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“Go Away Zone” – Sample

‘I thought it would have been shinier.’

‘What?’ Lolita raised a single eyebrow in the way that, weeks ago, Beckman felt only she could, before remembering all women had some form of “Really, dufus?” disguised as something less overtly condescending/challenging/disbelieving*. (* delete as applicable).

He pressed on regardless. ‘I thought it would have been, you know, shinier. More metallic.’

‘Is that really what you think?’ An eyebrow remained buried in the tone.

‘What do you want me to say?’ (A good standby phrase, given no man on Earth ever fully knew what any woman was thinking, even one he might be betrothed to.)

‘You could accuse me of joking. Teasing. Lying.’

‘I may not know all your foibles, but it doesn’t strike me as a joke, and it can’t be a lie.’

‘Why can’t it be a lie?’

‘Because we met after you called me dishonest.’

‘I said you were likely to be.’

‘Either way, you’d be a heel to lie to me. Plus, if we’re getting married, we need a bedrock of honesty.’

‘If you’d ever let me plan the date.’ She rolled her eyes.

‘Sure, hijack a discovery like this,’ he waved a hand towards the space five yards in front of them, ‘To kick my ass about your hot topic.’

‘When a girl hears wedding bells, there is no other topic more important.’

‘You might have warned me.’

‘For a guy who’s seen half the country and met like a million people, you don’t know a hell of a lot.’

‘Enough with the flattery.’ He flashed a grin.

She poked her tongue out.

This was not an unfamiliar coda to their exchanges—and he loved her more for it. It kept him young and vibrant—although he’d hardly felt young and vibrant during the past decade. He’d been on a trundling treadmill until she’d veritably jabbed the Stop button and sent him careering backwards into her arms.

He returned his attention to the lack of a view they’d come to witness.

Only being honest—expected it to be shinier. Grander. Strangely alien.

Blame a guy for having unrealistic expectations based on a misspent youth in front of the TV?

He paced warily, taking extreme care not to get too close to something he couldn’t see or touch. Or smell. Or hear. Or taste, even if he got close enough, which he was in no way tempted to do.

Are you tempted? Of course, you are. A tiny part. Come on—curiosity—it’s how we’re built. It’s what drives innovation. An inquisitive mind is a great mind.

Except you’re a lightbulb salesman in a small Arizona town. Edison, you are not. He used a brilliant scientific mind. You want to do the equivalent of poking a sleeping lion with a short stick.

Well, part of you does. A tiny, tiny, stupid part.

Plus, you poked a few lions already this year—and look how that turned out.

Kinda well, actually.

We only remember the good stuff—the happy days. Not the dumbass things we did along the way.

You got lucky.

Miss Lolita Milan was eyeing him with interest, love and almost maternal disbelief. The man-boy had a new toy.

Very lucky.

Except the man-boy wasn’t sure how this new toy worked. Or what it was. Or where it was.

‘How in hell have you all kept this a secret?’

‘We don’t want to be the new Area 51. I like a man in uniform as much as the next girl—’

‘You never met my father,’ he warned.

‘—but a thousand of them turning the town into a circus is nobody’s idea of fun. Come on, Beckman, you know Sunrise—’

‘I thought I did.’

‘—and we’re a keep-ourselves-to-ourselves kinda place. Besides,’ she said with a shrug, ‘Maybe it’s gone now.’

‘Gone?! You brought me here to show me something you can’t even see when it is there, and now say it may not be there anymore. And how would we know? Maybe it is a joke.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Is that it, honey? Wanted to laugh at the new guy? Bring him to a dead-end road, spin an apocryphal tale and watch him skulk around like a curious cat, afraid of a mouse which may or may not be dead?’ 

He tried the single raised eyebrow thing but failed dismally. He always failed dismally, but it didn’t stop him from trying—for one fundamental reason.

He was an idiot.

She didn’t rise to it. She’d learned not to because (1) she knew he was joking, and (2) she also knew he was an idiot. One she dearly loved.

Instead, she put a hand on his upper arm. ‘Beckman, I am deadly, deadly serious. For one, I thought you’d be interested, and for two, I don’t want you absentmindedly wandering in there one day and poof!

He gazed at where her eyes were habitually shielded by reaction sunglasses, well-used to the impression of being able to see beyond them, took her hand and held it tenderly.

‘A guy knows it must be love when his girl doesn’t want him to inexplicably vanish from the face of the Earth.’

‘Certainly not while he has her car keys in his pocket.’

‘Ah. The truest of true love.’

‘And definitely not until he’s changed his Will.’ She fought a smirk.

‘I have virtually nothing to my name, but it’s all yours.’

‘I believe that is the dictionary definition of marriage.’

‘Ah. The hot topic. It’s been at least two minutes. I was worried.’

‘I’m pleased you’re worried about me. I mean, I’m worried about you.’

‘Going in there?’ He jerked his head towards the thing neither of them could see and which may not be there in any case.

‘Of course. Come on, you don’t poke a sleeping lion with a short stick, do you?’

Absolutely not. Never crossed my mind.

‘What about a long stick?’

She tilted her head down to reveal raised eyebrows over the rim of her glasses. After the Tongue Poke, the Disapproving Schoolmarm was her second favourite weapon. Perhaps it was the man-boy’s fault for doing or saying so many things that warranted its use.

She was his own sleeping lioness, and he always had a proverbial short stick in his pocket. In the past weeks, he’d elicited many purrs, some growls, the occasional roar. Twice, he’d been clawed. Yet, he still carried a stick.

Because you’re an idiot.

But at least you know you are, so that’s all good.

Love will do that.

So, any time in the last romantically barren decade wouldn’t have been disastrous to have diced with poof!, but right now was Dumb with a capital DUMB.

He kissed her to remind himself of those capitals.

And yet…

He turned to look at the Whatever It Was. She put hands on hips, indulging him, and they gazed towards the point in space where Strange Things Happened. Allegedly. He sought even a flicker of evidence to dispel any remaining notion that this represented one big hoax. Just a sign, a grain of truth. Sunrise’s version of The Turin Shroud; something to give bedrock to belief.

After five minutes, the September sun climbing towards its warm zenith, he was turning away when something happened. Only a flicker, six feet above the ground. A pixelation. A glitch in The Matrix. As fast as it came, it went. The view of the scrub desert and distant mountains hazed oh so slightly. As if Whatever It Was winked at them.

Lolita’s eyebrow rose in a “Didn’t I Say?”.

His mouth opened, and he pointed involuntarily.

Day One, when he’d met Saul Paul for the first time, the eye-patched tow-truck driver had quoted Shakespeare, as easily as putting on a hat, but as unexpected as if he’d been a frog uttering the words in Aramaic.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

But this—the Whatever It Was? If poor Horatio had encountered this, he would have shat pineapples.

Lolita sashayed over.

‘I know; “I told you so”,’ he offered.

‘So, can we go? You look like you could use a root beer, and I sure do.’

‘We simply get on with our lives?’ There was childish disappointment in his voice.

‘What else did you expect? Play with it?’

‘It’s just….’ He didn’t know what it was just, except that it was. It seemed a colossal anti-climax to walk away.

‘Beckman. Darling. You’re new around here. This is part of the tour, the full disclosure. In Sunrise, we do get on with our lives. What’s the alternative?’

He opened his mouth to offer some alternatives that would (1) definitely be made up on the spot, (2) probably not be well received, and (3) likely have been ventured and rejected many times before by more qualified—or at least more longstanding—people than he.

He closed his mouth. She kissed it to mollify him, slipped a hand into his and led him back to the car. He glanced over his shoulder. The tarmac single track road petered out into the wilderness as if abandoned mid-construction. It served no purpose, led nowhere. Or nowhere that could be identified, quantified or any number of other -fieds.

‘What do you call it?’ He tried to sound disinterested.

‘The Portal.’

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“Stow Away Zone” – Sample

It was only the third time he’d seen her cry.

No. Strike that.

It was only the third thing that had made her cry. She’d cried more than once about this—which was surprising. He’d expected it to shake her, perhaps cause a period of reflection, but tears? Not really.

After all, everybody dies. Often unexpectedly. Especially parents.

Even parents you weren’t especially fond of.

Still, Beckman preferred it this way. It would have been odd if Lolita had brushed off Jack’s passing—which, not six months earlier, she might have done. The reconciliation had come late, but thankfully not too late.

He felt blessed that he and dad were again on speaking terms.

You and Jack were both asses, dad, but I know I’ll cry when the day comes.

Just don’t make it too soon, huh?

He felt Lolita squeeze his hand and snapped out of the reverie.

‘Okay?’ she murmured.

‘Isn’t that my line?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine. Well, as fine as I can be—you know, at a funeral. You daydreaming again?’

‘Inner monologue is no respecter of circumstance.’ He pulled a sheepish face. ‘Sorry.’

She smoothed the lapel of his monochrome ensemble. ‘At least you’re here in body, if not in spirit.’ She winked, and he felt blessed—for about the trillionth time in barely nine months—that she knew him inside out.

The funeral—this emotional dagger—was merely another boulder that Fate had cast in their path, testing that their relationship and fledgling marriage was up to the task. Well, Fate had come up short. Again.

Up your ass, Fate. We’re stronger than that.

You tried bullets, flames, jealous rivals, high-stakes business high jinks, and even an interdimensional gateway.

Losing a diminutive and problematic paternal personage to Nature’s inevitable exit door?

Lolita and I will cope.

You watch us.

For a second time in barely five seconds, he returned to the here-and-now. His life’s anchor was displaying The Eyebrow—surely at his latest introspection.

He smiled. The temptation to compliment her resurfaced, but he suppressed it again. Yes, she did look great in black, though this was one hundred percent neither time nor place for such aesthetic levity. He’d get more than The Eyebrow for a mistimed inference of shenanigans—probably a slap on the ass… and this was one hundred percent not the time for intramarital cheek-whackery.

Instead, he gazed around.

People were starting to drift away from the wake—and there were plenty of people to be drifting.

It felt like half the town were there. Almost all the employees of Milan Lighting had attended. Reba and Randall had offered condolences and then kept a respectful distance. Tyler and Amaryllis had driven over from Pegasus’ head office specially. Even longtime business rival Walter Whack had conjured a few friendly words.

If anything had specifically caught his eye, it was the proximity of sometime thorn-in-the-side Wanda Whack and Milan’s own Mack Hood, head of Warehousing. Despite Mack’s 58 years shading Wanda’s age by a clear two decades, the closeness was undoubtedly rooted in more than event-based conversation.

‘Mack and Wanda?’ he asked out of the corner of his mouth, hoping this classed as acceptable small-talk.

‘It would be a damn interesting rebound after Carlton,’ Lolita replied.

‘Mack once told me he’d crashed more than his fair share of forklifts.’

‘Well, nothing wrong with his eyesight. Wanda looks… good in black, I have to say.’

Huh? So she gets away with that kind of comment?

Just don’t speak your mind, i.e. don’t agree. (Although she’s not wrong).

‘I hope his inability to judge speed and apertures doesn’t carry into his home life.’

Lolita fixed him a glare of mock disbelief, then shook her head. ‘I know you’re trying to lighten the tone on a dark day, honey, but I’m fine. Really.’

Except, she hadn’t looked fine. Perplexed, if he had to pick a word. Maybe even disappointed. Pissed off, at a push. Sadness was to be expected; being rankled—no.

He opened his mouth to enquire about it, but the answer was stayed by the appearance of a short, middle-aged woman whose blonde hair was swept dramatically back at the sides.

Lolita visibly backed off. ‘Mary-Ann,’ she said, deferentially—maybe warily.

‘Lolita, thank you for letting me come and pay my respects.’

‘I try to rise above most things—especially for an occasion like this.’

Another enemy at the gates? Skeleton from the closet?

Mary-Ann sighed sadly. ‘Look, I said it before, but this will be the last time.’ She looked Lolita in the eye. ‘There was never anything between Jack and me. You two weren’t close, but I knew him well—just not that well.’

Lolita made a throaty noise. ‘Hmm. I guess he and I made up.’

