds into anger, and I punch him, hard, in the face, screaming loudly as I connect. It’s a powerful right hook, and he almost lifts off the floor, before tumbling and bouncing off the wall to come to rest in a heap. His expression does not change, and his limbs are someway stuck between where they should be after the blow, and how they were before it.

I am over come with a feeling of futility.

No matter where I go, what I do, I will be alone. The helplessness becomes a mild guilt, and I try to stand him back up, in a similar pose to how I found him. It’s not easy, but I do my best. I sit down, cradling my knees in my arms. That’s twice. Twice lately I’ve lashed out. And this time I could have hurt someone. Or have. Everything is so uncertain in my world.
Just one conversation, even if I knew it would be my last one ever. Is that too much to ask? I bury my head in my knees, and try to sleep. For the first time since this all began, I want the sleep to come. I focus, call to it. Come on then, little death, come and take me. Next place, any place, I’ll sleep for a thousand years, I’ll wear out whatever it is that is causing this.
I feel the prickly stickiness of a cat’s tongue on my fingers. And I hear her again
“Not yet.” She says. I look up, and Magicat is back. Not yet. I wonder what she means. Since I’m now, without a doubt, mad, Magicat must represent some corner of my unconsciousness that until now didn’t have any outlet for…
“You really are too self involved, aren’t you? C’mon, follow me” She says, walking slowly away, beyond the frozen man. OK, so I’m harsh on myself. It only proves that maybe…
“Will you get off your ego-maniacal bum? Come ON.” She calls back to me, before walking on. Madness is all about being bossed around, apparently. I follow her.

As I walk, following my imaginary if somewhat harsh friend, it occurs to me that I’m not alone; I have myself to talk to, hah! If only I were real.
Magicat leads me through the ships corridors. We see many people, all dressed the same, all frozen in the middle of something. Walking, typing, sitting. At one point, the corridor opens out to some kind of communal area, and there is a large group, in what I imagine as an animated discussion, all unmoving, still, all as if they are unaware of time.
Magicat leads me to a closed door. It’s a big, heavy set door. I touch a panel near it, and it opens, to reveal another door. I open that, and another, and another. Then the last, and I enter a large room with little in it, save for what appears to be a large fish tank on the far wall. In it is some kind of octopus, but not one I’ve ever seen. The Octopus is large, and its skin gently shimmers dozens of different purples as I look at it.
“You have to help” Magicat urges me. I don’t know what she means. I lean forward, and touch the glass. I can’t tell how thick it is, but it’s cold, very cold. I pull my hand up the glass, until it is level with one of the octopus’s large eyes. I stare, focusing on it, and the octopus blinks. I stagger back, and feel sick to my stomach for a brief second, before falling back, falling into warm sand.
Before me is an amazing, unfolding sea, perched on the shore of a picture perfect palm tree lined beach. It’s heaven, paradise, perfection.

I cannot say “I really have to stop waking up like this.” Because I wasn’t asleep. How did that happen?
Just when I gain some foot hold, some tenuous finger tip hold on my world, it crumbles, fades, distorts and re-invents itself, leaving me unknowing and vulnerable again. Magicat looks up at me “you have to help” she repeats. She is still with me, and I am still alone with myself.

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Toast – part 1

1.

     And I open my eyes. At first, it hurts. It feels like I’ve been asleep for days, or even months. And the bright blue clear sky above me is to crisp, too clear. As I shield my eyes with my hand, I notice my breath, and the gentle grey wispy shapes it’s making. Awareness spreads, and just before I feel it, I realize it’s cold. Very cold. And I’m lying flat on my back, my left leg wet from the puddle it’s resting in. I struggle to my feet, coaxing feeling into my leg as I do so.

I really have to stop waking up like this.

My vision sorts itself out, and my leg is feeling better (and doesn’t give me any trouble when I put my weight on it). I begin to take in my surroundings. It’s mainly waste land, with half demolished houses around me, and as far as I can see. All around me, to every horizon. I’m stood in rubble, a destroyed land. There’s what was once a road to my left, and I’m half way up a small hill. I immediately panic, assuming that I’m back to that awful place, and any moment now, the blitz will begin again. But then I notice some wallpaper flapping against an exposed second floor room, and the ruins of a widescreen television. Although my adrenalin is still pumping, I do allow my self to relax slightly. what ever hellhole this is, at least I’m not going to get several tonnes of bomb dropped on my head; then the thought occurs to me that the blitz was bad, but this is after that. Something worse than bombs could get dropped on me. The crystal clear sky, empty as the land about me, gives me no clues.

The flapping wallpaper draws my attention, after I’ve nervously scanned the sky. The paper is pale yellow, with faded bunnies and teddies running, jumping and laughing on it. I feel sad, and melancholy. Maybe it was a child’s room; I wonder if they survived whatever happened? The world begins to swim about me, and I hear the sound of a child laughing, very faintly. Then a woman’s voice, filled with love and warmth. It reminds me of the last time I woke up, of the endless summer fields, the wheat corn that swayed like an inviting sea, the trees that held up the sky and sheltered me from the rain. I almost feel happy before I snap out of it, brought back to my present by a bitterly cold wind that whips my ears and hands. Nothing here is green, or golden. The warmth is gone. And the pack of dogs look straight at me and growl.

They are right at the bottom of the hill, but the largest of them has noticed me, and as I dreamily watch, the others join him. They all turn to face me, snarling and growling, the fur on their shoulders rising and convulsing in angry ripples. I turn, very slowly and deliberately, and walk away. Fear pounds in my chest, and I imagine them chasing after me, hunting me down. I couldn’t run (you’re not supposed to, I assure my-self.) if I wanted to. The rubble all around would make it too difficult. If they want me, I’m helpless.

