The darkness of the future

In all this modern madness and mayhem (of which I fully approve, naturally), what’s needed is a tale of woe to lower your spirits and dampen your enthusiasm. I have, of course, just such a tale to hand. Here we go…

Leaving the Dream

The stern lady behind the plexiglass screen glared at Philip. “Hand on the scanner.” Her lips barely broke their sneer.

Philip knew the routine. It was the same as everywhere else. He placed his left hand on the pad and watched the embedded chip, in the flesh beside his thumb, glow that sickly green.

The woman turned to regard the screen beside her. “Philip Armitage. Status amber. You have missed three vaccinations.” She scrolled down a long list. “Boosters for measles, malaria and scrofula.”

Philip raised his eyebrows. “I thought I was up to date.”

The woman snorted. “They always do. Go into the booth and wait. When your vaccinations are updated, you will be permitted to enter.”

As Philip took his hand off the scanner, a disinfectant mist sprayed over its surface.

In the booth, with the door closed, Philip waited patiently. He wondered when those vaccinations had expired. Yesterday he was at the supermarket and they were fine, everything was showing green. He shrugged. It was worth it to visit Grandad. The ones the woman had mentioned probably weren’t expensive, so it wasn’t an issue. He’d need them updated anyway, to be sure his children didn’t get taken into care.

Presently the door opened and a white coated man came in, wearing a bubble helmet and pushing a trolley. He consulted a small tablet.

“Mister Philip Armitage. Boosters for measles, malaria and scrofula, yes?”

“That’s right.” Philip rolled up his sleeve. “I have no idea what those diseases are, you know?”

The man laughed as he filled the first syringe. “Nobody does, because we’re all vaccinated against them. We don’t have to experience them any more.” All three syringes filled, the man rolled the trolley beside Philip. “Well, as long as we are up to date. The unvaccinated can still infect us, of course.”

Philip winced at the first injection. “There can’t be any of the unvaccinated left, surely?”

The man picked up the second syringe. “Sometimes we come across those who won’t update their medications. They have fallen for the conspiracy theories. They are a danger to our safety so they have to be isolated.” He stuck the second needle into Philip’s arm. “But there is nothing to worry about. They are soon removed from the rest of us.”

“Where do they go?”

The man drew a breath. “Isolation camps, I think.” He avoided eye contact as he injected the third vaccine. “Okay, you’re up to date. Your account will be debited for these three shots.” He checked his tablet. “You should be okay for at least three months. Then you’ll be due for flu and chicken pox shots.”

Philip rolled down his sleeve. I wonder how much this will cost. It would have been rude to ask. The vaccines were for everyone’s benefit and you couldn’t put a price on that. He simply thanked the man and returned to the receptionist.

“Hand on the scanner.” She hadn’t improved her public relations skills in the last few minutes, Philip noted.

He placed his hand on the scanner. The woman checked her screen.

“Hm. You’re up to date.” She pressed a buzzer and a door opened beside the reception booth. “Go to visiting room seven. It’s been disinfected.”

“Thank you.” Philip walked through the door, rubbing his arm. These constant injections hurt and sometimes caused fever, but that just proves they are working. That’s what all the doctors say. He walked along to a door with a seven stencilled on to it, pushed it open and entered.

“You’re bloody late,” boomed the voice from the speakers.

Philip dashed to the console and reduced the volume. He smiled through the plexiglass partition. “Sorry, Grandad. I had to have some vaccines updated before they let me in.”

The old man sniffed. “Well it’s not as if I have all the time in the world. I’ll be seventy in three days.”

“I know.” Philip sat in front of the screen. “We’re planning to visit for your birthday. One at a time, of course. That’s the rules.”

His grandfather, Judas Armitage, rubbed his forehead. His hand seemed to rub across his eyes as he lowered it. He took a breath. “You won’t need to. I won’t be here.”

Philip narrowed his eyes. “Grandad? Is something happening to you? Is this why you wanted me to visit today?”

His grandad’s brow furrowed. “So which vaccines did you get today?”

Philip shrugged. “Boosters for measles, malaria and scrofula. Why?”

Grandad shook with laughter. “My parents named me well. I wonder how they knew?” He took a few deep breaths. “Okay. I’m going to tell you things that will horrify you. I’m sorry, Philip, but all this mess is partly my fault.”

“What mess?” Philip shook his head. “Are you going daft in your old age? We’re safer than we’ve ever been. I know you used to work for a vaccine company so you helped the world become this safe. What do you mean, your fault?”

