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.