The Babysitter

A strange thing happened when I returned from the pub.

I took Caligula’s breakfast in to him and he didn’t eat her. He stared at her and she at him for a while. Then she smiled.

Then he ran at her and I thought ‘I should have worn the splashproof trousers’ but he didn’t bite at all.

He.. hugged her. My own son did that! Evidently my parenting skills are sadly lacking. Not one bite did he take, not even for a taste. I was, it goes without saying, entirely nonplussed by this turn of events. I just hope he’s not going to grow up strange.

It seems Caligula will have to have breakfast from the freezer. Still it’s not all bad news. I have a babysitter I won’t have to peel off the walls on my return home in future and she’ll soon learn to make a decent cup of tea. Left out the kitten blood on her first attempt. I like a bit of cuteness in my tea and there’s nothing more cute than kitten blood.

It’s not like me to ask baby food to introduce itself but I did get a name. Elizabeth. Elizabeth Blackthorn.

The surname sounds familiar somehow.

Pub night

Click has vanished again. I expect he’s off with the library woman, helping her torment some poor soul with her cryptic messages and his bizarre babblings.

No matter. I made sure Caligula was well fed and secure in his room and made my way out to visit the pub. It has been a long time since I sampled Angus McSquirty’s Bowel Purger or a fine pint of Bucket Filler at the local hostelry.

These are local brews, made by some mysterious (and probably quite dark) arts in the back rooms of our only pub, the Throat and Razor. Located on the edge of the town, it always had that rustic air about it, an atmosphere of cattle-shed stench combined with the likelihood of imminent collapse. I hoped it had not turned into one of these new gastropod pubs I hear so much about in the news. Having it covered in slug slime would spoil the ambience somewhat.

As I neared the boundaries of Little-Shithole-in-the-Swamp, I noted a few tattered posters stuck to trees. They advertised a coming party. It was to be this Friday and I was delighted to see that they were celebrating me, their favourite doctor.

‘Dume – A Celebration’ was the title of their party. I was quite touched. I’ve been completely absent from the town for over two years. As far as they knew, I might have been dead, and yet here they were throwing a party for me.

So it was in high spirits that I entered the pub and acknowledged the respectful silence that the villagers have always accorded my arrival. They did look quite surprised to see me but then it has been a long time. A few were so overcome that they swooned. Some of them looked quite pale, almost as if they had seen a ghost. They should visit Morag McQuackery for a tonic prescription.

Anyhow, the pianist eventually started up again and the villagers resumed their hushed and urgent conversations. How they do that all the time is beyond me. It must be quite tiring.

I took a look at the beers on offer at the bar. “No Bowel Purger?” I asked of the barman. He was new, but then he would be. They don’t last too long in here. A few Saturday nights is usually enough to finish them off.

“We haven’t had that for over a year,” he said. “You might like a Skidmark Bitter, it’s very similar to the old brew. Not quite as strong though.”

“I’ll give it a go,” I said, and dropped a doubloon on the counter. “Keep the change.” Those posters must have affected my thinking by putting me in an exceptionally good mood.

“Actually,” he said, “a pint costs two of those coins now. We have a new Wicked Witch in government and she hates pubs.”

“Really?” I dropped another doubloon into his greasy little hand and took my beer to a quiet table.

I had hoped to drink in peace but was soon joined by a young lady I hadn’t seen before.

“Do you mind if I sit?” she said.

“I don’t mind if you do handstands while juggling plates,” I replied. “Although sitting is less likely to give me a headache.”

She laughed for some strange womanly reason and took the seat opposite. “Are you new in town?” was her first indication that she expected conversation as well as sitting.

“No,” I said. “I’m old in town. Truth be told, I’m old wherever I go.”

Another inexplicable laugh. “I’ve only been here a week, The locals can be a bit weird to outsiders, I’ve found. Are you local?”

“I am when I’m at home.” I took a drink of the beer. It was awful. Just like the old brew.

I had the distinct impression she was infected with a giggle virus.”You’re not like the others round here,” she said “What’s your name?”

Reciting all my names could take a lot of time so I just settled on the most commonly used one. “Phineas,” I said.”Phineas Dume.”   Then, for no logical reason I could deduce, I added “Doctor Phineas Dume.”

