The lockdown

It has made little difference to Dume Towers, although it has slightly reduced the frequency of parades by the locals. Oh they still sometimes come up to the castle with their pitchforks and torches, to delight in the showers of boiling oil and molten lead. It does cost me a fortune in lead and oil but well, one has do do one’s part for the community.

Lockdown has saved me a small fortune in those things. The Ferals, however, have taken no notice of it and still rampage through the swamp as they always have. They have been a little more wary of the castle since the Hollow Bunnies incident. Oh, and I am now keeping a far closer watch on little Caligula’s biology experiments.

Caligula will be eleven this Halloween. He has scaled back his attempts at patricide for now but I know he’s up to something. He’s a Dume, he’s always up to something.

I have been mostly engaged with writing the future, as fast as I can because it’s coming true as I write. Red Stan gave me a deal to let me do this. He didn’t specify how it should end. I think he will approve.

Come to think of it, I haven’t had a visit from Red Stan nor from Death for quite some time. Maybe Red Stan is in lockdown too. Death, I understand, is far too busy for visits at the moment.

I haven’t even heard from the Green Men. Perhaps they have finally realised that solar panels are not going to work under the perpetually overcast sky here and that whipweed and stranglevine will inevitably ruin any attempts to generate power from their silly windmills. If something moves in the swamp, it either gets smacked by whipweed or stranglevine will… well, the clue is in the name.

Ah yes, the village. I should visit soon. Yet the closure of the local pub, the Throat and Razor, makes visiting far less interesting than it used to be. I hear they have also closed non essential businesses but I don’t think Little Shithole in the Swamp had anything essential beyond the pub. There was Angus McSanguine’s butcher shop and Aunt Scratchy’s second hand clothes, the latter won five ticks on Infection Weekly so it must be a good one.

Most of the other shops are gone already, due to infections far older and far, far nastier than this new flu.

I have to admit, this current pandemic is quite tedious. I’m sure I could do better.

Maybe it’s time to revive the lab.

A sad day

The local pub, the ‘Throat and Razor’, has closed. Some blame the smoking ban even though the holes in the roof made the whole ‘indoor’ public space thing questionable at best.

I think it was the booze. Since they stopped selling Jock McSquirty’s Bowel Purger and the homemade spirit known as Broken Glass (the name came not from the taste, but from the next day’s effects) business went into decline.

At the end, their main beer was an alcohol-free pointless exercise called ‘Simpering Nanny’, their only spirit drink was ‘Whitehouse’s Ghost’ – also alcohol-free – and their principal soft drink was a sugar-free energy drink. It still had caffeine but with no actual energy in it, it just kept you awake and tired.

I think it was more their desire to be right-on and politically correct that killed the business rather than the smoking ban, which most patrons and all staff ignored anyway.

Little Shithole in the Swamp is a small town. Nobody drives to the pub. Hardly anyone drives anywhere since they looked at the law concerning the drink/driving combo, considered their priorities,  and decided to drop the driving part. Very wise – why waste all that flammable liquid on some unneccesary transport when you can use it to burn things?

Actually, some of the drinks the pub used to sell could have powered a few very fast vehicles… but no more, sadly.  Now there are more and more homebrews being made and some are very good. Angus McFlatulent’s ‘Wind with Lumps’ brew can be quite an eye-opener, among other things.  Morag McSkidmark makes a spirit she calls ‘Trouser Surprise’. I’ve tried it. It’s really nice but don’t stray too far from home.

I, along with the somewhat strange denizens of the village, hope to see the pub reopened soon. Under new mismanagement.

With some proper booze.

Another Green Man

It will be little Caligula’s ninth birthday on Wednesday and preparations are underway. Since his last attempt at patricide (semtex-filled keyboard with a detonator under the ‘Q’ key, which I have to say was ingenious) I have kept him locked in one of the tower rooms while waiting for my fingers to grow back. It took longer than usual. I must be getting old.

I will, of course, let him out for his birthday and might even partially remove his muzzle. Naturally I will be armed throughout, just in case.

His mother, unfortunately, will no longer be attending his birthdays since he has finished the last of her remains from the freezer. Hey, I am not a cruel father. Punishment does not extend to starving the boy, nor to robbing him of the results of his succesful kill.

I have also not put him in solitary confinement. Underbed Monster and Closet Monster are keeping him company along with his spider collection and of course, regular visits from Elizabeth, his nanny. I am still astounded at her resilience. He hasn’t even taken a bite.

So, Elizabeth and I have been preparing the party room. It has to be escape proof, have nothing he can handily kill me with because that would spoil the party (for me at least) and yet accommodate Caligula and his friends. Oh, considering the nature of some of his friends, it has to be fireproof too.

