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

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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 🙂

Chapter Two – The Cosmic Carbon Cycle Cash Machine

SONY DSC

CHAPTER TWO

The closest to Boba Fett that anyone was able to procure for the Prime Minister was an undergraduate in geochemistry found to be pilfering Bounty bars from a Southampton university cafeteria. The unfortunate coconut-flavoured chocolate-hunter was taken to Downing Street by police escort, and narrowly avoided being de-briefed on the way by Detective Sergeants Florence & Fred, bra fetishists and doughnut abstainers.

Ah, Boba Fett,” PM Clony Tamarind greeted the young woman once she was shown into his Ovaltine Office, waving a hand to decline half of a Bounty bar proffered in greeting. “Tell me how we are to make carbon out of nothing. I need to ensure that the public continue to feel responsible for global warming so that we can raise taxes with the promise of reducing carbon emissions on their behalf. This idiot Professor Nagy claims that creating more carbon than already exists on the planet is impossible, unless you are an alchemist.”

Professor Nagy waved from behind his giant brunch burrito, courtesy of Guy Fieri, currently being held hostage in the kitchen of No.10 by the children, along with their favourite band, Minus One Or Two Direction.

Ah, Professor Romeo Nagy,” said Boba Fett, whose name was Ekaterina Whiskas. “I didn’t recognise you with my clothes on. Please wash them before returning this time.”

The Professor smiled, and dusted a few kidney beans from the front of the pink frilly negligee he still sported, since being summoned to the Ovaltine Office himself that morning.

Carbon?” the Prime Minister prompted hopefully, while Miss MoneySupermarket cranked the handle of the clockwork tea urn to the jolly tune of ‘Dead Man’s Chest’.

Oh, you don’t have to make extra carbon,” said Undergraduate Whiskas. “It turns up by itself. Uninvited, you might say.”

The Professor nodded gloomily in agreement, his mouth too full to comment.

When does this occur?” demanded the PM, nonplussed. “And how do I charge people for causing it?”

Nobody causes it,” said Ekaterina Whiskas. “It falls from the sky. Exoplanetary carbon lands on Earth all the time, in the form of space dust. Cometary waste, meteorite particles etc. Estimated at anywhere between 3,000 and 60,000 tonnes per annum enters our atmosphere, combined with iron, silica, platinum and other minerals. Eventually Earth will mop up enough space dust on its orbit to dry out completely and overcook, just like Mars did beforehand. But I expect the human race will have moved on by then.”

Are you telling me,” Prime Minister Tamarind fumed, “that Earth is being treated as… as an extraterrestrial dumping-ground for their hothouse gas-producing waste? Without official policy or permits in place?”

Just say yes,” Professor Nagy chipped in. “If you agree with him, you get a free lunch.”

The PM had taken out a pencil, and was scribbling hasty calculations on the back of Deputy PM Rick Shaw’s iPad.

And the extraterrestrials responsible for this carbon dumping on our planet, which has been occurring since…?”

The dawn of time, sir.”

The dawn of time… that means in terms of licensing, permits, compensation, carbon offset fees, planning application fees, airspace visa requirements…” The PM muttered to himself for several minutes longer, while the clockwork urn reached a crescendo, and in a freak tea cranking accident, Miss MoneySupermarket was hurled into the crystal chandelier, dislodging the entangled Ovaltine burglar (who had fallen asleep after a painful Skype conversation with his mother), several security cameras, and a rare feathered python escaped from the private collection at Longleat Safari Park.

One extra for tea, Miss MoneySupermarket,” the Deputy PM observed, as the burglar landed in his lap, and with a slip of the stylus caused him to unintentionally win his game of 2048 on the 3DS.

Right away, sir,” said the secretary, and knotted her hair extensions together to lower herself from the chandelier to the floor. “Can I take your feather boa and put it with the coats, Miss Whiskas?”

I believe it’s a feathered python,” said the Undergraduate. “But be my guest.”

“…So, with the additional costs incurred by issuing the appropriate forms and an immediate Cease and Desist to the extraterrestrials involved, I believe a considerable taxation sum is due for this illegal exoplanetary carbon dumping activity,” PM Clony Tamarind announced, against the background noise of strangulated screaming from the secretary battling with the more endangered of the coats in the hallway closet. “Now, all we have to do is make the public feel responsible for the harbouring and protection of these aliens, and we can defer the tax increases to our own citizens for the cost of this extraterrestrial carbon landing on our planet and irreversibly heating it up.” He tapped his pencil on the back of the iPad. “By my calculations, I think an average tax increase of one million sterling per household per week should mean we recoup our costs just short of the next millennium.”

All in favour?” queried Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had dropped by to borrow some jump leads for his delivery truck.

I think we need to show a united front and a demonstrable plan of action first,” suggested the Deputy PM, once his 3DS battery was flat and he realised he had left his charger at his children’s nanny’s house. “For example, have the Americans an example we can show the British public whereby a company or government environmental agency has successfully sued for damages over the illegal trespass or trafficking of space dust into Earth’s biosphere?”

Ah – Deputy PM, is it time for your nap?” Clony Tamarind clapped his hands. “Miss MoneySupermarket! Rick is whining for something, can you warm him a bottle and bring the Farley’s Rusks, please?”

So basically, the government wants to scaremonger the public into paying more taxes in vain hope of stopping or reversing the irreversible global warming caused by the aggregation of cosmic dust that will eventually turn Earth into a dead ball of dry rock like Mars?” Undergraduate Ekaterina Whiskas enquired of Professor Nagy, ownership of the underwear he currently wore forgotten, at least temporarily.

So it appears,” the Professor agreed. “He has already bored Great Britain’s most senior scientists to death or tears. But mostly because one of them wanted a Garibaldi with his tea, and the PM sent for an Italian opera singer instead of asking Jeeves from Tesco’s to get some.”

Hmmm,” said Ekaterina. “Has anyone suggested moving more carbon-based materials off the planet’s surface? As a thermal exchange mechanism?”

Well,” Professor Nagy pondered. “Not until now. I suppose they could start with moving the Labour Party headquarters to the Moon, for example?”

Why not Mars?” suggested the burglar, while the PM’s face lit up. “It’s not like you could make Mars any deader.”

Yes…” The PM leapt to his feet, sending his collection of super-villain cats yowling and flying for cover, and knocking the escaping Jeeves to the floor with a well-timed crochet antimacassar to the head. “An interplanetary exchange program! Until our elusive extraterrestrials come forward with the appropriate compensation, losing opposition parties and minor offensive governments will have to move their command centres to Mars – to offset the unavoidable cosmic dust entering our carbon cycle. Miss MoneySupermarket – fetch me a pigeon from the roof. I must send an urgent message to Richard Branson immediately regarding the availability of interplanetary flights for the transport of opposition leaders and their members at once. You two – Professor Nightdress and Whiskas Fett – you will do the sciencey stuff for the press and the media; Jeeves, you will be in charge of fulfilling Martian Tesco dot com grocery orders; you there, the chap in the ninja mask who fell from the chandelier, round up my cats; and Deputy PM Rick Shaw, my most trusted confidante, go and see why the children are so quiet down in the kitchen. Guy Fieri has not screamed for help for at least an hour.”