Her eyes grew wide. ‘You’re the one they talk about? The one in the castle?”

There was a surge of pride. “Yes, that’s me. Going to the party Friday?”

“No, it’s not my kind of party” She looked away

I  finished my beer. “Well, I have to go. If you ever feel like seeing a castle, just let  me know.”

“How about now?”

“Now?” The eagerness in her somewhat wild eyes took me by surprise. “Well I suppose I could show you the castle now. I’m going there anyway.”

Caligula will need breakfast, I thought, so I took her home.

On the way I noticed that the party posters had ‘cancelled’ stamped on them

Pity. I was looking forward to that party

Hell hath no fury…

I spotted Click sneaking back into the castle earlier. He’s been moonlighting at the library again. I hope he’s not looking inside those books, they will make him go a bit strange.

There was no time to berate him because Red Stan appeared in a cloud of sulphurous stench and banged his horns on the mantelpiece as he emerged from the fireplace. I braced myself for the usual tirade about horn-chip insurance salesmen but this time, he ignored them.

“You!” He pointed at me and curled his lip. “Did you send that damnable woman down to me?”

“Oh.” I closed my eyes. “You mean Senga? No, that wasn’t my doing at all.”

“It’s been Hell down there since she showed up.”

I opened my eyes. “I thought it already was?”

“Not for me, it wasn’t.” Red Stan leaned on the table, leaving another set of scorched hand-prints. I once tried putting a glass top on that table to save it from scorching but Stan just melted it.

He pushed himself back from the table. “Wait a minute. Shouldn’t you still be in that oubliette?”

“The door was unlocked.” I said. “I decided to leave.” There seemed no need to mention the Professor’s part in it at this stage.

“I won’t need this then.” Stan pulled a thick contract from… somewhere, I’m not sure where and prefer not to speculate… and flared it into ash. “Another wasted lawyer, Still, I have an apparently endless supply of them.”

“What are you doing with Senga? Tormenting her?” I suppressed a grin because I suspected it might be the other way around.

Red Stan sighed. “It’s the other way around.” He rested his hand on the mantelpiece which, being granite, didn’t scorch. “I’m supposed to be the one in charge down there but she’s insisting on smokeless fires and safety caps on the pitchforks. Tea breaks for the souls of the damned and a repaint for the Gates. She’s wrecking the place, Dume. It’s just not properly Satanic any more.”

“Has she mentioned lace curtains yet?” She once tried to get me to buy them, but curtains you can see through are a total waste of money in my book. Besides, all the windows in the castle have wooden shutters even though not all of them have glass.

Red Stan’s jaw dropped. “Lace curtains? She wouldn’t dare.”

“She did have a bit of a thing for lace curtains. It was impossible to fob her off with old fishing nets which are cheaper and do the same thing. Lace it had to be.” I wondered if I should mention the horrible china ornaments. Perhaps Stan could take them back with him in a futile attempt to placate her. He’d scorch them though, and that would make things worse for him.

“I am not giving in on lace curtains.” He flashed so brightly that my eyes automatically gauged the distance between me and the nearest fire extinguisher.

“I’m surprised you gave in on anything,” I said. “You’re the Lord of Hell, aren’t you? How can a mere woman best you?”

“There is nothing mere about that bloody woman. The nagging never stops. You do one thing she wants and immediately she starts nagging for the next thing. When does it end, Dume?”

I tapped my nose with my finger and smiled. “When you realise that there is no way to please her, and that when everything you do is going to be wrong, you might as well do whatever you damn well like.” I lowered myself into my chair. “It never ends, so just stop. I stopped at lace curtains. She nagged me about lace curtains for years but I never bought any, so she never got to move on to the next nagging. Eventually, ‘lace curtains’ were words that didn’t even register with me. That’s when it gets easier.”

“Hmm.” Red Stan scratched his neck with his tail. “I see. Well, thanks for the advice, Dume. I owe you one.” He disappeared back into the fireplace.

So Senga is in Hell. I expect it was quite pleasant there before, at least by comparison. I permitted myself a smug smirk at the thought that I had managed to cope with her better than even Red Stan.

One thing’s for sure though. I am definitely never going to Hell now.

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.