Re-imaginings: Revisiting your earlier stories through new eyes

Twilight+Tenth+Anniversary-Life+and+Death+Dual+Edition

Stephanie Meyer revisits Twilight with a gender-bend portrayal in the Tenth Anniversary dual edition.

I love how mainstream authors now acknowledge the worldwide audience for fan-fiction, parody and tribute stories by taking the time to re-invent and re-imagine their old books.

EL James recently did it with Grey, but she now looks set to be upstaged by Stephanie Meyer. Rather than simply switch POV in her new edition, Meyer has changed the sexes of her characters, in what is known as a ‘gender-bend’ version. A popular method with writers of manga and anime fan-fiction, it looks like her new version of Twilight (called ‘Life and Death’, released in this dual edition above) will take her fandom by storm.

I’m not a Twilight fan, but as a fan of creative mash-up, re-cut and re-edit culture, I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Rather than bore you all with what would otherwise be viewed as yet another critique-based post drifting around cyberspace by a grumpy indie on the ‘talents’ of such authors and whether or not they need the money, I’ll just do my usual and see what happens when I try it out on my Zombie Adventure pet projects. Urgh. I think this might be unwise to read alone… 😀

***

DO ZOMBIES DREAM OF UNDEAD SHEEP?

(the gender-bend version of THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM)

CHAPTER ONE:

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a young man. That’s a relief. A man with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m shaving around my sideburns – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my teeth at the godforsaken hour of ten a.m. How dare he go for his STD check today, and pack me off instead to do his media studies homework? Couldn’t he have caught chlamydia some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Kristen Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. She’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring her office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Whatsisname, my housemate, says that he’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the Body Farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

He’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. She’ll have changed so much the next time I see her…

I leave Whatsisface, my best friend, packing his rucksack for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some condoms,” I concede, and slam the front door.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my mother’s trusty Fiat 500 in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blond Calvin Klein model dude is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Miss Kristen Dry,” I announce. “I’m Basil Ganglia. Mr Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text her,” says Brain-Dead, picking up his phone. “Have a seat.”

He eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded deck shoes and YSL suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“She’s on her way down,” he says, after a moment. He reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest he hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed YSL.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see her.

The black dress. The pallor of her skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Kristen Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Mr… Ganglia,” she moans softly, extending a ring-encrusted hand.

My heart palpitates wildly, noting the ragged cuticles, and the long, blue-tinged, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” I begin. “Mr Shitface – he couldn’t make it today. Having his down-pipes cleaned out and serviced…”

I grasp her outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. Her jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and her upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?

“Were you offered a refreshment, Mr Ganglia?” She gestures towards the famous vending machines.

I shake my head, and she turns to glare at the receptionist. He cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear her emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in his drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.

“Very wellll…”

My knees feel weak as she holds the door open, and beckons, her head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Mr… Ganglia.”

How she rolls my name around her tongue makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of her doe-like footfalls in my wake.

“Straight ahead, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is like tissue paper being unwrapped from around a stone urn. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.

Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my sweet Miss Wheelie-Bin…

Her arm extends past me to swipe her security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her poppy-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Mr Ganglia,” she practically whispers in my ear.

The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blond is banging his head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Kevin,” Miss Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in her voice? “Take Mr Ganglia’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Mr Ganglia.”

Kevin turns to look at us, his flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. He holds out his arms to accept the navy-blue YSL and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol soup can t-shirt. Mr Brain-Dead Mk II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where his head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

Kristen Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with her rolling, loping stride, like that of a wounded deer.

“My office…” she hisses, swiping her security pass a second time, and ushering me through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Mr Ganglia?” she murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom tattoo bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit female mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” she confides in a husky voice.

“It must be expensive.”

“Very,” she agrees. “Sit.”

I plant my nervous glutes onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in her office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

Kristen Dry watches me, calculatingly. She circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.

“Would you like something to drink, Basil Ganglia?” She moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of my full name on her lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Miss Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” Her hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”

“Yes please – the last one…”

I watch as her elegant fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I wonder what sort of businesses she supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.

She brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way she arranges herself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.

Oh no. She’s so married… the way she’s fidgeting her earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking her knee with the other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of married…

I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.

“It’s very hot,” she says, in a warning tone. It startles me.

“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?

“The soup, Basil.” Her mouth twitches in the corner, and her black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if she can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at her curt nod. Definitely married. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” she assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up her argument. But still…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.

“I am not saying anything, Mr Ganglia,” she muses, her eyes still faintly entertained, her head still quirked. “But you are, it seems. Is this some sort of empathy test?”

I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.

“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that her eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Miss Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

I look up at her, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. She is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of her eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of her lips, and the rumpled raven mane of hair, still intact. Her square shoulders and tiny waist in that black power-dress make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, dude? She’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of her within minutes, same as all the others…

I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and she has a cool answer for every single one.

“Are these questions designed to determine whether I am a businesswoman… or a zombie, Mr Ganglia?” she asks in return.

My blood runs hot and cold both at once. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.

“…Finally, Miss Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

She indicates the décor of the office.

“Black,” she confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

Her face darkens. She looks away.

“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

She puts her finger to her lips.

“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

She’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another married psycho cougar. I return to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR assistant soon.”

Outside the window behind her, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, she produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Miss Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with her. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” she asks, rising out of her seat. For the first time I notice how tall and shapely she is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant!

I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.

“I will have to show you out,” she reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is driving me crazy. And her hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blond Mk II.

“Thank you for your time, Miss Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blond the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” she agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Mr Ganglia.”

I run to the Fiat in my shiny deck shoes, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside her office, on the far side of the building.

Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare she hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare she make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…

As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is her pale and amused, sardonic and angelically attractive face.

Deckard meets Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’

See the original chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Available on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Chapter Three: Grey Matter – The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view, continued…

CHAPTER THREE

The intensity in the atmosphere is excruciating. Me, Crispin Dry (vending machine CEO of Dry Goods Inc., nouveau morte and bon viveur) in my element as host to a tasty morsel, exploiting all that the vast kitchenette of my Grade II-listed mansion has to offer. Chopping, dicing, blending, and mixing up the previously-mentioned cocktail, which is tailored especially for my salivating guest.

Her: Sarah Bellum – mild-mannered pizza delivery girl by night, ambitious Forensic Anthropology student by day, and incurable romantic. Apart from the very much alive Ace Bumgang, who she likes to watch from a distance through the chicken-wire fencing of Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard – especially when he’s outside his site office with his shirt off – bastard – the only male bodies she ever sees are in various stages of decay, on the Body Farm.

Not for much longer, baby. Have patience. Braaaiiins…

I’m lucky if I get five reports a week of her routine. So intriguingly little to go on! Her best friend and housemate is quite demanding, in contrast – with her electronically-tagged boyfriend, with whom Sarah also seems to be smitten.

More competition. I suppress a snarl, as my competitive libido broils, sending twitches to my flaccid appendix. What does she see in them?

And there is her dearest one at the Body Farm, Mr. Wheelie-Bin Under The Silver Birch Tree, a domestic violence victim. His hair, hanging off his scalp, like a bad ginger toupée… Another corpse to compete with. And he comes with a sympathy angle too. I thrust the five-star restaurant quality Sheffield steel cleaver back into its oak knife-block, picturing his festering innards in receipt of the same. Well, that won’t last – I will make sure of it…

I regain my composure as I slide the completed tray along the counter. A work of art.

“No peeping,” I murmur, and she nods, confirming that her eyes are still obediently closed. Good girl. “Perhaps we should retire to the other room, where you will be more comfortable. Take my arm.”

“Where are we going?” she asks, sliding off the seat at the counter.

She had been enjoying the food game. The noises indicated that her stomach was still hinting it had room for more. She reaches out for the cold cloth of my sleeve, and the even colder press of my flesh underneath tucks her arm intimately into my side, to guide her along.

Even closer to her braaaiiins…

“Just across the hall,” I confide. “There is a very nice late evening lounge.”

“You have a lounge for different times of day?” she asks, making careful effort to keep pace with my stride. I slow down even further, to draw out the enjoyment. She bumps against me with every roll of my limp, like butter to my biscuit. If I had a biscuit, that is.

My one responsive gonad agrees.

“I have a room for every time of day, Miss Bellummm,” I assure her, heavy with implied meaning. “Turn around,” I whisper against her ear, my other hand on her shoulder, pivoting her to face me. I test the sleeve of her Pizza Heaven work fleece. What other delights could be beneath? “Would you like to take this off?”

“Er, well, actually…” she coughs, trying to sound nonchalant. “I kind of had a nap before work tonight, so this is all I have on. Er. Underneath. Just me.”

Braaaiiins!

“Intriguing,” I merely say, approval in my tone. She gulps.

I move forward just enough to help her take a backward step into the soft give of a cushioned seat at the back of her legs.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I say, and she drops thankfully onto the velvet cushions. “I will return with the drinks. And still no peeping.”

“I promise,” she nods.

“I think I will take out a little insurance on your promise,” I remark, and I undo the knot at my collar with swish of silk. “I will use my tie to blindfold you. Do you mind?”

“Is it another game?” she asks, accepting the strip of material as I place it gently across her eyes.

So willing!

“Another sensory game,” I agree. “Not taste, this time. I think your tastes are well-established.”

“Good,” she says, relaxing a little. “Because blindfolds and food combined could create a potential choking hazard.”

Trusting her to wait with patience for me, I cross the marble hall floor, back to my vast food-court of a kitchen. She won’t so much as smell anything disturbing in that room. Not even a joss stick, or deodoriser designed to mask the scent of a personal hygiene problem, or anti-social habit. Braaaiiins… Nor sound. While I prepare, I strain to hear anything other than her trepidatious breathing, the well-being of my morsel – I mean, guest – of paramount importance. I announce my return with the clinking of glassware on the tray in my hands, and the shambling shuffle of my footsteps approaching her again.

Blindfolded, she leans into the embrace of the couch, trying to appear relaxed. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact that the back of the couch is a lot further away than she thought, so she falls through the loosely-heaped pillows in slow-motion, until nearly prone.

Mmmm – like on a slab, ready for dissection.

“I see you are getting comfortable, Sarah Bellummm.”