To be continued…

The Cosmic Carbon Cycle Cash Machine

Carbon_cycle

See Wikipedia

“I say, Jeeves!” Prime Minister Cloney Tamarind shouted one morning during breakfast, spluttering Krave crumbs all over his recently-updated Facebook status. “What’s this filthy rumour that we’re not producing more carbon? How are we supposed to charge people for something we don’t actually deliver?”

“So what’s new, dear?” Mrs Tamarind muttered, sipping her Chai Red Bull. The word ‘charge’ causing her to make a mental note to replace the batteries in her bedside drawer, after yet another all-nighter with the PM away at his desk, playing Draw My Thing and Words With Infidels online.

“I don’t know, Sir,” said Jeeves dutifully, topping up the Worcester sauce bucket in the modest silver breakfast table cruet, with the ceremonial watering-can. “I’m only your Tesco’s delivery driver.”

And he left the receipt on the table, before being strong-armed out of No.10 by the children.

“Someone is spreading lies about there only being a finite amount of carbon on the planet!” the Prime Minister said grimly, narrowing his eyes at a post by Markiplier about the conspiracy of squirrels, as he bit suspiciously into into his peanut butter on crumpet. The crumpet duly squealed, and got down from the table in a huff to go and powder her nose, and he hollered after her. “When you come back, Miss MoneySupermarket, I want you to schedule an emergency meeting with… with… the chap with the briefcase who reads out my annual bank statement to me, and some top scientists! Preferably ones that are not in the middle of writing their autobiographies, speaking at TED talks, or filming for the BBC!”

***

“This is how it works,” said the PM in his Ovaltine Office, while Deputy PM Rick Shaw took notes and wrote a song for the bluegrass band he was planning to run away with on his imminent retirement at the next election, and Miss MoneySupermarket changed the most senior scientist’s nappy. “We tell the public that we’re still producing too much carbon. And carbon is a bad thing. It makes the air smell like poo and we all have to wash our cars more often and Hollywood actresses tell our children not to eat it as it’s bad for your image. So the public feel guilt. That’s the emotion we all need them to feel because it makes their wallets fall open more easily. And they give us more money, and we promise to clean up the carbon we make every day to power their homes and cars and let them lead happy lives with happy Facebook status updates saying how much of the planet they’ve saved today by walking the dogs instead of calling them a taxi. And now I’m being told we don’t make carbon. It exists in different states and goes around and around by itself like a rotisserie chicken, which incidentally, if left on the spit too long, turns into a block of black stuff that is essentially carbon. So how are we not making any new fucking carbon?!” His voice became the shrill squeak of a Clanger. “How do we claim there’s a carbon footprint when I can’t show them even a fuzzy Youtube video of a giant fucking footprint? How do we stop the damned carbon that we do have from degassing into the oceans and decaying out of plants and dead things back into the soil and reproducing into armies of adopted celebrity children and their godforsaken acres of burger meat that they grow up on, so we can prove there’s a problem? How do we make it get off its carbon bicycle and off the geological ring-road? I swear I can hear the same carbon atoms laughing at me every time they pass out of the Queen’s bottom on parade!”

“Well,” said the most senior scientist, once he was back in his pram and holding the official Talking Stick. “In order to actually create carbon, you would require an alchemist.”

“Like the chap on Harley Street who writes out my wife’s prescriptions – Doctor Theophilus Hoodoobeggar?”

“Even more powerful than that, sir.”

“Wonderful. Find me such a person.”

And within a short interval, wherein there was popcorn, crisps, a brief performance by Shakespeare’s Sister, and Deputy PM Rick Shaw had his Large Coke confiscated for burping carbon atoms in a sarcastic tone of voice, a small waxy-complexioned individual with a foreign accent was ushered in and asked to sweep up the crumbs. This was minutely embarrassing when it turned out that this frumpy individual with the odd knee-socks and pink housecoat was Head of Alchemicals at the University of Southampton (Ten Years Since Last Burned to the Ground).

“Tell me, young man,” began Cloney Tamarind, once the brush and dustpan were discreetly taken away from Professor Nagy and he had been furnished with a chair, one with built-in cushions and tie-dyed antimacassars, courtesy of the children. “Is it possible to make carbon out of thin air?”

“If that air contains, for example, traces of methane, CO2, volcanic aerosols,” said the young professor dismissively, swinging one leg over the arm of the comfy chair and loosening his early-morning pyjama-bottom wedgie.

“Remind me to have a word with the Queen about rogue volcanic aerosols on parade in future,” the PM muttered aside to Miss MoneySupermarket, who was now on dustpan duty, giving him a very sour look from under her falsies. “But Professor Nagy – tell me, how do we make carbon from nothing? We’ve been telling the public about our overproduction of carbon for decades. We can’t have them all going on Wikipedia and finding out that no matter how much we dig up or burn, the Earth just – sucks it all up away again.”

“Oh, you don’t make something from nothing.”

“I think you underestimate politics and taxation, young man.” Prime Minister Tamarind wagged a finger, until the Deputy PM managed to wrench his own hand free and return to drawing a picture of an eye from a tutorial on DeviantArt. Eventually, this would become the logo of his bluegrass band, and hopefully BMG or Virgin would copy it and have to pay out royalties. “You are Head of Alchemicals at a top… an outstanding… a not very recently burned-down University, at… is Southampton a real place? I always thought it was like Mordor, or Narnia… rumours of organised football matches being played, huge, balding men roaming loose, wenches roaming looser… nothing else… anyway, you must know something useful, yes?”

“A very clever deduction,” said the Professor, and lifted his top hat to take down his elevensies, which with foresight he had brought with with him. As he opened his packet of cheesy Quavers and dunked them in his Earl Grey, he announced vaguely. “I can make gold, of course. But not what you are interested in.”

“GOLD?” everyone else in the room echoed, including an Ovaltine burglar who was hiding camouflaged in the chandelier above them, in a silver rhinestone ninja gi, and Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had forgotten to pick up his plastic carrier baskets.

“Not out of carbon, I hope!” the Prime Minister clapped a hand over his mouth, and this time Deputy PM Rick Shaw had to use a baby-wipe to clean the smear of L’Oreal For Gender Neutral Persons What Shave Often aftershave balm off his fingers before returning to his Nintendo 3DS, now playing Monster Hunter Ultimate in a team with Kim Jong Un. “Excess carbon is worth more than gold in guilt extortion value terms, I hope you realise.”

“No, not carbon.” The Professor unwrapped a complimentary chocolate mint from a private stash purloined from the coat-check girl at Bournemouth Spearmint Rhino.