‘Good. I didn’t ever bury the hatchet with my father. So I know that holding grudges is dumb.’ She reached out and, after hesitation, touched Lolita’s sleeve. ‘Especially for things which aren’t true. There was no affair. You have my word. I worked for him. That was it. Period.’

Beckman’s gaze explored Lolita’s face. She didn’t seem convinced. He was. To a student of human behaviour, Mary-Ann’s honesty was plain as day. The problem was, his view didn’t matter a fig.

‘A lot of after-hours overtime, Mary-Ann—you have to admit. A lot of weekends away.’

‘Jack worked hard—you know that. And it didn’t do a whole lot of good. I tried to tell him, but we both know he was a workaholic.’ She looked at her feet, then put her shoulders back for the final word. ‘Don’t think bad of him for a lie. I only wish Ginetta hadn’t created the lie—or at least believed it.’

Lolita shrugged. ‘Hindsight is twenty-twenty, huh?’

‘He was a good man.’

‘He was an ass.’

Mary-Ann simply gazed around the scene. ‘Maybe. But a popular one.’ She nodded solemnly. ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’

Lolita gathered a sigh, let it out, then gathered civility and dissipated that too. ‘Thank you, Mary-Ann.’

The woman, who Beckman now gathered, was departed Jack’s departed PA, departed.

A waiter appeared, bearing a drinks tray. Lolita waved him away.

Well, I was thirsty, but I guess I’m not now.

Don’t be an ass, Beckman. Just because one has left this world, it doesn’t open a defacto vacancy. Let your wife deal.

The breeze around the outdoor area had keened, so he buttoned his jacket.

She faced him. ‘I think I’m about done now, Beckman.’

‘Whatever you say.’

She forced a smile. ‘However long I stand here, he’ll still be dead.’ Yet, she again glanced around the thinning throng, and that expression of perturbation returned.

‘Is everything okay? I mean, apart from—’

‘It’s nothing.’

‘You can’t kid me, baby. It’s not nothing. Is it… Mary-Ann?’

She clasped his arm and turned them away from prying eyes and ears. ‘It’s Buck, okay?’ she hissed.

He swallowed. He’d noticed it too—if an absence of something was technically a noticeable ‘it’.

‘There’ll be an explanation,’ he said, as mollifying as possible.

‘There better damn well be.’

‘Maybe he couldn’t get staff cover to be able to leave the café.’

‘He should have closed it. It’s like he doesn’t care—today of all days.’ She shook her head in disbelief.

‘Maybe he’s away. Out of town.’

‘He’s never left Sunrise. Makes me look like a goddamn globetrotter.’

Beckman bit his lip. ‘He could be sick.’

‘I’ve never heard him be sick a day in his life.’

He gently cupped her waist. ‘Look, Dixon isn’t here either. Think positively—maybe they eloped.’

He flashed a cheesy grin, hoping for at least a straight-line mouth to replace her downward curve. Even The Eyebrow would have been a break from vexed indignation.

‘I know you’re trying, Beckman. But maybe don’t. He’s the closest friend I have in the world, and it’s days like this he proves his worth. And he’s not here. Sad—I can do that. Pissed off should not be on the radar.’

As he prepared to dredge up an appropriate response, he was saved again by the bell.

‘Miss Milan?’ came a male voice.

Lolita’s eyes flared, then the muscles in her face pulled the eyes back to normal and painted a half-decent sweet smile on her tactfully-lipsticked lips.

Will she correct this guy’s Miss misstep? At the moment, he’d be lucky to get away without a swift right hook.

‘Yes?’ she enquired.

The owner of the voice sported a shabby navy suit, badly-tied burgundy tie, and a haircut seemingly delivered by a barber on PCP.

He extended a hand. ‘Clarke Brollock. We haven’t met.’

Not sure that meeting now is a stellar idea, buddy.

She nodded tersely. He retracted his hand.

‘Mr Brollock.’

‘Firstly, my condolences.’

‘Thank you.’

‘I never truly knew your father, but I heard many good things.’

Where from? Your barber?

‘Jack had… his strengths. And his moments.’

Brollock nodded, apparently sagely. Beckman wasn’t buying it—whatever the guy was selling.

‘And was very successful, by all accounts,’ the visitor said.

‘Uh-huh.’

‘I’m proud of my cousin.’

Lolita’s head cocked. ‘Cousin?’

‘Distant.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘How distant?’ she asked.

Beckman recognised that tone. It was a Here’s-A-Spade-How-Deep-Can-I-Help-You-Dig special.

‘We were… estranged—let’s say that. But still related. Oh yes, most definitely so.’

‘Oh. Excellent. Well, it’s good to meet you, Mr Bollock—’

‘Brollock.’

‘—Yes. So, your appearance here today would be by way of enquiring about the date of the Will reading. The division of inheritances—things like that.’

Crazy Hair bowed somewhat graciously. ‘I can’t deny that’s a factor. That, and paying my respects, of course.’

‘Of course.’ Lolita smiled thinly.

‘Jack didn’t have much family, so…’ Brollock ran a fat hand through his unkempt follicular disaster area. ‘So it’s important that I be in town at this time. For support, and such.’

‘And such.’

‘Indeed.’

Beckman sensed the boiling blood and fake charm rise up through Lolita’s body as if they were the waters of Old Faithful.

She beamed. ‘Here’s the thing, Mr Bollock—’

‘Brollock.’

‘—Yes. Whilst Jack and I didn’t see eye to eye, and his days as a family man… tailed off somewhat, there was always this. He happily talked about his modest crop of relatives, and damn sure as mustard, you’re not one of them.’ She leant in. ‘What you are is a piece of ambulance-chasing pond life. An opportunistic scum-sucking mollusc. I may not be the most widely-travelled woman in the neighbourhood, but I think I’d know if I had any long-lost relatives! So, seeing as my Head of Security is also here, offering their condolences, I suggest you make yourself lost—and remain lost, before you get dragged out on your dime-store-suited ass.’

Lolita beckoned to the aforementioned staff member, and Clarke Brollock’s gaze followed the direction of his intended con victim’s arm.

Upon seeing the person, Clarke sneered.

Lolita cocked her head. ‘Iolanda can bench-press one fifty. She’s also a seventh dan Taekwondo master. But, go ahead, pick a fight in the middle of my father’s wake.’ She rolled up her right sleeve. ‘I dare you.’ 

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Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts

In 2021, Teodor Igbad of the Czech Republic was crowned World Rollerblading Champion. Little is known of this diminutive and foreign genius, but his enthusiasm and dedication to his craft are an example for rollerbladers everywhere.

In 2005, when Igbad was twelve, his father sold all the family’s worldly possessions to buy his only son the birthday gift of his dreams. Initially, Teodor’s progress was slow, and his father began to have second thoughts about the decision. However, in October 2006, he was rewarded when the boy learned to stand upright on the wheeled skates.

Igbad’s confidence began to grow, and by late 2007 he could be seen shuttling up and down the street outside their house in the suburbs of Prague. All the children in the neighbourhood would line the filthy pavements, beating sticks against the gutter and cheering as Igbad weaved along, wearing his favourite yellow bobble hat and blue skates.

Egged on by the crowd and with an eye to impressing local teen beauty Ivana Belzak, Teodor attempted his first stunt. It wasn’t a pre-planned affair, just a daring spur-of-the-moment lunge for greatness. Lying in the road was an empty tin of kidney beans on its side. Passing by to check out the situation, Teodor bladed up the road, made a complete turn and began his run-up. He built up a good head of speed, a Mexican wave of cheering urchins following him, and leapt ebulliently into the air.

A year later, after recovering from the broken collarbone and shattered knee, Teodor Igbad was ready to rollerblade again. Yet now, the streets were empty, and even Ivana didn’t emerge from her front door to watch him. This made him all the more determined. Day after day, he practised, leaping over chalk marks scribed on the road, until he was ready to re-attempt the can of beans stunt.

It was a bright warm day in May 2009 when Igbad began that run-up again, trying to banish the memory of failure from his mind, not daring to gaze into windows, to try and look past curtains, to wonder if anyone—especially his beloved Ivana—was watching him.

He cleared the tin by a full half-inch and punched the air in delight. Now he was ready for the big time.

Buoyed up, he coasted back to the site of his jump and cast the empty tin aside. Things were going to get serious. He bladed to the pavement and fetched his second obstacle, a spaghetti tin. He laid it on its side and powered off for his first run.

Igbad has always candidly admitted that his first attempt was aborted, his mind distracted at the last minute by the colourful writing on the can’s wrapper. But he was not to be beaten, and on his second attempt, he sailed majestically over with five-eighths of an inch to spare.

He was ecstatic. He was also level-headed and knew not to push himself, so he drew a line under that most splendid of days and went to bed, almost tearful with joy.

A fortnight later, with curtains undeniably twitching in the houses that lined what was fast becoming his arena, Igbad jumped the spaghetti tin with it standing upright. By the time evening came and his margin of clearance had bettered an inch, he was sure he saw Ivana Belzak’s face outlined behind her thin bedroom curtain.

By the following week, with an almost showy Igbad having graduated to two tins side-by-side, Ivana was out on the pavement, watching again, and the number of local children joining her grew day by day. It was late October when, after his first successful attempt to clear a hurdle two tins deep, he finally got up the courage to speak to his beloved. That night,  whilst still wearing rollerblades, the new local hero lost his virginity by the stagnant canal backwater.

By early 2011, with Ivana now a constant companion, Igbad progressed to increasingly impressive stunts. Quickly he’d mastered jumping diverse obstacles such as four spaghetti tins in a row, two bricks arranged in an inverted V, and a miner’s helmet. Kids were coming from nearby streets to watch, and even his parents had stopped beating him. Late in the year, he held a demonstration event, charging a small entrance fee, and used the proceeds to help buy a new pair of blades to replace his very worn blue set.

Everything snowballed from there. There was the odd injury, notably a broken finger when attempting to jump a line of pre-cooked chickens, but he was already the talk of the city and much of the country, too, signing autographs and resisting the temptation of groupies.

To celebrate his engagement to Ivana in October 2014, Teodor held a charity event, jumping, amongst other things; a Yamaha motorbike (upright), a disused lawnmower, a bus queue, a bus queue where the participants hadn’t been pre-warned, and the Minister of Finance. For the grand finale, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy before jumping over three women dressed as John Dory blanched in milk with a herb sauce and steamed asparagus.

Now famous across Europe, Igbad undertook a world tour to thousands of screaming fans. However, it was not without incident, nor controversy. In Milan, he grazed both palms after landing awkwardly following his signature jump over six men with red hair holding jars of honey. Far more notable was the now-infamous “Thames Incident”, which occurred during his spell in England.

Grandstanding, Igbad claimed on 11th June 2017 that he would jump the river Thames the following day. Crowds lined the London Embankments, their mood anxious but excited, waiting for the incredible stunt to play out before them. Igbad, however, occasionally prone to the odd practical joke, was talented but not insane. At 2 p.m., he proudly jumped the river a few miles from its source in England’s heartland, clearing the fifteen-inch stream with ease. The protestations of fair play were as loud as the cries of ‘foul’, but Igbad, although he left England knowing he could never play there again, retained his mantle.

From stunt jumping, he eased smoothly into competitive events, and his prize money rocketed. Ivana, his wife, was always by his side. In late 2019 he bought her a square mile of the Pacific Ocean just two hours from the Galapagos Islands and had it marked out with buoys in vermilion and chestnut, her two favourite colours. She knows she can go there whenever she wishes.

As new World Rollerblading Champion, Teodor Igbad hasn’t changed much. He’s still blonde and blue-eyed, loves his fans, wishes his parents would accept him and is always looking for a new challenge.

And he still carries that empty tin of beans wherever he goes.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

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The Perfect Yellow

‘There are twenty-seven yellows,’ the salesman said.

Cameron Beg nodded.

‘Would you like to see the colour chart?’ continued the salesman, Simon Gillfish.