I tease her with the sound of her own name. I know that all she gets called at work is ‘Cheese-Bag’ or at University, ‘Bell-End’.

The ink printed on her birth certificate has never sounded so sexy.

The couch dips beside her, as I sit down casually. Her abdomen rises and falls feverishly in response, like an onset of dormant malaria.

“We are going to play a game of touch,” I say.

“Soccer?” she asks, puzzled. “Blindfolded?”

“No, the sensation of touch.” I attempt to contain my excitement. Must not lose control. “With your permission I will draw some different objects across the surface of your skin, and you will guess what they are.”

“Oh, like Draw My Thing?” she concludes. I grit my teeth as jealousy wanders pervasively through my remaining organs, flinging the confetti of minor insecurities in its path, in a cavalier fashion. One of her favourite pursuits on the internet in the evenings, while not doing homework assignments, is to try and get Ace Bumgang to Draw his Thing and email it to her. And I bet his never plays dead on him. Lucky bastard. “Do I get three clues as to what you’re drawing?”

“If you relax, we shall start,” I say at last, swallowing down my rage. “And the game will explain itself as we go along.”

“Sure,” she shrugs, and rolls up her sleeve. “Nothing on the face. Or below the wrist, in case it doesn’t wash off. People don’t appreciate seeing knobs drawn on your hand when you’re delivering their pizza…”

She breaks off with a gasp, feeling something icy cold slide up the sensitive skin of her inner arm.

“What do you think this is?” I ask, as the tingling cold sensation slides slowly all the way down again, and back up, under my deft manoeuvres.

“Er…” The cold seems to have alerted parts of her that I didn’t even know were peckish. She could use another bucket of chicken wings, never mind that cocktail. Perhaps she’s hungry for something else… I try an adjustment of my groinal regions. Damn it. Still nothing! “Um, can I ask for a clue?”

“If you ask a question, it must be in the form of a question with a Yes/No answer,” I reply.

The icy cold sliding, torturously, all the way back down from her shoulder to her wrist. So different from playing online – she understands now…

“Okay,” she says at last. Her mouth is dry – it must be almost like sandpaper by now. Is that a twitch from below? My hope of satisfaction flares, before she voices her query for a hint. “Is it to scale?”

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

The original Zombie Adventures. Now on sale for the summer – 0.99c or equivalent from the Amazon Kindle ebookstore worldwide. (Also available on other reading devices)

Summer sale price on Kindle – the full-length Zombie Adventures

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

6th July – After today’s latest updates go live on Amazon, you will be able to download The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum (standalone full-length parody novel, 180,000 words approx) for 0.99c (or equivalent) from Kindle worldwide

After over 100 downloads through KDP Select over the weekend (Lucky you if you managed to grab a copy!), I’ve now reduced the price for a summer sale on The Zombie Adventures, if any of you were still wondering what all that ‘Grey Matter’ (to be continued) stuff was based on 🙂 Now includes the two bonus chapters “from Crispin Dry’s point of view” 😉

(Find your regional Amazon product page listed below).

Thanks for all your follows and likes, hope you enjoy the read! xx

UPDATE: 5th July – still showing up as Free on Amazon worldwide, last chance to download for free today! Get in there! 😀

USA – http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Adventures-Sarah-Bellum-ebook/dp/B00AIF3PKY/

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Chapter Two – Grey Matter: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view – the CtrlVquel

CHAPTER TWO

I hear the Pizza Heaven scooter protesting as it approaches up the mile-long driveway to my enormous stately home, and my equally huge anticipation is turgid, almost vibrating. I’ve never called out for pizza before. Chinese, Korean, sushi, fish-and-chips, shish kebab – many times. The little two-stroke engine is making those annoying noises, only slightly more annoying than the noises that Mrs Fritatta makes when I ask her to change the sheets for me – on the occasions that I’ve had a few too many braaaiiins, or a Jägerbomb cocktail more than three inches deep.

Good Lord, the suspense is killing me… Fuck. I can already smell her braaaiins.

My black stretch Cadillac limo is parked at the foot of the steps, the engine and exhaust still ticking quietly as it cools, as I have only recently arrived home. She will have to pull in behind. My eardrums pucker tightly, straining to hear every detail.

Footfalls scale the enormous marble steps. I wonder what shoes she is sporting now. Boooots?

In spite of the clear view of the morsel on my stoop from the security camera, my hitherto apathetic prostate leaps to attention at the press of the buzzer. Thank God, the damnest thing – it still has life in it! Ignoring the intercom, I loosen the resulting wedgie and attempt a nonchalant saunter across the grand entrance hall, hoping to build up my visitor’s own sense of anticipation.

She evidently gets a shock when the door is opened silently between us. She looks as though the world has just dropped out of her bottom. Or mine, for that matter.

Standing in front of her, my matt-black tie undone and just-dead hair hypnotically dishevelled, is me, Crispin Dry – vending machine magnate, entrepreneur, and the sexiest corpse she’s recently seen – at least, since 4.23p.m. last Thursday, in a wheelie bin under the silver birch tree at the Body Farm, or so the reports tell me…

What does she see in him? A mere Forensic Anthropology donor subject? Bastard…

“Mr. Dry!” she squeaks, terrified – and immediately thrusts the pizza box under my nose. It does not avert the even more delightful smell of nervous pizza-delivery girl.

Mmmm. Yum.

“Miss… Belllummm…” I slur, and feign innocence. “What a pleasant surprise. Do come inside. The kitchen is just this way.”

I turn in the doorway and shamble into the opulent entrance hall, beckoning for her to follow. Come hither, baby.

She has no choice. Sarah Bellum pulls the gigantic door closed behind her. I wonder if she now knows how Gretel felt, upon entering the gingerbread house…

My kitchen is vast – like a bowling alley. When I open the great refrigerator, and start selecting my condiments, I know she half expects to see the bottles deposited mechanically onto the shelf, like a set of ten-pins.

My spine tingles, sensing her tentative approach. Fuck. I never felt this alive in the presence of a woman – even when I was alive…

“I’ll just leave it right here, shall I?” she suggests, sliding the box onto the glassy-smooth granite counter-top. I picture her sliding across it herself, in turn.

I know what I’d rather eat.

Braaaiiins…

“Join me, Sarah Bellummm,” I say, surprising her. “I believe you might be famished, after your long day…”

She looks doubtful, and a flicker of jealousy flares unbidden, in my left gonad, while its master remains cold and unaffected. Bugger. It had better not fall off.

Dinner with me will scupper her usual Friday plans, of waiting outside Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard with a Chinese Meat Feast. Ace Bumgang always pretends to be surprised, which actively encourages her for some reason, and sometimes he even takes it with him. He’s usually in a big hurry to meet up with his friends at the boys’ club, Gentlemen Prefer Poledancers – which I am privy to, as I own the place. It means he’s telling her in his own special way that he’s not settled for anyone important yet… Why is he stringing her along? Isn’t it perfectly clear they’re not suited?

“Well – I think the last thing I ate, was a sip of chicken soup, from the vending machine at your office earlier…” she admits, timidly.

“Toooo long,” I agree, and give her a devastatingly wonky nod. “Take a seat. And close your eyes. I have a surprise for you.”

A big surprise, baby. I consult my downstairs menswear department hopefully, but still an armed response from there is pending. My other appetite, however, is already open for business, at full throttle. Braaaiins.

She slips off her George and Mildred and tries to make the most of her helmet-hair as she arranges herself on the seat at the counter. I dart her a meaningful look, still foraging in the refrigerator, and obligingly she closes her eyes.

I wonder if she expects a big tip.

You won’t be disappointed, my love. Haha. My inside leg measurement remains obstinately unchanged. Bugger.

“Is that your Cadillac outside?” she asks, passing the time with small-talk, while I’m putting dishes on the counter in front of her.

“It is just a courtesy car,” I say, dismissively. “The Bugatti and the Maserati are away for servicing, and I only use the Diablo on holiday weekends, when I go hot-air ballooning.”

“Hmm,” she murmurs, disbelieving. Probably picturing more guys like Ace Bumgang, who have a couple of sports cars, a racing bike and a speedboat scattered around, as petrolhead mechanics always do… but she has no idea of what lights a businessman’s candle in the motoring department. A fleet of 1.2L commuter compacts, if anything…

“I hope you are hungry,” I say, rather darkly, interrupting any of her fantasies intruding on us about Ace Bumgang. “I have an idea of your tastes already. Open wide.”

She promptly rearranges herself on the seat.

Braaaiiins! Oh dear Lord – I wish I had something to put there! Perhaps I will have to get a clockwork one…

“I meant your mouth,” I croon, hiding my regret, and she slams her knees together again, like a barn door in a tornado.

Nervously, she lets her mouth fall open, in a textbook Q.

“Put your tongue in, pleeeaase,” I moan softly.

Her tongue is like an inviting ramp. Lead me to your braaaiiins… I can almost peer right into her skull. It’s so beautiful. A man could get lost in that empty space for days…

The Q becomes an O, as requested.

Her stomach rumbles immediately in response as I feed her the first tidbit, and she chews enthusiastically.

She’s eating!

“You approve?” I ask, hopeful.

“Yum,” she nods. “Is there more?”

I will not admit to her that it is my own recipe. Not yet. I have been trying to perfect these Korean Fried Fingers all week.

“Nine more, I believe,” I confirm, as she runs her tongue around her teeth to dislodge any gristly bits. She coughs on something dry, and removes a crispy fingernail from her cheek, which I quickly brush aside. “I think we have found your acquired taste exactly.”

“Do you have anything to drink?” she asks. Her eyes are still rapturously closed, all thoughts of the tanned, toned and droolworthy Ace Bumgang evidently forgotten.

So keen! Her thirst makes my own liver turgid with agreement.

“Be patient, Sarah Bellummm,” I whisper. “I am sure I have a cocktail worthy of you.”

I shock her with my intimate tone.

“It’s as if you were expecting me,” she gasps, blushing.

“But of course,” I say, so close to her ear, she nearly swoons off the chair. I inhale surreptitiously, savouring her heady, pulsating aroma. My stomach acids pump, in a most gratifying response. “I even made sure to re-stock the vending machine in my bedroom, right before you arrived…”

Nothing between us but braaaaiiins, baby…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

READ CHAPTER ONE HERE: GREY MATTER 1

BUY THE ORIGINAL ZOMBIE ADVENTURES HERE: THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM

Grey Matter: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view – the CtrlVquel

CHAPTER ONE.