“Then what do you make gold out of?” demanded Miss MoneySupermarket, speaking out of turn and still on her knees, elbow-deep in shag pile carpet, probing for popcorn kernels.

“Platinum.”

The groan in the room was audible. In fact it was so audible that Audible automatically deducted its monthly Amazon account payment from the entire Conservative Party, as a result of trying to sneak a free download.

The ninja in the chandelier began to cry, and was heard Skyping his mother in Malaysia, who was apparently not in the best of moods either judging by the verbal lashing that ensued.

“Fine, as soon as Jeremy Clarkson has finished scraping all the platinum off the roads of the UK and Isle of Man with his tongue, you can have it and turn it into gold for all I care,” the PM seethed. “What I want right now, is a shit load of carbon. I want to be able to show people a carbon mountain on the News at Five. I want those Bigfoot hunters to find a carbon footprint so big that it’s only identified by the corn on its little toe proving to be Alaska. Fetch me someone who can make carbon out of nothing. Fetch me – fetch me – Boba Fett!”

The groan, still fading into echoes around the Ovaltine Office, abruptly became a gasp. And then a horrible, gagging, choking, furry noise, as Miss MoneySupermarket had inhaled the sheepskin rug, right from under the most senior scientist’s bottom…

To be continued… 😉 xxx

Guest post: Jillian Brookes-Ward

Today’s post is brought to you by my friend Jillian, who is the only writer I know to incorporate fly-fishing and raunchy romance.

I asked her to send me something about her observations of fly-fishermen, along with a sample of her novel On the Fly to share with you, to go with my otherwise strangely out-of-place videos of fly-tying that have appeared here recently… and she sent this lovely article which she had previously written for the now allegedly-defunct Fishkeep.net. Over to you, Jillian…

~ OF FUR, FEATHERS AND FLUFFY BITS ~

It is now officially Spring, and as we have changed the clocks to British Summer Time, I decided it was high time to encourage the sun to come out by packing away my winter woollies and getting out the cotton frocks. But wait, what’s this, a bald patch on the fur collar of my best suede gilet?

Could it be that moths have invaded my wardrobe? Have the pernicious little buggers munched their way through anything else – the cashmere sweater I got for Christmas for example?

Close examination of every item at possible risk showed there to be no sign of damage to anything else. It seemed that these were peculiarly selective moths.

The truth revealed the blame lay not at the chomping mandibles of an innocent insect, but much closer to home – in the thieving hands of my other half who, in an attempt to while away time in the close season, had been scouring the house looking for suitable materials with which to tie himself a new breed of fly. He thought it might be a good idea to try and invent a new pattern all his own. That way he was certain to become not only rich and famous, but renowned throughout the angling world and the envy of his peers.

‘I didn’t think you’d notice,’ says he, ‘it was only a handful.’

A handful! I now have a piece of clothing (a favourite to boot) that looks like it’s developed mange! What else had he been helping himself to? The list, not to put too fine a point on it, left me gobsmacked.

‘Remember when you thought the dog had snagged himself on the barbed wire fence and ripped off the end of his tail?’

I did, and he hadn’t. The missing chunk of tail hair had been unceremoniously hacked off with a pair of kitchen scissors and used to tie a new experimental pattern, none too successfully as it happened, and the poor hound had been forced to sport an embarrassingly naked tail tip for nearly three weeks for nought.

An effort to produce a deadly lure from mixed colour/texture human hair trimmings was just as unsuccessful. He had purloined it from the barberfest I hold in my kitchen every three months when, in order to save a few precious pounds, I use the Braun clippers on all the male heads in the household, leaving them looking like a row of short-bristled brush heads.

In the quest for ever more colourful materials, and unbeknownst to me, the male spousal unit had made an arrangement with a neighbour who kept two parrots.

‘Should they by chance happen to moult,’ he’d suggested, ‘could I please have the cast off feathers? Any colour, from any part of the bird, it doesn’t matter, I’ll think of something to do with them. Oh and by the way, if your rabbit should happen to die in mysterious circumstances, could I possibly skin it before you put it in a shoebox in a hole in the ground? Waste not, want not, you know!’

I was aghast and said, jokingly, ‘I’m going to have to keep my eye on that red squirrel when he comes for his nuts from the bird table, lest you set out after him with a pair of pinking shears and lop off his tail.’

‘No need,’ says he. ‘There’s already one in the freezer. It’s wrapped in newspaper and tucked between the peas and the battered fish portions.’

The creature had been found dead by the side of the road, he did hasten to add, as if that would excuse its present resting place under a bag of frozen vegetables.

‘There’s a pair of heron wings in there, too,’ he admitted.

‘But herons are a protected species!’ I cried, ‘You can’t have them!’

OH did explain he had come across the bird while walking the dog. The poor thing had apparently come to grief on the riverbank, having succumbed to the recent devilishly cold spell. As it was already dead, he smuggled the frozen corpse home, only to find he couldn’t get the whole bird into the freezer because its beak stopped the lid from closing properly and so had to resort to taking just the choice feathers. He didn’t say what had happened to the rest of it and I thought it best not to ask.

It is rather disturbing to think it could have ended up served for Sunday lunch, roasted with a pound of sage and onion up its Parson’s Nose.

What next for this intrepid hunter of all things furry, feathery and fluffy – yeti hair?!

Come to think of it, he did mention something about wanting to develop his own updated version of a Tupp’s Indispensible*…and he has been spending rather more time than usual in the bathroom!

*For those of you who are not familiar with this fly, a Tupp’s Indispensible is traditionally tied using hairs plucked from the scrotum of a fertile breeding ram. Yes, you did read that right. Attempt collection at your own risk!

…And now, from On the Fly ~

He grasped her by the waist, pulled her to him and kissed her. She threw her arms around his neck and returned the kiss, and as she did, he felt all his tension drain away.

‘Very nice,’ he said, smacking his lips with appreciation.

‘You weren’t on the river much today,’ Lily said.

‘I’ve been spending quite a bit of time up the House doing some paperwork and sending out brochures and the like.’

‘Oh really?’ She took a step back and placed her hands on her hips. ‘You are such a fibber, Brian MacDonald.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Yes you do, because I know exactly where you were. Did you have a nice time with her?’

The question caught Brian off guard. ‘What…I mean who…eh?’

‘The pretty blonde woman?’ Lily prompted.

Brian’s mouth fell open with astonishment. ‘How the hell…? Bloody hell, Lily, have you been spying on me?’ He was both alarmed and irked in equal measure.

‘Yes I have,’ she said, plainly. ‘And most amusing it was too, watching you squirming out through her bedroom window like a greased weasel just as her husband came in through the front door. You did cut it a little fine I have to say. You were lucky to get away with your skin still on.’

Brian was staggered. ‘But…how…where? Flaming hell, Lily, that’s a bit beyond the pale.’

‘What can I say, I like to watch,’ she said. ‘I learn quite a lot by watching.’

