Morte d’Arthur 2017

Wounded by Mordred, Arthur lay in the blood-drenched mud of his final battlefield.  He had dispatched the loyal Sir Bedivere to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.  The knight had demurred twice before finally carrying out the King’s orders.  Loth to leave me, Arthur mused.  Afraid he will miss my final breath.

A patch of air shimmered and shone and a silvery apparition stood over the ailing king.

“Sire,” a voice came from nowhere.  The gleaming figure bowed its head.

“Merlin!” Arthur gasped.  “Old friend!”

The shape took on the form of the wizard, beard and hat and staff and all, its edges smoky tendrils like a will-o’-the-wisp.

“It looks like I rocked up just in time!” Merlin chuckled.  “Let’s have look at you.  Tell me, where does it hurt?”

“Where doesn’t it?” Arthur grunted.  “There is nothing to be done for me.  It is finished.”

“Tush!” Merlin scolded.  He stooped over the king’s pronate form and inspected his armour.  “Someone’s opened you up like a can of beans!”

“A what?”

“Never mind.  Listen, Wart lad: I can take you far from here – far from now, to be more precise.  The miracles they can work!  They have no need of wizards and magic.  They’ll get you back on your feet in no time at all.  Then you can return and live out the rest of your reign in peace.”

Arthur frowned.  “Where is this place of miracles?  Or are you spinning me a yarn to distract me from the grim reaper’s call?”

“I’m not blagging you, bro,” said Merlin.  “In Albion, a thousand years hence, there is a place, a host of places, where lives are saved, where bodies are healed, and minds are soothed.  But we must go quickly, for even they cannot bring souls back from the dead.”

Sir Bedivere returned to find an eerie light bathing the king.

“My liege!” he cried, drawing his sword and running forward.  But the light shrank to a pinprick and winked out, taking the body of King Arthur with it.  Brave Sir Bedivere dropped to his knees and wept.

“Shit!” said Merlin, dropping to his knees in the car-park, but not from the weight of the dying king in his arms.  “They’ve done it!  Those damnable fools!”

“What?” Arthur grimaced in pain.  “Who?  What has happened?”

Merlin shook his head sadly and lay Arthur on the tarmac.  “I am sorry, my King.  These fools – so capable of wonders and compassion – have done the unthinkable.  They have chosen as their leader an unspeakable hag and she has closed these temples of miracles, these A and E departments.”

The question why formed on Arthur’s lips but he was dead before he could give breath to the word.

Merlin wept.  He turned to light and vanished, taking his friend to the mystic isle of Avalon for burial.

What a waste, he mourned.  What a terrible waste.

Merlin

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Meanwhile at the campsite…

Robert couldn’t sleep.  Beside him, Tony snored like a warthog trying to start a motorboat.  Robert pulled his sleeping bag up over his chin, eyes wide in the darkness.  Outside the tent, something rustled.  Robert held his breath.  What was it?  A plastic bag scurrying in the wind?  A badger snuffling for worms?  Or a psychopathic killer whose shoes didn’t fit?

Robert gasped.  It was a killer, had to be!  The campsite was spotless, there was no litter at all.  And there were probably no badgers for miles – they’d all been culled, hadn’t they?  So, it could only be a psycho on the prowl.  It stood to reason.

Holding his breath was proving impossible.  Robert was certain he could be heard right across the field at the toilet block.  Tony had insisted they pitch the tent in the farthest corner so that ‘we won’t be troubled by drunks stumbling back and forth all night’.  Cheers for that, Tone.  Now Robert’s bladder was brimming and he would have to unzip, crawl out, slip his boots on and traipse across to the breezeblock hovel.  Putting my life at risk.  Bound to get caught by the killer as soon as I open the flaps.  And I’ll piss myself into the bargain.  I’ll be found with my head off and my pants full of piss.  How mortifying!

Or perhaps he’ll catch me while I’m standing at the bucket that passes for a urinal.  Attack me from behind like they do in the films.  And then I’ll spray everywhere, blood from one end, piss from the other.  Robert was amused by the thought.  But there was nothing else for it: when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.