While doing this there came a tolling of the bell. Elizabeth suggested she answer it but I shook my head.

“I’ll get it. It tolls for me,” I said. I never send to ask for whom the bell tolls. It’s quicker to just go yourself.

I swung open the front door and once again considered oiling those hinges. Nah, they still work, if a bit groany. One look at the visitor on my doorstep and I was glad of the groan of the hinges, because they successfully covered mine.

Another bearded sandaled hippy with a clipboard. There seems to be an endless supply these days. Still, it keeps the freezer stocked.

“What is it?” I said by way of greeting.

“Where?” The hippy looked around.

Laugh? I nearly did. It’s one of the oldest jokes in the catalogue. I thought it best to get this over with.

“What is it that you want?” I enunciated the words very slowly and clearly because these hippies are not known for fast thinking. Oh I already knew of course, they always want the same thing.

“I’m from EcoThingyWhatnot,” he said, “and I’m here to save you money.”

“Well that sounds interesting,” I said. It wasn’t. To these people, ‘saving your money’ means giving rather a lot of it to them. “Why don’t we discuss this inside?”


He seemed taken aback. Hardly surprising, I can imagine the response he had been getting in the local village, Little Shithole by the Swamp, and especially if he had knocked on ‘Flaming’ Hamish McBurnstuff’s door.

“Certainly,” I said. “Come in and have some tea.”

He blinked a few times but finally crossed the threshold far enough to allow me to slam the door shut. I don’t need to slam it shut, I just like the sound of ‘skreeee-bang’. And yes, I get a little pleasure from watching the effect on visitors.

I led my slightly trembling visitor to the kitchen, making sure to enter first so the scuttling things on the flagstone floor had time to disperse before he saw them. I’ve no idea what they are but they don’t look edible so I don’t bother with them.

My visitor seemed to have regained some of his composure. “There is plenty of scope for insulation and energy efficiency here,” he said. “Have you considered alternative energy sources?”

“I have,” I said, “and there is nothing cheaper than burning wood and feral fat in these parts. Those are available for free with little effort.” I set the kettle to boil while I put out sugar, kitten bood and stirring fingers. When the kettle whistled I filled the teapot. “We’ll let that fester for a few minutes.”

He smirked. “We usually say ‘brew’, not ‘fester’ when making tea.”

I smiled. “You’ve never had this kind of tea before, I’m sure.”

“Oh?” He perked up at once. “Artisanal tea? Something rare and unusual and expensive?”

“Almost right. Very rare, extremely unusual but really not expensive at all. I grow it myself.” This was actually a lie. I collect it but it grows in the swamp all by itself, and survives by having a vast array of projectile thorns, hooked whips and fifteen different neurotoxins. Which reminds me, I must get my tea collecting suit patched up and the metal plates repainted.

The other lie in this conversation is that the ‘leaves’ I collect are in any way remotely related to tea. They are in fact the sepals of whipweed, the only part of the plant that is not insanely toxic. Infusing the sepals in hot water results in a tea-like liquid that gives no more than a mild buzz, once you get used to it.

“You can grow tea here? You must have a greenhouse. Could I see it?” His face lit up with such delight it was like watching the sun rise over a bearded and long-untended meadow. Still it did confuse me a little.

“No,” I said. “I don’t have a green house. Isn’t that why you’re here? To sell me stuff to make my house green?”

“Huh?” He shook his head. “No, no, I mean a greenhouse not a green house. You know, a shed-like thing made of glass. You grow plants in it.”

“Grow plants indoors?” This was a novel concept. Something clicked. It might explain the glass sheds in Spacey McHighkite’s garden and his permanent blank smile. Anyway, the tea was ready. I poured two cups.

He impolitely refused the proferred kitten blood and with what I can only describe as a contorted face, declared he preferred his tea as it came, and unstirred.

I learned no more about the glass sheds he called ‘green houses’. Surely glass is not green? Although it can be, if the sheds are made of melted down wine bottles I suppose. I mused on the possibilities as I carried his limp body up to the laboratory.

As I said, the tea is harmless once you get used to it. The kitten blood adds cuteness as well as reducing the effects of the mild toxins it contains. It does take some practice to be able to sip at it at the right pace to avoid a temporary coma.

So the visit was not a total loss. I have some spare parts for my experiments, new stock for the freezer and another clipboard to add to my growing collection.

I’ll burn the sandals though.

Anonymously Famous

Well, I haven’t been idle during my long absence. I’ve been carving out a new career as a cover art model. Oh, not one of those muscle-bound macho weirdoes on the covers of romance books, oh no. I’ve been a little more mysterious than that.