She passed her tongue over her slightly parted lips, moistening them, and then sucked seductively on the lower one.

‘Don’t you like to watch, Brian? Wouldn’t you like it if someone were to watch us?’

‘No of course not.’

‘Are you sure about that?’ She ran a fingertip over his lips. ‘Wouldn’t it turn you on?’

He gulped audibly. ‘Well…I…er,’ he stammered. ‘I’ve never…never really thought about it.’

‘Maybe you should. And don’t you think it might be fun if someone were to…join in? Another woman…or a man?’

Brian’s mouth moved, but no words came out. For once, he had nothing to say. Lily’s eyes sparkled with mischief and she suddenly burst out laughing.

‘I’m just teasing you, you silly man,’ she said with a smile. ‘The look on your face…’

Brian puckered his mouth and frowned. ‘Aye very funny. My sides are splitting.’

‘Made you think, though, didn’t I?’ she said, and chucked his chin.

He had never considered a threesome, whatever the combination, he always favoured the one-to-one approach. Although…

~ On The Fly, a raunchy tale of rods, flies and sex:

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

Chapter XXIII

IN WHICH PISSEPOTOUT’S NOSE BECOMES OUTRAGEOUSLY LONG

The next morning poor, jaded, famished Pissepotout said to himself that he must get something to eat at all hazards, and the sooner he did so the better. He might, indeed, sell his watch or his silver-buckled shoes; but he would have starved first. Now or never he must use the strong, if not melodious voice which nature had bestowed upon him. He knew several French and English songs, and resolved to try them upon the Japanese, who must be lovers of music, since they were for ever beating and pounding on their cymbals, tam-tams, husbands, and tambourines, and could not but appreciate European talent.

It was, perhaps, rather early in the morning to get up a concert, and the audience prematurely aroused from their slumbers might not possibly pay their entertainer with coin bearing the Mikado’s features. Pissepotout therefore decided to wait several hours; and, as he was sauntering along, it occurred to him that he would seem rather too well dressed for a wandering artist. The idea struck him to change his garments for clothes more in harmony with his project; by which he might also get a little money to satisfy the immediate cravings of hunger. The resolution taken, it remained to carry it out.

It was only after a long search that Pissepotout discovered a native dealer in old clothes, to whom he applied for an exchange. The man liked the European costume, and had only one other dress, but that happened to be clean and was hanging on a peg beside his bed. It was gingham, with checks of white and blue; and although the blue was somewhat faded with many washings, it was still a pretty frock. The poodle washed himself carefully, dressed himself in the clean gingham, and ere long Pissepotout issued from the shop also fully accoutred in an old Japanese coat, and a sort of one-sided turban, faded with long use. A few small pieces of silver, moreover, jingled in his pocket.

“Good!” thought he. “I will imagine I am at the Carnival!”

His first care, after being thus ‘Japanesed’ was to fill the void in his belly.

Presently he came to a house rather larger than the rest. On the green terrace before it many men and women were dancing. Five little fiddlers played as loudly as possible, and the people were laughing and singing, while a big table nearby was loaded with delicious fruits and nuts, pies and cakes, and many other good things to eat.

The people greeted Pissepotout kindly, and invited him to breakfast with them; for this was the tea-house of one of the richest men in the city, and his servants were gathered with him to celebrate their freedom from the bondage of yet another wicked bitch, who had been the tyrant of their household. A bonfire was burning merrily in the yard.

Pissepotout entered the tea-house, of modest appearance within, and, upon half a bird and a little rice, to breakfast like a man for whom dinner was as yet a problem to be solved. He ate with a hearty appetite and was waited upon by the rich proprietor himself, whose name was Boku.

“Now,” thought the poodle, when he had eaten to his heart’s content, “I mustn’t lose my head. I can’t sell this costume again for one still more Japanese. I must consider how to leave this country of the Sun, of which I shall not retain the most delightful of memories, as quickly as possible.”

Then he sat upon a settee and watched the people dance.

When Boku saw his silver-buckled shoes, he said: “You must be a great butler.”

“Why?” asked the dogsbody.

“Because you wear silver-buckled shoes and have also killed a Wicked Bitch. Besides, you have white in your frock, and only chefs and butlers wear white.”

“My dress is blue and white checked,” said Pissepotout, smoothing out the wrinkles in it.

“It is kind of you to wear that,” said Boku. “Blue is the colour of the Munchlings, who live in servitude, and white is the hygienic colour. So we know you are a friendly butler. If you were to stay in our city now that my wicked Bitch is dead, we know that you would be a very suitable candidate for our new valet and butler. The staff would accept no less a good person than you.”

Pissepotout did not know what to say to this, for all the people seemed to think him a most highly-qualified manservant, and he knew very well he was only an ordinary little French poodle who had come by the chance of a steamer into a strange land.

When he had tired from watching the dancing, Boku led him into the house, where he gave him a room with a pretty bed in it. The sheets were made of blue cloth, and Pissepotout slept soundly in them until later that morning.

“How far is it to the Emmannuelle City?” the poodle asked.

“I do not know,” answered Boku gravely. “For I have never been there. It is better for people to keep away from Ooze, unless they have business with him. But it is a long way to the Emmannuelle City, and it will take you many days. The country there is rich and pleasant, but you must pass through rough and dangerous places before you reach the end of your journey.”

This worried Pissepotout a little, but he knew that only the Great Ooze could help him get to Cannes again, so he bravely resolved not to turn back.

He bade his new friends good-bye, and again started along the road.

It occurred to him to visit the steamers which were about to leave for America. He would offer himself as a cook or servant, in payment of his passage and meals. Once at San Francisco, he would find some means of going on. The difficulty was, how to traverse the four thousand seven hundred miles of the Pacific which lay between Japan and the New World, where hopefully the Emmannuelle City would be found.

Pissepotout was not the pup to let an idea go begging, and directed his steps towards the docks. But, as he approached them, his project, which at first had seemed so simple, began to grow more and more formidable to his mind. What need would they have of a cook or servant on an American steamer, and what confidence would they put in him, dressed as he was? What references could he give?

As he was reflecting in this wisdom, his eyes fell upon an immense placard, which a sort of clown, although not a clown made of china this time, was carrying through the streets. This placard, which was in English, read as follows:

ACROBATIC JAPANESE TROUPE

HONOURABLE WILLIAM BATULCAR

PROPRIETOR

LAST REPRESENTATIONS

PRIOR TO THEIR DEPARTURE TO THE UNITED STATES,

OF THE LONG NOSES! LONG NOSES

UNDER THE DIRECT PATRONAGE OF THE GOD TINGOU!

GREAT ATTRACTION!

“The United States!” said Pissepotout. “That’s just what I want!”

He followed the clown, and soon found himself once more in the Japanese quarter. A quarter of an hour later he stopped before a large cabin, adorned with several clusters of streamers, the exterior walls of which were designed to represent in violent colours and without perspective, a company of jugglers.