Gillfish was a slim man with a penchant for icing sugar and would be thirty-six in four years. He reached onto the wall-mounted rack and pulled out the folded glossy, opening it to allow his customer to see.

Beg’s eye roved over the small coloured squares set in a single row across the middle of the pamphlet.

‘I’m looking for a yellow,’ he said as if to clarify.

‘Well, this is the right chart,’ Gillfish replied, a little bemused.

‘Hmmm.’ Beg pondered the graduated illustrations of colour. ‘Is this a fair representation of the actual colour?’ he asked.

‘As good as it can be made, sir.’

‘What about this one?’ Beg asked, touching his finger to the fifth square from the left.

‘Sunshine,’ Gillfish said, reading the word under the colour. ‘A good choice.’

‘Hmmm.’ Beg gently screwed up his face. ‘Not very yellow, is it?’

The ordinarily calm salesman, five years in the paint department, began to feel his hackles rise just a little. Got a bit of a one here, he thought.

‘What about… Golden Orb?’ he suggested.

‘I was looking for something yellower.’

‘Turmeric?’

‘Not really yellow, is it? Less yellow than Golden Orb, in fact. Do you see?’

‘Yes,’ Gillfish lied.

‘Something less yellow than this one, but more yellow than that one.’

‘That one’s too yellow?’

‘Of course, isn’t it obvious? It screams yellow. It’s so vulgar and in-your-face. It’s too overstated.’

‘Too yellow?’

‘Well, perhaps not too yellow, but too obviously yellow.’

‘Ah.’ Gillfish wished he’d taken his lunch break a little earlier.

‘That one’s just screaming, “Look at me, I’m yellow!”.’

‘It is bold, I agree. Some people like that.’

‘Well, they’re peasants. Yellow, yes, but not attention-grabbing-look-at-the-size-of-my-love-truncheon yellow. It makes me want to vomit. Copiously.’

Gillfish quickly ran his hand over the right side of the chart. ‘These are more understated. Perhaps…?’

‘That one?’ Beg asked incredulously, jabbing a finger at the offending square. ‘That doesn’t deserve to be called yellow. It’s little more than a very bright cream. Pretentious colour. Yellow my arse.’

The salesman took a long breath, fighting his rising impatience, and decided to take a slightly different line.

‘Did you have a colour in mind?’

Beg stared at Gillfish like the man was insane. ‘Yes! Yellow!’

‘I see,’ Gillfish said, backtracking. ‘Like… this?’ he suggested, daring to hope, gently touching a colour in the centre of the chart.

‘Now you’re taking the piss. Not yellow like that. More—’

‘Yellow?’ Gillfish mooted.

‘Yes! Not this piece of crap. Less yellow than these two, but more yellow than, well, most of the rest. And no slutty yellows. Not the kind of yellow that pulls up outside a nightclub in a Ferrari and steps out, hoping all the women are looking at it. But not some prissy yellow that spends all Saturday afternoon at home watching the golf. Just a good, honest, pint-of-beer-and-a-packet-of-crisps yellow.’

Gillfish nodded sagely, hoping with all his might that armed raiders would break into the superstore and kill him.

‘This one?’ He pointed at a shade halfway across the sheet.

Beg looked like he would explode. ‘You’re not listening, are you?’ he demanded.

‘Sir, this is the only chart of yellows we have. As you see, there are seventeen.’

‘Hopeless,’ Beg said, throwing his arms up. ‘I should sue you all under the Trades Descriptions Act. Yellow? A colour chart purporting to display shades of yellow? Horse manure. I wouldn’t let my daughter out at night with any of these so-called yellows. It’s a travesty.’

‘I’m sorry, sir.’ Gillfish prayed that this meant the lunatic would give up and leave.

‘I mean, all I want is yellow. Is that too much to ask?’

‘As I say, sir, this is the manufacturer’s chart of yellows.’

‘Well, they’re obviously colour blind. Or have no idea what a good shade of yellow is. Pimpled morons, the lot of them.’

‘Who are?’

Gillfish looked around at the sound of this new voice. A lady was approaching. From Beg’s expression, the salesman could tell that this was his customer’s wife. Poor woman, he thought.

‘The paint company,’ Beg elucidated. ‘No idea of colours, these people.’

‘Really?’ Mrs Beg queried.

‘I mean, all we want is a nice yellow.’

‘Red, darling.’

Cameron Beg looked taken aback for a second, and then realisation dawned. ‘Oh, yes. Red.’

Gillfish felt his life force drain away.

Beg looked at him. ‘Sorry, yes, red.’

Gillfish nodded silently, straining to hear the sound of aliens arriving in the car park to abduct him and perform atrocious experiments on his genitals. But it was unhelpfully quiet.

Suddenly his torture was interrupted.

Mrs Beg reached out an arm and lifted a pot of paint from the rack.

‘What about this one, darling?’ she asked, showing it to her husband.

‘Perfect.’

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

banner-Drominivich

Drominivich’s Fourth

The works of little-known composer Ilya Drominivich, often regarded as impenetrably complex in their orchestration, have been the subject of little enlightening scrutinisation since his death in 2005. However, a critical dissection of his most under-performed work—the dark Fourth Symphony—has been uncovered.

The reviewer, music journalist Arnold Hiccup, analysed all Drominivich’s works, but this article, shedding light on one of the Isle Of Man composer’s later masterpieces, gives the most insight into the life and mind of what one denizen of the industry once described as “Just some bloke from an unremarkable island”.

Written between March and May 1970, Drominivich’s Fourth Symphony reflects a turbulent period in the composer’s life, charting notably his divorce from his ninth wife Jessie and the appearance of a hairline crack in the skirting board in his study.

The opening bars of the First Movement set the tone for the piece, rumbling timpani reflecting Jessie storming into the composer’s study to confront him about an affair she believed he was having. With the flitting horns, Drominivich waves her away, saying he’s busy, but the powerful double basses beat back the brass section’s protestations. In the background, the flute conveys Ellie the cat wandering around the room.

Brass and percussion argue for a while, laced with counterpointing minor key stirrings from the violins, hinting at the melancholy that is to come. This can be seen to grow into what is commonly known as the “divorce theme”. With an eruption of the xylophone, Ilya admits to the affair, describing Anna in rich tones of viola and cello that temporarily quiet the atmosphere. Jessie storms out in a clamour of drums and cor anglais, and as the movement ends, Ellie the cat trots after her, leaving Ilya to throw down his pen in a clash of cymbals.

In the Second Movement, Drominivich looks back on his life. The mournful tone of the oboe charts his unhappy childhood living in a scrap metal yard in the town of Douglas. His parents died before he was conceived, leaving him to be brought up by his only friend Santos. The second violins hint at Santos’ troubles, eking out an existence as a one-armed crane operator at the docks.

The brass section then takes up the theme of his first love affair with Leila, a butcher’s assistant. At age eighteen, they ran away to the countryside to get married, and the beautiful strains of the clarinet chart their passionate lovemaking. Then comes a comedy interlude, the trombone representing Drominivich’s attempts to learn to juggle, while Leila looks on, laughing and wishing she’d eloped with Santos instead.

The unusual division of the strings into eight sections allowed the composer to chart all his subsequent marriages over interlaced bars of happiness, betrayal and loss. The First Violin part is astoundingly complex, painting Ilya’s mental wranglings as he blundered from one woman to another, desperately seeking happiness. This was the time he began composing, using his art as an outlet for his feelings. As the movement closes, the piccolo and flute dance—the flute representing the orchestra’s rehearsal of one of his early concertos, and the piccolo expressing the feelings he was trying to convey in the same passage. The careful listener can hear a solitary flute playing Ellie’s theme in the final bars as the cat walks into the room, interrupting the composer’s pointless nostalgia.

The short Third Movement opens with raw shock as the composer, sat in his study remembering his past, suddenly notices the hairline crack in the skirting board. The trumpets blare with annoyance and then run amok as Ilya wonders whether the house will collapse along with his marriage. Kicking his chair back, Ilya goes to the skirting board crack, but as he does so, the French horn of the chair collides with Ellie’s theme, knocking the cat unconscious. The crack, portrayed by the triangle, takes up all Ilya’s attention, and he doesn’t notice Ellie’s theme vanishing.

The rest of the movement is dominated by Jessie’s return to the room to investigate the commotion. The “divorce” theme is developed, overlaid by the wailing trumpet as the woman sees the dead cat. Jessie, again as percussion, rails at Ilya for killing Ellie, but in a flurry of brass, he again throws her out of the room, slumping to his desk in the closing crescendo of cello and bassoon.

In the Fourth Movement, time has moved on a little, and the “divorce” theme is repeated with many variations, the most notable of these being the “signing the divorce papers” melody, which is slightly mournful when matched with Ilya’s theme, but almost triumphant when vying with Jessie’s restrained percussionist musings. Ellie, a gift to Ilya by Jessie, is not missed by the composer at all. The cat’s theme appears only briefly when the sad Jessie scatters its ashes over the Heston Services on the M4, the site itself being represented by the flugelhorn.

Jessie gone, Drominivich looks forward to a better life, thinking about Anna. This is the only re-appearance of Anna’s Theme, the violas representing her thighs and the tenor saxophone conveying Ilya’s hand snaking up between them. The tubular bells sound as Anna arrives at the front door, and she rushes into her lover’s arms, with the full orchestra united in triumphal and stirring chords that round off the symphony in happiness.

After writing this article, however, Arnold Hiccup was committed to a lunatic asylum to undergo treatment for a personality disorder. It seems he only believed he was a noted critic of classical music; in fact, he was an unemployed road-sweeper with a penchant for wearing earrings made of teabags.

Drominivich’s actual influences remain a mystery.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

Oswald - A Sunrise short story

Oswald – A Sunrise short story

The rain finished lashing the car as Beckman approached the outskirts of town.

That’ll save on the carwash for another week.

He looked around the black-on-black interior.

Maybe not on the vacuum, though.

A few minutes later, he eased the now-whiter Caddy into one of many free spaces on the lot of The Pegasus Corporation. Again he wondered why Mr Malvolio had chosen premises with such a surfeit of parking area. Seldom was there more than a handful of people on-site, and there wasn’t even anything like a quarterly staff meeting or annual shindig on the warehouse floor. Of course not—that would take up valuable time and money. The salesmen knew what they had to do—what other missives could be necessary?

He locked up and went inside the bland, boxy two-storey building. 

The comfortingly familiar tap-tap-ting of Miss Broomhead’s old typewriter floated into his ears as he walked up the single corridor leading to the bijou office suite.

I wonder if she actually prefers archaic technology or if Ol’ Stingy won’t spring for a new one for his dutiful PA?

‘Afternoon, Mr Spiers.’ Her hands paused in mid-air.

‘Hi, Miss Broomhead.’ Today, her beehive sported two hairpins tipped with enamel bees. He was never sure whether these occasional items were (1) included for comic value, (2) a function of kooky individuality, or (3) an indication of appalling fashion sense.

Of course, he could have asked her, but that would have meant asking her.

Conversations with Miss Broomhead were on a Business Level Only. He didn’t know why—they just were. There was no contractual clause nor previous faux-pas as a guideline. They merely hadn’t had a personal conversation during his entire tenure, so starting now would just have been odd.

The typing resumed—tap-tap overlaid with the chink of her two red bangles.

“Conversation” over.

He scanned down the line of dark wooden pigeonholes set on the opposite wall.

Hallwork, Yong, Quittle, Bludge, Rattertonhurst, Gusp, Zowl, Spiers…

…Gusp?

He leant in.

Where was Follic? Had Cad Follic’s pigeonhole been moved?

He checked all forty apertures.

No.

Had Cad Follic unexpectedly moved on to pastures new? Perhaps ones where the roster of employee benefits numbered in the positive integers?

‘Miss Broomhead?’

Hands paused. ‘Yes?’ A faint, querying smile on un-showy but precisely lipsticked lips.

‘Cad Follic no longer with us?’

‘No, Mr Spiers. He was attacked by a tiger the day before yesterday.’

Beckman blurted out an impromptu laugh at the stupidity of it.