I’m on the cover of ‘The Underdog Anthology‘. A picture of me preparing lunch was suitably cropped and bingo – one cover image!

I am also on the cover of ‘The Mark‘. This one was a holiday shot taken in the swamp while I was having a nice relaxing lurk in the woods.

That’s two so far. Little Caligula’s pet rabbit, ‘Future Casserole’, features on the second Underdog Anthology, ‘Tales the Hollow Bunnies Tell‘. I didn’t get on that cover but I did get a story inside the book.

I told them, never work with children or animals, but they just couldn’t say no to little Caligula. Not after he showed them all his teeth.

The cover-model score is now two to me, one to the rabbit.

If this keeps up I’m going to be a famous cover-image model, even though nobody knows it’s me.

Anonymously famous. I like that, it has a certain appeal.


The Silence of the Elves

Sneaky little buggers.

I was stationed on the roof, beside one of the chimneys. No traps, no weapons, I was in a deckchair sipping tea and picking at finger snacks. Some of which were a little old, probably past their pick-at-by-date but they were thoroughly deep fried and therefore safe.

I would have to give Elizabeth a few cooking lessons though. Some of the finger snacks were missing a knuckle and a few had chunks of palm still attached. A bit more consistency at the preparation stage would help.

The point is, I was the decoy. I assumed Santa would avoid the chimney that was so blatantly staked out and try one of the others. Probably the only other one that didn’t have smoke coming out of it. The one that led down to the old part of the castle, where young Caligula waited with a net – and strict instructions not to eat his catch right away.

Nothing happened. Midnight came and went and nothing happened.

It turned out that Santa had landed at the front of the castle and sent his elves to the front door. Elizabeth answered the door, accepted her gifts along with my and Caligula’s annual consignment of coal, and waved as the elves left.

A sneaky underhand Santa and stealth elves. What is the world coming to? What happened to tradition?

I am determined to outwit the old devil, if it takes forever. One day, Santa. One day…



The Unpheasant

I have been remiss in posting here lately. Okay, more than just lately. A lot has happened…

To be honest, not much has happened. Little Caligula’s birthday passed with no more bloodshed than usual, his babysitter is still in residence and gradually feminising the castle with such luxuries as unbroken windows and staircases with all the stairs in place and all the same height. They take some getting used to. The lack of drafts is making me ill too, so sometimes there are accidental breakages.

I have been occupied in resisting these changes, in avoiding little Caligula’s patricidal tendencies and in dealing with the arrival in the swamp of a group of unpheasants.

These look rather similar to the common edible flying creature known as a pheasant but it’s best not to try to eat them. It’s 50/50 as to who eats who with these things. Even if you win, you still lose. Their flesh is highly toxic. Therefore they have no natural enemies and unless they are eradicated they will breed as if their future depended on it.

The tiny heads suggest a lack of intelligence but in fact their brains reside below the neck, in the bulk of their bodies. Decapitation is not fatal although it deprives them of sight, hearing and the means to eat until it grows back. Since this can take several days, they always return very hungry and in a foul mood.

So far there are only a few, but their numbers will rise in the spring to the point where they could become a serious nuisance – especially if they manage to wipe out the nearby village, Little Shithole in the Swamp. That would result in the closure of the only pub within walking distance, the Throat and Razor. I don’t go there often but when I do, I am always assured of a delightfully silent welcome.

It’s also the only place that you can ever get the fine beer known as Jock McSquirty’s Bowel Purger, when it’s in stock. It’s only available if they can keep Jock sober for long enough to brew a batch. It’s becoming a rare treat indeed.

Getting rid of the unpheasants won’t be easy. Poisoning something that poisonous is futile. It just makes them more toxic. Shooting them just annoys them. Traps followed by bludgeoning them into a pulp, while wearing full body protection, seems the way forward on this problem.

It is tempting to see if they can finish off the Ferals and the Slimy Swamp Thing before I eradicate them, but that kind of thinking can be problematic. If I let them breed, even for a year, it could result in the replacement of the Ferals with something much worse.

Extermination it is to be then, even though it’s a lot of work.

Where are the damn Daleks when they could actually be useful?

New patio

I have been busy dodging patricide attempts of late. Elizabeth thought that teaching little Caligula archery, kendo and jiu-jitsu would be good for his physical well being. Maybe good for his but not for mine.

Anyway, the castle now has a patio at the back. Elizabeth nagged, I gave in, she was in charge of it and to be honest, it looks pretty good. Could be a nice place to sit in summer, when the rain is warm.