“Just be quiet and listen. Right. First of all, measles vaccine has never needed a booster. Malaria has never been a problem in this part of the world, and as far as I can recall, nobody has had scrofula since the fifteenth century.” He looked into Philip’s eyes. “Scrofula vaccine was my idea.”

“I—”

“Shush. You won’t be able to tell many people what I’m going to tell you. Maybe there’s nobody left to tell. Maybe, one day, you’ll tell it to one grandchild, the one you trust the most. Just so the knowledge doesn’t die out.”

“Grandad…” Philip stared at the emergency button. Should he call a nurse?

“Don’t even bloody think about pressing that button, boy.” His grandad glared at him. “What I’m telling you is truth and you won’t hear much of that these days.”

Philip sighed and nodded. Grandad was on one of his rants. Best to just let him roll it out, better get it over with today so he’d be okay for his birthday.

Grandad rubbed his face. “Okay. When I worked on vaccines, I was the one who came up with the idea for a scrofula vaccine, among many others. One in particular will haunt me in my grave.” He lowered his head. “I had been talking with the agricultural department and they told me about Marek’s disease.”

“You found a vaccine for it?”

“No. There was already a vaccine. But it wasn’t perfect. Marek’s disease doesn’t affect humans, it’s only a problem in chickens. The vaccine didn’t stop infection but it reduced symptoms in infected birds.”

“We have some like that. They’re…”

“I’m coming to that. The thing is, the leaky vaccine for Marek’s disease led to the development of a very nasty strain of the disease. Vaccinated birds got sick but recovered. Unvaccinated birds almost always died.” Grandad leaned forward. “It meant that all birds had to be vaccinated, forever. It was a permanent income stream with no way to stop it. Do you see?”

Philip’s head swam. “But vaccines stop us getting sick, or at least make it so we don’t die. Aren’t the Pharmers trying to save us?”

“Oh hell no.” Grandad laughed. “The Pharmers are out to make money. It’s business. They don’t want to cure anything. Cured people stop buying drugs.” He took a few minutes to compose himself. “I was one of them. I saw that if we could induce a version of Marek’s disease in humans then we could sell all of them vaccines, forever. If they refused to take it, they’d die. And, with a coronavirus, we did it.”

“You gave humans a chicken disease?”

“No. We made a human disease mutate into something deadly. Using leaky vaccines. Now you have to keep taking six-monthly shots for that one or you risk a quick death from the vicious variant.” Grandad lowered his head. “I am sorry, Phil. Really. None of us saw where this was going to end up. We were only focused on profit.”

Philip pressed his hands to his head. “I don’t get it. Are you saying a vaccine made a disease worse? How is that possible?”

“It’s like this. Take a deadly disease, like say, Ebola. It kills most of the infected and it kills them pretty fast. So it doesn’t spread too far. People soon stay away from the infected area and the infection burns out.” Grandad licked his lips. “Then a pretty harmless one, like a cold. Hardly kills anyone and it’s mostly just a nuisance. Spreads like crazy because it isn’t really doing much harm. People aren’t much bothered about it.”

“Okay. I get it.” He didn’t, but Philip thought it best to play along.

Grandad raised his finger. “So you get a deadly disease like Ebola and vaccinate people, but imperfectly, so they still get it but it feels like a common cold. What do you think happens next?”

Philip shook his head.

Grandad sighed. “You have Ebola that spreads like a cold. The vaccinated survive it, the unvaccinated don’t. Just like Marek’s disease in chickens. You have to keep up your vaccinations or this thing, which you’ve been told is all over the place now because the vaccinated can still carry it, will kill you.”

An uneasy feeling twisted Philip’s guts. He wasn’t sure he understood but somewhere, deep in his subconscious, alarm bells were ringing. “Yes, but as long as we keep up the vaccinations we’re fine, right?”

“Oh sure. That’s the part we thought was pure profit. We didn’t consider politics. It wasn’t our thing.”

“Politics?”

Grandad spread his fingers on the table. “It soon escalated. You had to prove you had the coronavirus vaccine. Then you had to prove you had the flu vaccine. Then a whole shitload of other vaccines, including vaccines against things you’d never come in contact with. Then boosters, even for things that didn’t need boosters. Oh we were coining it in. It was great. Until the politicians found the loophole.”

“Um…” Philip considered the emergency button again.

