Toast – part 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