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…

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.