“The politicians figured out how to cut back on pensions and the cost of care for the elderly. Like me. You get to a certain age, you’re no longer productive, you cost money rather than pay in taxes and they can just stop the vaccine and let you die. That is what will happen to me now. I retired at sixty-five. They gave me a few more years because I was one of those who made it possible.” He looked into Philip’s eyes. “Don’t spend money on presents for my birthday.”

“Oh come on Grandad. You don’t believe the government will kill you.”

“Governments have killed their own people since governments were invented.” Grandad leaned forward. “They have killed people who disagreed with them, or who were inconvenient, since the beginning. Sometimes millions. It is still happening. They will kill me in a few days. They will kill you when you are no longer productive. They will not be blamed. It will be blamed on a disease variant from the unvaccinated, even though it actually comes from the vaccinated.” Grandad fell silent, his chin in his chest and his lip trembling.

“Are you okay, Grandad? Should I call a nurse?” Philip leaned closer to the plexiglass screen.

“No. I mean yes. I mean I’m okay. Don’t call the nurses.” Grandad rubbed at his eyes before looking up. He stared right into Philip’s eyes. “It wasn’t all that dangerous, you know. The one we picked. I picked. The others were against it at first but I convinced them, as I did with the ridiculous scrofula vaccine.”

“I don’t understand, Grandad. How did it get so dangerous?”

Grandad bit his lip. “I thought I’d explained that. Maybe I didn’t explain it so well. I guess they stopped teaching many aspects of science years ago, so you wouldn’t figure it out for yourself.” He stretched and settled in his chair. “Most viruses mutate.” He held up his hand to forestall Philip’s response. “I know, that’s what you hear every day and it’s why you need so many vaccines.”

“Isn’t it true?”

“Yes, it is true. Some viruses mutate very fast, they can throw up many new variants in a matter of weeks. Those viruses tend to become less dangerous over time.”

“But—” Philip shook his head. “You said you made one more dangerous.”

“That’s right.” Grandad reached for the glass of water on his table and took a sip. “Normally, natural selection would favour the less dangerous variants. The really bad ones put you in bed for a few weeks, the milder ones just gave you the sniffles. So the milder one spreads very much faster and if you catch the mild one, you’re immune to the vicious one. The vicious one dies out while the mild one stays around.”

Philip closed his eyes. This made sense yet it was the opposite of what he had always been taught. Mutant viruses were always more dangerous – but here was his grandfather, with a lifetime’s knowledge of the subject, telling him the opposite.

“Are you taking this in?” Grandad tapped on the plexiglass. “There isn’t much time to make you understand. These visits are limited, we only have a few minutes more and there won’t be another one.”

“Yes, Grandad. I think so.” Philip opened his eyes. Through the screen, his grandad glowered from beneath bushy white eyebrows.

“Just remember it. You can work it out later when you have time to think.” Grandad composed himself. “Okay. What the Marek’s vaccine did, and what we did, was to create a population who were resistant to the more vicious form. They didn’t get confined to bed, they didn’t feel all that sick at all. So they spread the more vicious variant around. Among themselves it felt like a cold, but when it got into someone unvaccinated, it was deadly.”

Grandad lapsed into silence. Philip wondered if he had fallen asleep but he still sat upright. When he looked up there were tears in his eyes.

“We didn’t mean to kill so many people.” Grandad drew his sleeve across his eyes. “The first round of vaccines caused so many deaths, so many ruined lives. We couldn’t stop. It was too late. The Marek variant of our virus had started to appear and we had no choice but to vaccinate everyone. The vaccines were killing and crippling people but if we stopped, the vaccinated would kill everyone unvaccinated.” He drew a deep breath. “I don’t suppose you are understanding this entirely. I should have started telling you much sooner. Well, it can’t be helped. This is my last chance.”

Philip pressed his hands to his face. “Come on, Grandad. First you say the government is going to kill you and now you’re claiming to be a mass murderer? How can I take this in?”

Grandad shrugged. “Neither was intentional. Obviously we didn’t want people to die. Our only focus was profit from selling medications, and the dead don’t need medications.”

“But you kept going.”

“We had to.” Grandad stared into Phil’s eyes. “Don’t you see? The virus we had forced into existence was running rampant. We thought… we thought it would just need to apply to that one virus. We didn’t consider the politicians and their bosses.”

“Their bosses? I thought the politicians were in charge.”