As I approach the reception area of my office on the beach, through the tinted glass door I espy an attractive, brunette newcomer get up to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest handed to her by Heather, my secretary, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. She pulls it on grudgingly over a badly-fitting Chanel. It looks borrowed.

She appears awkward, like a gazelle through a huntsman’s gun-sights. It sends an arrow of excitement to my rotting guts. Braaaiiiins…

The adjoining door creaks, as I push it open, and she turns, still adjusting her Velcro.

She knows, the moment she sees me.

The black suit. The pallor of my skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. The limp… Her knees are trembling. She will be putty in my undead hands…

Braaaiiins.

“Crispin Dry?” Her voice catches in her throat.

“Miss… Bellllummmm,” I moan softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand.

I see her deliciously alive heart palpitating wildly, noting my ragged cuticles and my long, gray, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” she begins. “Miss Shitface – she couldn’t make it today. Got the uterine bailiffs in…”

She grasps my outstretched hand in greeting. So warm… and yet so apprehensive… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and she snatches her hand away quickly, as if scared of her own delightful response. I know my jet-black eyes are glittering, hungry and cold, and my upper lip curls in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Braaaiiins, baby.

“Were you offered a refreshment, Miss Bellumm?” Remembering myself, I gesture towards the famous vending machines.

She shakes her head, and I turn to glare at the receptionist. Heather cowers visibly, and I emit a long, low, guttural sound. Braaaiiin-dead bitch. The receptionist scrabbles in her drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” Miss Bellum croaks. Her throat does sound terribly dry. Such a wicked little liar. Mmmm – living braaaiiins…

“Very wellll…”

Her knees appear even weaker as I hold the door open, and I beckon, my head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Miss… Bellummm.”

How she staggers through the doorway makes my own gait feel more impeded than ever. I stumble hazily behind her through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and only the shuffling, shambling sound of my footfalls in her gazelle-like wake.

Braaaiiins. Must haaave…

“Straight ahead, Miss Bellumm.”

Her breathing is like snowflakes falling onto a headstone. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my disintegrating spine. It resonates with my deepest, darkest, hungriest thoughts.

Things I had not entertained notions of since breakfast…

Sexy braaaiiiins. Gimme…

My arm extends past her to swipe my security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her Pears soapy scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Miss Bellumm,” I whisper in her ear.

The door clicks open, and we step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and she gasps. Another personal assistant is banging her head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Debbie,” I say, a tinge of disappointment, or possibly disapproval in my voice. “Take Miss Bellum’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Miss Bellumm.”

Debbie turns to look at us, her flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. She holds out her arms to accept the navy-blue Chanel and hi-visibility vest as Miss Bellum shrugs them off, vulnerable and exposed now in an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe t-shirt. Boooobs…

Debbie takes her jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where her head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

I take Miss Bellum’s arm to steer her past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from her. She must be so aware of my long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the soft warm flesh of her tricep… she trips fawn-like along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with my rolling, loping gait, like that of a wounded panther.

I want to lick her ear. Braaaiins.

“My office…” I hiss, swiping my security pass a second time, and ushering her through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Miss Bellummm?” I murmur, seeing her openly gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” She sounds really very intimidated. She will find much more to be intimidated about, regarding my appetite. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” I confide in a husky voice. “Sit.”

She plants her quivering haunches onto the soft leather, and starts to take out her notes. The only sound otherwise in my office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

I watch her, calculatingly. I circle around the sofa opposite, not yet seated, assessing her professionalism in getting ready – for me.

Braaaiiins, baby…

“Would you like something to drink, Sarah Bellumm?” I move languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of her full name on my lips causes her own to part involuntarily, like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” she admits. “Yes, please, Mr. Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” My hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Braaaaiiiiiins?

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear her say, and her stomach grumbles in agreement. I recall the report of the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza she ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?” I prompt. She could use fattening up…

“Yes please – the last one…”

She watches as my clever fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I can sense her wondering what sort of businesses I supply this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. They are at the very bottom of our budget range.

I bring it to the low onyx table in front of her, and present it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way I arrange myself laconically on the sofa opposite, seems to disappoint her slightly.

She looks disillusioned, while I fidget my earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroke my knee with my other hand – I thought women were less threatened if a man threw at least fifty shapes of gay… Perhaps I should tone it down a little. But not too much machismo. Just enough heteropolitan transmosexual metrochismo to tease her braaaiiins a little bit.

She struggles to focus on the list of questions written out for her. She’s starting to worry that maybe she won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them. Haha. Braaaiiins, baby.

And when is she going to start eating? I’m literally dying to see her masticate. My bile gland twitches and swells in agreement.

“It’s very hot,” I say, in a warning tone. It startles her.

“Hmmm?” Is she always this jumpy? Perhaps I’ll have to tie her down and use the braaaiiin hooks…

“The soup, Miss Bellummm.” My mouth twitches in the corner, and my black eyes crinkle slightly. I can see into the dark shadows at the back of your own mind, baby. Braaaiiins.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” she says, brightly, apparently batting away the shadows in her head at my curt nod. She definitely assumes I’m gay – I must work on that. She looks down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” I’m disappointed in turn. This is not the sort of question I hoped for. My answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” She scribbles this down, in what must be her best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” I assure her. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up my argument. But still… she doubts me! The complexity of her mind must be delicious… I cannot wait to savour it. I almost croon out loud. Braaaiiins…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” she asks, not a dampener to my appetite in the slightest.

“I am not saying anything, Miss Bellumm,” I muse, my eyes still faintly entertained, my head still quirked. “But you are, it seems.”

She stares down at the page, and blushes at having spoken out of turn. That last question was not on the list, her own impetuous mouth running away with her. Not one of the listed questions at all. Let me punish you, Miss Bellummm!

“Moving on,” she says swiftly, aware that my eyes are mentally dismembering her. She looks at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Mr. Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

She glances up at me, as if uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. I am still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of my eyes resting on her steadily. Her own eyes follow the line of my jaw, and the rumpled Bohemian mane of hair, still intact. My square shoulders in this black suit make her feel weak. What’s wrong with you, girl? It’s just a pretty corpse! You’d be bored sick of me within minutes, same as all the others…

She presses on with the duller questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and I have a cool answer for every single one. I’m relieved when she turns the page, and I find the closing questions are brief.

Finish me, baby…

“…Finally, Mr. Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

I indicate the décor of the office.

“Black,” I confirm. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

Braaaiiins. My face darkens. I look away.

“White?” Miss Bellum suggests, obviously thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

I put my finger to my lips, caressing them to tease her further.

“Best left unspoken.” My black eyes burrow into her head, and my remaining adrenal gland surges tumescently, with unexpected concurrence. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

There it is, baby. She looks distinctly uncomfortable now, and returns to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR girl soon.”

On cue, outside the window behind me, I hear something crash wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Fuck – there goes another jealous secretary. No braaaiiins in any of them. Without looking around, I produce a remote control, and close the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Mr. Dry.” She’s on her feet in that instant, suddenly appearing too wary of being in an enclosed office alone with me. That’s right baby – you should start running. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of her mind, at the closing of the blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” I ask in turn, unable to resist a further moment of mental torture, rising out of my seat. It gives her time to notice how tall and manly I am… was, I correct myself angrily. Big fucking braaaiiins, baby. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant! But she loves it!

She just nods, blushing fiercely, and heads for the door. Run away, baby, as fast as you can…

“I will have to show you out,” I remind her, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany her. “It has been a pleasure, Miss Belllummm.”

Her trembling is driving me crazy. I can’t resist putting my hand on her arm again, guiding her out of the door and into the corridor. She practically scampers ahead, snatching her coat back from Debbie.

Run – run – I want to part your cranium and taste your terrified braaaiiins…

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dry,” she says, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Heather the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get a new one. Sarah Bellummm would be – most serviceable. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” I agree, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Miss Belllummm.”

She runs to the Hummer in her pointy Pigalle pumps, and locks herself in, while the gulls continue flocking to the spot on the beach outside my office, on the far side of the building.

I watch her mournfully.

Braaaiiins, baby…

I reach for my cellphone, and dial the house.

“Mrs Fritatta,” I greet the housekeeper. “You will not be required to cook tonight. I wish to order in a pizza.”

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

The full-length original The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum parody is available in print and ebook on all devices – search for it in your e-reader store 🙂

The Voodoo Viewpoint: Is new media stealing our souls and memories?

Halloween bookshelf

I haven’t blogged for a while, having had new things to deal with through the summer and autumn along with writing, and waiting for other things to be resolved – everyday life has got in the way, and all of it worthy of my time – so I can honestly say I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not procrastinating online too much.

This post has been on my mind for a while over the past year, and I’ve turning it over further in my mind since a topic came up on Facebook regarding the well-roasted old chestnut of ebook vs. print books, and what might supplant them in the future. When I made my comment, I didn’t realise how much of an observation it really was. But the thought of it keeps returning to me, so I’ll attempt to dissect it further now. (I’ve used ‘Voodoo’ in the title as I was originally going to post it as Voodoo Spice first – but there is another relevance to the reference).

My comment on the post was:

I think real books will stick around for another reason – the same reason as real music disc collections, and real movie DVDs, and real photo albums. The death of these things will mean the end of being able to remember lost loved ones. Imagine going into an elderly relative’s last residence, and instead of shelves full of their favourite media that you can pick up and read and smell, and admire, all that’s there is a computer tablet full of password-protected cloud-storage erotica. Supposing they’re survived by 20+ family members all wanting a memento? Will they have to take turns hacking into his or her tablet to read their, erm, favourites???

It’s not only the issue of having physical objects with which to remember a loved one, though. When you first make a new friend, visit their home for the first time, you see immediately by their books, music, film collections, and photographs what you have in common. Without those, it takes far longer to define. How do you learn about a person who wears nothing on their sleeve in real life? Are they hiding something about their personality, their cultural and entertainment tastes, behind password-protected anonymous digital storage products? How much of their social media persona is genuine – do they really like Top Gear, or do they just ‘Like’ it on Facebook? How long does it take to make early judgements of compatibility when all you see in their home is the faceless packaging and housing of technology? Is this creating the hacking, snooping, prying, suspicious culture that troubles present-day relationships?