This was the Honourable William Batulcar’s establishment. That gentleman was akin to Barnum, the director of a troupe of mountebanks, jugglers, clowns, acrobats, equilibrists, and gymnasts, who, according to the placard, was giving his last performances before leaving the Empire of the Sun for the States of the Union.

Pissepotout entered, and asked for Mr. Batulcar, who straight away appeared in person. Pissepotout was relieved, and thankfully not on the rug. A live person was just who he was hoping to see.

“What do you want?” said the proprietor to Pissepotout, whom he at first took for a native.

“Would you like a servant, sir?” asked Pissepotout.

“A servant!” cried Mr. Batulcar, caressing the thick grey beard, which hung from his chin, and also elsewhere about his hirsute frame. “I already have two who are obedient and faithful, have never left me, and serve me for their nourishment – and here they are,” added he, holding out his two robust arms for inspection, furrowed with veins as large as the strings of a double bass. “See? You are privileged. Not everyone gets a free pass to the gun show.”

Pissepotout was crestfallen. “So I can be of no use to you?”

“None.”

“The devil! I should so like to cross the Pacific!”

“Aha!” said the Honourable Mr. Batulcar. “An immigrant! You are no more a Japanese than I am a monkey! Although it is certain, I have sometimes been mistaken for a gorilla in a dark alley… Who are you, dressed up in that way?”

“A dogsbody dresses as he can.”

“That is so. You are a French poodle, aren’t you?”

“Yes; a Parisian of Paris.”

“Then you ought to know how to make grimaces?”

“Why,” replied Pissepotout, a little vexed that his nationality should cause this question. “We French know how to make grimaces, of course. Have you not smelled our cheeses? But we are no better at it than the Americans.”

“True. You only have to smell their stockings. Well, I can’t take you on as a servant, but I can as a clown. You see, my friend, in France they exhibit foreign clowns, and in foreign parts, French clowns.”

“Ah!”

“You are pretty strong, eh?”

“Especially after a good meal.”

“And you can sing?”

“Yes,” returned Pissepotout, who had formerly been wont to sing in the streets, usually for his freedom.

“But can you sing standing on your head, with a top spinning on your left foot, and a sabre balanced on your right? While reciting Shakespeare, and playing the harmonica with your buttocks?”

“Humph! I think so,” replied Pissepotout, recalling the exercises of his younger days. And those flatulent arias that served as a warm-up act at the Moulin Rouge would serve him well, it seemed.

“Well, that’s good enough for me,” said the Honourable William Batulcar. “Most Japanese start on the saki at breakfast-time. They are easily entertained, those that stay awake.”

Pissepotout had at last found something to do. He was engaged to act in the celebrated Japanese troupe. It was not a very dignified position, but within a week he would be on his way to San Francisco. And without the embarrassment of having to formulate his apology to Mr. Flogg too soon.

The performance, so noisily announced by the Honourable Mr. Batulcar, was to commence at three o’clock, and soon the deafening instruments of a Japanese orchestra resounded at the door.

Pissepotout, though he had not been able to study or rehearse a part for his extended talents yet, was designated to lend the aid of his sturdy shoulders in the great exhibition of the “human pyramid,” executed by the Long Noses of the God Tingou. This “great attraction” was to close the performance, and was a simple enough task for such a clever poodle that any pup could have taken it on. There was no potential for failure or embarrassment.

Before three o’clock, the large shed was invaded by the spectators, comprising Europeans and natives, Chinese and Japanese, men, women and children, who precipitated themselves upon the narrow benches and into the boxes opposite the stage. The musicians took up a position inside, and were vigorously performing on their gongs, tam-tams, flutes, bones, tambourines, organs, and immense drums.

The performance was much like all acrobatic displays; but it must be confessed that the Japanese are the foremost equilibrists in the world.

One, with a fan and some bits of paper, performed the graceful trick of the butterflies and the flowers; another traced in the air, with the odorous smoke of his pipe, a series of blue words, which composed a compliment to the audience; while a third juggled with some lighted candles, which he extinguished successively as they passed his lips, and relit again without interrupting his trickery for an instant. Another reproduced the most singular combinations with a spinning-top; in his hands the revolving tops seemed to be animated with a life of their own in their interminable whirling; they ran over pipe-stems, the edges of sabres, wires and even hairs stretched across the stage; they turned around on the edges of large glasses, crossed bamboo ladders, dispersed into all the corners, and produced strange musical effects by the combination of their various pitches of tone. The jugglers tossed them in the air, threw them like shuttlecocks with wooden battledores, and yet they kept on spinning; they put them into their pockets, and took them out still whirling as before.

It is useless to describe the astonishing performances of the acrobats and gymnasts. Their turning on ladders, poles, balls, barrels, etc, was executed with wonderful precision (quite unlike the ability of the unworthy author to depict anything so cultured with sufficient justice).

But the principal attraction was the exhibition of the Long Noses, a show to which Europe is as yet a stranger.

The Long Noses form a peculiar company, under the direct patronage of the god Tingou. Attired after the fashion of the Middle Ages, they bore upon their shoulders a splendid pair of wings; but what especially distinguished them was the long noses which were fastened to their faces, and the uses which they made of them. These noses were made of bamboo, and were five, six, and even ten feet long, some straight, others curved, some ribboned, and some having imitation warts upon them. It was upon these appendages, fixed tightly on their real noses, that they performed their gymnastic exercises. A dozen of these sectaries of Tingou lay flat upon their backs, while others, dressed to represent lightning-rods, came and frolicked on their noses, jumping from one to another, and performing the most skilful leaps and somersaults – the meaning of which was a mystery to all but the most theologically enlightened. A small boy, who bounced in his seat among the audience, shouting “Pinocchio, Pinocchio!” had to be quieted with a large ball of cotton-candy.

As a last scene, a “human pyramid” had been announced, in which fifty Long Noses were to represent the Car of Juggernaut. But, instead of forming a pyramid by mounting each other’s shoulders, the artists were to group themselves on top of the noses. It happened that the performer who had hitherto formed the base of the Car had quitted the troupe on maternity leave, and as, to fill this part, only strength and adroitness were necessary, Pissepotout had been chosen to take their place.

The poor fellow really felt sad when – melancholy reminiscence of his youth – he donned his costume, adorned with multi-coloured wings, and fastened to his natural feature a false nose six feet long. But he cheered up when he thought that this nose was winning him something to eat.

He went upon the stage, and took his place beside the rest who were to compose the base of the Car of Juggernaut. They all stretched themselves on the floor, their noses pointing to the ceiling. A second group of artists disposed themselves on these long appendages, then a third above these, then a fourth, until a human monument reaching to the very cornices of the theatre soon arose on top of the noses.

This elicited loud applause, in the midst of which the orchestra was just striking up a deafening air – when suddenly the pyramid tottered, the balance was lost, one of the lower noses vanished from the pyramid, and the human monument was shattered like a castle built of cards!