I just wonder why every patio slab has a name engraved on it. It’s probably some kind of new fangled fashion thing.

The patio umbrella holder is curiously hand shaped. Nice touch.

Who let the toys out?

First it was just a scurrying sound and a shape glimpsed from the corner of my eye. I shrugged it off as rats. They are nothing to worry about. Caligula likes rats. I carried on writing.

It was the low growl that got my attention. I have heard that growl before and only one creature on the planet can make that sound.

My old childhood toy, Scabby Ted.

I made haste to the dungeon, brushing past Father’s ghost. He had nothing to worry about, I wasn’t going to the vault. I had to visit the secure facility where the toys were stored.

The doors were open. Scabby Ted, Jugular the Clown and all the rest are on the loose. This is not a good thing, not good at all. These are Dume toys and they play rough. It’s going to take some time to round them all up.

What I have to wonder is, who let them out? Also, why?

More importantly, how did they do it without bleeding?

The Blackthorn connection

It took Caligula waking up screaming for food that finally let me quiz the Professor on my mysterious babysitter.

Elizabeth went to give little Caligula his midnight snack of  toad in the hole. It’s his favourite and he sleeps through most of the following day after it, so it’s worth my while keeping the toad traps baited.

When she left, I made no small talk or diplomatic approach but cut directly to the chase.

“How do you know this woman?” I asked.

“Liz?” The Professor took a sip of whisky. “She’s a sort of cousin, I suppose. Only ever met her at family funerals before.” He winked. “There are suspicions she might have been the cause of one or two of them. Unproven, of course.”

“That’s a hell of a coincidence then, her turning up here just by random chance.” I don’t like random events. They usually have a damn good reason to happen.

“Oh, Liz is Uncle Toby’s youngest daughter. She’s Blackthorn through and through. I doubt she ever does anything random.” The Professor smiled and swirled his glass. His smile vanished when he realised it was empty.

“There’s some kind of plan going on?” If there’s one thing I dislike more than random events, it’s a plan involving me that I know nothing about.

The Professor rose from his seat, strolled past the drinks cabinet and returned to his seat with a full glass. I still don’t know how he does that.

“Inevitably.” He swirled his glass very gently because it was a little too full to swirl fast.

“What kind of plan?” I made a mental note to add a few more deadbolts to my bedroom door.

“No idea.” He took a sip of whisky. “But if she’s here, there’s a very good reason. Maybe she’s taking a liking to you.”

“Me?” The idea seemed absurd.

“Hey, better that than she takes a dislike to you. You really don’t want that to happen.” He downed his whisky and stood. “Well I’d better be going. I seem to have a house full of ghosts now and I really should be studying them.”

“Now? But I need to know more about this Blackthorn woman. About the family in general.” I pursed my lips. “They sound interesting.”

“They are hard to find. They’ve put distractions all over the internet and throughout libraries. There are stories out there, written as fiction, in which some of them appear. Those stories can be hard to find too. This is a smart family, as you’d expect.” He grinned and put his glass on the table.

“Why would I expect that?”

“Because they are related to me, of course.” The Professor shook my hand. “Thanks for the whisky and the chance to chat with a rarely-seen cousin. I’ll see you again.” He opened the door and turned to speak over his shoulder. “As long as you’re careful not to annoy Liz, that is.”

I slumped into a chair and listened to his chuckle fade along the corridor. I had to get to the bottom of this, and soon.

Life here is starting to get weird

I haven’t seen much of the Professor for a long time. I had in fact wondered whether Death might have collected him but surely, if Death had met the Professor, he’d have said something. More than likely he’d have said quite a lot, since the Professor would be very unlikely to go quietly.

Even so, it was with a mixture of surprise and relief when I answered the peal of the doorbell to find the Professor on my doorstep.

“New taxi driver in town, I see,” he said as he passed me into the hallway. “This one appears to be able to stop without crashing into something.”

“Really?” I closed the door. “I haven’t been in town for some time.” I made a mental note to visit soon. They must be missing me.

As we passed Caligula’s room, Elizabeth was closing the door gently. “Shh,” she said. “The little cutie is asleep.”

I’ve heard Caligula called many things by many people, but ‘cutie’ is a new one.

“Hi Liz.” Romulus didn’t even pause. He kept heading for the living room. “How did you end up here?”

Elizabeth followed him. “Oh, I met this sweet little Doctor in town and moved in to look after his son.”

I put both hands over my face and stood in the hall. From the living room came the sound of whisky pouring and the casual chatter of old friends.

First Death, and now the Professor. Both know this woman and neither seemed surprised to find her here.

I really must investigate this babysitter.