Gingerly, Robert unzipped the bag.  He tipped his boots upside down and shook them.  In case of spiders or scorpions or whatever else might be lurking inside.  He slipped them on, not bothering to lace them up, unzipped the flaps and crawled out.  He stood but remained hunched in order to present a smaller target and protect his vulnerable areas.  He hurried toward the sodium glow of the solitary light outside the toilet block, bootlaces swishing around his ankles.

Come on, come on, come on… With every step away from the tent, attack seemed more likely.  Robert whimpered with terror.  And then the rough walls of the block were in front of him, solid and real, and rasping beneath his fingertips.  Robert breathed out.

Bladder empty, his return to the tent was more confident, as though a corresponding weight had been lifted from his mind.  He walked tall, striding across the grass, past the tents of others, shadowy forms of all shapes and sizes.  It was quiet.  Too quiet?  Robert’s imagination set to work again.  They could all be dead!  Lying on their inflatable mattresses with their throats cut.  The killer could be working his way across the site and our tent is the last in line!

Tony!

Robert froze.  To run toward or away from the tent that contained his best friend?

A man was looming over the tent, standing straight, a silhouette, silver-edged in the moonlight.  Blood dripped darkly from the blade of his axe.

“Oh, you’re back are you?” the man grinned, eyes and teeth glinting.

“T-Tony?” Robert backed away.

“I thought you’d never go for a piss,” Tony approached, both hands on the axe handle.  “Here’s the plan.  I’m going to make it look like you did this, you went on a spree, killed all these people, and then I got you in self-defence.”  He shrugged.  “Sorry, mate, but it’s how I get away with it.”

Robert fled.  His bootlaces lashed out like snakes, coiling around his ankles and tripping him up.  He rolled onto his back as Tony raised the bloodied axe over his head, and the last thing Robert felt was the warm sensation of his underwear filling with piss as his bladder miraculously found one last load to let go.

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RIP Raffles

“Hello, Timmy,” David grinned on the doorstep.  “Thought you might need some company?”

Timmy looked puzzled.  “Why?”

“Because – you know – Raffles.”

Timmy nodded.  He beckoned David in.  “I’m all right,” he said.  “Raffles is in a better place, Mummy says.”

“Oh, what’s this?”  Timmy’s mother emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.  “Talking about me behind my back!  Hello, David.  Staying for dinner?”

“Um…”

“You’re very welcome.  There’s more than enough.  Now, you two go up to Timmy’s room and play quietly.  I’ll call you down when it’s ready.”

“Thanks, Mum!” Timmy pounded up the stairs.

David lingered in the hall.  “Is he all right, Mrs Farrell?  I thought he’d be sad.”

“You’re a good friend,” Mrs Farrell smiled.  “And losing a pet can be tough.  Did you know, Raffles was as old as Timmy?  That’s quite old for a dog.”

David did the mental arithmetic.  “Raffles was 70!”

“Yes.  But he’s not in pain any more.  Now, you run along.”

She went back to the kitchen.  David caught a whiff of the dinner to come.  It smelled delicious.

He joined Timmy in his room for a quick game of superheroes, bashing action figures into each other and doing all the sound effects with their mouths.

“Timmy…” said David, toying with a figure of Wonder Hound.  “It’s OK, you know.  If you want to talk about Raffles.”

Timmy scrunched his nose.  “What for?”

“Perhaps you could write it down.  Then you could bury it.  With him.  With Raffles.”

Timmy looked aghast.

“It could help you.  That’s what funerals do.  They help people.  When my gran –”

But Timmy wasn’t listening.  He bombarded Mr Terrific into Blast-o-path, making noises like explosions.  David sat back and watched his friend.  Bottling things up; that’s what Timmy is doing, David diagnosed.  And that’s never good – not according to David’s mother’s magazines, anyway.

Mrs Farrell called them from the foot of the stairs.  Dinner was ready.

“Looks delicious, Mrs Farrell,” David tucked a napkin under the collar of his Fabulous Five T-shirt.  “And it smells – like heaven!”

Mrs Farrell grinned.  “I’m glad you approve, David.  It’s nice to get a compliment.”  She sent a meaningful glare across the table to her husband, who was already tucking in.  “Roger,” she hissed.  “The prayer!”

David dropped his knife and fork.  He had forgotten that Timmy’s family were quite religious and did things David and his family did not do at home.  He decided the best thing would be to close his eyes and bow his head.

