No TV, but endless visits

Little Caligula is becoming quite adept with his throwing knives. I’d been dodging them all day until the doorbell pealed.

I raced Click for the door and won by a whisker. He insists on trying to answer it but he looks a bit odd and it scares people. As a result, the man at the door wasn’t scared. Just a little taken aback. I wondered why for a moment, then realised I still had my lab coat on. The fingers poking out of the top pocket might have given my visitor a moment’s pause.

I tilted my head to one side as a knife thudded into the doorframe beside me.

“Can I help you?” I used my least hoarse voice in the hope of calming this evidently nervy individual.

“Uh…” He cleared his throat and tried again. “TV licensing. Our records show you don’t have one.”

Another one, I thought. There seems to be an endless supply of these people. “I didn’t know you kept records of that,” I said. “No. I don’t have one.”

“You have to have one.” The man puffed himself up. Clearly his confidence had returned. “It’s the law.”

“Is it? Why?” I stifled a grimace as a knife pinned my hand to the door.

“It’s illegal to watch TV without a licence.” The man’s confidence swelled.

“But your records show I don’t have one,” I said through gritted teeth. Another knife hit the door, fortunately between my fingers.

“That’s right. You have to have a licence.”

“What for?”

“For your TV.” His confidence wavered and he looked confused for a moment.

“I don’t have a TV. You said your records showed that.” Really, this conversation was becoming repetitive and I would need to staunch the bleeding soon.

He closed his eyes and opened them again. “That’s… almost… what they all say. If you have no TV you won’t mind me coming in to check, will you?”

About time, I thought. “Certainly. Help yourself,” I said and moved back to let the door swing open, with my hand still fixed to it. It didn’t seem a good idea to slam it behind him so I just pointed along the corridor and let him make his own way.

His screams echoed through the castle just as I pulled the knife free from my hand. The damage wasn’t too extensive and would soon grow back. Besides, I took comfort in the knowledge that I would now have a peaceful evening.

Caligula always sleeps well after a good feed.

 

 

Death’s home collection service

It was quite a relief to see Death appear yesterday. He had come for Senga’s ghost and she was becoming quite tiresome already. Not that she wasn’t often quite tiresome in life, you understand, but being dead seemed to have annoyed her somewhat more than usual.

Oh, I had all the details of her death at Caligula’s hands, feet and teeth over and over. He’s my son. I know how he operates. Very messily. Yes, yes, I know it was a painful death and yes, yes, I understand she’s upset but Caligula is a Dume. A young and still quite exuberant Dume. She should, by now, expect that sort of thing to happen once in a while.

Okay. Once.

Death managed to get her into his soul bag after quite a struggle and at last, peace descended. Death and I heaved a sigh of relief. Well, I sighed. Death just moved his ribs a little.

“I don’t know what to do with this one, Dume.” Death scratched his mandible with his phalanges. “I don’t think either side can handle her. Sure you don’t want to keep her?”

“Quite sure, thank you.” I decided against calling Click to make tea and headed for the drinks cabinet instead. “I have a very nice Green here. They ferment well because they’re full of vegetables. Feel like a drink?”

“I shouldn’t, not on duty, but that was a tricky job. Just a small one then.” Death leaned his scythe against the wall and took a seat. “I’ll have to take her to the Boss for a decision, you know. He won’t want her and I doubt the red guy will either.” He accepted a glass of Green. “The Boss might have to make a whole new place just for her.”

“Tell him to make sure the new place has no mirrors.” I said, “In case she manages to pass through one and get back here.” I took a seat and sipped at my drink. Green does ferment really well but there’s always a trace of bitterness left.

Death laughed. “She didn’t look like the sort who’d be fond of mirrors.”

“I have several cracked ones,” I said. “It’ll be worthwhile replacing them now.”

Death raised his glass. The liquid swirled, passed between his teeth and vanished. “That’s pretty good stuff, Dume. Ever thought of going into business with your fermented corpse drinks?”

“No, I don’t produce enough to make a living at it. Visitors are few here and those suitable for fermenting are rare.”

“Pity.” Death took another drink. “If more people visited you, it would save me a lot of travelling.”

“Well there has been a new visitor lately. I haven’t enticed her in yet but she seems keen to visit. She’s interested in flattened cardboard apparently. Ex-boxes.”

“Let me know how you get on then.” Death downed his drink and stood. Then sat, shook his skull and stood again, more carefully this time. “That’s stronger than I expected. You really should consider selling a limited edition at least. It might finish off a particular drunk I’ve been watching for a long time.”

“You watch drunks?” I sipped at my drink more carefully than Death. I’ve had this stuff before.

“A few. One in particular seems damn well indestructible though. I’ve had his name circled in my book for almost thirty years, but he just won’t die.”

“Send him here.” I grinned over my glass.

“He’s been here and left intact. A previous assistant of yours.” Death retrieved his scythe and leaned on it. “No matter what happens to him, it all just grows back.”

My brow furrowed. Only one assistant ever left here alive. So he’s still alive. I must get around to looking him up.