Her brow furrowed. ‘I don’t think it’s amusing, Mr Spiers.’

He swallowed hard. ‘No. Er… that is… I mean.’ He pointlessly ran a hand through his hair. ‘Really? Wow.’

‘Yes. He was pitching to a business client. The man’s pet tiger took offence at Mr Follic for some reason, and… well… he’s no longer with us.’

No longer with us? Us=fired/quit, or us=six feet under?

Same outcome.

‘And Mr Gusp…?’

‘Is his replacement. He started yesterday.’

Beckman nodded robotically. ‘Uh-huh.’

She offered a querying look, and when he wasn’t forthcoming with anything tangible, she resumed punching ink onto paper.

Wow. Poor Cad.

Hang on?

Does that mean…?

He was above me in the Salesman of the Year rankings. Surely I’m up a place now? Surely. Mr Malvolio would never transfer Cad’s sales tally across to this new Gusp guy—it would be an unfair advantage, not to mention uncharacteristically generous of the old swine.

Wow.

Woo!

I’m up a place! Best year yet!

He restrained himself, just in time, from punching the air. Instead, he collected his paycheck advice from the pigeonhole and headed out to the car park.

An unfamiliar car had arrived, and exiting it was a new face. The face was barely five feet above the ground. The body was stocky, the hairline very receding. Beckman reckoned the guy was easily fifty.

This guy’ll be a pushover.

He slowed as they approached each other. ‘Gusp?’

The guy stopped and cocked his head. ‘Yeah?’

‘Spiers.’ Beckman jerked his head back towards the building. ‘You the new guy?’

‘Yeah.’ He offered a fat, taught hand. ‘Oswald Gusp. Taking over Cad’s territory.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘Sorry old business.’

Beckman hung his head in sympathy while still not ready to accept the facts at face value.

Was Cad eaten? Mauled? Blinded? Had his Salesman Patter cranial lobe been gored? 

Either way, this was the competition now—or at least one of them. One of Pegasus’ forty road warriors.

I hope you know what you’re in for, Oswald.

Plus, note to self—Google “how to defeat an angry tiger”. Can’t be too careful out there.

‘So, uh, welcome, I guess. Where were you before?’

‘I was… uh… kinda in the delivery business. But the same package every time.’

That didn’t compute, so Beckman went with, ‘Sure, well, good luck.’

Oswald nodded. ‘Thanks, Spiers. See you around, maybe. Got to check in with… Walter, was it?’

‘Warehouse? Wilbur. Yeah.’

‘Yeah. Good. Gotta fill the old trunk, ready to pick up where Cad Follic left off.’

‘Absolutely. See you around.’

Oswald nodded curtly and ambled off, chunky legs moving awkwardly, like a triceratops.

Heading in the opposite direction, Beckman couldn’t help slowing as he passed Oswald’s car.

It was a burgundy Lincoln Continental, post-Moon landing, pre-Beckman birth. On a bad day, it might get parked across two different time zones. He peered inside. There was a booster cushion on the driver’s seat.

He watched the diminutive newbie disappear inside the building and eyed the acreage of Detroit iron.

Compensating for something, Oswald?

A couple of miles from his apartment, Beckman caught sight of the Caddy’s odo tick onto 99,996.

Not wanting to let the moment absentmindedly pass him by in the morning, he went around the block three times until the magic figure appeared, then rolled up to his apartment building and disembarked for a night in a familiar bed.

As he whipped up some food, fed Bogie the leopard gecko, and turned on the TV for background company, his mind ticked over what Oswald had said.

How could you deliver the same package many times?

If you were a pilot? A musician (at a stretch)? If your employer was really bad at matching orders to customers’ delivery addresses?

He set his ageing laptop on the table and Googled one-handed as he munched through pasta.

It didn’t take long to come up with results for Oswald Gusp.

His mouth fell open. His lower jaw might well have hit the tabletop with a comedic ‘Clang!’ 

He pushed the last of the dinner aside.

He absolutely, categorially, one-hundred-percent didn’t want to, but he pressed Play on the video anyway, curiouser than a cat with a death wish.

From the video’s thumbnail, he knew exactly what to expect and didn’t want to see it—or need to see it—but saw it anyway. And when he’d seen generally what he expected to see, he unaccountably didn’t stop, not even when he saw specificallysomething he thought he’d probably see. Yet, having seen it, he was caught like a rabbit in the headlights—watching, disbelieving, pondering, then repeating the sequence until it was blindingly clear that he wasn’t dreaming, hadn’t been told the wrong name, or Googled the wrong name, and that he’d actually done what he’d done and seen what he’d seen. More than that—his eye had not been drawn to Oswald’s less than statuesque height, nor his significant pate. Something much worse.

His mouth was still hanging open, now drier than the Atacama.

He filled it with beer, then slapped the lid of the laptop down and tried to expunge from his mind what he’d just found.

He’s just another colleague. Just another name on the roster, another position on the rankings. Merely a different Schmoe to compete with, and, hell, probably hardly bump into, ever.

All the same, that’s a VERY different line on the resumé.

Did Malvolio know about that? Had Miss Broomhead followed up the references?

He doubted it. Her ultra-conservative head had been remarkably un-exploded that afternoon.

He took a moment, gazed at the TV screen, tried to let its dance burrow into his mind and wipe out the afterimage of Oswald’s past career.

Eventually, the more palatable world of fiction subsumed the frighteningly real discovery of his new colleague’s previous métier, and the evening returned to some kind of normalcy. 

Even so, he did set an especially early alarm. 

The clock on the wall in Miss Broomhead’s ante-room ticked round to 07:30.

He never considered it her own space per se, rather the Styx through which one had to pass to enter the realm of Mr Malvolio. Seldom did anyone get called into the CEO’s office—Beckman had only seen it twice—and the only time anyone looked forward to it was when they thought they might have hit the jackpot of Salesman of the Year. Such a man would walk in a mere mortal and return as a god, never needing to work again. Certainly never again needing to encounter Oswald Gusp and his… startling secret.

He carefully (some might call it “furtively”) leafed through the items on Miss Broomhead’s desk. Quickly he found Oswald’s resumé in the OUT tray. Handling it as though the paper itself was soiled, he checked the Previous Employment section.

“Package Delivery Services” – 2004-2017

Well, you’re creative with job titles, Oswald buddy.

He carefully replaced the paper where he’d found it.

‘Hey, Beckman.’

He jumped three feet in the air—a feat which would have stunned his grade-school gym teacher. Beckman was no Bob Beamon.

He even simultaneously managed to turn towards the owner of the voice. Maybe the teacher had merely needed to switch his methods from encouragement to shock tactics?

‘Jeez, Wilbur! You wanna kill off a second employee within a week?’

Wilbur held up a hand. ‘Sorry, B. What gives? Why so early? Not like you.’

Beckman gestured at the desk. ‘Clearly, trying some industrial espionage before anyone arrives. Why you in so early? Not like you either, I might say.’

Wilbur held up the other hand. ‘Busted, okay?’

Beckman glanced up at Wilbur’s hat, which was almost always a baseball cap, and certainly different every day. Today’s legend was “INSERT HEAD HERE”, with an arrow pointing downwards.

Probably a wise choice for an unusually early start.

‘You were coming in here too?’

‘Yeah, but something different.’ Wilbur checked around. The office was still patently empty. ‘The new guy.’

‘Oswald? Me too.’

Wilbur’s hands dove into his pockets. ‘Oh. Well. Cool.’

‘Resumé?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why?’

‘Thought I recognised him.’

‘Recognised him?’ Beckman’s mind did cartwheels—many not pleasant.

‘Yeah.’

‘But I thought he was an….’ Beckman also checked around redundantly and lowered his voice, even more redundantly. ‘… “adult performer”.’

‘Oh. Yeah. Then it is him.’

Beckman’s face instinctively creased into distaste, which he quickly shook away. After all, it wasn’t a crime—neither to be a viewer nor a… participant. ‘You know him?’

‘Know? No. Know of? Yeah.’

‘You’ve seen….’ He tailed off deliberately, thrust his eyebrows up.

Wilbur pointed. ‘Then so have you.’

‘Only last night.’

‘Ah.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Okay.’

‘Yeah. Guess I… misspent my youth elsewhere. That’s all.’

Wilbur nodded slowly. ‘Yeah.’

Silence blew through.

‘Is it on there?’ Wilbur nodded at the desk.

‘Yeah. “Package Delivery Services”.’

‘Ah. Right. So he’s not… ashamed or nothing. Not hiding it.’

‘He’d have trouble hiding….’ Then Beckman stopped, realising the word “it” could be misconstrued.

Too late. Wilbur, who could have construed it, didn’t.

‘Yeah,’ he chuckled. ‘Trouble hiding that.’ 

At which point Beckman was transported back twelve hours, and Oswald’s unconcealed secret flashed through his mind again.

Thanks, Wilbur. Trust you to be a jock about it.

Beckman sighed. Best not to be a holier-than-thou ass and try to rise above it. Wilbur was a good guy—the best thing to a friend he had at Pegasus. Besides, if you couldn’t laugh about something like this, what hope was there? It was probably the most exciting thing to happen at work since Paulson Foss had inexplicably told Mr Malvolio what he (and pretty much everyone else) thought about the guy and been fired on the spot. Foss was lucky—Malvolio could have simply let his pet Gila monster Bruno loose and washed his hands of any unfortunate poisonous bitings which might have transpired.

Beckman forced a chuckle. ‘Yeah. I think it’s safe to say Oswald isn’t built in proportion.’

‘Bet he gave loads of glowing references. All from people called Candy or Lolly, happy to confirm that he could deliver packages twenty-four-seven.’

‘He’s trying to cure headaches now—back then, he was more likely to give a girl one.’

Get your mind out of the gutter, Beckman Spiers. This is a co-worker.

His face fell. Creditably, Wilbur’s did too.

‘We all got secrets, B.’

Beckman nodded, even though he had an entirely skeleton-free closet. ‘You won’t tell I was….’ He pointed at the desk and around the office.

‘Course not. I mean, I was too. You know, just confirming it was him. Idle curiosity is all.’

Beckman nodded more vehemently. ‘Sure. Past is past. Like you say, we’ve all got something.’

‘What’s yours, B?’

‘Huh?’

‘Your little secret?’

‘Secret?’

‘Misdemeanour.’

‘Hmm?’

‘Little thing in the past. Slight untruth on the resumé.’ Wilbur leant in.

Beckman thought quickly. ‘Nothing. I got nothing.’

‘Nothing?’

‘Nothing.’ He shrugged.

Wilbur narrowed his eyes, then smiled. ‘I reckoned so. Paragon of virtue, you, Beckman. You always said, I always knew.’

‘Certainly no… unmentioned previous… entertainment-related roles.’

‘No. Sure. Me either. Well, I mean, I did, but, you know.’

Beckman unavoidably recoiled slightly. ‘Entertainment-related? You?’

‘Sure. I used to mix with the ladies.’

Don’t get jealous now.

‘ “Mix”.’

‘Relax. I was a vision mixer on Miss World for ten years.’ Wilbur smiled knowingly at his wordplay.

‘That’s solid, Wilbur.’ He looked around. Go on—ask. ‘Did you, you know…?’

‘Get any?’

‘Yeah.’

‘No.’

‘Right.’

‘Yeah.’

Beckman nodded at nothing in particular. ‘So, to work, I guess.’

Wilbur straightened his cap. ‘I guess.’

‘Yeah.’ The clock ticked. ‘About Oswald?’

Wilbur brightened with excessive interest. ‘Yeah?’

‘He starts at zero on the sales chart, right?’

‘Sure. This because it means you’re up one place now?’

‘No.’ Beckman coughed. ‘Well, yeah.’

‘You’ll do it, B. I have faith. Tenth year for you this year. Gotta mean something, right?’

‘Still, a ways to go. But, yeah, I guess seventh place is my best yet. Might be in with a shot.’

Wilbur smiled cruelly. ‘Oughta release a few more tigers, huh?’

