The two that got away

“But it’s raining”
“Just another hour. He comes out in the rain.”
“I’m not sitting next to a pond in the rain for an hour.”
Julia got up, struggling to walk on the mud at the water’s edge with her heavy bag. The high heels didn’t help. She sliped her way back to the park. David watched her briefly, but the sounds of splashing water quickly brought his attention back to the pond. Julia shouted something before she was out of sight, but if David did hear, he didn’t let it distract him from his vigil.
Nothing happened for two hours.
David had started to reel in, wanting to check his bait. It was still quite far out, when he saw the wake. As he was pulling it in, something was chasing. Something big. Maybe the goldfish. He stood, adrenalin rushing through his already excited slender frame. He tried to steady his shaking rod, to keep the reel at a constant pace. Keeping it slow was the problem. Could he be about to catch it? He looked around the ponds edge. There was only one other fisherman, across on the far side. He seemed to be sleeping, slumped in his fishing chair. David wanted to shout, to wave his arms. “Hey, watch this! Watch what I’m about to do!” But then the bait was bitten. A single, strong, grasp and tug. It almost pulled the rod from his hands. This thing was big. People had been saying it was eating dogs, but no-one but David had thought those stories could possibly be true. He had a fight now, whatever had the bait was large. He struggled to control his rod. He had to stop reeling in, using both hands to pull on the rod, before straining to get a hand back to the reel winder. This was going to be a fight. He pulled the rod high, and then went back to winding. The closer he brought it to shore, the more the rod bent, a dangerous and angry ‘n’ shape over the water. Then it slackened, and David saw what he was up against, as the fish broke the surface, only part of the lamb’s leg visible out of its huge mouth. The Fish was a monster. A goldfish, but not really golden anymore, it was a deep, burnt orange. Its mouth was lined with deep green and black algae that made it look as if it was smiling through crooked teeth. Only the fins were recognizably goldfish, bright orange to golden yellow. Overall, the fish was about as large as a bulldog. Oddly squat, the only shape David could liken it to would be a puffer fish, or an angry suitcase. The fish hit the water. How long had this thing been in the pond? He pulled the rod tight again, desperate to get a hand free to wind, but not having the chance. Now it was close to shore, the fish was fighting madly. And it truth, David’s resolve had wavered after seeing the monster first hand. Doubt entered his head; maybe he wasn’t good enough to land this creature. Maybe no-one was. It wasn’t a fish anymore; it was some kind of God of the pond. A force of nature. The rod eased, and David focused on reeling. Damn it, he was going to get it to shore at least. He had it. Maybe the fish had weakened. Maybe it was toying with him, but David felt a surge of hope, and reeled madly, yanking the rod high as he did. The Goldfish flopped out into the shallows, only its belly wet, flapping madly. Even out of the water, it wasn’t letting go of the meat. David tried to get his catch net with his right foot.
“No, you know, I’ve had enough of this. You come home right now, or I’m leaving you.” Julia said. David slipped, falling hard with a sloochk into the mud. He held the rod aloft, his right foot kicked the catch net into the water. The fish flopped and jumped, swallowing the lamb’s leg. Now just the line came from its mouth. It was going to win.
“Little busy! Help me”
“No. We’ll be over. Do you understand? It’s just a fish, David. It’s…” she paused, looking at the scene before her. David thought she would see the monster, the huge, unusual giant goldfish, and understand, all that he had been talking about for moths, all of his hopes, they had come down to this, and now she would see, his struggle, his sacrifice, all worth it. But unlike in the fairy tales, his princess would be by his side, no mere damsel, she would help him to slay the beast. Then he would commit, they could marry, settle down, and he could tell his children – his grandchildren – the tale of how he caught the killer goldfish of Edgeley pond, before showing them the beast itself, mounted on a fine oak board above a roaring fireplace in the front room.
“No. damn it, is this ugly thing more important than me?” She ran towards it, and kicked it hard on the nose. She pulled her foot back to kick it again. David shouted, the goldfish jumped, the line in its mouth snapped, and Julia kicked out again. But she slipped as she did, and her heel swiped across the fish, cutting up from below its eye to the top of its head. Her shoe came off and spiraled through the air as blood gushed from the wound, and the eye rolled up, punctured and useless. But then the fish landed, jumped once, ate the shoe that had injured it, Jumped again, and was gone back to the deep water. “Nooo!” David yelled, still on his back. Julia struggled up, and kicked David with her now bare foot. “Those were Jimmy Choos, you IDIOT! We’re through. I’m sick of stuff like this, I’m sick of you!” She stomped off, as best she could with one shoe through water sodden soil. David lay there, in the cold mud, both of his dreams dead; the only though he had in his head was sadness at his failure to catch the fish, and a vague puzzlement over why Julia had been wearing a pair of shoes that belonged to some Jimmy guy.