“Well, best get on.” Death sounded a little slurred. “I hope there are no major incidents tonight. I doubt I’m in any fit state to deal with them.”

“Yes, of course.” I placed my glass on the table and stood. “Thanks for collecting Senga. She really was getting in the way of things,”

“Ah. I’ll have to face the Boss while I’m a little tipsy. This could be awkward.” He leaned against the wall and faded through it.

I picked up my glass and smiled into it. Finally, life looked like it was getting back to normal.

A new beginning

The Professor showed up after only a couple of weeks and found the door to the oubliette.

The door creaked open on long-unused hinges and the Professor’s voice boomed into the darkness. “How long have you been in here, Dume?”

“Two and a half years or thereabouts,” I replied. “Why?”

“The door wasn’t locked, you idiot. You had me rush over here to let you out of a room you were never locked into in the first place.” He turned and strode back up the stairs. “I expect your best whisky for this, Dume.”

I considered pointing out that a couple of weeks’ delay could hardly be considered ‘rushing’ but discovering that I could have left at any time left me a bit shamefaced. Maybe I could consider it an extended holiday or leave of absence. In the event, I gathered up my computer and followed the Professor up the stairs.

The grey gloom of a Dume Swamp evening seared my eyes. It was going to take a little time to adjust to this much light. Perhaps a little longer to adjust to this much freedom. It does feel good to be back though and to have the means to write again. There really wasn’t much to write about in the oubliette. Every day was the same and every night was the same as the day.

Now I think about it, it’s really quite a tedious little room. I should redecorate, or just fill it in and forget about it. The irony of forgetting about an oubliette is really quite appealing.

The Professor stood at the drinks cabinet, glass of whisky in hand, and glowered at me.

“Someone asked me something about visions and I had to drop that line of inquiry to trek all the way out here. It makes me look inefficient, Dume.” He finished his whisky, turned on his heel to face the drinks cabinet for a moment then strode to a chair and sat down, placing his full glass on the table. I have never worked out how he does that.

“Sorry.” I placed my computer back on its desk and plugged it in. “If I had known the door was unlocked I wouldn’t have troubled you.”

“It never occurred to you to try it?”

“Well, no. It’s an oubliette. It’s not supposed to be easy to leave.” I started the computer and watched it fire up to make sure it was all in order. “Who let you in? Click? Senga?”

“The front door was open”. He took a cigar from his pocket and lit it. “I haven’t seen anyone else.”

“Open?” I felt a twinge of alarm. I would have to get my crossbow and sweep the place for intruding Ferals. There was also the matter of young Caligula. Five years old and possibly alone in the swamp or worse – the village. The damage he might do could be incalculable.

Eventually, after making quite a dent in my drinks cabinet, the Professor left. I set about combing the castle for Ferals and the missing members of the household.

Caligula was fast asleep in his room and I quickly identified the strewn remains on the floor as those of his mother. He did look rather well fed but she was starting to decay quite badly. I decided to clear up later unless I could find Click and make him do it.

There were no Ferals in the castle, but given the reception they normally receive here that was hardly surprising. To them, an open door might look less like an opportunity and more like bait.

A quick visit to the vault reassured me that Father was still in residence and guarding what he still considers to be his money. As he always said, if he can’t take it with him then he’s staying here with it – so he did.

Click was in the laboratory, cowering under a table. I coaxed him out gently with a handy cattle prod. No need to ask who he’d been hiding from. Caligula would have made a snack of him.

“Little monster.” Click hugged himself. “Eaten everything, eaten all visitors, eaten his mother.”

“Yes, well, he was probably hungry. I’ve locked him in his room now. Nothing to worry about.” Well, not until I send him in there to clean up.

I took a seat and rubbed my fingers on my forehead. “I was only away for two and a half years and the place has gone to pieces. Can’t be helped, I suppose. Well, Click, we’d better start tidying up.”

Two and a half years of oblivion, but it’s over now and I’m back in control of Dume Towers at last. I suppose I should be thankful of this chance at a new start. Not many people get that.

Aside from Professor Crowe, none of my visitors ever do.

 

In the oubliette

My computer landed next to me in the oubliette yesterday. I suppose I should consider myself lucky it didn’t land on me.

Two and a half years I’ve been down here. Little Caligula pushed me in as a merry jape just before Christmas and the delightfully vindictive little swine probably thinks I’ve died. Evidently he failed to work out the password for my computer, which is why I have it now.

Now I can communicate with the outside world again. I can get someone to help me out of here and end my diet of raw rats and spiders. It’s not a bad diet, plenty of protein, but it gets boring after a while.

The only ones I’ve talked to in here are Death and Red Stan and they’ve become pretty dull. Death just looks disappointed when he shows up and finds me still alive. Stan keeps going on about me signing a contract to get out of here but I’m not falling for that. His contracts are heavily loaded in his favour.

So if you’ll excuse my long absence from reality, I have to call someone to get me out.

Professor Crowe, you have mail.

Things have happened.