“We thank Raffles for the time he shared with us and the love he gave,” Timmy’s father intoned.  David thought he heard Timmy sniff back a tear.  “And we say our final farewell to him with this commemorative repast.  So be it.”

“So be it,” echoed Mrs Farrell.

“So be it!” said Timmy enthusiastically.  “Come on, David.  Don’t let your dinner go cold!”

David looked up.  The Farrells were all smiles.  They made enthusiastic noises as they devoured the meal Mrs Farrell had prepared.  David tried a forkful of the mashed potato.  It was the creamiest, smoothest he had tasted.  Even the peas – and he had never been a fan of peas – were sweet and – and – minty!  David’s mother would never put mint in the peas.  She would dismiss it as yet another of the Farrells’ odd ways.

“Something wrong, David?”  Mrs Farrell gave him a look of concern.  “You haven’t touched your meat.”

“It’s the best part,” said Mr Farrell.

“I always save it until last,” said David.

“Some people have funny ideas!” Mr Farrell rolled his eyes.  “Get it down you.”

Not wishing to appear rude, David sliced the end off his portion of meat.  It was thick and succulent.  It seemed to melt in his mouth.  But – but – there was something else.  David coughed and spluttered.  Mrs Farrell sprang to her feet and began to pat his back.  David pulled a clump of hair from his mouth.  Long, red hair that reminded him of Raffles.

“Perhaps we should let him choke, love,” chuckled Mr Farrell from the head of the table.  “Lad like him would keep us in dinners for a fortnight.”

dog

 

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The Kicker

“I’ll leave you to it then, Mrs.”  Mrs Scratch lingered at the back door.  “You will look after them flowers, won’t you, Mrs?”

She nodded at the kitchen table.  Tabitha smiled.  “Yes, I will.   It was such a lovely touch.  To brighten up my first day in the new home.”

“Are you sure, Mrs?”  Mrs Scratch looked troubled.  “Are you sure you don’t want to come back into the village with me?  I hear the Red Lion’s got some lovely rooms.”

Tabitha laughed.  “Now, why would I want to stay in a country pub – no matter how lovely it may be – when I’ve got this entire manor house to myself?  You’ve been brilliant, truly.  But I’d like to be left to get on with it, if you don’t mind.  Get settled in, get my bearings, you know how it is.”

Mrs Scratch chewed her lower lip.  “I’ll be back in the morning, Mrs.  I’ll bring milk and bread from the village.”

“There’s no need, honestly.”

“We looks out for each other in these parts.  It’s only neighbourly.”

“I didn’t mean to offend but –”   Tabitha was cut off by the sound of a thump overhead.  Both women looked at the kitchen ceiling.

“Oh, Mrs, I’m begging you!  Come back with me!  You can have my sofa if the pub ain’t to your liking.”

“Nonsense!  It was probably just a box falling over.  The removal men weren’t exactly fastidious.”

“Mrs, please!”

Tabitha marched across the room and held the back door.  “Goodnight, Mrs Scratch.”

Mrs Scratch shook her head, her lips pursed like a cat’s backside.  But she left, limping down the path.  Tabitha shut and bolted the door.  Daft old boot – well-meaning, she supposed, but Tabitha had no time, for superstitious claptrap.  She had heard the stories connected with the old building, stories of brutal murders, people kicked to death, the killer uncaught – the stories had worked in her favour; the house was surely worth much more than she had paid for it.  There had been other potential buyers but they had all pulled out after seeing the place.  More fool them, thought Tabitha, sipping the tea Mrs Scratch had made.  They had missed out on the bargain of a lifetime.  And now the place was all hers, to get down to finally writing that novel she’d been thinking of for years.

Tabitha spent a couple of hours, straightening things out in the master bedroom.  It was not long before she was ready to turn in.  In the morning, she would stroll down to the village, have a look around, fetch her own milk and bread.  Perhaps a spot of lunch in the ‘lovely’ Red Lion…

The door opened with a creak.  Startled, Tabitha sat up in bed, holding her breath.  She felt foolish.  These old places, they all had their quirks, their strange noises; she just needed to get used to them.  She lay down, amused by her jumpiness.

Thump!

Something was there!  In the room with her!  Tabitha froze.

Thump!  Thump!

It was getting closer.  It was approaching the bed!