‘Across the state, sure.’ Beckman replied with a false impish grin. He’d never knowingly cheat to win the prize. He was probably the only guy at Pegasus who wouldn’t bend the rules to get the annual gong-and-passport-to-retirement. He also knew Wilbur knew that too.

‘Wonder if they put the poor cat down.’

‘Hope so, for Oswald’s sake.’ He clicked his fingers in annoyance. ‘Shoot. If I’d known right away, I could have brown-nosed Malvolio into taking over Cad’s territory. Heck of a lot better patch than my tumbleweed breeding ground.’

Wilbur nodded. ‘What’re you gonna do, huh? Easy come easy go. At least no tigers out your way.’

‘Hope to hell not.’

‘Snakes, though.’

‘And more than twelve-inch ones.’ Beckman winked. ‘See you around, Wilbur.’

‘See you, B. Sell well.’

Beckman headed out to the Caddy, keen to put all thoughts of wildlife—desert-dwelling, garden-dwelling, or trouser-dwelling—out of his mind.

First order of business: coffee.

It was just after two in the afternoon, while Beckman was gallivanting through his fifth Coffee Planet serving of the day—trying to convince himself he’d be able to meet Oswald in the future without glancing downwards—when his cell rang.

‘Wilbur?’

‘Hey, B.’

‘This is unusual. What—we make a mistake?’

‘Huh? Oh, no—it’s him.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

‘So?’

‘So? Oh, yeah. He was just here.’

‘You didn’t say anything?’ Beckman interjected, suddenly horrified.

‘Say? That? No. No—he was just putting in a huge stock order. Need to get a semi-trailer loaded.’

‘Oswald? On his first day? A semi-trailer!’

Wilbur’s sigh veritably puffed through the speaker. ‘Yeah. Said he went back to the tiger guy. Cad never closed the sale. Guy was keen—maybe out of pity now. Anyway, he’s this hotshot—wanted to put the product on his employee benefit medical plan. Got a lot of employees. So—semi-trailer.’

‘Ah, snap.’

‘Yeah.’

Beckman pushed his sigh down the mouthpiece. ‘Thanks for calling, Wilbur.’

‘Sure. Thought you should know.’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Beckman?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Puts him back above you now.’

‘Already? Ah, snap,’ he breathed.

‘Sorry, B.’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Sure.’

Beckman thumbed the End button. Drained his coffee.

Shook away the disappointment.

‘Easy come, easy go.’

Find out more about the “Sunrise Trilogy” here.

Six Sales AZ - A Sunrise short story

Six Sales, AZ. – A Sunrise short story

Five sales. In one day.

Pretty stellar if you work in a car dealership.

Not so hot if you hawk boxes out of your car at ten bucks a shot.

Still, all things are relative.

Beckman stood, gawping apparently mindlessly, with the words on the menu board nothing more than hieroglyphs before his eyes.

His mind hopped between his less-than-stellar work performance and the recent sight of a charred hulk of a building which should have been his latest Coffee Planet stop-off, but not even he liked beans roasted quite that dark.

So here he was, in a random café a block away, seeking alternate beverage arrangements.

Five is not great. But it’s better than zero, which is what you had two hours ago.

So—what to drink? What to drink, now that the de-facto rest stop is mostly ash in the atmosphere?

‘Can I help you, sir?’

He snapped from the impromptu reverie.

Her head was cocked to the side, no doubt curious as to why this gormless stranger was spending most of the afternoon selecting a simple beverage.

She barely shaded five feet, had long brown hair, and wasn’t wearing the employee-branded polo shirt. But he clocked her knapsack, her chirpy demeanour, and put two and two together—though he left it unsaid.

There was something else too.

She had buck teeth.

Beside a river somewhere, a gummy beaver was struggling with a chainsaw he’d had to buy from Home Depot. Poor little guy.

If she lived in a log cabin, it would be too funny. Luckily, he’d never find out. She was pretty enough, but (1) he liked his lips in their current un-mangled state, (2) his chat-up small talk was so rusty it would take ten gallons of WD-40 to loosen up, and (3) he’d only be in town for a couple more hours. The peripatetic life is no cradle for romance.

Plus, he was being cruel. He was hardly a matinee idol specimen—at least she had a distinguishing feature—he had none.

‘Just… picking something out.’

‘Try the coffee.’

He smiled. ‘You work here—you’re biased.’

There was a beat in which she wondered how he knew, and he got a self-satisfied glow from knowing, and knowing how he knew. It wasn’t rocket science: the emergence from the Staff door, the zipping up of the hoodie, the wave from the guy behind the counter.

Was she impressed? Did it matter?

You’ve got maybe ten years on her, buddy. It’s not cradle-snatching, but even so.

She shrugged. ‘Only part-time. And I’m not on commission. And I’m off today now, so I won’t get your tip.’

‘No—not coffee.’

Not here.

Her hand gestured over the wooden board above the counter ten feet away. Someone approached, surmised that Beckman wasn’t the beginning, end, or entirety of the queue, and passed by to make their order, in a commendably faster-than-glacial pace.

‘Mocha, tea, sodas….’ She flashed a querying eyebrow.

He wanted to make it plain that, as a thirty-seven-year-old man, he was very adept at Reading Stuff but didn’t want to come across as an ass.

‘Is that your hand?’ He indicated the faux chalk writing. That was a flat-out guess—his observation skills had limits.

‘Yeah. If only I’d used magic decision-chalk, though, huh?’ A toothy grin appeared—a white Stonehenge—but there was a twinkle in her eye too.

Bet she makes a packet in tips.

Probably shade your commission too, road warrior.

All while in the same spot.

So not your vibe.

Did I just use the word “vibe”? What am I—twenty?

‘Don’t let me keep you. You were heading out.’

She glanced at the wall clock. ‘Dale let me go five minutes early. So I guess I have room for one more.’ She jerked her head towards a table. ‘At least take the weight off while you’re not deciding.’

‘I guess.’

She followed him over to a square wooden table where they sat on adjacent sides. She hung her knapsack on the chair back; he did likewise with his trusty shoulder bag. It went everywhere with him—Linus’ blanket, minus the sucking.

Why is she volunteering to take time out from not being bored senseless by an older, thirsty, indecisive travelling salesman to risk the exact opposite?

Is this what they call “a spark”?

Need to get that WD-40 working on the ol’ Spotting The Signs muscle.

One thing at a time. Or probably one thing, period.

‘So—you not drink coffee?’

He glanced towards the window. ‘Only Coffee Planet, and I see they had a little accident.’

‘Fire is fire—it doesn’t judge.’

‘Crying shame.’

‘For some. Not for me.’

‘Ah—I get it now. You run this place. Happy to see the competition suffer.’ He smiled to show he was only partly joking.

‘Run? Ha! No, this is Dale’s place.’

‘All the same… business must have picked up.’

‘I guess. Why the third degree? So what if one of a faceless chain takes a hit? Capitalism sucks.’

There was a hint of vehemence in her tone, but he let it lie. He’d come in for a beverage, not an argument. Yet, he was no closer to the former.

‘You have a job,’ he pointed out.

‘Just until the other thing takes off.’

‘The other thing?’

‘I make jewellery.’

He’d noticed the earrings—a chain of delicate metallic spheres leading down to a small cup, like a string of coffee beans being dropped into a mug.

After The Teeth, it was the second thing he’d clocked. All the while, he was—on perpetual autopilot—keeping his senses tuned for any sign that she might be a potential customer.

Nothing yet, but, hell, five sales in two hours? He’d earned a break.

He nodded. ‘And you like coffee. Or you like modelling your wares for people who do.’

‘What can I say—Dale makes a great macchiato. So—how about it?’

He sighed.

Come clean?

‘The thing is….’ He stopped, hand hovering in mid-air, his mind absent of her name—because it hadn’t been established yet.

She caught his awkwardness. ‘Jolene. Yeah, like the song.’

He had an impish thought. ‘What song?’

Her eyes narrowed. The twinkle reappeared. ‘No, I’m not biting, Mister…?’

‘Beckman. No, not like anything. Not for a first name, anyhow.’

‘It’s a doozy, that’s for sure.’

‘Pair of conversation-starters, aren’t we?’

‘You know—it helps—chatting with customers and all. So—you not a coffee guy?’

He cracked a couple of knuckles. ‘I pretty much stick with Coffee Planet.’

She arched an eyebrow.

Wish I could do that. Just the one. It’s a great weapon. No, not a weapon. Tool.

‘Okay, so I’m loyal as hell.’ He fished in the inner pocket of his charcoal jacket. He pulled out a wad of CP-branded loyalty cards, held together with a rubber band which was into late middle-age and in need of being put out to pasture before it twanged into impromptu non-existence and decorated the surroundings with its captives.

Her other eyebrow arched.

Now that’s just showing off.

‘They oughta make you MVP,’ she suggested.

‘And this isn’t the whole nine yards. I got a box at home. I think I’m the loyalty department’s wet dream.’

‘You should do an interview. World Record or something.’

‘Somebody will have more.’ He carefully replaced the wad, now conscious of Ol’ Stretchy’s waning health. ‘Somebody duller than me.’

‘Dull? With a name like that? You’re just a guy who knows what he likes. Nothing wrong with that.’ She flashed a toothy, conciliatory smile. The coffee earrings danced, reminding him of his thirst.

He looked around for a server. She caught the drift, scanned the room and was less reticent in fluttering a hand at a maroon-shirted female. Quickly, with zero-hour upon him, Beckman rechecked the drinks menu.

The server arrived. ‘What can I get you, hon?’

Beckman lifted his hands from the table and clasped them together.

She angled her body towards him. She brought the tip of her pencil up to the order pad.

She wants that order from you. Whenever you’re ready.

Any time now.

You’ve had ages to choose.

It’s just a drink. Pick one.

Not coffee, obviously.

‘I’ll have….’

Good start.

He bit his lip. Rechecked the menu. Checked Jolene. Swallowed.

‘… a…’

‘The milkshake is delicious,’ Jolene piped up, simultaneously causing and saving his blushes, which vanished in a puff of quantum weirdness.

‘Yeah?’ he asked.

Milkshake? How long has it been?

You do like milkshakes. And this was by way of something different—the Beckman lame-ass celebration for the above-average end to another mediocre week.

What could go wrong? More to the point, could it get worse than the decade which has passed in the last ten seconds?

‘I will. I’ll have a vanilla milkshake.’

Woo hoo! Wow—you’ll be tying your own shoelaces next.

Maybe we did find your distinguishing feature after all—cataclysmic idiocy.

‘Great,’ the server replied, turning to Jolene. ‘You, hon?’

‘Just a latte, thanks, Emi.’

Emi set off to prepare two dairy-heavy beverages.

Apologise, style it out, or change the subject?

She beat him to the punch. ‘Did you never try Coffee Planet’s milkshakes?’

He shook his head. ‘Coffee all the way.’

‘You know, they’re getting rid of those cards. Gonna be pushing their app.’

‘Why?’

She shrugged. ‘Progress. Convenience.’

‘You guys have an app?’

‘Dale only got a cell last year. Let’s say it’s not likely soon.’

‘Well, you know where you are with cards.’

‘Bit of stickler, aren’t you, Beckman?’

‘Life on the road needs some touchstones.’

‘I figured that’s what you were. What are you selling?’

Is it that obvious what I do? Do I care?

He tugged his shoulder bag off the chair, opened the flap, withdrew a brown box and set it on the table.

Jolene peered at the anonymous cardboard cuboid. ‘Not coffee—or jewellery—that would be too funny, right?’ She smiled.

‘Pain relief.’

She nodded slowly. ‘Okay. For where?’

‘Headaches.’

‘And this is what you’re in town selling. Fancy box of pills?’

‘Yes—and no. No pills, and any town.’ He sighed. ‘Ideally where people actually buy.’

‘Is this what the Friday afternoon drowning-your-sorrows-in-unspecified-drinks is? I’d go straight to bourbon.’

‘Hell, it’s not that bad. Never is. Actually, this afternoon kinda rescue my visit. Five customers. Five living, breathing, hurting souls.’