It was Pissepotout’s fault. A weakness he had not anticipated had entered the equation.

Abandoning his position, clearing the footlights without the aid of his wings, and, clambering up to the right-hand gallery, he fell at the feet of one of the spectators, his tail between his legs, crying: “Ah, my master! My master!”

“You are here?”

“Myself, I am indeed, Master.”

“Very well; then let us go to the steamer, young man! My corsets and bondages are chafing terribly, and I have a new stock of liniment which needs application.”

Mr. Flogg, Aorta, and Pissepotout passed through the lobby of the theatre to the outside, where they encountered the Honourable Mr. Batulcar, furious with rage. He demanded damages for the “breakage” of the pyramid; and Philanderous Flogg appeased him by giving him a handful of banknotes.

At half-past six, the very hour of departure, Mr. Flogg and Aorta, followed by Pissepotout, who in his hurry had retained his wings, and nose six feet long, stepped upon the American steamer.

To Ooze!” Pissepotout cried. “Onward!”

His relief this time was obvious, all over the clean deck.

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

Chapter XXII

IN WHICH PISSEPOTOUT FINDS OUT THAT, EVEN AT THE ANTIPODES,
IT IS CONVENIENT TO HAVE SOME MONEY IN ONE’S POCKET

The Carnatic, setting sail from Hong Kong at half-past six on the 7th of November, directed her course at full steam towards Japan. She carried a large cargo and a well-filled cabin of passengers. Two state-rooms in the rear were, however, unoccupied – those which had been engaged by Philanderous Flogg. The crew, upon discovering the unexplained vacancy, deployed themselves in much recreational rumpus within the larger of the two apartments (involving vast consumption of rum, and hitherto unknown and uncivilised variations on hands of Grist).

The next day a passenger with a half-stupefied eye, staggering gait, and disordered fur, was seen to emerge from the second cabin, and to totter to a seat on deck. One would almost think that the poorly creature had lost sleep along with the crew – but he had not.

It was Pissepotout; and what had happened to him was as follows:

Shortly after Filch left the opium den, two waiters had lifted the unconscious Pissepotout, and had carried him to the bed reserved for the smokers. Three hours later, pursued even in his dreams by an antlered stag wearing gaiters shouting ‘Benton!’ the poor fellow awoke, and struggled against the stupefying influence of the narcotic. The thought of a duty unfulfilled shook off his torpor, and he hurried from the abode of drunkenness.

Staggering and holding himself up by keeping against the walls, falling down and creeping up again, and irresistibly impelled by a kind of instinct, he kept crying out, “The Carnatic! The Carnatic!” especially when an elderly gentlewoman match-seller set about him with her walking-stick in an alleyway, calling him a recurring beast of the worst persuasion.

The steamer lay puffing alongside the quay, on the point of starting. Pissepotout had but a few steps to go; and, rushing upon the plank, he crossed it, and fell unconscious on the deck, just as the Carnatic was moving off. Several sailors, who were evidently accustomed to this sort of scene, carried the poor poodle down into the second vacant cabin, and Pissepotout did not wake until they were one hundred and fifty miles away from China.

Thus, he found himself the next morning on the deck of the Carnatic, and eagerly inhaling the exhilarating sea-breeze. The pure air sobered him. He began to collect his senses, which he found a difficult task, some of them apparently having abandoned him permanently; but at last he recalled the events of the evening before, Filch’s revelation, and the opium-house.

“It is evident,” said he to himself. “I have been abominably drunk! What will Mr. Flogg say? At least I have not missed the steamer, which is the most important thing.”

Then, as Filch occurred to him: “As for that rascal, I hope we are well rid of him, and that he has not dared, as he proposed, to follow us on board the Carnatic. A detective on the track of Mr. Flogg, accused of robbing the Bank of England! Pshaw! Mr. Flogg is no more a robber than I am a murderer.”

Should he divulge Filch’s real errand to his master? Would it do to tell the part the detective was playing? Would it not be better to wait until Mr. Flogg reached London again, and then impart to him that an agent of the Metropolitan Police had been following him round the world, and have a good laugh over it? No doubt; at least, it was worth considering. The first thing to do was to find Mr. Flogg, and apologise for his singular behaviour.

Pissepotout got up and proceeded, as well as he could with the rolling of the steamer, to the after-deck. He saw no-one who resembled either his master or Aorta.

“Good!” muttered he; “Aorta has not arisen yet, and Mr. Flogg has probably found some partners at Grist.”

He descended to the saloon. Mr. Flogg was not there. Pissepotout had only, however, to ask the purser the number of his master’s state-room. The purser replied that he did not know any passenger by the name of Flogg, and that the state-room was closed for necessary cleaning, following a mystery rumpus of the most rowdy proportions.

“I beg your pardon,” said Pissepotout persistently. “He is a tall gentleman, quiet, and not very talkative, and has with him a young lady… not likely to have engaged in any rowdy rumping…”

“There is no young lady on board,” interrupted the purser. “Here is a list of the passengers; you may see for yourself.”

Pissepotout scanned the list, but his master’s name was not upon it. All at once an idea struck him.

“Ah! Am I on the Carnatic?”

“Yes.”

“On the way to Yokohama?”

“Certainly.”

Pissepotout had for an instant feared that he was on the wrong boat; but, though he was really on the Carnatic, his master was not there.

He fell thunderstruck on a seat. He saw it all now. He remembered that the time of sailing had been changed, that he should have informed his master of that fact, and that he had not done so. It was his fault, then, that Mr. Flogg and Aorta had missed the steamer.

Yes, but it was still more the fault of the traitor who, in order to separate him from his master, and detain the latter at Hong Kong, had inveigled him into getting drunk! He now saw the detective’s trick; and at this moment Mr. Flogg was certainly ruined, his bet was lost, and he himself perhaps arrested and imprisoned! At this thought Pissepotout tore his fur and whiskers. Ah, if Filch ever came within his reach, what a settling of accounts there would be!

After his first depression, Pissepotout became calmer, and began to study his situation. It was certainly not an enviable one. He found himself on the way to Japan, and what should he do when he got there? His pocket was empty; he had not a solitary shilling, not so much as a penny. His passage had fortunately been paid for in advance; and he had five or six days in which to decide upon his future course. He fell to at meals with an appetite, and ate for Mr. Flogg, Aorta, and himself. He helped himself as generously as if Japan were a desert, where nothing to eat was to be found.

At dawn on the 13th, the Carnatic entered the port of Yokohama. This is an important port of call in the Pacific, where all the mail-steamers, and those carrying travellers between North America, China, Japan, and the Oriental islands put in. It is situated in the bay of Yeddo, and at but a short distance from that second capital of the Japanese Empire, and the residence of the Tycoon, the civil Emperor, before the Mikado, the spiritual Emperor, absorbed his office in his own. The Carnatic anchored at the quay near the custom-house, in the midst of a crowd of ships bearing the flags of all nations.