Thump!  Thump!  Thump!  It was slowly advancing.

Tabitha sat up, clutching the bedclothes to her chin.  She thought about reaching for the bedside lamp but remembered she had yet to unpack it.

Thump!  Thump-thump!  Thump-thump-thump!

Tabitha screamed.

The next morning, Mrs Scratch let herself in via the front door.  “Cooee!” she called up the main staircase.  “It’s only me, Mrs.”

She listened.  There was no answer.  Smiling to herself, Mrs Scratch moved through to the kitchen and placed her wicker basket on the table.  She lowered herself onto a stool, feeling the familiar twinge of her prosthetic leg.

Before long, there was a thump-thump-thump down the stairs.

“In you come, my darling,” Mrs Scratch cooed, as a disembodied foot hopped into the room.  “There ain’t nobody going to take over this place while there’s still breath in my body.”

She used a tea towel to clean the blood from its toes, before kissing the foot and placing it lovingly in the basket.

“This place will be ours again, afore long,” she vowed with a chuckle.  “Ain’t that the kicker!”

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Junior’s Nightmare

Daddy Dragon hurried to his son’s cave.  He found Junior sitting up on his bed of gold, panting.  Plumes of smoke shot from the youngster’s nostrils.  Daddy blew on a candle, setting it alight.

“Now, Junior, what’s all this noise?  Another bad dream?”

Junior sobbed and held out his arms for an embrace.  His little wings flapped anxiously.  Daddy perched on the edge of the pile of riches and hugged Junior until his sobs subsided.

“He – he was after me again!” Junior’s shoulders heaved.  “He was on horseback and he had a long, long lance.  He was going to run me through.”

“There, there,” Daddy patted Junior’s scaly back.  “He’s gone; you’re awake now.”

“But you know what day it is tomorrow.  It’s his day.”

Daddy sighed.  They went through this every year on April 23rd.

“Look, son, it’s late but, in the morning, I’ll show you how to defend yourself against knights in armour, OK?  You’re big enough now.”

Junior perked up a little.  “Will you show me how to blast him out of his saddle?”

“Yes.”

“Will you show me how to melt his lance?”

“Yes.”

“Will you show me how to cook him in his metal suit?”

“Yes!  Now, get some sleep or you’ll be too grouchy to do anything in the morning.”

Junior snuggled down on the horde of treasure.  Daddy bent over him to kiss his brow.

“Hey!” said Mummy Dragon, coming in.  “He should be asleep.  Keeping him up at all hours.”

“He had a bad dream,” Daddy protested.

“And you’ve been filling his head with nonsense again, I suppose?”  Mummy produced a large book, leather-bound and chained.  “Time we sorted this out once and for all.”

She leafed through the pages until she found the one she wanted.  “Look, son.  You have nothing to be scared of.  This George idiot never even came to England.  He was from here, do you see?  A place called Turkey.  Then he moved to Palestine and was too busy spreading his religion to bother about saving people from dragons!  He’d have a hard time of it if he came to England today – if they even let him in the country.”

“Did he carry a lance?”

“No.”

“Did he wear a suit of armour?”

“No.  Once again, he wasn’t even English.”

“But – but –” Junior leapt off his bed.  “The English celebrate him every year.  They go mad for it.  What if he comes over to join the celebrations?”

“He won’t!  Get back to bed.  Listen, honey, people believe all sorts of crazy things.  Saints don’t exist, but we do.”

“That’s right,” said Daddy, “and, lucky for us, nobody believes that.”

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Shelley and the Professor

“Open up, Professor!” Shelley hammered on the laboratory door.  “Please!”  Her words trailed off into a mixture of sobs and screams.

Professor Snark paused his frantic calculations on the chalk board.  He listened.  The fool of a girl was making a lot of noise; it could only attract them, and now was not the time.  He wasn’t ready.

He strode across the floor, littered with papers hastily tossed aside, wrenched the door open and yanked the girl inside by the sleeve of her tight-fitting sweater.  He threw her to the floor and slammed the door.  He shoved a hefty workbench against the door.

“Quiet, you silly goose,” he spat.  “Do you want to bring them straight to us?”

Shelley whimpered and thrust her wrist into her mouth.  Mascara streaked her face, like a watercolour raccoon.

Snark returned to his calculations, muttering to himself.