 

Click dropped a flask. Not unusual in itself, although the contents were. We have mostly recovered now apart from Click who is still a gecko and it serves him right. I’d step on him if he wasn’t so fast. He’d better recover soon. It’s nearly time to prepare for our annual Snare Santa festivities.

So it’s catch-up time. The review I wrote for Carole Jahme’s vampire story ‘Worth Their Weight in Blood‘ is up, the one for the fascinating premise that is Geoff Nelder’s ‘ARIA: left luggage’ has yet to be sent in (it’s late), and there is a very nice writeup of ‘The Articles of Dume’ further down this page.

I have attempted to provoke Santa for years in the hope he will get angry enough to make a mistake and I have, it seems, succeeded with ‘A Christmas Contract’ which he reviewed anonymously and awarded a single star with a hint of paranoid delusion. I’m getting to you, Santa. Here’s another dig.

While I was a bearded dragon, ‘Samuel’s Girl’ finally made it into ePrint and is gradually spreading in print too. It’s now available from the publisher as well as on Barnes and Noble and on Amazon in Kindle and in print in the US, but not yet in legitimate print in the UK. Used copies are already available although the sellers don’t specify what they used them for so buy at your own risk.

I still think that cover is incredible. It’s worth the price just to have that image.

Now I have to deal with little Caligula who has decided that since we missed his birthday this year, we owe him presents with interest. It’s not even a month late but his interest rates would make a payday lender cringe. I will have to force some kind of compromise here.

Excuse me. Click is running across the ceiling again. Where’s my slingshot?

 

Death makes the big time.

It has been hectic here in Dume Swamp in recent months. Some time ago, a Green Man called and persuaded me to have solar panels installed on the roof. It was at no cost to me, he said, I’d get paid for the electricity they generated, he said, and then ‘Aaagh, stop skinning me alive!’ he said and then he went very quiet apart from the occasional gurgle.

He was okay, but a bit stringy. The Green Men often are.

Other Green Men arrived and installed big panels on the roof. I sent Click up to make sure they installed them over the holes. Good thing too, since keeping the rain out is all they turned out to be good for. Here in the north of Scotland, in a swamp permanently shrouded in fog, solar panels don’t do anything much. If the first Green Man had mentioned they need sunlight to work, the later Green Men could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and the later ones would at least still have skin.

I wish someone else would call. You have to boil the meat for hours to take out the bitterness and reduce the gristle to chewable levels.

Anyway, I now have enough power to fire up the computer as long as Click keeps running in the wheel.

So I have been perusing the details of a miniature Australian version of our own swamp’s whipweed, one so small it can only eat flies. It has a great deal of growing to do before it can deal with Ferals and salesmen but it’s a start. While perusing, I felt a set of icy phalanges on my shoulder.

“Good evening, Dume,” boomed the empty voice of Death. “I see your offspring has been somewhat lax in his duties. You’re still alive.”

“Sorry to disappoint. Still, he’s only three years old at the end of this month. You have to make allowances for his age and for my well-developed cunning. He hasn’t even eaten his mother yet.”

“Hmm.” Death leaned over my shoulder. “Reading the news? Here’s one of far more interest to you, as a writer.” He took control of the mouse and changed the page.

I began to read the story that appeared. “Body parts have value? How fascinating.”

“No, no, not that.” He scrolled down to something that looked like a map produced by a deranged railway engineer. “This. This is a plot of the most popular story elements in successful novels. Notice who occupies the largest segment?”

I turned to look at him just as he puffed out his ribs.

“Me,” he said.

My attention returned to the screen and the story. “Not really. What this says is that from a selection of the best selling books, most of them include someone’s death as a plot element. It isn’t actually you.”

Death rummaged in his cape and took out a pair of narrowed eyes, which he held over his orbits. “Are they, or are they not, dead?”

I scratched my ear. “Well, they are fictional so–”

“Dead or not dead. It’s a yes or no thing. it always is.”

“Well, okay, yes, they are dead.” I sensed the evening was likely to transcend logic.

“I am Death, am I not? So even if the dead people are fictional, they need a fictional version of me to collect them. So it counts. I am the most popular thing in the most popular novels.” He leaned close. “So if you want to write a popular novel, you must have me in it.”

I put my face in my hands. Red Stan expects a story about him and now Death wants one too.

“Okay,” I said. “Most of my characters die so technically you’re already in there and you did feature in Bernie’s Bargain as yourself. I can make you more prominent if you like.”

“I like.” He grinned, I suppose, but then he has little choice in the matter, and then he vanished.

I think what I need now is a story with both Death and Red Stan in it. That should shut them both up.

For a while.

 

The comet cometh.

Every time there is a comet, the world goes nuts. All it is, really, is a lump of icy rock floating about in the sky but the doom-mongers love to scare everyone with a new End of the World story.

Well, so do I.

So I need a comet disaster tale in time for the arrival of comet ISON and it has to be more bizarre and more terrifying than anything the doom-mongers can devise.

One small issue. The comet arrives in late November 2013. Isn’t the world already supposed to end in December 2012?