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The Killer Goldfish of Edgeley Pond.

It was dark around the edge of the water. Elsewhere, it was dusk, but the weeping willows, close to the edge of the water, turned the pleasant air of the evening from something warm and inviting into something cold and fearful. The way they drooped down, willing supplicants, timid worshipers of the water. There was no wind, so the water was still, large and grey, shimmering with a diffuse misery, sucking the last of the days heat selfishly.
The dog was a Yorkshire terrier. Big for his breed, and cocky, his easy and well cared for life giving him confidence that was misplaced. Tim, he had been called, but being a dog, he simply associated the name with either treats, or hugs. Or a scolding from the man. The man, Tim knew, was very different from the woman. She was kind and caring, a summers day at the park. The man was… More like the park at dusk, on the edge of the water. But the man, who only ever brought Tim to the park after an exchange of shouting, would do something the woman would never do, something Tim lived his days for, often excitedly shaking in his basket at the smallest recollection of it. On arriving in the middle of the park, that large green grass square only contained by roads, with a single path cut through the middle, the man would roughly shake Tim’s lead free from his collar, give him a swift kick, grumbling ‘g’on y’little sod. G’on an get lost’ before lighting a cigarette.
Tim had come to learn two things; one, the man meant every word as he kicked him, and two, by the time he had finished his second cigarette, he would be different. Panicky, frantic, even, if Tim was not back on the lead. Tim didn’t care. For two brief, burning sticks, he was free to go and do as he pleased. So long as he didn’t go too far. But again, Tim’s pampered life meant he didn’t really have a concept of too far. Freedom to Tim was being off the lead, but always being able to see the man. For too brief a Time, he was free of the leash, free to go wherever the sights, sounds and smells pulled him. Tonight, for the last time in his life, they pulled him to the water’s edge.
It was a strong odour, lush and earthy. Unmistakably female. It led Tim a swaying path, from weeping willow to weeping willow, before stopping abruptly at the water’s edge. He had enthusiastically dived between the branches of the willow, to the trunk, where it was darker, gloomier. After examining the spray on the trunk of the willow, Tim glanced out between the branches, and felt a pang of sorrow as he saw the man throw the first cigarette to the ground, snub it with his foot, and quickly pull out and light another. Tim shivered, cold here, under the skirt of the tree, and apprehensive at the thought of having the lead back on. But he still had time. He reacquainted himself with the scent, and followed it out into the open, down to the water’s edge. The ground sloped down, the short, kept grass ending abruptly into dark water. He couldn’t see the man from here, but his eagerness to saviour a last minute of freedom, and his confusion at where the scent had gone meant he didn’t notice. He backtracked briefly, found her smell, and followed it, diligently, slowly. Accurately, it took him to exactly the same spot. Right on the water’s edge. Had Tim any sense of occasion, he would have squeaked out a short confused bark, and tilted his head to one side, allowing an ear to flop comically down to signify his puzzlement. But he didn’t, so simply stared into the black water, wondering where she had gone. The water was still, a glistening, metallic blob. She hadn’t gone swimming, then, Tim decided. Then, a ripple. Straight in front of him. He lowered his head for a better look, but could see nothing. The water hid whatever had moved. Maybe it was her, Tim reasoned, and moved closer to the edge, eager to greet her.
A jet of water hit him hard, knocking him over on his side. It drenched him, the water was cold and smelt of pond scum and her. Tim got up, and was shaking himself dry, more confused than ever, how could the water smell of her? When the fish jumped out of the water, flopping down hard enough to knock Tim onto his side again. It was a goldfish. But a huge goldfish. Easily four or five times the size of Tim. No longer bright orange, it was a muddy, bloody terracotta colour, And one eye was white and useless, a jagged scar above and below it. The killer goldfish’s remaining, working eye moved around erratically, scanning for food; for Tim. It found him, and the giant fish convulsed, leaping again into the air, catching the back legs of Tim in its gaping maw as it landed, then jumping back toward the water, using the momentum to propel a yelping, squealing Tim further into its mouth while it was in the air. As the fishes tail felt the water, Tim was more than half swallowed, and with one final jump the fish had swallowed Tim whole before landing back into the lake with a deep splash.
The man, who had finished his cigarette and started to look for Tim, had seen the fish jump, but it wasn’t until he had come closer to this oddness that he had seen the killer goldfish of Edgeley pond take Tim to a watery grave.
“well” said the man as the water settled. “She’s never going to believe me.”