“Can you do it, Professor?” Shelley whispered.  “Can you reverse the effects?”

Snark ran his hands through his unruly hair, making it wilder still.  “I – I have no idea if this will work but we have to try.  To the roof!”

“No!” Shelley clung to a lab stool.  “I won’t!”

Snark seized her roughly by the elbow.  “Now, listen, you idiot.  This is bigger than you, bigger than me.  Bigger than the both of us.  The future of the entire world is at stake.”  He pulled her to her feet.  Shelley struggled to stay upright on her nine-inch heels.

The professor dragged her to the staircase.  Shelley resisted all the way, gasping and squeaking, but the professor was relentless.  He kicked open the door to the rooftop.  The sky was darkening as foreboding clouds congregated overhead.

“No!  No!” Shelley clung to the doorframe – and fingernails be damned!  “I won’t do it!  You can’t make me.”

Snark wrested her free.  “Get dressed, you moronic girl!  And get gyrating!”

He thrust a large plastic bag at the weeping young woman.  Lightning cracked, startling them both.

Shelley sniffed and resigned herself to her role in saving the world.  She took the costume from the bag and stepped into it, one foot at a time.  She thrust her arms into the sleeves and the professor assisted with the zipper at the back.  He handed her the headpiece – an ovoid helmet-type piece with antenna.  The bulbous, compound eyes were trimmed with long lashes.

“One last touch,” the professor pulled out a lipstick and applied it to the costume’s mouth.

Just a couple of blocks away, buildings were tumbling as the giant ants continued their rampage through the city.

“Now, dance, girl!  Dance as though your life depends on it!  Get those buggers within range and I’ll zap them with the shrink ray.”

Shelley waddled to the edge of the roof and steeled herself.  Either this would work or she’d be carried off to the monsters’ radioactive nest in the desert.

“Five, six, seven, eight!”

empire_of_the_ants1

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The Refugee

Brother Almo shuffled along the paved walkway.  Even through the soles of his sandals, he could feel the coolness of the stone slabs.  He thrust his hands into the wide sleeves of his habit and, huddled against the breeze, hurried to the front gates.  The caller was pulling the bell rope with mounting impatience – and no wonder at it, thought Brother Almo, on an inhospitable night such as this, I can fully appreciate the desire to be inside and warm.

He pushed back the heavy bolts and lifted the bar that lay across the doors’ centre.  He pulled open the gate and peered into the night.

“Good evening, stranger?” he called, although he could see no one there.

Old fool!  Had he imagined it?  Had he dozed off during his watch and imagined the bell?  Father Krimp would laugh with dismay when he heard about this…

But then –

“Help me,” gasped a small voice from the shadows.  Brother Almo squinted and could just about discern a hooded figure, about three feet tall in the darkness.

The figure sounded weak, struggling for breath.  Brother Almo stepped out just in time to catch the stranger, who collapsed into his arms.

Brother Almo backed over the threshold, pulling the stranger with him.  “Ho!”  he cried.  “What ho, within!”

Minutes later, other members of the order came running, barefoot, pulling on their habits, rubbing their eyes and yawning.

“What is it now?” complained one.

“It’s Almo,” said another, as though that explained everything.

“Brother Almo!” boomed Father Krimp, suddenly arriving and towering over the scene.  “What is the meaning of this brouhaha?”

Brother Almo gestured to the stranger, slumped against the wall, face hidden by a hood.

Father Krimp gestured urgently to the others to keep back.  “Brother Almo,” his voice was low and filled with foreboding, “What.  Have.  You.  Done?”

“I answered a cry for help,” Brother Almo swallowed hard.  “Is it not written that –”

Father Krimp cut him off with an imperious hand.  “It may not be too late.  Turn this – thing – outdoors and pray for your soul!  Do it!”

“But – but –” Brother Almo protested.  “We are bounden to do what is charitable.  We must take in the infirm and the needy.”

Father Krimp shook his head.  “You have brought a stranger within our walls.  At night!  You know of the creatures that infest this area.  You know how they take advantage of the weak and simple-minded, how they take human form and finagle their way into people’s homes.”

Brother Almo scoffed.  “Foolish, superstitious claptrap!”

