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.

 

 

Writing time again

Finally I have some peace and quiet to devise a horrible story and maybe finish some of the almost done ones. Since I failed to publish a single book last year I have set myself a goal of eight for this year. It’s not as huge a task as it sounds: at least three are in final editing stage anyway. I just have to staple my arse to a chair and deal with them.

I was just putting in the last few staples when Death appeared. He stared at me then took a pair of eyebrows from inside his robe, held them over his eye sockets and raised them.

“This looks like a terribly inefficient way to commit suicide, Dume. I don’t think I’ve ever collected one who died from buttock stapling.” He put the eyebrows away. “Still, I have come to expect something out of the ordinary from you.”

“It’s not suicide. It’s the opposite.” I finished stapling and called up a list of files on my computer. “I have to write again. It’s been too long.”

“Ooo, am I in it?” Death leaned over my shoulder to stare at the screen. I expected to feel hot breath on my neck but of course, he doesn’t have any.

“I already did one with you in it,” I said. “It was a prequel to ‘Channelling’, one of the books I am determined to finish this year.”

“Oh the one with the tall monster. I remember that one. I think I played my part well, don’t you?”

I pressed my lips together for a moment. “It wasn’t a play, it was a story. I wrote it, you didn’t really have anything to do but read it.”

“Was I, or was I not, in it?” Death drew himself up to his full height, which is rather less than most people imagine, and banged the end of his scythe on the floor.

“Yes, you were.” I closed my eyes. It was obvious where this logic was going and I just resigned myself to go with it, or I’d never get rid of him.

“So it was me. And as I recall, I made the whole story happen.”

It can’t be easy to look smug with no flesh on your face but somehow, he did it.

“Yes, okay, you were brilliant, well done.” I kept my eyes on the screen and tried not to sound sarcastic.

“I think I did rather well. The story would have been nothing without me.”

“The story was about you.” I glared at the screen so hard I was afraid it might warp.

“That’s as it should be.” Death fell silent for a moment. “But it’s not why I called.”

It’s a good thing my chair swivels, otherwise my sudden turn would have been painful. “So what are you here for? Are you trying for Father again?”

“No, I was checking up on that strange assistant of yours. The dolphin-faced one. You don’t seem to have endangered his life recently. Are you going soft?”

I prodded myself all over. “Maybe a bit around the middle. So what is it with the past assistant thing?”

“I have an app that that tells me when the end is near. The one for your assistant kept going off and then it stopped. I thought I should check.”

“Oh,” I said. “He’s gone.”

“What!” Death took a step back. “How can he have gone without me knowing? This will mess up my monthly stats.”

“No, no,” I said, “he’s not dead. He’s gone to the library where his mind will no doubt be warped by dangerous words and ideas.”

“I’ve been there.” Death took a rather large and somewhat desiccated nose from his robe and wrinkled it in his bony fingers. “Not much for me to do in there.”

“You could read a book.”

“Nah, I’m in most of them.” Death puffed out his ribcage. “I’m pretty much a celebrity in the fiction world, you know.”

I closed my eyes and took a slow breath. “Yes, I know.”

“So Click is still available for collection. And you have a new assistant, I believe?”

“Elizabeth Blackthorn. Not so much an assistant as a babysitter. She’s the first one little Caligula hasn’t eaten.” I gritted my teeth. This wasn’t getting my writing done.

“She’s in no danger?” Death consulted his book. “No, she’s not due for collection.”

“Someone must be.” The words must have come out a bit on the harsh side because Death finally took the hint.

“Okay, I can see you’re busy. And I have souls to harvest. I’ll be on my way, Dume.”

“See you around,” I said.

“Oh, with that child of yours, I’m sure you will.” Death faded into the air.

I stared at the blank word processor page. Yes, Death would no doubt be back and hopeful but Caligula’s new babysitter has kept him pretty calm so far. He’s hardly tried to kill me at all. I poised my fingers over the keyboard, ready to type.

Death reappeared. “Did you say Blackthorn? Liz Blackthorn?”

I almost banged my head on the keyboard. I should have, it would have been the most typing I’d done that night. “Yes”.

Death took a dry tongue from his robes and ran it over his teeth. “See you soon,” he said. Then he vanished.

Maybe I should investigate this babysitter.

 

Santa escapes again

It seems Elizabeth, Caligula’s new babysitter, has a bit of a problem with ghosts. She can see and hear them but they scare her. I’m sure she’ll grow out of it. The castle is full of them, some friendly, some less so. One thing they are good at is keeping the spiders away, so there are no cobwebs to tidy up. Otherwise they are just a bit of a nuisance.

However, she was much better than my previous assistants on the annual Santa hunt. If I hadn’t been consigned to the oubliette once again by a particularly cunning elf, I might have been able to take a bigger share of the spoils when she grabbed him by the sack and refused to let go.

By the time I made my way back upstairs it was all over. Santa had paid the ransom to get her fingernails out of his sack and once again, he escaped.

She did get me a fine coffee machine and some whisky for my Professor-depleted cabinet, but most of her haul seemed to be nail polish and nail art supplies.

I can’t complain. Those fingernails managed what all my incantations and plots and traps have so far failed to achieve, so a little triumphant decoration is definitely in order.

Santa’s sack must be smarting now. Defeat is such a bitter pill, eh, Santa?

I am, of course, assuming she meant the sack containing the presents but the glint in her eye and that wicked smile makes me wonder.

Perhaps I should just give her that raise she’s been asking for…