Toast – Part 4

4.
There’s never any dreams. I don’t know if I miss them or not. Most of the time, I’m glad not to have them, my grasp of the day to day is so weak. If I had to work out what was a dream, and what had actually happened, as well as working out where I was and if I was safe or not…
Well, then. Its best I don’t dream. You know that feeling you get, when you wake up, but you don’t know where you are, then you remember, as your memory rushes in like the tide to soak all the dry sand? Yeah, I don’t have that. I just have the waking up, not knowing where I am or what is around me. Now, though, I have a passenger. One who has only made things worse. Now, if I believe her, I have to work out when I am along with everything else.
And I open my eyes. The dog stares back at me, teeth bared and snarling. I try to roll from my side to by back and then jump up, but it’s on me just as I stand, teeth locked around my forearm, the thick, muscular animal pulling me down, falling on top of me. Which works to my advantage; it has to let go to literally save its own neck as we fall. Freed from the dog, I hunch, low to the ground, grabbing the first thing near to me, a short but thick tube of hardened cardboard. I swing it left and right, and yell, my throat not really working, croaking and cracking rather than booming and menacing. The dog thinks better of it, though, and backs away. Still growling, but clearly accepting its loss.
“Yeah, that’s right” I yell, resisting the urge to throw my cardboard tube after it. I might need it. I rest, kneeling, catching my breath.
I really have to stop waking up like this.
It’s a while before I look around. A ruined city. Is it the same ruined city? The one where I found magicat? Once I think about her, I realise I can’t see her. I feel a stab of anxiety. Did the dog get her before I woke up? I stand, and scan for her. Nothing. I call her name. Only the wind answers me, whispering as it whips clouds of dust and debris into mini cyclones. I move some rubble from where I’m stood, using the tube to help. Nothing. If I am where I first found her, have I dropped her off? Returned her?
“I’m afraid not” She says. I look around me, but can’t see her.
“I’m not near you” she says. “Do you remember how to get to the shopping centre? I’m there.”
“And we can still talk? Even far apart?” I ask, embarrassed as I finish, because I’ve just asked a very empty sky a question I could have just thought. ‘Never mind’ I think. ‘I’m on my way’.
It’s slow progress, getting back there. It takes time to clamber over the mountains of rubble, and I’m very wary of meeting anymore dogs. When I do get to the pedestrian shopping centre, I find Magicat sitting quietly on one of the shops verandas, well above my head. Her tail flicking slowly as she concentrates on something in the distance.
“Glad you’re here” she says. Thinks. You know. She doesn’t look at me, but she gets up and walks along the edge of the veranda. “There’s something here; I’m not sure what it is. It might have something to do with how we got stuck together. More importantly, I have a piece of the puzzle for you” She stops and looks at me.
“Your timeline. I had a glimpse of it as you slept. I was awake as we travelled. I don’t know when exactly we are, but I know this. It’s the past.”
“the past? So the bombing is even further back?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think it can be, You are only travelling between three distinct points in your own history, past present and future. If this is the past, then it can’t have anything to do with the blitz – That happens later.”
“later than this?” I gesture to the ruined city about us. “So what did this; more importantly, when we travelled, what was it like? What did you see?”
“Just lights, blurry lights. The rest of it was impressions, feelings with images. I’m afraid to say, I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was trying to find my friend.”
I stop walking alongside her, and stare up to her on her lofty perch. I’ve been so happy to have someone. Something? Someone. To talk to, I’d never considered that she might not want to be with me. I’d just accepted it as my new equilibrium, never once considering her feelings.
“Your friend?” I want to sound concerned, interested, but emotion has my throat, and I sound resentful.
“I was travelling, much like you, never really knowing where I’d end up, until I found him. We were only together a short while, all I ever really knew about him was the sadness of his past and the detail that he had a acorn for a heart.” She jumps down, and slinks in front of me. “he was looking for someone he’d lost.” She stops, and looks at me for the first time.
”It’s like a long chain, isn’t it, the lost, the seekers, all intertwined, but never with the right partners.”
I feel scared by the intimacy of the truth in her words, and break her gaze. That’s when I see it. A swirling, purple blue – something. I don’t know what. A swirly thing, turning slowly, churning up rocks and dirt, sucking them towards it. Looks just like water going down a plug hole; but it’s horizontal, just above the ground, and about six feet high, top to bottom.
“Yeah. That” she says, not missing a beat. “Weird, huh? I mean, I’ve seen odd, and weird – but this is weird, right?” She smiles at me, and we both decide we were getting too uncomfortable with the conversation, and we should now focus on the weird thing.
I walk around it. It tapers to a point at the back, and as close as I dare get, has a pull from the front. I want to jump in.
“Me too” Magicat says. I don’t have time to think ‘should we?’ before she has leaped onto my shoulder. I look into her eyes, and we gently touch foreheads. “Hopefully home” We say to each other, and leap into the vortex.