Are we sacrificing our personalities, our ability to connect with one another in real life without the social media screens, in favour of electronic packaging?

Back to the subject of bereavement and memories, there is another agenda surfacing to consider.

Electronic media itself has no re-sale value. The tablets and electronic devices can be re-sold, but they lose value in the very short term. Unlike physical books, vinyls, cassettes, picture frames, CDs, and DVDs – when you buy anything in digital format, to watch, read or listen to, its solvency value is zero. So even if your descendants, friends and family don’t want to share the digital tablet and know your passwords to enjoy your *ahem* favourites, they can only sell the tablet itself. Even if you have bought 70,000 books, movies, and songs in your lifetime, they do not add up to £70,000 worth of house clearance on ebay to divide among the mourners. They add up to zero.

They money you spend on electronic books and media to fill your device has gone for good. You cannot donate the products to an Oxfam bookshop after you have enjoyed them in order for others to benefit. You cannot have a yard sale or a car boot fair stand of portable entertainment to fund a party, or to pay a few bills. You have not invested your money in anything physically reminiscent that can be enjoyed as part of the soul of a lost loved one, or liquidated as an asset in the future.

The money has gone for good, into the great black hole of the business that also sold you the device to enjoy it on, or to store in some online cloud.

So in the future, without personal possessions for family and friends to remember us by – not even the chance to flick through the same books and photo albums we held, and no idea how to access our family photographs and music – and more and more social lives being conducted online – how will anyone remember their grandparents and great-grandparents beyond faces on a screen?

Will the youngest family members have the sense of identity and individual heritage that children before the digital age grew up with?

Will old people just die and disappear, leaving nothing behind but an online account full of media they spent thousands on, which is worth precisely nothing to their descendants even if they have the ability to access it? Will their living memories and personalities evaporate the second you tap on ‘Confirm shut down/log off device’?

Will folk start leaving clauses on their departure, that no-one is to hack into the tablet at all to avoid finding out how much porn and erotica they downloaded to keep them warm in their old age?

Never mind what to do with Granny, the last Will and Testament says we have to burn her Kindle first… aptly named device, if ever there was one. I see a new business opportunity looming – the “Kindle Crematorium” where dirty old reading habits go after you die…

It’s a mystery that leaves me very curious. I already find houses without books, music, photograph or film collections very odd – rather like pictures of home interiors in advertising, with no identity of the occupants visible. Sterile, like a showroom to sell a product or furniture lifestyle – not a working, living home. And if that is what remains in the future, when individuals die, what is left to know of them? An indentation in the sofa, perhaps – where they sat while playing Candy Crush Saga online?

So never mind that a computer tablet doesn’t provide the same decorative impact as a bookshelf, or provide the same soundproofing from your neighbours. Never mind that it’s a good way of hiding your reading habits, and a bad way of storing your nekkid selfies. It’s also a good way of spending your children’s inheritance – permanently. Throwing your small change onto the Kindle Fire (literally), never, ever to return as second-hand small change, ever again. Quite possibly thrown away along with the material potential for any of your descendants to remember you for more than one surviving generation…

Happy Halloween! 🙂 xxx

If you want to learn to how to format a print-on-demand book, publish and distribute for free, click here for my tutorial. You can also learn how to format ebooks and multimedia booksIf those still light your candle 😉 x

If you’d like to see ‘The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum’ featured in The Guardian…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

If you enjoyed The Zombie Adventures… parody novel, which I blogged here chapter by chapter last year (each post written straight off the top of my crazy head) you can now nominate it to be featured in this new Guardian series

Update: Until the end of July 31st 2013, you can download the eBook from Smashwords in their sitewide promotion for free using the promo code SW100

Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road – Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter XXI

In Which the Master of the ‘Tankadere’ Runs Great Risk
of Losing a Reward of Two Hundred Pounds

This voyage of eight hundred miles was a perilous venture on a craft of twenty tons, and at that season of the year. The Chinese seas are usually boisterous, subject to terrible gales of wind akin to a chronically legume-intolerant vegetarian, and especially during the equinoxes; and it was now early November. Too late in the season for beans and pulses, fortuitously.

It would clearly have been to the master’s advantage to carry his passengers to Yokohama, since he was paid a certain sum per day; but he would have been rash to attempt such a voyage, and it was imprudent even to attempt to reach Shanghai. But John Bunsby believed in the Tankadere, which rode on the waves like a seagull; and perhaps he was not wrong.

Late in the day they passed through the capricious channels of Hong Kong, and the Tankadere, impelled by favourable winds, conducted herself admirably.

“I do not need to advise you, pilot,” said Philanderous Flogg, when they got into the open sea, “to use all possible speed.”

“Trust me, your honour. We are carrying all the sail the wind will let us. The poles would add nothing, and are only used when we are going into port.”

“It’s your trade, not mine, pilot, and I confide in you.” Mr. Flogg bowed, and moved on.

The detective passed by, and was himself greeted by the pilot.

“If you had been a week later at Lisbon, last spring, Filch, you would have been asked to give a passage to Lady Mary Grierson and her daughters.”

“Should I? I am glad I was not a week later then.”

The pilot abused him for his want of gallantry. Filch defended himself; though professing that he would never willingly admit any ladies on board a ship of his, excepting for a ball, or a visit, which a few hours might comprehend.

“But, if I know myself,” said he, “this is from no want of gallantry towards them. It is rather from feeling how impossible it is, with all one’s efforts, and all one’s sacrifices, to make the accommodations on board such as women ought to have. There can be no want of gallantry, Captain, in rating the claims of women to every personal comfort high, and this is what I do. I hate to hear of women on board, or to see them on board; and no ship under my command shall ever convey a family of ladies anywhere, if I can help it.”

This brought Aorta upon him.

“Oh! Mr. Filch! But I cannot believe it of you. All idle refinement! Women may be as comfortable on board, as in the best house in England. I believe I have lived as much on board as most women, and I know nothing superior to the accommodations of a man-of-war. I declare I have not a comfort or an indulgence about me, even at Kellynch Hall, beyond what I always had in most of the ships I have lived in; and they have been five altogether.”

“Nothing to the purpose,” replied Filch. “You were living with your husband, and were the only woman on board.”

“But you, yourself tell us, brought Mrs Forster, her sister, her cousin, and three children, round from Portsmouth to Plymouth. Where was this superfine, extraordinary sort of gallantry of yours then?”

“All merged in my friendship, Aorta. I would assist any brother officer’s wife that I could, and I would bring anything of Forster’s from the world’s end, if he wanted it. But do not imagine that I did not feel it was an evil in itself.”

“Depend upon it, they were all perfectly comfortable.”

“I might not like them the better for that perhaps. Such a number of women and children have no right to be comfortable on board.”

“My dear Filch, you are talking quite idly. Pray, what would become of those poor sailors’ wives, who often want to be conveyed to one port or another, after their husbands, if everybody had your feelings?”

“My feelings, you see, did not prevent my taking Mrs Forster and all her family to Plymouth.”

“But I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”

Philanderous Flogg, with body erect and legs wide apart, standing like a sailor, gazed without staggering at the swelling waters. The young woman, who was now seated aft, was profoundly affected as she looked out upon the ocean, darkening now with the twilight, on which she had ventured in so frail a vessel. Above her head rustled the white sails, which seemed like great white wings. The boat, carried forward by the wind, seemed to be flying in the air.

Night came. The moon was entering her first quarter, and her insufficient light would soon die out in the mist on the horizon. Clouds were rising from the east, and already overcast a part of the heavens.

The pilot had hung out his lights, which was very necessary in these seas crowded with vessels bound landward; for collisions are not uncommon occurrences, and, at the speed she was going, the least shock would shatter the gallant little craft.

Filch, seated in the bow, gave himself up to meditation. He kept apart from his fellow-travellers, knowing Mr. Flogg’s taciturn tastes; besides, he did not quite like to talk to the man whose favours he had accepted. He was thinking, too, of the future. It seemed certain that Flogg would not stop at Yokohama, but would at once take the boat for San Francisco; and the vast extent of America would ensure him impunity and safety. Flogg’s plan appeared to him the simplest in the world. Instead of sailing directly from England to the United States, like a common villain, he had traversed three quarters of the globe, so as to gain the American continent more surely; and there, after throwing the police off his track, he would quietly enjoy himself with the fortune stolen from the bank. But, once in the United States, what should he, Filch, do? Should he abandon this man? No, a hundred times no! Until he had secured his extradition, he would not lose sight of him for an hour. It was his duty, and he would fulfil it to the end. At all events, there was one thing to be thankful for; Pissepotout was not with his master; and it was above all important, after the confidences Filch had imparted to him, that the servant should never have speech with his master.

Philanderous Flogg was also thinking of Pissepotout, who had so strangely disappeared. Looking at the matter from every point of view, it did not seem to him impossible that, by some mistake, the man might have embarked on the Carnatic at the last moment; and this was also Aorta’s opinion, who regretted very much the loss of the worthy fellow to whom she owed so much. They might then find him at Yokohama; for, if the Carnatic was carrying him thither, it would be easy to ascertain if he had been on board.

A brisk breeze arose about ten o’clock; but, though it might have been prudent to take in a reef, the pilot, after carefully examining the heavens, let the craft remain rigged as before. The Tankadere bore sail admirably, as she drew a great deal of water, and everything was prepared for high speed in case of a gale.

Mr. Flogg and Aorta descended into the cabin at midnight, having been already preceded by Filch, who had lain down on one of the cots. The pilot and crew remained on deck all night, accompanied by the creaking of the rigging, while down below it was the creaking of Mr. Flogg’s whalebone and steel which lulled the passengers to sleep.

At sunrise the next day, which was 8th November, the boat had made more than one hundred miles. The log indicated a mean speed of between eight and nine knots. The Tankadere still carried all sail, and was accomplishing her greatest capacity of speed. If the wind held as it was, the chances would be in her favour. During the day she kept along the coast, where the currents were favourable; the coast, irregular in profile, and visible sometimes across the clearings, was at most five miles distant. The sea was less boisterous, since the wind came off land – a fortunate circumstance for the boat, which would suffer, owing to its small tonnage, by a heavy surge on the sea.