Father Krimp bristled and drew himself up to his full height.  “You will remove the thing from the premises at once.  If it – he or she – is still there in the morning, then you may take it to our hospice.  You know the rules.”

He turned and marched back indoors.  The other brothers followed, some of them smirking over their shoulders.  Others sent Brother Almo looks of concern.  But they all left him to it, just the same.

Alone with the figure, Brother Almo dithered.  What to do?  If he turfed the stranger out again, the morning might be too late.  But if he disobeyed Father Krimp – if Father Krimp was correct… Brother Almo had let a hellacious creature into the monastery, endangering the lives and immortal souls of everyone in it.

He stooped to peer closely at the refugee.

What am I going to do with you?

monk

 

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Hunting for Votes

The MP was sweating.  It occurred to him that tweed had been entirely the wrong choice for the studio.  The lights were beating down on him like so many suns and he was sure his ruddy complexion, rather than signal a hale and healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle, was making him look like a beetroot being tortured in a sauna.  He ran a finger beneath the collar of his checked shirt.  He could feel the face powder they had dabbed him with clagging in every crease of his weather-beaten face.  He became aware the presenter of this godawful Sunday morning ordeal had asked him a question.  He blinked and ransacked his mind for any trace of media training.  A fallback answer sprang to his rescue.

“There is no evidence to support a contrary view,” he intoned.  It was the presenter’s turn to blink.  He even gaped as well.

“Minister, are you or are you not telling me you support a repeal of the ban?”

“Yes,” said the MP.  “Listen, let me be clear.  The ban should never have been imposed in the first place.  Well-meaning but ill-informed do-gooders, meddling in things they do not understand.  Urbanites.  Townies.”  He shuddered, “Liberals.”

The presenter nodded his ‘I’m listening’ nod.  The MP straightened, getting into his stride.

“The ban is contrary to British values.  These hippies bleat on about cultures and what-not but what about our culture, our traditions – that’s what I want to know.  Eh?  Eh?  That’s why I shall be voting in favour of the repeal.  And so will any level-headed, true blue, red-blooded Englishman.  And even, some of the women, what!”  He laughed.  The presenter smirked and then arched an eyebrow.

“Since the ban there have been unconfirmed reports of illegal hunts, unregulated and unmonitored.”

“All the more reason to kill the ban and get things out in the open, like the good old days.  Then the authorities can keep an eye on proceedings and prevent any unnecessary brutality.”

“You admit then, there is brutality.”

“Well, that’s a loaded term.  The practice is time-honoured, part of the weft and weave of country life.”

The presenter consulted his clipboard.  “The young taken from their mothers, chased across open country for miles before being torn to pieces –”

The MP harrumphed.  “Emotive language for what is, at heart, simply a matter of pest control.”

“But surely there must be other methods of ‘pest control’.  Something more humane.”

The MP shook his head.  “You have never seen one of these young animals caught in a snare or shot in the belly, crawling away, slowly bleeding out.  Or coughing its guts out from poisoned bait.  No, the hunt is the only way.”

“Critics say that these young are bred specifically to satisfy the bloodlust of the ruling class.”

“Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of sport at the weekend?”

“Sport!  That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?  A bunch of over-privileged psychopaths getting their jollies by causing the grisly death of a defenceless creature.”

The MP smiled in a patronising manner.  “Look,” he said with a kind of forced patience.  “Something has to be done to control these vermin.  Without the hunt, the population grows unhindered.  Is it my fault the poor keep breeding?  Is it Her Majesty’s fault her subjects lack responsibility?  No.  I say it again, hunting with foxes is the only way these people can be curbed.  Listen, we are not monsters.  The parents are allowed to keep their spawn for seven years, then when the child is able to run at a decent lick, they are released, free to take their chances and, frankly, if they are unable to outwit a team of ravenous foxes, society is better off without them, what!”

“Thank you, Minister.”  The presenter looked directly into camera two.  “That’s all the time we have for this week.  Join me next time when I’ll be asking the Archbishop of Canterbury why straight men are barred from joining the clergy.”

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Thunder Hits the Road

Thunder McPiston was nervous before his first big race.  His engine rumbled and he felt sick.  Not that he could actually be sick; he didn’t eat.  His fuel was administered through the cap on his flank.  How did I come to this, he wondered?

Well, came a still, small voice inside him, what else would you do?