Grandad snorted. “That would be a story for another time, if we had another time. I’m afraid it’s something you’ll have to find out yourself.” He took another sip of water. “Look. Those ‘boosters’ you just had? Sterile saline. They do nothing. They aren’t needed so why take a risk? We were promised huge profits if we played along and the business I was in has only ever cared about profits.”

Phil felt his arm, where the injections had just gone in. “So I paid for salty water?”

“Yep. And you’ve paid for a lot of it over the years. Only a few vaccines are real now. Most of the ones on that long, long list are made-up crap just to keep you in line, and keep you paying.”

“So I could just stop them all and I’d be fine?” Phil stared at his hand, still holding his arm.

Grandad snorted. “Yes, but you’d have to run. Once the system flags you up as an anti-vaxxer – and you only have to miss a booster for a few days – they will come looking for you. Either you take the booster or you can’t buy anything, can’t pay rent, can’t travel… it’s really not an easy choice to make.”

“So it’s impossible.”

Grandad bit his lip. “No. Quite a few have done it. You’d have to find them and they don’t want to be found. They aren’t in the cities…” His voice faded into silence.

Philip blinked a few times. “They live outside quarantine? How? There’s nothing but scorched earth out there.”

“That’s what you’ve been told. Is any of this sinking in? Almost everything you’ve been told has been lies. There was no global warming catastrophe. Even our Marek variant has become rare. These are not cities, they are prisons, and they are becoming increasingly isolated from each other.” Grandad wiped at his eyes again. “The unvaccinated are the only hope for humanity now. You should take your family on a day trip out of the city and just not come back. Find them. It won’t be easy, our government is hunting them so they are very elusive.”

“Grandad…” Philip shook his head in an attempt to stop it spinning. “You’re turning my world upside down. I can’t take this in. Where are these unvaccinated? Aren’t they all diseased?”

“Of course they’re not diseased. If they were, they’d have died out.” Grandad lowered his generous eyebrows to give his favourite glare again. “They are healthier than any of us. Stronger, fitter, faster. I met some of them, years ago. They invited me to join them but how could I? They would soon have found out who I was and what I had done. I couldn’t live with it.”

“You could have left? But I thought the unvaccinated were all sent into isolation.”

Grandad laughed, long and hard. “Oh yes, they go into the strictest isolation of all if they’re caught. Individual accommodation six feet underground.”

Philip furrowed his brow. “Really? Isn’t that expensive?”

Grandad rolled his eyes. “Coffins, you idiot. They are killed.”

Philip pressed his arms around his midriff. His guts felt as though they were intent on some kind of intestinal origami and he didn’t think he’d like the result. All this information. All the contradictions. He’d expected a nice chat with Grandpa and here he was with his life being torn asunder, his beliefs shredded and his trust in authority demolished. Philip threw his head back and groaned.

“It’s a lot to take in, lad.” Grandad placed his hand on the plexiglass screen. “I really should have started sooner but there never seemed to be a right time. Now you’ll know I’m telling the truth in a few days, when you get the call.”

“What call?”

“You won’t be allowed another visit. Tell your kids Great-Grandad was thinking of them. Tell your sister too, she won’t be allowed in here now either. And I’m sorry, but I’ve forced your hand on this. It’s for the best.”

“What are you talking about?” Philip wondered if Grandad was finally losing his marbles.

“These visits are monitored. Call tomorrow to try to arrange a visit. They’ll tell you I’m too ill for a visit. They’ll be watching you because they know what I’ve just told you. You will have to move, and soon, without arousing suspicion. It’s going to be a hard life for you and your family now.”

“Grandad, you’re rambling. Have you taken your meds today?”

A red light flashed on the ceiling. Grandad stared up at it. “Time’s up. Don’t do anything unusual. Wait for the call.”

“What call?” Philip tapped at the intercom but no sound came out. “Is this thing on?”

Through the screen, Grandad shook his head, slowly. Behind Grandad, a door opened and a nurse in a bubble helmet entered, pushing a wheelchair. Grandad glanced at her and looked back at Philip. He mouthed some words, slowly, then sat in the chair and allowed the nurse to wheel him out.

The lights on Grandad’s side went out. On Philip’s side, a buzzer sounded and the door behind him clicked open.

Philip stood still for a few minutes, staring into the darkened half of the room behind the plexiglass screen. His mind went over Grandad’s last mouthed syllables time and again, but they always returned the same answer.

‘The call that tells you I’ve died’.

Philip left the room in a daze. His life was about to change in ways he could not even conceive, and he had to admit, a part of him welcomed it.

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?”

“Really?”

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.