‘Five? Why, what is it—like two hundred bucks?’

‘Ten bucks.’

She whistled softly. ‘Jeez, I make more than that in tips.’

‘Yeah, but you don’t get to travel the world, Jolene.’ He whipped out the pack of used loyalty cards, then winced at his maltreatment of Ol’ Stretchy. ‘You don’t get to down the filters, get the stamps, burn the gas, enjoy motel sheets, and—on a good day—have a milkshake with people like you.’

On cue, Emi arrived with their drinks, glanced in his direction, and scooted away.

Probably scared I’ll change my order after all that. Don’t blame her. I should have gone for water—hard to screw that up.

Jolene was unashamedly spectating as he cautiously picked up the glass and took a tentative sip.

‘I won’t take it personally if you gag,’ she said, displaying the entire piano keyboard.

You know, this is pretty fine.

‘You know, this is pretty fine.’

‘So, wallow away, Beckman.’

‘Actually, it was kind of a celebration.’

‘Five is good?’

‘It looked like zero here, so, yeah. I’m not graced with the greatest territory. Some towns are good—maybe a hundred a day. Some not so good. But I didn’t strike out—so that’s the plus.’

She raised her latte glass in a toast, and they chinked. ‘To… success.’

Strong word, but okay.

They drank.

Her brow knit. ‘So, without the fire, your celebration would have been just another Coffee Planet cup? Really?’

‘Like I said, it’s an anchor.’

‘An anchor is designed to prevent movement, and you’re a travelling salesman. What did I miss?’

He held her gaze as his mind churned over the question. 

Her pupils, he was almost certain, were grey-green. Eye colours were pretty easy for him to interpret. There were only a handful of standard colours, and he’d long ago matched their names to the specific shade of grey which inhabited his monochromatic world. In the pantone of real-life, for “normal” people, there were countless things he could only take best guess at. Anything which existed in a defined palette—like eye colour—was an area of certainty he held on to.

Like an anchor.

‘I never thought about it. Maybe having fixed things I can rely on—like the taste at Coffee Planet—takes away uncertainties I don’t need. Means I can put more time and energy into trying to find customers for this.’ He tapped the box. ‘So, why change from what works? Why try another coffee, maybe hate it, and have to go somewhere else to get my fix of body fuel? Time is money.’

‘So you’re not one for new experiences?’

Was there a hidden agenda in those words? Unlikely.

‘Every day is new—even the same coffee from the same store. It’s not Groundhog Day, you know?’

‘Depends where you draw the line, I guess.’

He smiled. ‘I’m trying your milkshake, aren’t I?’

‘Maybe this could be your new habit. We could be your new stop-off.’

‘Not unless you have branches state-wide.’

‘You get around, huh?’

He sipped his very-passable milkshake. ‘Hundreds of square miles of the ass-end of nowhere.’

‘To cure headaches.’

‘It’s better than a lot of shit people do.’

‘You go door-to-door?’

He shook his head. ‘Sit around. Watch people.’ He gestured around. ‘Cafés, malls, diners. Queues are good, medical centres. Anywhere people hang out, and I can spot them.’

‘Lot of killing time.’ She slugged her coffee. The large part of his body dedicated to caffeine processing gave a silent whimper.

‘Yeah. I could write a book. You know—if my life story was anything to write about.’

That amused her, and the twinkle in her eye appeared. A twinkle that might be seized upon by other guys. People like his objectionable colleague Tyler Screw-Anything Quittle.

‘Spot them how?’ she asked.

Should I open Pandora’s Box? Give away the secrets of my roaring success? What’s she gonna do, drop a cosy life in a small town for a lifetime on the road serving the Pegasus Corporation?

And what if she did? It’s a free country.

Except it would be someone else to run against in the Salesman of the Year competition.

The key word there is “man”. Mr Malvolio would never employ a mere woman. It’s unthinkable to the guy. Wow—I think we found another reason to despise the slave-driving SOB.

Anyway, where were we?

He took another sip. ‘Call me a student of the human condition. When people have headaches, all the signs are there.’

‘Then you wade in with the patter.’

He chuckled. ‘Patter is for peddlers. If I told you I’ve been doing this for eleven years and never had a single refund or complaint, you could see why the thing kinda sells itself.’

‘I wish my stuff did.’

‘Running your own business is brave, Jolene. I could never.’

She shrugged. ‘Well, I’ll see how it goes. If only people gave off vibes like they do for you. You know—clutching themselves in a way which means they’re desperate for artisanal metalware!’

‘You have a business plan?’

She shook her head. ‘My boyfriend gives me some ideas, but he’s not the type.’

‘Desk job?’

‘Fireman, here in town.’

Muscled Adonis with IQ shading three figures. Twice her size, probably.

Jeez—stereotype much?

Fireman, though? Should have got to Coffee Planet quicker, sunshine.

Well, if he ever needs the Jaws of Life, he doesn’t need to look far…

‘Wow. Good for him. You worry about him?’

‘Nah. He gets scrapes, but don’t we all?’

He subconsciously leant in slightly. ‘Headaches?’

She eased back by a similar amount, and her eyes creased. ‘You pitching to me, Beckman?’

He held up a hand. ‘Sorry. Force of habit.’

‘No. You know what? You seem like an honest guy, and yeah, Erik does get headaches, so I’ll wrap up your stellar day and take a box—okay?’

Six? Six!

Not quite ready for the annals of history, but it rescues a day of tumbleweeds in town.

He slid the box across. She dug into a pocket and pulled out an Alexander Hamilton.

‘Thanks, Jolene.’

‘Sure.’

‘When—not if—it works, spread the message and maybe I’ll come back and buy you more than a coffee.’

‘I’ll do that. Just not at Coffee Planet, okay?’

‘Are they rebuilding?’ he asked, trying to make it sound absentminded and failing.

‘Yeah. Worst luck.’

‘Room for everyone on this planet. From the road warriors to the… artisan metalworkers.’

‘I guess.’

‘What happened? Anyone hurt?’

‘No. One night. Place just went up—that’s the story.’

‘Last man out forgot to turn off the sandwich toaster, I guess.’

She looked away. ‘Yeah, probably.’

‘This isn’t so bad—as a change.’ He swirled the cream liquid in the glass. Noticed her earrings again. ‘You make nice stuff, Jolene. Much as I know about it.’

‘Thanks.’ She bit her lip, pensive for a moment. ‘Do you want any pieces?’

‘I’m happy with plain skin, thanks.’

‘I meant for your wife? Girlfriend?’

‘Not applicable.’ He avoided a desperate sigh.

‘Significant other?’

‘Significant mother is about the closest I’ve got.’

Jolene’s brow furrowed. ‘Significant how?’

‘She’s my mother. Isn’t that pretty significant? Take her away, and what have you got?’

‘A different mother with a less imaginative line in names for their kids?’ she suggested.

‘Kid, singular,’ he clarified. ‘You know, I never asked which of my parents cooked up my name.’

‘Would it matter?’

He reflected on two relationships, one merely distant, one metaphorically out near Jupiter. ‘No.’

But maybe I’ll ask mom next time we speak. Just for idle conversation. Which is about all we have anyway.

And this here was what—Kierkegaard, climate change, the meaning of life?

It was a sale, Beckman. Another town, end of another day, another week.

And, actually, a conversation not primarily about headaches, sport, or the weather. For once.

Thanks for the nudge, Jolene. You’re… okay. Maybe that fire was a blessing in disguise.  

He slugged his milkshake. Time was pressing.

A thought struck. ‘You ever ask Dale about putting a small display up with some of your pieces?’

‘Yeah. He wasn’t keen.’

‘Did you offer him commission?’

Her face lit. ‘You think he’d go for it?’

‘Is he an ass?’

She shook her head.

He shrugged. ‘So, a few bucks commission is a free lunch. It can’t hurt to ask.’

‘Thanks, Beckman.’

‘I wrote the book on commission-based business. Well, a pamphlet.’ He sipped the last of his drink. ‘Actually, on today’s sales, maybe a Post-It Note. The little ones.’

‘All the same….’

‘I wish you luck, okay? And thanks for keeping me company. Glad I hung around.’

She downed the coffee dregs. ‘I should be going too.’ She tapped the box. ‘Can’t say I’m not intrigued.’

‘Every day is an adventure.’

She stood, pulled her knapsack onto the table, put the box inside, and refastened it. ‘That’s right. Never know what you’re going to discover. See you around, Beckman.’

He flicked his hand in farewell. ‘Bye, Jolene.’

But his mind wasn’t on the departure. It was racing at the sight of the cloth badge sewn onto her bag.

The one which read, “Capitalism Sucks.”

Find out more about the “Sunrise Trilogy” here

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The New Flag

‘What about a buffalo?’ asked Grig, shaven-headed focus of the New Flag Committee.

‘What about a buffalo?’ asked Grig, the shaven-headed focus of the New Flag Committee.

‘Buffalo?’ Jones, the smartly-dressed Home Minister, was perplexed.

‘You know, a nice big fierce buffalo. In profile.’

Bell, the Foreign Minister, furrowed his brow. ‘What does that represent?’

‘Well, buffaloes,’ Grig said.

Bell furrowed his deep brow and took another sip of what should have been coffee but wasn’t. He needed a moment to think, make sure he wasn’t missing something. Polonius Grig was a respected flag designer, and the Foreign Minister didn’t want to look like a eunuch at a pissing contest.

‘I see,’ Bell said. ‘But what’s the significance to Newdonia?’ He finished stirring his un-coffee and set the spoon down in the saucer.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’

‘No,’ Jones said, to Bell’s relief. Evidently, he was not in a minority of one in failing to follow the designer’s train of thought.

‘Buffaloes are a great symbol of this country,’ Grig said.

‘Er, we don’t actually have any buffaloes in Newdonia,’ clarified Finch, the freckled young Arts minister. ‘Not one. Including the zoo.’

‘But they are a great symbol of strength,’ Grig said. ‘Powerful. You don’t take shit from a nation that acts like a buffalo.’

‘I’m not sure Newdonia is planning to act like a buffalo,’ Home Minister Jones suggested.

‘Really?’ Grig asked, with just a hint of desperation. ‘What about all these mock-ups I’ve done?’

‘Sorry,’ Bell said firmly. ‘You might just as well propose we use an elephant.’

‘And what’s wrong with elephants?’ Grig protested, fearing that his un-revealed backup design was shortly for the trash heap.

‘We don’t have any of those either,’ Finch pointed out.

‘But you don’t take shit from—’ Grig began.

‘The taking of shit, or otherwise, from this new nation is not the raison d’etre behind the flag design we are seeking. I thought that was clear from our brief.’

‘Designers don’t always stick to the rules. That’s why we’re called designers.’ Grig’s tone bordered on condescending.

‘All we want is a bold design,’ Jones said, trying to smooth over things, casting his gaze around the room, placating the rest of the Committee.

‘A horse?’ proffered the designer.

‘No animals!’ Finch and Bell insisted in unison.

The designer sighed and tweaked his ear pensively. ‘Okay, what about this?’ Grig picked up his felt-tips and sketched something roughly on a sheet of his notepad. He nodded satisfactorily and held the pad up for all to see.

‘Er, isn’t that the Union Flag?’ Finch asked.

‘Yes,’ Grig replied, confused.

‘Well, aren’t the UK using that?’

‘Are they? Are you sure?’

‘Pretty sure,’ Finch said.

‘Completely sure,’ Bell said.

‘Okay,’ Grig mused. ‘But do they like it?’

‘It is popular. It’s also got a lot of history behind it.’

‘You don’t have any history, though,’ Grig said, stating the obvious.

‘Or a flag, as things go,’ Finch mumbled.

Grig, unfortunately, had heard the Arts minister’s under-breath jibe. His eyes lit up. ‘I’ve got it!’

Everyone perked up.

‘Don’t have a flag,’ the designer stated triumphantly, slapping a hand down on the large mahogany table.

Jones’ mouth fell open. ‘Don’t have a flag!?’

Bell just shook his head. Finch pulled a face.