It was a car’s greatest dream to be a racer.  Other vehicles could only watch from the stands: the pick-up trucks, the minibuses, the tractors.  You’re a lucky young motor, McPiston, he had been told countless times, with your sleek red paint job and your go-faster stripes.  You should be all revved up and raring to go.

A buggy like a golf cart, trundled up and asked if he needed one last buff before the chequered flag.  Thunder shooed him away.

Something was wrong.  Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

I shouldn’t be here – he was convinced of it.  Things shouldn’t be like this.

Feelings of alienation crowded his mind.  Panic rose beneath his bonnet.  Everything felt wrong.  The whole world felt wrong.

His headlamps flashed as he looked from side to side.  If he reversed out quietly, he could back out and hit the open road.  And go where?  Anywhere!  Nowhere!  It didn’t matter.  All he knew was he had to get away.

He couldn’t relax until he had put several miles between himself and the stadium.  He tore along the deserted highway – all the other cars were watching the race – and didn’t dare turn his lights on full beam until he hit open country.

Perhaps somewhere, the other side of the desert maybe, he would find answers.  Where did I come from?  Where did any of us come from?  Who made us?  What happened to our makers?

The answers would come in time.  But for the moment, Thunder McPiston was content to keep accelerating, pushing himself to the limits of his machinery.  He whooped and hollered with the joy of being alive, his existential crisis for the moment forgotten.

Grit and gravel were churned up by his tyres as he streaked across the landscape.  He whooshed by so fast he didn’t see a faded billboard, bleached by the Nevada sun.  Figures were vaguely discernible, to those who stopped to look, strange, wheelless figures, with stalks like trees, and branches, waving and smiling.

Above their happy heads, lettering announced the advent of the world’s first driverless car.  Let the auto-automobile take the strain from your world, it said.  Sit back and let the engines takeover.

 

car

Image from Disneyclips.com

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Meanwhile, at the Bus-Stop

“Oh, Barry, why have you chucked the lid on the floor?”  The old woman sighed.  Barry, ten years old if he was a day, shrugged.

“Dropped it,” his nose wrinkled, making his spectacles wiggle.

“I bet you did.”

He held out the plastic cup from which he had been spooning chocolate sundae.  “I don’t want no more.”

“Oh, Barry.  You’ve ate less than half – you’ve ate a quarter of it.”

“I’ve ate half!” Barry asserted.  “I need a drink now.”

He began to root through their shopping bags, almost causing them to drop from the bus stop seats.

“Wait until we’re on the bus,” the old woman suggested.

“Ugh!” said the boy.  “That’s ages.  Have this.  It’s sickly.”

The old woman accepted the sundae and began to spoon dollops of it into her mouth.

“Is it nice?”

“Hmm,” said the woman.  “Bit sickly.”

“That bus is taking his time,” Barry observed, squinting along the road.

“You mind I don’t push you in front of it,” the old woman muttered.

Barry rounded on her.  “I heard that, you septic old trout.  You know you can’t lay a finger on me.  It’s against the rules.”

“Blow the rules,” the woman spat, her spittle mixed with flecks of cream.  “This ain’t working out for me, Barry.  I didn’t realise you’d be such a – such a little imp.”

“Should have read the small print than, shouldn’t you?  Are you going to find me that drink or what?”

The old woman pulled a bottle from a carrier bag.  Barry snatched it from her and twisted off the cap.  While he guzzled, the old woman smirked.

You hear about kids drinking weed killer all the time.  Tragic accident.  She couldn’t be blamed.  And he’d done it to himself.  There was no breach of contract.

Barry clutched at his throat and rolled around on the ground, holding his stomach in agony.  The old woman took the contract from her handbag and tore it in two.

When she’d paid for her late husband to come back, she hadn’t realised he’d be reincarnated as a baby.  A decade of running around after him, attending to his every need, his every whim, had reminded her how awful married life with him had been.  Better off alone, she reckoned.  Get some peace at last.

Gasping and gurgling, his eyes bulging even larger behind his glasses, Barry coughed up blood and bile and expired.  The tarmac beneath him cracked open and swallowed him with a belch of brimstone and a flash of flame.

The old woman gathered the shopping bags and got her pass ready.  Bus’ll be here soon, she supposed.

bus stop

 

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