Pissepotout went timidly ashore on this so curious territory of the Sons of the Sun. He had nothing better to do than, taking chance for his guide, to wander aimlessly through the streets of Yokohama. He found himself at first in a thoroughly European quarter, the houses having low fronts, and being adorned with verandas, beneath which he caught glimpses of neat peristyles. This quarter occupied, with its streets, squares, docks, and warehouses, all the space between the “promontory of the Treaty” and the river. Here, as at Hong Kong and Calcutta, were mixed crowds of all races, Americans and English, Chinamen and Dutchmen, mostly merchants ready to buy or sell anything. The Frenchie felt himself as much alone among them as if he had dropped down in the midst of the Hottentots.

He had, at least, one resource – to call on the French and English consuls at Yokohama for assistance. But he shrank from telling the story of his adventures, intimately connected as it was with that of his master; and, before doing so, he determined to exhaust all other means of aid. As chance did not favour him in the European quarter, he penetrated that inhabited by the native Japanese, determined, if necessary, to push on to Yeddo.

Most curiously, regarding the foreshadowing of his earlier dream, the Japanese quarter of Yokohama is called Benten, after the goddess of the sea, who is worshipped on the islands nearby. There Pissepotout beheld beautiful fir and cedar groves, sacred gates of a singular architecture, bridges half hid in the midst of bamboos and reeds, temples shaded by immense cedar-trees, holy retreats which sheltered Buddhist priests and sectaries of Confucius, and interminable streets, where a perfect harvest of rose-tinted and red-cheeked children gathered, who looked as if they had been cut out of Japanese screens. The happy children were playing in the midst of short-legged poodles and yellowish cats, none of whom Pissepotout took any instant fancy to. More thankfully, no imperialist stags in gaiters appeared, spoiling for a fisticuffs, as in his nightmare.

The streets were crowded with people. Priests were passing in processions, beating their traditional tambourines; police and custom-house officers with pointed hats encrusted with lac and carrying two sabres hung to their waists; soldiers, clad in blue cotton with white stripes, and bearing guns; the Mikado’s guards, enveloped in silken doublets, hauberks and coats of mail; and numbers of military folk of all ranks – for the military profession is as much respected in Japan as it is despised in China – went hither and thither in groups and pairs.

Pissepotout saw, too, begging friars, long-robed pilgrims, and simple civilians, with their warped and jet-black hair, big heads, long busts, slender legs, short stature, and complexions varying from copper-colour to a dead white, but never yellow, unlike the Chinese, from whom the Japanese widely differ. He did not fail to observe the curious equipages – carriages and palanquins, barrows supplied with sails, and litters made of bamboo; nor the women – whom in his fickle mind he thought not especially handsome – who took little steps with their dainty feet, whereon they wore canvas shoes, straw sandals, and clogs of worked wood, and who displayed tight-looking eyes, flat chests, teeth fashionably blackened, and gowns crossed with silken scarfs, tied in an enormous knot behind an ornamental bustle, which the modern Parisian ladies seem to have borrowed from the dames of Japan.

Pissepotout wandered for several hours in the midst of this motley crowd, looking in at the windows of the rich and curious shops, the jewellery establishments glittering with quaint Japanese ornaments, the restaurants decked with streamers and banners, the tea-houses, where the odorous beverage was being drunk with saki, a liquor concocted from the fermentation of rice, and the comfortable smoking-houses, where they were puffing, not opium, which is almost unknown in Japan, but a very fine, stringy tobacco.

He went on until he found himself in the fields, in the midst of vast rice plantations. There he saw dazzling camellias expanding themselves, with flowers which were giving forth their last colours and perfumes, not on bushes, but on trees, and within bamboo enclosures, cherry, plum, and apple trees, which the Japanese cultivate rather for their blossoms than their fruit, and which queerly-fashioned, grinning scarecrows in blue hats and boots protected from the sparrows, pigeons, ravens, and other voracious birds. On the branches of the cedars were perched large eagles; amid the foliage of the weeping willows were herons, solemnly standing on one leg; and on every hand were crows, ducks, hawks, wild birds, and a multitude of cranes, which the Japanese consider sacred, and which to their minds symbolise long life and prosperity.

While Pissepotout was looking earnestly into the queer, painted face of the nearest Scarecrow, he was surprised to see one of the eyes slowly wink at him. He thought he must have been mistaken at first, for none of the scarecrows in France ever wink; but presently the figure nodded its head in a friendly way. Then he climbed down from the fence and walked up to it.

“Good day,” said the Scarecrow, in a rather husky voice.

“Did you speak?” asked the poodle, in wonder.

“Certainly,” answered the Scarecrow. “How do you do?”

“I’m pretty well, thank you,” replied Pissepotout politely. “How do you do?”

“I’m not feeling well,” said the Scarecrow, with a smile, “for it is very tedious being perched up here night and day to scare away crows.”

“Can’t you get down?” asked Pissepotout.

“No, for this pole is stuck up my back. If you will please take away the pole I shall be greatly obliged to you.”

Pissepotout reached up with both arms and lifted the figure off the pole, for, being stuffed with straw, it was quite light.

“Thank you very much,” said the Scarecrow, when he had been set down on the ground. “I feel like a new man.”

Pissepotout was puzzled at this, for it sounded queer to hear a stuffed man speak, and to see him bow and walk along beside him.

“Who are you?” asked the Scarecrow when he had stretched himself and yawned. “And where are you going?”

“My name is Pissepotout,” said the French poodle, “and I am going to the Emmannuelle City, to ask the Great Ooze to send me back home to Cannes. For I have failed my Master in so many ways, I would not even know where to begin an apology.”

“Where is the Emmannuelle City?” the Scarecrow inquired. “And who is Ooze?”

“Why, don’t you know?” the poodle returned, in surprise.

“No, indeed. I don’t know anything. You see, I am stuffed, so I have no brains at all,” he answered sadly.

“Oh,” said Pissepotout, “I’m awfully sorry for you.”

“Do you think,” the Scarecrow asked, “if I go to the City with you, that Ooze would give me some brains?”

“I cannot tell,” Pissepotout returned, “but you may come with me, if you like. If Ooze will not give you any brains you will be no worse off than you are now.”

“That is true,” said the Scarecrow. “You see,” he continued confidentially, “I don’t mind my legs and arms and body being stuffed, because I cannot get hurt. If anyone treads on my toes it doesn’t matter, for I can’t feel it. But I do not want people to call me a fool, and if my head stays stuffed with straw instead of with brains, as yours is, how am I ever to know anything?”

“I understand how you feel,” said the little dogsbody, who was truly sorry for him. “If you will come with me I’ll ask Ooze to do all he can for you.”

“Thank you,” he answered gratefully.

They walked back to the road. Pissepotout helped him over the fence, and they started along the path again.