‘Look,’ Grig said, rising to his feet, ‘What do you need a flag for anyway? You’re Newdonia. You know that. I know that. Your neighbours know that. The world knows that. They have atlases. What do you need a stupid flag for?’

‘To hang on the flagpoles,’ Bell said.

‘All the flagpoles were torn down during the revolution,’ Jones pointed out.

Bell nodded sagely. It was true.

‘The Olympics,’ Finch stated.

‘Olympics?’ Grig stopped striding and faced the raven-haired Arts representative. ‘What chance have you got of qualifying for the Olympics? Do you ever see Liechtenstein at the Olympics? You’re not even that big.’

‘World Cup?’ Bell suggested reluctantly.

‘Don’t make me laugh.’

‘Well, what about all the T-shirts, souvenirs and such,’ Finch asked.

‘Think how much money you can save! No flagpoles, no tacky souvenirs. You can re-use all the picture postcards—the scenery hasn’t changed. You’re a young nation. You have to build, establish a solid fiscal platform. You can’t start plundering the public coffers for some stupid symbol of nationhood. Keep your money. Have a big party.’

There was silence for a moment, followed by gentle nods from all the ministers.

Jones stood. ‘Well, thank you, Grig. This has been a very productive session. Thank you for all your effort.’ The men shook hands.

‘Yes, thank you.’ Bell, then Finch, exchanged a parting handshake with the designer.

Grig pulled an envelope from his top pocket and handed it to the Home Minister. ‘I’ll show myself out,’ he said, heading for the double wooden doors at the end of the room.

‘What’s this?’ Jones asked.

‘Oh,’ Grig paused momentarily, ‘The bill.’

‘Buffalo?’ Jones, the smartly-dressed Home Minister was perplexed.

‘You know, a nice big fierce buffalo. In profile.’

Bell, the Foreign Minister, furrowed his brow. ‘What does that represent?’ 

‘Well, buffaloes,’ Grig said.

Bell furrowed his deep brow and took another sip of what should have been coffee but wasn’t. He needed a moment to think, make sure he wasn’t missing something. Polonius Grig was a respected flag designer, and the Foreign Minister didn’t want to look like a eunuch at a pissing contest.

‘I see,’ Bell said. ‘But what’s the significance to Newdonia?’ He finished stirring his un-coffee and set the spoon down in the saucer.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’

‘No,’ Jones said, to Bell’s relief. Evidently he was not in a minority of one in failing to follow the designer’s train of thought.

‘Buffaloes are a great symbol of this country,’ Grig said.

‘Er, we don’t actually have any buffaloes in Newdonia,’ clarified Finch, the freckled young Arts minister. ‘Not one. Including the zoo.’

‘But they are a great symbol of strength,’ Grig said. ‘Powerful. You don’t take shit from a nation that acts like a buffalo.’

‘I’m not sure Newdonia is planning to act like a buffalo,’ Home Minister Jones suggested.

‘Really?’ Grig asked, with just a hint of desperation. ‘What about all these mock-ups I’ve done?’

‘Sorry,’ Bell said firmly. ‘You might just as well propose we use an elephant.’

‘And what’s wrong with elephants?’ Grig protested, fearing that his un-revealed backup design was shortly for the trash heap.

‘We don’t have any of those either,’ Finch pointed out.

‘But you don’t take shit from—’ Grig began.

‘The taking of shit, or otherwise, from this new nation is not the raison d’etre behind the flag design we are seeking. I thought that was clear from our brief.’

‘Designers don’t always stick to the rules. That’s why we’re called designers.’ Grig’s tone bordered on patronising.

‘All we want is a bold design,’ Jones said, trying to smooth over things, casting his gaze around the room, placating the rest of the Committee.

‘A horse?’ proffered the designer.

‘No animals!’ Finch and Bell insisted in unison.

The designer sighed and tweaked his ear pensively. ‘Okay, what about this?’ Grig picked up his felt-tips and sketched something roughly on a sheet of his notepad. He nodded satisfactorily and held the pad up for all to see.

‘Er, isn’t that the Union Flag?’ Finch asked.

‘Yes,’ Grig replied, confused.

‘Well, aren’t the UK using that?’

‘Are they? Are you sure?’

‘Pretty sure,’ Finch said.

‘Completely sure,’ Bell said.

‘Okay,’ Grig mused. ‘But do they like it?’

‘It is popular. It’s also got a lot of history behind it.’

‘You don’t have any history though,’ Grig said, stating the obvious.

‘Or a flag, as things go,’ Finch mumbled.

Grig, unfortunately, had heard the Arts minister’s under-breath jibe. His eyes lit up. ‘I’ve got it!’

Everyone perked up.

‘Don’t have a flag,’ the designer stated triumphantly, slapping a hand down on the large mahogany table.

Jones’ mouth fell open. ‘Don’t have a flag!?’ 

Bell just shook his head. Finch pulled a face.

‘Look,’ Grig said, rising to his feet, ‘What do you need a flag for anyway? You’re Newdonia. You know that. I know that. Your neighbours know that. The world knows that. They have atlases. What do you need a stupid flag for?’

‘To hang on the flagpoles,’ Bell said.

‘All the flagpoles were torn down during the revolution,’ Jones pointed out.

Bell nodded sagely. It was true.

‘The Olympics,’ Finch stated.

‘Olympics?’ Grig stopped striding and faced the raven-haired Arts representative. ‘What chance have you got of qualifying for the Olympics? Do you ever see Liechtenstein at the Olympics? You’re not even that big.’

‘World Cup?’ Bell suggested reluctantly.

‘Don’t make me laugh.’

‘Well what about all the T-shirts, souvenirs and such,’ Finch asked.

‘Think how much money you can save! No flagpoles, no tacky souvenirs. You can re-use all the picture postcards—the scenery hasn’t changed. You’re a young nation. You have to build, establish a solid fiscal platform. You can’t start plundering the publics coffers for some stupid symbol of nationhood. Keep your money. Have a big party.’

There was silence for a moment, followed by gentle nods from all the ministers.

Jones stood. ‘Well, thank you Grig. This has been a very productive session. Thank you for all your effort.’ The men shook hands.

‘Yes, thank you.’ Bell, then Finch, exchanged a parting handshake with the designer.

Grig pulled an envelope from his top pocket and handed it to the Home Minister. ‘I’ll show myself out,’ he said, heading for the double wooden doors at the end of the room.

‘What’s this?’ Jones asked after him.

‘Oh,’ Grig paused momentarily, ‘The bill.’

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

IRS-banner-Alphabet

Alphabet Soup

Tallyjohn sighed.

It was getting late, and they had barely made any progress. He could see the hints of frustration etching into Quiggle’s face as he sank into the chair.

Tallyjohn, the King’s Master Of Letters, tapped his fingers agitatedly on the meeting room’s plain round table.

Quiggle sat down opposite. ‘This is like painting the Forth Bridge,’ he sighed.

‘The what?’ Tallyjohn asked. It was 1487, and the Forth Bridge hadn’t been built yet.

‘Never mind,’ replied the blonde-eyebrowed Quiggle, Language Advisor to the London University, even though London University hadn’t been invented yet.

‘We could stay here all night and come up with a million different answers,’ Tallyjohn offered. ‘He’ll only go and change it anyway.’

‘Well, of course he will,’ replied the bald Master Of Letters, replete in his Metallica T-shirt, even though Metallica and T-shirts hadn’t been invented yet. ‘You can’t have S after B.’

‘Why not?’

‘Any fool can see that’s just plain idiotic.’

‘B, F, S, A, L. It just trips off the tongue.’

In response, Tallyjohn jumped up with a measure of indignation and slapped the whiteboard that hadn’t been invented yet. His finger snagged the magnetic cut-out S, and it flipped to the floor. He bent down quickly and was about to slap it admonishingly back into place but then slid the Q across a little and pressed the S to the board next to it.

He indicated the new sequence with a flourish. “Q, S, B, F, A, L etcetera. Much better.”

Quiggle rolled his eyes and shook his head sadly. “The University won’t stand for that. QSBF? Try lecturing that to some spotty nineteen-year-olds.’

‘Teenagers aren’t my problem, Advisor. The King wants the alphabet arranged in a decent memorable order, and I’m not losing the rest of the evening and night debating it.’ He looked at his non-invented digital watch. It was gone eight, and outside, dusk was falling.

‘My tea will be getting cold too, you know. It’s salad tonight.’

‘So let’s try and agree. It’s only the King we have to please, not you or I.’

Quiggle thought for a moment and then nodded. ‘Okay.’ Even though okay hadn’t been invented yet.

‘Okay.’

‘But M, C, Z?’ the Language Advisor queried. ‘Hardly brilliant, is it?’

‘What?!’

Quiggle got up and pulled the magnetic Z off the board. He walked behind Tallyjohn and put the Z on the extreme left edge of the board. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘Z first. Start with an angry letter, and then all the other countries will sit up and take note. We’ll have the best alphabet in the world. See – it’s a purposeful start – ZHXJE.’

Tallyjohn threw his hands in the air. ‘I give up. Do you know what your problem is? Your problem is that the King isn’t your problem. He’s mine. If I go in there tomorrow and start with this ZHXJE nonsense, he’ll have my head off faster than you can say Englebert Humperdinck.’

‘Who?’ Quiggle asked.

‘Exactly. Nine o’clock—I give the presentation; five past nine—I’m ten inches shorter.’

‘Ten what?’

‘I won’t go in there with ZHXJETKO to start and that BFSAL crap in the middle.’

‘Then we’ll never agree.’

Tallyjohn shrugged. ‘Fine.’

‘Fine!’

‘Arrange your stupid alphabet how you want.’

‘No. You’re the King’s whipping boy. You bloody do it!’ With that, Quiggle strode to the door, threw it open and slammed it shut after him, making the walls and the board shake.

Tallyjohn glowered after him, but it did no good.

‘Fine,’ he shouted to the room. ‘Then that’s how it is. Either he likes it, or I’m deader than a dodo, even though they aren’t dead.’

With that, he punched the board and wished he hadn’t, then, boiling at Quiggle’s hot-headedness and his own impending demise, left the room and gave the door a good old slam.

The board shook violently, and all the letters fell off.

An hour later, the cleaner came in, dusted off the table, emptied the small waste paper bin and put a new plastic liner in its place, even though plastic hadn’t been invented yet. Tutting at the mess on the floor, he picked up the random heap of letters and carefully arranged them in a nice line on the board.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

banner-Jamie-Oliver

The Real Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver was born Margaret Ig in deepest revolutionary France some fortyfew years ago. His early years were spent living in a lake, where his parents had taken up residence to avoid the all-pervading strains of Charles Aznavour records.

At the age of five and barely out of nappies, his childhood was traumatised by the sudden arrest of his father on charges of making sexual overtures towards a pickled herring.

At the trial, his father, Ernest Ig, threw himself on the mercy of the court and asked for sixty-three other charges to be taken into account, including committing a lewd act with a hatstand, bathing in discarded film footage of Morris Dancing, and fathering Bonnie Langford whilst under the influence of low-fat yoghurt.

The jury of one man, one woman and ten hermaphrodites gleefully found him guilty, and he was shipped off to the “La Fondue” minimum security prison and retail ear-muff outlet. There, he was subjected to such diverse tortures as the authorities could muster; Chinese burns and towel-flicking were rife, and the enforced watching of the Police Academy films had the inmates cruelly subjugated.

However, the Ig family’s separation was happily short-lived when Ernest was rescued by son Margaret and far-from faithful wife Claudine in a daring lunchtime raid. Disguising themselves as freelance travel agents, they easily entered the facility and absconded with a struggling Ernest, who had been quite enjoying himself until then.

Following Claudine’s carefully-laid cunning plan, they ran like buggery to Calais, evading the pursuit of a crack hamster attack squad. There, a boat was waiting for them. Unfortunately, it was a police boat.

Fearless, they blasted their way through the line of Gendarmes using a particularly powerful aerosol can of that dreadful artificial whipped cream and leapt into another standby boat which Claudine had knitted only that morning.