Toast – Part 3

Toast 3
3.
Before me, in the strange sea, I can see three of the creatures playfully splashing about. Their skin changes colour, rippling and shimmering. Maybe a form of communication? I decide that I must have somehow brought them here, and that this pleases them. One seems to wave at me, which I take as thanks, before they sink beneath the water, leaving me alone on the beach. Well, the cat is still here.
I look down at her. The black cat. How can she talk? And how does she know what’s going on? She looks up at me and purrs.
“I’m just a cat. And I’m not talking, I’m thinking. You can hear, is all, silly.”
She nudges my leg, and walks off to the line of palm trees lining the beach.
“And I’ve no idea what’s going on, any more than you do. I see people in trouble and I help them. At least” she pauses “I always try.”
I open my mouth to speak, but she cuts me off.
“The octopus creatures are people. Well, at least, they have a society, a shared language, a culture, which is, I assume, the kinds of things you mean when you say people. We just brought them home.”
Great. So she can answer questions I’ve thought of as soon as I think of them.

The palms are sparse, with wide gaps between each tree. There is no grass, or soil, just sand and the occasional tuft of dune grass. I’m pretty sure this cat is not in my imagination, that this is, somehow, actually happening. It’s been so long since I’ve had anything like company, I just start asking questions. She smiles gently, and we talk as we walk.

She knows some things about me. Knows I’m lost. But nothing beyond that; apart from one important detail, which wasn’t one of my questions, just something she drops in there.
“But you know when you are?”
My head swims. I stare, dumbfounded for a while, before asking her to repeat her question. Even then, it takes a while for the implications of what she’s asking sinks in.
“When? Why should when matter?”
“Very important, for you – and me, at the moment.”
“When? When is now, it’s the day after yesterday.”
“Are you sure? Sometimes people get lost. Fall through the cracks.”
“Cat, I’m so lost I wouldn’t even recognise my home if I saw it.”
“I know, you were just there. You’re not just lost, but fragmented. I don’t know why, or how, but you exist three times over – and not at all.”
What she is saying to me makes no logical sense, but it feels true.
“How can I not exist at all?”
“How many conversations have you had?”
“I can’t remember any, except this one”
“But you must have had others. Look, I can see things – things other people can’t. One of them is a person’s timeline. I can see people as a kind of conga line, all their past choices, all their previous days, all laid out as if they are still going on, all dancing their old mistakes, their current victories.”
“So you know where I came from, what led me here? How to get back?!”
She shakes her head, slowly, apologetically.
“Not you. I’ve never know it before. You don’t have any past, or future. You just exist here and now. It’s as if you haven’t done anything. As if you have no history, no temporal signature.”
“But I have done things; helped people in the blitz, saved those octopus things!”
“What was the blitz like?”
“Flying ships dropping bombs. Fire and death.”
“Who did you help?”
“People. Look – wherever I end up, animals can see me, but people – people are frozen.” I pause, I hate this, and saying it out loud makes it all the more real.
“like statues, they don’t move, or talk.” I finish.
“So in the blitz?” She pushes
“It was like walking around a photograph. Some were just… I couldn’t help them. But others. I did what I could. Moved them out of harms way, pulled them from fire, from a collapsing building. I saved them”
“I wonder.” Magicat says, jumping onto my shoulder.
And despite being excited to not only be talking, but to be maybe getting answers, I feel fatigue. The thought that I should sleep pops into my head.
“We’ll travel if you sleep.” Magicat says.
I laugh, short and snorty.
“For a while, I tried not sleeping. But it always catches up with you, sleep. Now I just lie down at the first sign of being tired.”
So I do. I lie down, and curl up, my long coat covering most of me. Magicat nuzzles my forehead, and as I drift off, a question flashes though my mind. I don’t get chance to ask it.

“Wait. How can you come with me?”

 

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.

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