I’m so focused on picking a path over and through the slabs of concrete, I’m at the top of the hill before I realise it. Steeling myself, I look back. The dogs are gone, nowhere in sight. Sometimes, you worry over nothing, and all you need is a bit of bravery and the ability to keep a clear head. But the view from the top of the hill is more of the same. I’m in the middle of a ruined city. A big one. I been filled with fear and apprehension since I woke up, but this now becomes a steady steam of questions, how did, how could this happen? What happened? When did it happen? Where is this? My breath becomes short and sharp at this. For all I know, I could be standing on my home. It doesn’t feel familiar. As familiar as home would anyway, but there is a nagging déjà vu feeling as I look around. I feel haunted.

The trouble with being lost for so long is you start to wish everywhere was home. I sit down on a protruding chunk of concrete, being careful not to catch myself on the jagged and rusty metal struts poking out of it. Maybe I’m lost for good, forever. Maybe I’ve been here before, been everywhere before, and I’m just circling, endlessly, the same places and events. Maybe I’ll never see home again. And if I can’t remember it, how would I recognize it if I saw it? I punch the concrete block. I cannot allow myself to give up, to give in. Self pity will kill you. I stand up, and decide I should try to find some shelter before it begins to get dark. I make my way forwards, over the waste land, towards what I hope is the city’s centre.

Just after dark, I’m crouched in a small alcove of rubble, huddled close to a small fire that I managed to make from scraps of paper and cardboard that was strewn about this place, which seems to be a high street of some kind. The shops don’t seem to be too badly damaged, and the pedestrianised shopping area once more fills me with a sense of loss and isolation. Why do I never see or find people? Only the animals seem to notice I’m here. The wind flaps a piece of paper to me. It’s part of a ripped poster, and I pull it straight to read it. There’s a black cat smiling at me. It’s very brightly coloured, like a children’s story book, ‘Magicat’ says the logo. There is something about the cat’s eyes, something I should know, something familiar. And then I slip into sleep.

I open my eyes, and blink away the sleep. I feel warm and rested. The white girders arc geometrically above me, crisscrossing themselves away down the corridor. I pull myself up, and have to hunch slightly in the narrow corridor. Just over on my left, is a small round window, and I go to it and look out. There’s a small jewel of a blue-green planet falling away from me, and the rest of the darkened sky is stars. I’m on a spaceship. Well, it beats a ruined city. I’m just about to whisper “I really have to stop waking up like this.” to myself, when I look down at my feet. Magicat nuzzles my leg from between them, looks up at me and purrs softly.

Now that’s odd, even for me.

Toast (C) Arken Mint 2004 & 2014, all rights reserved.

The Adventures of Arthur Miracle “Dogsbody”

The cold October air was bitter tasting this morning, as it whipped past Arthur’s unprotected face. In the glare of the newly risen sun, he hung on to the cart, bracing his legs straight against the unsecured barrels on the other side. He hated it when Mr Tumbridge drove this fast. It was fine on the smooth high street, but once they had turned off on to the cobbled roads, the journey became hellish; a combination of bouncing down hard and wrestling to keep the cargo in place.

“Whoa Bess” Said Mr Tumbridge, leaning back hard as he pulled the cart to a stop.
“Right, lad. Two bitter and one ale.” He said, climbing down, and knocking on the door of the ‘Hare & Hounds’ Arthur, grateful to no longer be hanging on, began moving the requested barrels as Mr Tumbridge went inside. Soon enough, he was lowering the barrels into the pubs cellar. Mr Tumbridge untied the rope from the last one, before looking up at Arthur with a guilty face.
“Er, the landlords invited me for a swift ‘un. Keep an eye on Bess, eh?” He said, shutting the cellars delivery door before Arthur could reply.

Dispirited, Arthur slouched back to Bess, and fed her a sugar cube, before pulling his jacket up against the cold as best he could. Just another working day, he told himself.
But Mr Tumbridge really took his time today. And Arthur was beginning to feel his hands go numb when, briefly, on the street corner, a head appeared, scowled at him, then disappeared. Arthur patted Bess, who whinnied with frustration at being still for so long.
“Sup” said a voice behind Arthur. He turned to see the same face from the corner. A young man. Before he could answer, another “Sup” Sounded from behind him, as two men walked purposely toward the wagon. Arthur muttered an ‘aye’ but put his back to Bess, slowly reaching into the drayman’s foot rest as casually as he could.

“Now then.” Said one of the two men, so close that his frozen breath drifted as a mist about Arthur.
“We just want the ale” he said, Adding “You can keep the horse” in a friendly, almost helpful tone. Arthur bowed his head, as if agreeing, while ever so gently bringing up his left hand in front of him, while his right hand found and tightly gripped the shillelagh in the wagons foot well.
“Good lad” Said the man. Swiftly, Arthur grabbed the mans tightly buttoned jacket with a tight fist, and pulled him forward, letting him have the shillelagh as hard as he could. It was designed for this kind of close combat, and he fell down heavily, clearly dazed. The others saw this and ran, obviously not wanting a fight. The man staggered off after them, clutching the side of his now bleeding head.

Emboldened, Arthur considered chasing after them, but at that moment, the door of the Hare & Hounds opened, and Mr Tumbridge staggered out.
“Right. Little stop off. No bother, eh?”
“No sir” Replied Arthur, gently sliding the shillelagh back into place.
“Good. Good. Onward To the Huntsman!”
Arthur climbed up onto the back, once again sliding his legs to hold the barrels in place. His left hand was still clenched, and as he got into position, he opened it, discovering a tear of fabric and a small, worn button. On it, almost rubbed smooth with time, was an embossed word. ‘Dogsbody’.
Aye, though Arthur. You and me both.

The Adventures of Arthur Miracle: Dogsbody © Arken Mint 2014