Using Margaret as a paddle, they reached England in good time, beaching just south of Fort William. (Ernest has acquired his stout seamanship from his father, Slim, a Chinese waiter who had never set foot outside his Kentucky ranch.)

Sleeping on the move, the Ig family made their way on foot to the wilds of Bishops Stortford and broke into an abandoned caravan once allegedly used by Cardinal Wolsey. Exhausted from their journey, they slept.

When they woke, Margaret was twelve. Ernest decided they should change their names to avoid detection, and thus they became the Oliver family. Richard (nee Ernest) set about providing for the family in their new life and quickly found work pulling the legs off spiders. However, soon afterwards, the international market for spiders legs collapsed, and a tearful Richard was made redundant. Walking home after his last day at work, he was mobbed by wheelchair-bound tarantulas and chewed to death.

Distraught, Jamie joined a local technical college intending to learn a trade, and within a year, had built his first sparrow. This set his life’s course straight and true, and he vowed to be the best sparrowsmith in Hertfordshire, whatever it took.

Three weeks later, he fulfilled that dream. Overcome with emotion on hearing of her son’s achievement, Jane (nee Claudine) passed out in the kitchen while making eggs Benedict and hit her head on a protruding antelope.

After being tended in hospital for twelve long years, with Jamie at her bedside 24 hours a day, Jane finally recovered consciousness. Startled by unfamiliar surroundings, the first words to her loving son were, “Are Band Aid still Number One?” Tragically, she never found out. Jamie was busy dashing to the toilet to relieve twelve years of bladder discomfort, and by the time he returned to Jane’s bedside, the hospital had been closed down.

After so long in the employment wilderness, Jamie found it painfully challenging getting a job. That was until he was found unconscious in the gutter outside a Burger King restaurant. Having suffered the decimation of his staff that previous evening during a vicious bout of chutney tasting, the franchisee woke Jamie with a kick to the eyebrows and employed him there and then.

The rest, as they say, is history…

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

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Weather Ant

For many generations, mankind has sought to forecast the weather, whether for personal interest or the public good. To put the latest development into context, we must briefly examine how weather forecasting has evolved through history.

The United Kingdom provides the sternest examination of the forecaster’s art, with its unique location and dreadfully dull inhabitants who seem unduly preoccupied with the conditions.

Early cave paintings, discovered recently in Bromley, depict a man called Brian sticking his head out of the cave entrance and looking heavenward, then retreating inside to report to his commune that “It looks like rain”. This is followed by a discussion on the matter, particularly “What a lot of weather” they were having. This tedium lasted until the following morning when it was time for Brian’s ritual sky-gazing and the pursuant soporific deconstruction. It appears that this pattern continued for many days until the commune realised that none of them had been out to hunt and suddenly starved to death.

Victorian-era Derbyshire was graced by the legendary Mrs Climate (real name Geoffrey Whimsy), who astounded the small community of Speg with her predictions. Every evening at eight o’clock, Mrs Climate would announce her forecast for the ’morrow in the town square. The insight was based upon her perpetual sufferance from the common cold; if snot ran from her left nostril, it would be fine; if it ran from her right, it would rain. Records of the time show that her accuracy reached as high as fifty-six percent, and she was highly publicised until her untimely death in a strawberry picking incident.

The most notable advance of the nineteenth century was Waller’s Patented Weather Forecasting Machine, designed by Xavier Waller in 1897. This was the first mechanical device dedicated to climatology, an incredibly complex contraption roughly the same size as four pot-bellied pigs. Powered by a mulch consisting of finely shredded butterfly livers marinated in vinegar, the noisy machine span its various cogs and wheels, tapped its various tappets and whirred its sundry whirrs for nine hours before turning a dial clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the predicted clemency. Some ten thousand people attended the first demonstration in Hyde Park, and memorably the machine’s first public forecast was correct. However, rising the next morning to see the prediction come true, a self-satisfied Waller was mobbed outside of his front door by the Butterfly Protection League and elbowed into a coma.

Latterly, the steady advance of computers has contributed significantly to forecasting accuracy but naturally is a costly process. The most recent trials in weather prediction have centred around a simple but effective process involving livestock.

Specifically, ants.

It has emerged that the Met Office have been undertaking secret forecasting tests within the bowels of their HQ, and, more startling that some publicly distributed forecasts over recent months have not been the result of immense computing power;

In 1998 a dull forecaster named Melvin Tuttle was examining his ant collection at home when he discovered that one of the tiny tunnels in the soil of the formicarium had collapsed, stranding an unfortunate ant. Not wishing to disturb the colony, Melvin left the ant to its fate—running in circles around the chamber—and set off for work in the rain. That evening, he returned to find the ant still running. The weather, he remembered later, was still inclement. The following morning, it was still raining, and the ant was still running. That evening, however, the ant was very subdued, even though the weather had not subsided. By first light, Melvin was up, checking out the ant-ics. The isolated pet was digging. Outside it was fine.

This behaviour went on for a few days, and Melvin began taking notes. Soon, a pattern emerged. By noon, it seemed, the ant had a good idea of what the weather would be like for the following day—running for rainy, quiet for sunny, digging for cloudy.

Melvin named the ant Predicto and kept records of its success. He also wittingly caused another tunnel to collapse within his glass-contained ant colony, trapping another specimen, so he could ascertain whether Predicto’s talents were unique.

They were not.

Excited by his discovery, Tuttle passed on his findings to the Met Office director, Olly Solly, who initially laughed the man out of the building. Luckily for Tuttle, though, it was budget time for the business, and Solly’s brow was furrowing over the increasing costs of his bank of mainframes. Realising that by retaining the powerful computers, he would instead be under financial pressure to cut back on his attendant array of seven blonde secretaries and start spending more time with his wife Molly Solly, a brickie. As such, the director swiftly called up Tuttle and entered into discussions with the man he’d hitherto called an “insect molesting timewaster”.

Soon, Tuttle had relocated his ant farm to the Met Office HQ and began parallel forecasting alongside IBM’s finest. After a short period of adjustment for Predicto and colleague Foretello to get accustomed to the new microclimate, the ants began to match the computer for the accuracy of the following day’s forecasts.

Things were going well until Predicto died unexpectedly. Tuttle, however, was quickly on the case, and after a short period of mourning, he installed a replacement—also called Predicto—into a larger cavern, this time with its own food supply and some miniature dirty magazines.

As different generations of Predictos and Foretellos came and went, Solly began to scale back his computing resources and rely more heavily on the combined talents of the ants. When segregated from its peers, every individual quickly took on the mantle of weather forecasting, unearthing a behaviour previously unknown to naturalists.

The Met Office managed to keep the whole deal quiet until last week when Ant Rights protestors broke into the office and absconded with the colony. This spells trouble for Solly and Tuttle, who are known to be in discussions about whether to revive the project or return to the age of computing. They will surely be mindful of yesterday’s revelations linking Martin Whisper, Chairman of IBM, with the head of the Ant Rights Group, the shadowy Martina Whisper.

One thing is sure; we have not heard the last of animal experimentation in this field.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

banner-Dodo

The way of the Dodo

Every year, more species on this wonderful and diverse planet pass into extinction, many without record or even a proper wake. To go some way to redressing that balance, there follows a list of some of the more remarkable creatures that have graced this world whose last examples shuffled off this mortal coil between 1990 and 2015.

Jellup’s Horse

Discovered in Uruguay by Quincy Jellup in 1778, this creature bore all the hallmarks of a horse, but was no bigger than a chicken. Jellup catalogued seventeen individuals during his expedition, and fell in love with the creatures. He tried to take a pair home to England, hoping to establish the species there, but they went on the rampage on Jellup’s vessel, the Floating Coffin, and the ship sank off the Azores. The last survivor, owned as a pet by a Bolivian rancher, died peacefully in its sleep in 2003.

Muscat Centipede

The Muscat centipede was unique in having 102 legs, and in every other way was almost indistinguishable from the more common Straightjacket Centipede, native to the same region. An experienced naturalist could also distinguish the rarer Muscat if he was carrying a sensitive microphone, as the female of the species was prone to very quiet coughing during the mating season.
The last known pair, kept in Johannesburg zoo, were inadvertently trodden on in 1996.

Spotted Trenk

The Spotted Trenk was a freshwater fish similar to the pike, whose origins have been traced back millions of years. Characterised by its blue spots, the trenk was a hardy creature that was almost impossible to fish thanks to its excellent defence mechanism. When hooked on a line and landed on shore, the trenk would play dead until the fisherman’s back was turned, then leap from the bucket (or other receptacle), gnaw the fisherman’s ears, then hurtle back into the water. Inhabitants of the Alaskan region that was home to the trenk took to wearing ear guards in case they should unwittingly reel in the devisive fish.
The entire trenk population was wiped out by a mysterious disease between 1988 and 1994.

‘Last Post’ Warbler

This small bird, native only to the Netherlands, is thought to have its origins in England, though never recorded there. Its unique call, a surprisingly tuneful rendition of the traditional Last Post bugling motif, made it easy to locate in the open Dutch countryside.
Its unusual taste for Gouda cheese was instrumental in its extinction. Jos Boww, acknowledged expert on the Warbler, had every nesting site catalogued, but after twenty years studying the species, the bird’s incessant song eventually became too much for him and in 1998 he set out Gouda traps at all of the Warbler’s locations, captured and pureed every last example.

Pebble Crab

The Pebble Crab, so named for its ability to uncannily resemble a small flat circular stone, was found only on the rocky beaches of the island of Hata in the South China Sea, and is thought to have evolved there ages ago.
In 2000, this unpopulated idyll was chosen for the millenium running of the World Rock Skipping Championships, thereby unwittingly consigning the entire species to an ignominious end.

White Throated Hax

The Hax was a fairly dull species of antelope, notable only for its interest in snooker. Only six examples existed in the wild since the ban on Hax hunting came into effect in 1971. The Common Hax, with its complete disinterest in tabletop ball games, has thrived in African reserves since the ban, but the White Throated cousin struggled to breed.
The death of the youngest animal, called Sven, was reported in May 2009, thereby wiping out the last snooker-following creatures, which numbered 12 different species in 1937.

Green Marvel

This species of butterfly, once commonly seen around its South Devon habitats, had been on the wane since the introduction of the Wells family to the area in 1951. Scientists struggled for many years to explain this phenomenon or attribute the Green Marvel’s demise to some other cause, but the fact remains that on the day George and Mavis Wells arrived in Barnstaple, the first recorded heart attack amongst the species occurred.
Various coronary afflictions continued to claim young and otherwise healthy Green Marvels until the species dwindled into extinction in 1995. Ironically, the Wells family decided to move to Lincolnshire in 1996.

Russian Grey Whelk

The Russian Grey Whelk was first recorded by Phineas Bax in 1809, living in colonies on the country’s icy northern coast. The species was the only known migrating whelk; the entire population heading south for the summer and collecting on a small Greek island.
The creature’s navigation mechanism is not well understood, but is thought to have something to do with the Earth’s so-called leylines which hippies are always banging on about.
The extinction of this intriguing strain of whelk was discovered in 2014, when Thomas Elberg, a Danish fisherman, hauled the entire shoal aboard his vessel by mistake. All the creatures were already dead, confused and overcome by panic due to the sacks of magnetic ore which had lain on the seabed since the loss of the vessel “Death Harbinger” in a storm over the previous winter.

Smiling Adder

Also known as the Jolly Adder, this beige reptile was first documented by Sebastien Point in 1833. Point was a deeply disturbed French naturalist (and naturist) who, after four months exploring the jungles of Borneo, started to believe all the flora and fauna were watching him. This snake, in particular, seemed to have a fixed grin, though this was in fact an upwardly curved marking on its chin. It was all that his guide, Pooga, could do to stop the unhinged explorer from going wild with a machete.
Natural predators caused the species to dwindle over the last hundred years, and until 1992 the remaining Smiling Adder was a resident of Barnstaple Wildlife Refuge called Arthur. He was shot to death after trying to gnaw Prime Minister John Major during a publicity visit.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”