The breeze subsided a little towards noon, and set in from the south-west. The pilot put up his poles, but took them down again within two hours, as the wind freshened up anew.

Mr. Flogg and Aorta, happily unaffected by the roughness of the sea, ate with a good appetite, Filch being invited to share their repast, which he accepted with secret chagrin. To travel at this man’s expense and live upon his provisions was not palatable to him. Still, he was obliged to eat, and so he ate.

When the meal was over, he took Mr. Flogg apart, and said, “Sir…” (this “sir” scorched his lips, and he had to control himself to avoid collaring this “gentleman”) “…Sir, you have been very kind to give me a passage on this boat. But, though my means will not admit of my expending them as freely as you, I must ask to pay my share…”

“Let us not speak of that, sir,” replied Mr. Flogg.

“But, if I insist…”

“No, sir,” repeated Mr. Flogg, in a tone which did not admit of a reply. “This enters into my general expenses.”

Filch, as he bowed, had a stifled feeling, and, going forward, where he ensconced himself, did not open his mouth for the rest of the day. He might as well have worn one of his enemy’s decorative ball-gags and gimp-masks for that duration, so disinclined was he to deliver an utterance.

Meanwhile they were progressing famously, and John Bunsby was in high hope. He several times assured Mr. Flogg that they would reach Shanghai in time; to which that gentleman responded that he counted upon it. The crew set to work in good earnest, inspired by the reward to be gained. There was not a sheet which was not tightened, not a sail which was not vigorously hoisted; not a lurch could be charged to the man at the helm. They worked as desperately as if they were contesting in a Royal yacht regatta.

By evening, the log showed that two hundred and twenty miles had been accomplished from Hong Kong, and Mr. Flogg might hope that he would be able to reach Yokohama without recording any delay in his journal; in which case, the many misadventures which had overtaken him since he left London would not seriously affect his journey.

But the gentleman found himself yearning for a hand of Grist, and was amused that no-one aboard seemed familiar with the game.

Philanderous Flogg left his seat, and walked to the fire-place in the cabin; probably for the sake of walking away from it soon afterwards, and taking a station, with less bare-faced design, by Aorta.

“You would not have not been long enough in Bath,” said he, “to enjoy the evening parties of the place.”

“Oh! No… The usual character of them has nothing for me. I am no card-player.”

“You were not formerly, I know. You did not use to like cards; but time makes many changes.”

“I am not yet so much changed,” cried Aorta, and stopped, fearing she hardly knew what misconstruction awaited her words.

After waiting a few moments he said, and as if it were the result of immediate feeling: “It is a period, indeed! Eight years and a half is a period.”

Leaving her even more darkly wary and bemused, he retired to his cot and lowered the modesty curtain. Whereupon much noisome struggling and scratching within illustrated the absence of Pissepotout, who would normally by this time have loosened his master’s restraints.

The Tankadere entered the Straits of Fo-Kien, which separate the island of Formosa from the Chinese coast, in the small hours of the night, and crossed the Tropic of Cancer. The sea was very rough in the straits, full of eddies formed by the counter-currents, and the chopping waves broke her course, whilst it became very difficult to stand on deck.

At daybreak the wind began to blow hard again, and the heavens seemed to predict a gale. The barometer announced a speedy change, the mercury rising and falling capriciously; the sea also, in the south-east, raised long surges which indicated a tempest. The sun had set the evening before in a red mist, in the midst of the phosphorescent scintillations of the ocean.

John Bunsby long examined the threatening aspect of the heavens, muttering indistinctly between his teeth. At last he said in a low voice to Mr. Flogg, “Shall I speak out to your honour?”

“Of course.”

“Well, we are going to have a squall.”

“Is the wind north or south?” asked Mr. Flogg quietly.

“South. Look! A typhoon is coming up.”

“Glad it’s a typhoon from the south, for it will carry us forward.”

“Oh, if you take it that way,” said John Bunsby, “I’ve nothing more to say.”

John Bunsby’s suspicions were confirmed. At a less advanced season of the year the typhoon, according to a famous meteorologist, would have passed away like a luminous cascade of electric flame; but in the winter equinox it was to be feared that it would burst upon them with great violence.

The pilot took his precautions in advance. He reefed all sail, the pole-masts were dispensed with; all hands went forward to the bows. A single triangular sail, of strong canvas, was hoisted as a storm-jib, so as to hold the wind from behind. Then they waited.

John Bunsby had requested his passengers to go below; but this imprisonment in so narrow a space, with little air, and the boat bouncing in the gale, was far from pleasant. Neither Mr. Flogg, Filch, nor Aorta consented to leave the upper deck.

“There’s a cyclone coming, Aorta,” he called to his passenger. “I’ll go look after the stock.” Then he ran toward the sheds where the cows and horses were kept.

Aorta dropped her needlework and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand. A whirling vortex in the sky was coming closer, closer.

The storm of rain and wind descended upon them towards eight o’clock. With but its bit of sail, the Tankadere was lifted like a feather by a wind, an idea of whose violence can scarcely be given. To compare her speed to four times that of a locomotive going on full steam would be below the truth.

The boat scudded thus northward during the whole day, borne on by monstrous waves, preserving always, fortunately, a speed equal to theirs. Twenty times she seemed almost to be submerged by these mountains of water which rose behind her; but the adroit management of the pilot saved her. The passengers were often bathed in spray, but they submitted to it philosophically. Filch cursed it, no doubt; but Aorta, with her eyes fastened upon her protector, whose coolness amazed her, showed herself worthy of him, and bravely weathered the storm. As for Philanderous Flogg, it seemed just as if the typhoon were a part of his most precise programme.

Up to this time the Tankadere had always held her course to the north; but towards evening the wind, veering three quarters, bore down from the north-west. The boat, now lying in the trough of the waves, shook and rolled terribly; the sea struck her with fearful violence. At night the tempest increased in violence. John Bunsby saw the approach of darkness and the rising of the storm with dark misgivings. He thought awhile, and then asked his crew if it was not time to slacken speed. After a consultation he approached Mr. Flogg, and said, “I think, your honour, that we should do well to make for one of the ports on the coast.”

“I think so too.”

“Ah!” said the pilot. “But which one?”

“I know of but one,” returned Mr. Flogg tranquilly.

“And that is…”

“Shanghai.”

The pilot, at first, did not seem to comprehend; he could scarcely realise so much determination and tenacity. Then he cried, “Well – yes! Your honour is right. To Shanghai!”

So the Tankadere kept steadily on her northward track.

The night was really terrible; it would be a miracle if the craft did not founder. Twice it could have been all over with her if the crew had not been constantly on the watch. Aorta was exhausted, but did not utter a complaint. More than once Mr. Flogg rushed to protect her from the violence of the waves, as she had refused his kind offer to lash her to the mast for better safety and security.

Day reappeared. The tempest still raged with undiminished fury; but the wind now returned to the south-east. It was a favourable change, and the Tankadere again bounded forward on this mountainous sea, though the waves crossed each other, and imparted shocks and counter-shocks which would have crushed a craft less solidly built. From time to time the coast was visible through the broken mist, but no vessel was in sight. The Tankadere was alone upon the sea.

There were some signs of a calm at noon, and these became more distinct as the sun descended toward the horizon. The tempest had been as brief as terrific. The passengers, thoroughly exhausted, could now eat a little, and take some repose.

The night was comparatively quiet. Some of the sails were again hoisted, and the speed of the boat was very good. The next morning at dawn they espied the coast, and John Bunsby was able to assert that they were not one hundred miles from Shanghai. A hundred miles, and only one day to traverse them! That very evening Mr. Flogg was due at Shanghai, if he did not wish to miss the steamer to Yokohama. Had there been no storm, during which several hours were lost, they would be at this moment within thirty miles of their destination.

The wind grew decidedly calmer, and happily the sea fell with it. All sails were now hoisted, and at noon the Tankadere was within forty-five miles of Shanghai. There remained yet six hours in which to accomplish that distance. All on board feared that it could not be done, and every one – Philanderous Flogg, no doubt, excepted within the rigidity of his corsets – felt his heart beat with impatience. The boat must keep up an average of nine miles an hour, and the wind was becoming calmer every moment! It was a capricious breeze, coming from the coast, and after it passed the sea became smooth. Still, the Tankadere was so light, and her fine sails caught the fickle zephyrs so well, that with the aid of the currents John Bunsby found himself at six o’clock not more than ten miles from the mouth of Shanghai River. Shanghai itself is situated at least twelve miles up the stream. At seven they were still three miles from Shanghai. The pilot swore an angry oath; the reward of two hundred pounds was evidently on the point of escaping him. He looked at Mr. Flogg. Mr. Flogg was perfectly tranquil; and yet his whole fortune was at this moment at stake.

At this moment, also, a long black funnel, crowned with wreaths of smoke, appeared on the edge of the waters.

It was the American steamer, leaving for Yokohama at the appointed time!

“Confound them!” cried John Bunsby, pushing back the rudder with a desperate jerk.

“Signal her!” said Philanderous Flogg quietly.

A small brass cannon stood on the forward deck of the Tankadere, for making signals in the fogs. It was loaded to the muzzle; but just as the pilot was about to apply a red-hot coal to the touch-hole, Mr. Flogg said: “Hoist your flag!”

The flag was run up at half-mast, and, this being the signal of distress, it was hoped that the American steamer, perceiving it, would change her course a little, so as to succour the pilot-boat.

“Fire!” said Mr. Flogg.

And the booming of the little cannon resounded in the air.

Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road – Chapter Twenty

Chapter XX

In Which Filch Comes Face to Face With Philanderous Flogg

While these events were passing at the opium-house, Mr. Flogg, unconscious of the danger he was in of losing the steamer, was quietly escorting Aorta about the streets of the English quarter, making the necessary purchases for the long voyage before them. It was all very well for an Englishman like Mr. Flogg to make the tour of the world with a carpet-bag; but a lady could not be expected to travel comfortably under such conditions. He acquitted his task with characteristic serenity, and invariably replied to the remonstrances of his fair companion, who was confused by his patience and generosity:

“It is in the interest of my journey – a part of my programme.”

She tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course, and tried to dwell much on this argument of rational dependence.

“Surely, if there be constant attachment on each side, our hearts must understand each other ere long. We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment’s inadvertence, and wantonly playing with our own happiness,” she thought to herself.

And yet, a few minutes afterwards, she felt as if their being in company with each other, under their present circumstances, could only be exposing them to inadvertencies and misconstructions of the most mischievous kind.

The purchases made, they returned to the hotel, where they dined at a sumptuously served table-d’hote; after which Aorta, shaking hands with her protector after the English fashion, retired to her room for rest. After stopping in his own room, finding his French servant still absent and unavailable to remove his corsets and restraints for the evening, Flogg took himself to the bar, with the intention of relaxing instead with a sherry.

But he felt himself suddenly seized from behind, and before he had time to defend himself, he was thrust back against the wall, with a brutal hand round his throat.

He struggled madly for life, and by a terrible effort wrenched the tightening fingers away. In a second he heard the click of a revolver, and saw the gleam of a polished barrel, pointing straight at his head, and the dusky form of a short, thick-set man facing him.

“What do you want?” he gasped.

“Keep quiet,” said the man. “If you stir, I shoot you.”

“You are mad. What have I done to you?”

“You wrecked the life of Sibyl Vane,” was the answer, “and Sibyl Vane was my sister. She killed herself. I know it. Her death is at your door. I swore I would kill you in return. For years I have sought you. I had no clue, no trace. The two people who could have described you were dead. I knew nothing of you but the pet name she used to call you. I heard it tonight by chance. Make your peace with God, for tonight you are going to die.”

Philanderous Flogg grew sick with fear. “I never knew her,” he stammered. “I never heard of her. You are mad.”

“You had better confess your sin, for as sure as I am James Vane Forster, you are going to die.” There was a horrible moment. Flogg did not know what to say or do. His prior valet, James Forster – alive! And hunting his sister’s abuser like a dog! “Down on your knees!” growled the ex-servant. “I give you one minute to make your peace – no more. I go on board tonight for India, and I must do my job first. One minute. That’s all.”

Flogg’s arms fell to his sides. Paralysed with terror, he did not know what to do. If only Piss-pot-toto was here! Suddenly a wild hope flashed across his brain. “Stop,” he cried. “How long ago is it since your sister died? Quick, tell me!”

“Eighteen years,” said the man. “Why do you ask me? What do years matter?”

“Eighteen years,” laughed Philanderous Flogg, with a touch of triumph in his voice. “Eighteen years! Set me under the lamp and look at my face!”

James Forster hesitated for a moment, not understanding what was meant. Then he seized Flogg and dragged him from the archway.

Dim and wavering as was the hotel bar’s light, yet it served to show him the hideous error, as it seemed, into which he had fallen, for the face of the man he had sought to kill had all the bloom of boyhood through the ornate gimp-mask, all the unstained purity of youth in its undead countenance. He seemed little more than a lad of twenty summers, hardly older, if older indeed at all, than his sister had been when they had parted so many years ago. It was obvious that this was not the French poodle who had destroyed her life.

He loosened his hold and reeled back. “My God! My God!” he cried. “You are not the lap-dog scum I thought you to be! You remind me of my former Master in London… a gentleman too, indeed… and I would have murdered you!”

Philanderous Flogg drew a long breath. “You have been on the brink of committing a terrible crime, my man,” he said, looking at him sternly. “Let this be a warning to you not to take vengeance into your own hands.”

“Forgive me, sir,” muttered James Vane Forster. “I was deceived. A chance word I heard in that damned opium den set me on the wrong track.”

“You had better go home and put that pistol away, or you may get into trouble,” said Flogg, turning on his heel and continuing slowly down the corridor.

At the bar, as I entered, I looked about me with so black a countenance as made the attendants tremble; not a look did they exchange in my presence; but obsequiously took my orders, led me to a private room, and brought me wherewithal to write. A zombie in danger of his life was a creature new to me; shaken with inordinate anger, strung to the pitch of murder, lusting to inflict pain. Yet the creature was astute; mastered his fury with a great effort of the will; composed his two important letters of progress, one to Flagellate and one to Ravish; and that he might receive actual evidence of their being posted, sent them out with directions that they should be registered…”

Mr. Flogg then absorbed himself until evening in the perusal of The Times and Illustrated London News.

Thenceforward, he sat all twilight over the fire in the private room, gnawing his nails; there he dined again, sitting alone with his fears and a roasted wild boar with candied melon, the waiter visibly quailing before his eye at his insatiable appetite; and thence, when the night was fully come, he set forth in the corner of a closed cab, and was driven to and fro about the streets of the city. That child of Hell had nothing human; nothing lived in him but fear and hatred. And when at last, thinking the driver had begun to grow suspicious, he discharged the cab and ventured on foot attired in his misfitting clothes and restraints, an object marked out for observation, into the midst of the nocturnal passengers, these two base passions raged within him like a tempest. He walked fast, hunted by his fears, chattering to himself, skulking through the less-frequented thoroughfares, counting the minutes that still divided him from midnight. Once a woman spoke to him, offering a box of lights. He smote her in the face, and she fled.

Had he been capable of being astonished at anything, it would have been not to see his servant return to the hotel at bedtime. But, knowing that the steamer was not to leave for Yokohama until the next morning, he did not disturb himself about the matter, and instead slept off his exertions.

When Pissepotout did not appear the next morning to answer his master’s bell, Mr. Flogg, not betraying the least vexation, contented himself with taking his carpet-bag, calling Aorta, and sending for a palanquin.

It was then eight o’clock; at half-past nine, it being then high tide, the Carnatic would leave the harbour. Mr. Flogg and Aorta got into the palanquin, their luggage being brought after on a wheelbarrow, and half an hour later stepped upon the quay whence they were to embark. Mr. Flogg then learned that the Carnatic had sailed the evening before. He had expected to find not only the steamer, but his domestic, and was forced to give up both; but no sign of disappointment appeared on his face, and he merely remarked to Aorta, “It is an accident, madam; nothing more.”

At this moment a man who had been observing him attentively approached. It was Filch, who, bowing, addressed Mr. Flogg: “Were you not, like me, sir, a passenger by the Rangoon, which arrived yesterday?”

“I was, sir,” replied Mr. Flogg coldly. “But I have not the honour…”

“Pardon me; I thought I should find your servant here.”

“Do you know where he is, sir?” asked Aorta anxiously.

“What!” responded Filch, feigning surprise. “Is he not with you?”

“No,” said Aorta. “He has not made his appearance since yesterday. Could he have gone on board the Carnatic without us?”

“Without you, madam?” answered the detective. “Excuse me, did you intend to sail in the Carnatic?

“Yes, sir.”

“So did I, madam, and I am excessively disappointed. The Carnatic, its repairs being completed, left Hong Kong twelve hours before the stated time, without any notice being given; and we must now wait a week for another steamer.”

As he said “a week” Filch felt his heart leap for joy. Flogg detained at Hong Kong for a week! There would be time for the warrant to arrive, and fortune at last favoured the representative of the law.

His horror may be imagined when he heard Mr. Flogg say, in his placid voice, “But there are other vessels besides the Carnatic, it seems to me, in the harbour of Hong Kong.”

And, offering his arm to Aorta, he directed his steps toward the docks in search of some craft about to start. Filch, stupefied, followed; it seemed as if he were attached to Mr. Flogg by an invisible thread.

Chance, however, appeared really to have abandoned the man it had hitherto served so well. For three hours Philanderous Flogg wandered about the docks, with the determination, if necessary, to charter a vessel to carry him to Yokohama; but he could only find vessels which were loading or unloading, and which could not therefore set sail. Filch began to hope again.

Flogg had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession; but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing. But he was confident that he should soon be rich: full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Aorta; but Filch saw it very differently. Flogg’s sanguine temper, and fearlessness of mind, operated very differently on him. He saw in it but an aggravation of the evil. It only added a dangerous character to himself. He was brilliant, he was headstrong. Filch had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror. He deprecated the connection in every light.

Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Aorta could combat.

Filch suppressed a smile, and listened kindly, while Aorta relieved her heart a little more; and for a few minutes, therefore, could not keep pace with the conversation.

When she could let her attention take its natural course again, she found Mr. Flogg just fetching the Navy List, and sitting down together to pore over it, with the professed view of finding out the ships that Mr. Fellatio of the Conform Club had commanded.

“His first was the Asp, I remember; we will look for the Asp.”

“You will not find her here,” said Filch. “Quite worn out and broken up. I was the last man who commanded her. Hardly fit for service then. Reported fit for home service for a year or two, and so I was sent off to the West Indies.”

The pair looked all amazement.

“The Admiralty,” he continued, “entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed.”

“Phoo! Phoo!” cried Flogg, the Tin Gimp. “What stuff these young fellows talk! Never was a better sloop than the Asp in her day. For an old built sloop, you would not see her equal. Lucky fellow to get her! He knows there must have been twenty better men than himself applying for her at the same time. Lucky fellow to get anything so soon, with no more interest than his.”

“I felt my luck, Flogg, I assure you;” replied Filch, seriously. “I was as well satisfied with my appointment as you can desire. It was a great object with me at that time to be at sea; a very great object, I wanted to be doing something.”

“To be sure you did. What should a young fellow like you do ashore for half a year together? If a man had not a wife, he soon wants to be afloat again.”

“But, Mr. Filch,” cried Aorta, “how vexed you must have been when you came to the Asp, to see what an old thing they had given you.”

“I knew pretty well what she was before that day;” said he, smiling. “I had no more discoveries to make than you would have as to the fashion and strength of any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your acquaintance ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some very wet day, is lent to yourself. Ah! She was a dear old Asp to me. She did all that I wanted. I knew she would. I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me; and I never had two days of foul weather all the time I was at sea in her; and after taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I had the good luck in my passage home the next autumn, to fall in with the very French frigate I wanted. I brought her into Plymouth; and here another instance of luck. We had not been six hours in the Sound, when a strange gale came on, a cyclone; which lasted four days and nights, and which would have done for poor old Asp in half the time; our touch with the Great Nation not having much improved our condition. Four-and-twenty hours later, and I should only have been a gallant Captain Filch, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers; and being lost in only a sloop, nobody would have thought about me.” Aorta’s shudderings were to herself alone; but the pair could be as open as they were sincere, in their exclamations of pity and horror.