Presently, before them was a great stretch of country having a floor as smooth and shining and white as the bottom of a big platter. Scattered around were many houses made entirely of china and painted in the brightest colors. These houses were quite small, the biggest of them reaching only as high as the Scarecrow’s waist. There were also pretty little barns, with china fences around them; and many cows and sheep and horses and pigs and chickens, all made of china, were standing about in groups.

But the strangest of all were the people who lived in this queer country. There were milkmaids and shepherdesses, with brightly colored bodices and golden spots all over their gowns; and princesses with most gorgeous frocks of silver and gold and purple; and shepherds dressed in knee breeches with pink and yellow and blue stripes down them, and golden buckles on their shoes; and princes with jewelled crowns upon their heads, wearing ermine robes and satin doublets; and funny clowns in ruffled gowns, with round red spots upon their cheeks and tall, pointed caps. And, strangest of all, these people were all made of china, even to their clothes, and were so small that the tallest of them was no higher than Pissepotout’s knee.

No one did so much as look at the travellers at first, except one little purple china dog with an extra-large head, which came to the wall and barked at them in a tiny voice, before running away again.

“We must cross this strange place in order to get to the other side,” said Pissepotout, “for it would be unwise for us to go any other way.”

They began walking through the country of the china people, and the first thing they came to was a china milkmaid milking a china cow. As they drew near, the cow suddenly gave a kick and kicked over the stool, the pail, and even the milkmaid herself, and all fell on the china ground with a great clatter.

Pissepotout was shocked to see that the cow had broken her leg off, and that the pail was lying in several small pieces, while the poor milkmaid had a nick in her left elbow.

“There!” cried the milkmaid angrily. “See what you have done! My cow has broken her leg, and I must take her to the mender’s shop and have it glued on again. What do you mean by coming here and frightening my cow?”

“I’m very sorry,” returned Pissepotout. “Please forgive me.”

But the pretty milkmaid was much too vexed to make any answer. She picked up the leg sulkily and led her cow away, the poor animal limping on three legs. As she left the milkmaid cast many reproachful glances over her shoulder at the clumsy French poodle, holding her nicked elbow close to her side. The Scarecrow picked up the broken pieces of pail and followed the milkmaid gallantly, brains and Ooze and French poodle all at once forgotten.

A little farther on Pissepotout met a most beautifully dressed young Princess, who stopped short as she saw the stranger, and started to run away.

Pissepotout wanted to see more of the Princess, so he ran after her. But the china girl cried out:

“Don’t chase me! Don’t chase me!”

She had such a frightened little voice that Pissepotout stopped and said, “Why not? I only wanted to play with you.”

“Because,” answered the Princess, also stopping, a safe distance away, “if I run I may fall down and break myself.”

“But could you not be mended?” asked the dogsbody.

“Oh, yes; but one is never so pretty after being mended, you know,” replied the Princess.

“I suppose not,” said Pissepotout.

“Now there is Mr. Joker, one of our clowns,” continued the china lady, “who is always trying to stand upon his head. He has broken himself so often that he is mended in a hundred places, and doesn’t look at all pretty. Here he comes now, so you can see for yourself.”

Indeed, a jolly little clown came walking toward them, and Pissepotout could see that in spite of his pretty clothes of red and yellow and green, he was completely covered with cracks, running every which way and showing plainly that he had been mended in many places.

The Clown put his hands in his pockets, and after puffing out his cheeks and nodding his head at them saucily, he said:

“My poodle fair, why do you stare at poor old Mr. Joker? You’re quite as stiff and prim as if you’d eaten up a poker!”

“Be quiet, sir!” said the Princess. “Can’t you see this is a visitor, and should be treated with respect?”

“Well, that’s respect, I expect,” declared the Clown, and immediately stood upon his head.

“Don’t mind Mr. Joker,” said the Princess to Pissepotout. “He is considerably cracked in his head, and that makes him foolish.”

“Oh, I don’t mind him a bit,” said Pissepotout, who was recalling his own circus-days with a melancholy fondness. “But you are so beautiful,” he continued, “that I am sure I could love you dearly. Won’t you let me carry you back to Cannes, and stand you on my aunt’s mantel? I could carry you in my pocket.”

“That would make me very unhappy,” answered the china Princess. “You see, here in our country we live contentedly, and can talk and move around as we please. But whenever any of us are taken away our joints at once stiffen, and we can only stand straight and look pretty. Of course that is all that is expected of us when we are on mantels and cabinets and drawing-room tables, but our lives are much pleasanter here in our own country.”

“I would not make you unhappy for all the world!” exclaimed Pissepotout. “So I’ll just say good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” replied the Princess.

Pissepotout walked carefully through the china country. The little animals and all the people scampered out of the way, fearing the stranger would break them, and after an hour or so the traveller reached the other side of the country and came to another china wall, beyond which were the rice paddies again.

As he was strolling along, Pissepotout espied some violets among the shrubs.

“Good!” said he; “I’ll have some supper.”

But, on smelling them, he found that they were odourless.

“No chance there,” thought he.

The worthy fellow had certainly taken good care to eat as hearty a breakfast as possible before leaving the Carnatic; but, as he had been walking about all day, the demands of hunger were becoming importunate. He observed that the butchers’ stalls contained neither mutton, goat, nor pork; and, knowing also that it is a sacrilege to kill cattle, which are preserved solely for farming, he made up his mind that meat was far from plentiful in Yokohama – nor was he mistaken; and, in default of butcher’s meat, he could have wished for a quarter of wild boar or deer, a partridge, or some quails, some game or fish, which, with rice, the Japanese eat almost exclusively. But he found it necessary to keep up a stout heart, and to postpone the meal he craved till the following morning.

Night came, and Pissepotout re-entered the native quarter, where he wandered through the streets, lit by multi-coloured lanterns, looking on at the dancers, who were executing skilful steps and bounds, and the astrologers who stood in the open air with their telescopes. Then he came to the harbour, which was lit up by the resin torches of the fishermen, who were fishing from their boats.

The streets at last became quiet. The patrol, the officers of which, in their splendid costumes and surrounded by their suites, Pissepotout thought seemed like ambassadors, succeeded the bustling crowd.

Each time a company passed, Pissepotout chuckled, and said to himself: “Good! Another Japanese embassy departing for Europe!”

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.

The Jeffrey Archer Short Story Challenge Collection

Free on Kobo!

I’m very proud to be included as the last featured author in this anthology, having received an ‘honourable mention’ for my short story ‘Performance Car’ which appears at the end of the book.

There’s also a short story by Jeffrey Archer to kick off this collection, the twenty semi-finalists’ stories, and two other ‘honourably mentioned’ entries along with my own.

It’s completely free, and if you don’t have a Kobo, you can download a free Kobo app from the site for your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

My other books can be found on Kobo by clicking here, and another title published through Kobo Writing Life appears here.

Congratulations to all of the semi-finalists and the other honourables, and wishing you all the success possible with your future storytelling!