They were now hunting for the Laconia; and Filch could not deny himself the pleasure of taking the precious volume into his own hands to save them the trouble, and once more read aloud the little statement of her name and rate, and present non-commissioned class, observing over it that she too had been one of the best friends man ever had.

“Ah! Those were pleasant days when I had the Laconia! How fast I made money in her. A friend of mine and I had such a lovely cruise together off the Western Islands. Poor James Vane Forster, Flogg! You know – he wanted money: Worse than myself. He had a wife, a mother and a sister. Excellent fellow. I shall never forget his happiness. He felt it all, so much for her sake. I wished for him again the next summer, when I had still the same luck in the Mediterranean.”

“And I am sure, Sir,” said Flogg, distantly. “It was a lucky day for them, when you were put Captain into that ship. They shall never forget what you did.”

His feelings made him speak low; and Filch, hearing only in part, and probably not having the ex-servant James Forster at all near his thoughts as Philanderous Flogg did, looked rather in suspense, and as if waiting for more.

“My friend Filch,” whispered Aorta; “Mr. Flogg is thinking of poor Pissepotout.”

“Poor dear fellow!” continued Filch; “he has grown so steady, and such an excellent correspondent, while he was under your care! Ah! It would have been a happy thing, if he had never left you. I assure you, Mr. Flogg, we are very sorry he ever left you.”

But Mr. Flogg, far from being discouraged, was continuing his search, resolved not to stop if he had to resort to Macao, when he was accosted by a sailor on one of the wharves.

“Is your honour looking for a boat?”

“Have you a boat ready to sail?”

“Yes, your honour; a pilot-boat – No. 43 – the best in the harbour.”

“Does she go fast?”

“Between eight and nine knots the hour. Will you look at her?”

“Yes.”

“Your honour will be satisfied with her. Is it for a sea excursion?”

“No; for a voyage.”

“A voyage?”

“Yes, will you agree to take me to Yokohama?”

The sailor leaned on the railing, opened his eyes wide, and said, “Is your honour joking?”

“No. I have missed the Carnatic, and I must get to Yokohama by the 14th at the latest, to take the boat for San Francisco.”

“I am sorry,” said the sailor; “but it is impossible. Even the Great and Terrible Ooze could not fly you there in time; not without the power of a supernatural cyclone behind him.”

“I offer you a hundred pounds per day, and an additional reward of two hundred pounds if I reach Yokohama in time.”

“Are you in earnest?”

“Very much so.”

The pilot walked away a little distance, and gazed out to sea, evidently struggling between the anxiety to gain a large sum and the fear of venturing so far. Filch was in mortal suspense.

Mr. Flogg turned to Aorta and asked her, “You would not be afraid, would you, madam?”

“Not with you, Mr. Flogg,” was her loyal answer.

The pilot now returned, shuffling his hat in his hands.

“Well, pilot?” said Mr. Flogg.

“Well, your honour,” replied he, “I could not risk myself, my men, or my little boat of scarcely twenty tons on so long a voyage at this time of year. Besides, we could not reach Yokohama in time, for it is sixteen hundred and sixty miles from Hong Kong.”

“Only sixteen hundred,” said Mr. Flogg.

“It’s the same thing.”

Filch breathed more freely.

“But,” added the pilot, “it might be arranged another way.”

Filch ceased to breathe at all.

“How?” asked Mr. Flogg.

“By going to Nagasaki, at the extreme south of Japan, or even to Shanghai, which is only eight hundred miles from here. In going to Shanghai we should not be forced to sail wide of the Chinese coast, which would be a great advantage, as the currents run northward, and would aid us.”

“Pilot,” said Mr. Flogg, “I must take the American steamer at Yokohama, and not at Shanghai or Nagasaki.”

“Why not?” returned the pilot. “The San Francisco steamer does not start from Yokohama. It puts in at Yokohama and Nagasaki, but it starts from Shanghai.”

“You are sure of that?”

“Perfectly.”

“And when does the boat leave Shanghai?”

“On the 11th, at seven in the evening. We have, therefore, four days before us, that is ninety-six hours; and in that time, if we had good luck and a south-west wind, and the sea was calm, we could make those eight hundred miles to Shanghai.”

“And you could go…?”

“In an hour; as soon as provisions could be got aboard and the sails put up.”

“It is a bargain. Are you the master of the boat?”

“Yes; John Bunsby, master of the Tankadere.”

“Would you like some earnest-money?”

“If it would not put your honour out…”

“Here are two hundred pounds on account sir,” added Philanderous Flogg, turning to Filch, “if you would like to take advantage…?”

“Thanks to you, sir; I was about to ask the favour,” said Filch, bowing graciously.

“Very well. In half an hour we shall go on board.”

“But poor Pissepotout?” urged Aorta, who was much disturbed by the servant’s disappearance.

“I shall do all I can to find him,” replied Philanderous Flogg.

While Filch, in a feverish, nervous state, repaired to the pilot-boat, the others directed their course to the police-station at Hong Kong. Philanderous Flogg there gave Pissepotout’s description, and left a sum of money to be spent in the search for him. The same formalities having been gone through at the French consulate (where his strange mask and buckled restraints raised not even half an eyebrow), and the palanquin having stopped at the hotel for the luggage, which had been sent back there, they returned to the wharf.

It was now three o’clock; and pilot-boat No. 43, with its crew on board, and its provisions stored away, was ready for departure.

The Tankadere was a neat little craft of twenty tons, as gracefully built as if she were a racing yacht. Her shining copper sheathing, her galvanised iron-work, her deck, white as ivory, betrayed the pride taken by John Bunsby in making her presentable. Her two masts leaned a trifle backward; she carried brigantine, foresail, storm-jib, and standing-jib, and was well rigged for running before the wind; and she seemed capable of brisk speed, which, indeed, she had already proved by gaining several prizes in pilot-boat races. The crew of the Tankadere was composed of John Bunsby, the master, and four hardy mariners, who were familiar with the Chinese seas. John Bunsby, himself, a man of forty-five or thereabouts, vigorous, sunburnt, with a sprightly expression of the eye, and energetic and self-reliant countenance, would have inspired confidence in the most timid.

Philanderous Flogg and Aorta went on board, where they found Filch already installed. Below deck was a square cabin, of which the walls bulged out in the form of cots, above a circular divan; in the centre was a table provided with a swinging lamp. The accommodation was confined, but neat.

“I am sorry to have nothing better to offer you,” said Mr. Flogg to Filch, who bowed again, without responding.

The detective had a feeling akin to humiliation in profiting by the kindness of Mr. Flogg.

“It’s certain,” thought he, “though rascal as he is, he is a polite one!”

The sails and the English flag were hoisted at ten minutes past three. Mr. Flogg and Aorta, who were seated on deck, cast a last glance at the quay, in the hope of espying Pissepotout. Filch was not without his fears lest chance should direct the steps of the unfortunate servant, whom he had so badly treated, in this direction; in which case an explanation the reverse of satisfactory to the detective must have ensued. But the French poodle did not appear, and, without doubt, was still lying under the stupefying influence of the opium.

John Bunsby, master, at length gave the order to start, and the Tankadere, taking the wind under her brigantine, foresail, and standing-jib, bounded briskly forward over the waves.

Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road – Chapter Nineteen

Chapter XIX

In Which Pissepotout Takes Too Great An Interest in His Master,
and What Comes of It

Hong Kong is an island which came into the possession of the English by the Treaty of Nankin, after the war of 1842; and the colonising genius of the English has created upon it an important city and an excellent port. The island is situated at the mouth of the Canton River, and is separated by about sixty miles from the Portuguese town of Macao, on the opposite coast. Hong Kong has beaten Macao in the struggle for the Chinese trade, and now the greater part of the transportation of Chinese goods finds its depot at the former place. Docks, hospitals, wharves, a Gothic cathedral, a government house, macadamised streets, and a proliferation of gypsies give to Hong Kong the appearance of a town in Kent or Surrey transferred by some strange magic to the antipodes.

Pissepotout wandered, with his paws in his pockets, towards the Victoria port, gazing as he went at the curious palanquins and other modes of conveyance, and the groups of Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans who passed to and fro in the streets. Hong Kong seemed to him not unlike Bombay, Calcutta, and Singapore, since, like them, it betrayed everywhere the evidence of English supremacy. At the Victoria port he found a confused mass of ships of all nations: English, French, American, and Dutch, men-of-war and trading vessels, Japanese and Chinese junks, sempas, tankers, and flower-boats, which formed so many floating parterres. Pissepotout noticed in the crowd a number of the natives who seemed very old and were dressed in yellow. On going into a barber’s to get shaved he learned that these ancient men were all at least eighty years old, at which age they are permitted to wear yellow, which is the Imperial colour. Pissepotout, without exactly knowing why, thought this very funny. He surmised that it would of course disguise the stains of geriatric bladder weakness, if not the smell.

On reaching the quay where they were to embark on the Carnatic, the stench of which would disguise any smell, even that of the Devil’s own sweaty gym-locker, he was not astonished to find Filch walking up and down. The detective seemed very much disturbed and disappointed.

“This is bad,” muttered Pissepotout, “for the gentlemen of the Conform Club!”

He accosted Filch with a merry smile, as if he had not perceived that gentleman’s chagrin. The detective had, indeed, good reasons to inveigh against the bad luck which pursued him. The warrant had not come! It was certainly on the way, but as certainly it could not now reach Hong Kong for several days; and, this being the last English territory on Mr. Flogg’s route, the robber would escape, unless he could manage to detain him.

“Well, Monsieur Filch,” said Pissepotout, “have you decided to go with us so far as America?”

“Yes,” returned Filch, through his set teeth.

“Good!” exclaimed Pissepotout, laughing heartily. “I knew you could not persuade yourself to separate from us. Come and engage your berth.”

They entered the steamer office and secured cabins for four persons. The clerk, as he gave them the tickets, informed them that, the repairs on the Carnatic having been completed, the steamer would leave that very evening, and not next morning, as had been announced.

“That will suit my master all the better,” said Pissepotout. “I will go and let him know.”

Filch now decided to make a bold move; he resolved to tell Pissepotout all. It seemed to be the only possible means of keeping Philanderous Flogg several days longer at Hong Kong. He accordingly invited his companion into a tavern which caught his eye on the quay.

On entering, they found themselves in a large room handsomely decorated, at the end of which was a large camp-bed furnished with cushions. Several persons lay upon this bed in a deep sleep. At the small tables, which were arranged about the room, some thirty customers were drinking English beer, porter, gin, and brandy; smoking all the while on long red clay pipes stuffed with little balls of opium mingled with essence of rose. From time to time one of the smokers, overcome with the narcotic, would slip under the table, whereupon the waiters, taking him by the head and feet, carried and laid him upon the bed. The bed already supported twenty of these stupefied sots.

Filch and Pissepotout saw that they were in a smoking-house haunted by those wretched, cadaverous, idiotic creatures to whom the English merchants sell every year the miserable drug called opium, to the amount of one million four hundred thousand pounds – thousands devoted to one of the most despicable vices which afflict humanity! The Chinese government has in vain attempted to deal with the evil, by stringent laws. It passed gradually from the rich, to whom it was at first exclusively reserved, to the lower classes, and then its ravages could not be arrested. Opium is smoked everywhere, at all times, by men and women, in the Celestial Empire; and, once accustomed to it, the victims cannot dispense with it, except by suffering horrible bodily contortions and agonies. A great smoker can smoke as many as eight pipes a day; but he dies in five years. It was in one of these dens that Filch and Pissepotout, in search of a friendly glass, found themselves. Pissepotout had no money, but willingly accepted Filch’s invitation in the hope of returning the obligation at some future time.

They ordered two bottles of port, to which the poodle did ample justice, whilst Filch observed him with close attention. They chatted about the journey, and Pissepotout was especially merry at the idea that Filch was going to continue it with them. When the bottles were empty, however, he rose to go and tell his master of the change in the time of the sailing of the Carnatic.

Filch caught him by the arm, and said, “Wait a moment.”

“What for, Mr. Filch?”

“I want to have a serious talk with you.”

“A serious talk!” cried Pissepotout, drinking up the little fortified wine that was left in the bottom of his glass. “Well, we’ll talk about it tomorrow; I haven’t time now.”

“Stay! What I have to say concerns your master.”

Pissepotout, at this, looked attentively at his companion. Filch’s face seemed to have a singular expression. He resumed his seat.

“What is it that you have to say?”

“Well, I tell you so…” continued the detective. “I have been learning something of young Flogg.”

The large handsome face of Pissepotout grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes. “I do not care to hear more,” said he. “This is a matter I thought we had agreed to drop.”

“What I heard was abominable,” said Filch.

“It can make no change. You do not understand my position,” returned the dogsbody, with a certain incoherency of manner. “I am painfully situated, Filch; my position is a very strange – a very strange one. It is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking.”

“Pissepotout,” said Filch, “You know me: I am a man to be trusted. Make a clean breast of this in confidence; and I make no doubt I can get you out of it.”

“My good Filch,” said the poodle. “This is very good of you, this is downright good of you, and I cannot find words to thank you in. I believe you fully; I would trust you before any man alive, aye, before myself, if I could make the choice; but indeed it isn’t what you fancy; it is not so bad as that; and just to put your good heart at rest, I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Monsieur Flogg. I give you my paw upon that; and I thank you again and again; and I will just add one little word, Filch, that I’m sure you’ll take in good part: this is a private matter, and I beg of you to let it sleep.”

Filch reflected a little, looking in the fire.

“I have no doubt you are perfectly right,” he said at last, getting to his feet as if to leave, a ploy which he hoped would extend the discussion.

“Well, but since we have touched upon this business, and for the last time I hope,” continued Pissepotout, “there is one point I should like you to understand. I have really a very great interest in poor Monsieur Flogg. I know you have seen him; he told me so; and I fear he was rude. But, I do sincerely take a great, a very great interest in that young man; and if I am taken away, Filch, I wish you to promise me that you will bear with him and get his rights for him. I think you would, if you knew all; and it would be a weight off my mind if you would promise.”

“I can’t pretend that I shall ever like him,” said the detective, mystified.

“I don’t ask that,” pleaded Pissepotout, laying his paw upon the other’s arm; “I only ask for justice; I only ask you to help him for my sake, when I am no longer here.”

The detective heaved an irrepressible sigh, and seated himself again, his effort having been rewarded. “Well,” said he, “I promise.”

Pissepotout seemed relieved, and the detective was careful to keep his feet from the damp patch beneath their table.

Filch placed his hand upon Pissepotout’s arm in turn, and, lowering his voice, said, “You have guessed who I am?”

Parbleu!” said Pissepotout, smiling.

“Then I’m going to tell you everything…”

“Now that I know everything, my friend! Ah! that’s very good. But go on, go on. First, though, let me tell you that those gentlemen have put themselves to a useless expense.”

“Useless!” said Filch. “You speak confidently. It’s clear that you don’t know how large the sum is.”

“Of course I do,” returned Pissepotout. “Twenty thousand pounds.”

“Fifty-five thousand!” answered Filch, pressing his companion’s hand.

“What!” cried the French poodle. “Has Monsieur Flogg dared – fifty-five thousand pounds! Well, there’s all the more reason for not losing an instant,” he continued, getting up hastily.

Filch pushed Pissepotout back in his chair, and resumed: “Fifty-five thousand pounds; and if I succeed, I get two thousand pounds. If you’ll help me, I’ll let you have five hundred of them.”

“Help you?” cried Pissepotout, whose eyes were standing wide open.

“Yes; help me keep Mr. Flogg here for two or three days.”

“Why, what are you saying? Those gentlemen are not satisfied with following my master and suspecting his honour, but they must try to put obstacles in his way! I blush for them!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it is a piece of shameful trickery. They might as well waylay Monsieur Flogg and put his money in their pockets!”

“That’s just what we count on doing.”

“It’s a conspiracy, then,” cried Pissepotout, who became more and more excited as the liquor mounted in his head, for he drank without perceiving it. “A real conspiracy! And gentlemen, too. Bah!”

Filch began to be puzzled.

“Members of the Conform Club!” continued Pissepotout. “You must know, Monsieur Filch, that my master is an honest man, and that, when he makes a wager, he tries to win it fairly!”

“But who do you think I am?” asked Filch, looking at him intently.

Parbleu! An agent of the members of the Conform Club, sent out here to interrupt my master’s journey. But, though I found you out some time ago, I’ve taken good care to say nothing about it to Monsieur Flogg.”

“He knows nothing, then?”

“Nothing,” replied Pissepotout, again emptying his glass.

The detective passed his hand across his forehead, hesitating before he spoke again. What should he do? Pissepotout’s mistake seemed sincere, but it made his design more difficult. It was evident that the servant was not the master’s accomplice, as Filch had been inclined to suspect.

“Well,” said the detective to himself, “as he is not an accomplice, he will help me.”

He had no time to lose: Flogg must be detained at Hong Kong, so he resolved to make a clean breast of it.

“Listen to me,” said Filch abruptly. “I am not, as you think, an agent of the members of the Conform Club…”

“Bah!” retorted Pissepotout, with an air of raillery. “I suppose you are about to tell me that you are the Great Ooze, wizard and terror of all Bitches.”

“I am a police detective, sent out here by the London office.”

“You, a detective?” the poodle could not have shown more surprise had Filch indeed admitted to being the legendary and terrible wizard.

“I will prove it. Here is my commission.”

Pissepotout was speechless with astonishment when Filch displayed this document, the genuineness of which could not be doubted.

“Mr. Flogg’s wager,” resumed Filch, “is only a pretext, of which you and the gentlemen of the Conform are dupes. He had a motive for securing your innocent complicity.”

“But why?”

“Listen. On the 28th of last September a robbery of fifty-five thousand pounds was committed at the Bank of England by a person whose description was fortunately secured. Here is his description; it answers exactly to that of Mr. Philanderous Flogg.”

“What nonsense!” cried Pissepotout, striking the table with his fist. “My master is the most honourable of men!”

“How can you tell? You know scarcely anything about him. You went into his service the day he came away; and he came away on a foolish pretext, without trunks, and carrying a large amount in banknotes. And yet you are bold enough to assert that he is an honest man!”

“Yes, yes,” repeated the poor fellow, mechanically.

“Would you like to be arrested as his accomplice?”

Pissepotout, overcome by what he had heard, held his head between his paws, and did not dare to look at the detective. Philanderous Flogg, the saviour of Aorta, that brave and generous man, a robber! And yet how many presumptions there were against him! Pissepotout essayed to reject the suspicions which forced themselves upon his mind; he did not wish to believe that his master was guilty.

“Well, what do you want of me?” said he, at last, with an effort.

“See here,” replied Filch; “I have tracked Mr. Flogg to this place, but as yet I have failed to receive the warrant of arrest for which I sent to London. You must help me to keep him here in Hong Kong…”

“I…! But I…”

“I will share with you the two thousand pounds reward offered by the Bank of England.”

“Never!” replied Pissepotout, who tried to rise, but fell back, exhausted in mind and body. “Mr. Filch,” he stammered. “Even should what you say be true – if my master is really the robber you are seeking – which I deny – I have been, am, in his service; I have seen his generosity and goodness; and I will never betray him – not for all the gold in the world. I come from a village where they don’t eat that kind of bread!”

“You refuse?”

“I refuse.”

“Consider that I’ve said nothing,” said Filch; “and let us drink.”

“Yes – let us drink!”

Pissepotout felt himself yielding more and more to the effects of the liquor.

Filch, seeing that he must, at all hazards, be separated from his master, wished to entirely overcome him.

Some pipes full of opium lay upon the table. Filch slipped one into Pissepotout’s paw. He took it, put it between his lips, lit it, drew several puffs, and his head, becoming heavy under the influence of the narcotic, fell upon the table.

“At last!” said Filch, seeing Pissepotout unconscious. “Mr. Flogg will not be informed of the Carnatic’s departure; and, if he is, he will have to go without this cursed lapdog!”

And, after paying his bill, and turning down a number of young ladies (and some not so young), Filch left the tavern.