Short Story: Hunter and Prey

The rain had been threatening to turn to snow most of the afternoon. It fell upon the unwary without mercy, but like most bullies it hadn’t the courage to do more than inconvenience everyone.

Occasionally a thicker splat of almost slush promised a turning point, but by now nobody was holding their breath. The splashes in puddles did little more than catch the hunter’s eye.

He paused under the overhanging concrete shelter outside the row of shops, and cursed the sudden trickle of ice water that had sneaked under his clothing from his hat. He’d been sure he’d found it this time.

His prey was elusive. He could respect that without lessening his focus on the goal. It takes time to run down any target worthy of the name. This one had led him a merry chase this afternoon.

From long experience, the hunter knew he needed a distraction. If that wasn’t available, he’d need some kind of cover. The prey knew it was being tracked. A library was nearby, so he went in and pretended to browse the shelves for a while.

He wandered the shelves that bent and twisted like the folds of a brain. He turned down offers of help from staff, and was careful to mingle with the other customers. He hoped it would be enough to hide his scent.

He feigned a casual glance through the front windows, and saw a flicker of motion. That was it, now was not the time to be hasty.

He slung his bag over one shoulder in a show of affected nonchalance. He didn’t really feel it, but it would have to do. The doors of the library whined open automatically as he approached.

He ended up leaving close behind a young mother and child, their books in the bottom of the lightly-framed pushchair. If his plan worked, he’d be mistaken for just another library user, maybe even as part of this family.

If books and stories were the lifeblood and memories of a library, he may be assumed to be sated by his searches in the stacks.

He shifted his bag again, as if heavily laden, and aimed his footsteps towards the nearby coffee shop. The young family also seemed bound for it, and so his cover was safe. The sounds of their splashing feet and the hiss of the pushchair’s tyres were comfortingly mundane.

His pace never deviated from it’s steady rate. He’d walked thirty three steps before his prey appeared. The bookshop wavered into view, relaxing it’s guard as he began his step past the doorway.

That was it; the mistake the hunter had been waiting for. He pivoted on his heels and swung his leading leg round into the entrance.

The bookshop, born of stories and belief, hope and mystery, shuddered and tried to fight back. It was too late. The hunter of books had found his true prey. Stories he could take home forever for his shelves back home. The bookshop began to mourn the pages that would soon be leaving.

Musings and Muses

I’m blessed with the company and at least grudging acknowledgement of a wide range of beautifully odd people, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Between the fearless men, women, and occasionally undecided of the #Tuesday crowd and the staunchly acerbic miscreants who’ve stuck with me on social media, I couldn’t ask for a fiercer, more awesome group of people to light up my day.

Then there are those who have got drawn into my orbit and who really arent sure what they’re getting into. Don’t worry, we’ll have you so distracted you won’t care enough to fight your truly surreal real selves from emerging in due course.

Okay, do you think that’s scared the normals away? Just us freaks and weirdos left? Excellent.

I’ve had two conversations today that just seem to shine a suitable light, and I thought I’d share them and maybe raise a smile.

The first was with the beautiful Mre B, with whom I’ve had a running conversation via messaging most of the day. As part of that conversation, I mentioned my disquiet that I discovered yesterday that a book shop exists about ten minutes away, the existence of which I had been unaware of for over six years. 

I mentioned that I had been strong, and not bought anything when I found it. Her exact words were: “I’m a little concerned about you resisting the temptation of a bookshop…”

As anyone who has seen my home will attest, this is a fair comment, given I have enough books to make shelving on which I can store more books.

I was in a whimsical mood, and so this was my defence: “I have some self-control. Some. A bit. Occasionally. If I have no money. Okay, I admit it, I didn’t go in because I had no money. I stopped and looked longingly in the window at the precious things until they asked me to leave…”

The conversation got a little surreal from there, involving policemen and shop assistants with cattleprods. It’s been that kind of day.

By contrast, while winding down this evening with Lady M, we hugged and she stumbled in the direction of a nearby window. This led me to quip that I didn’t fancy calling her boss to say that Lady M wouldn’t be in work in the morning because we’d hugged and then she’d jumped out the window, and I was finding it very hard not to take it personally. It ticked Lady M so much, we nearly had another asthma incident.

Somehow these two conversations seem to sum up the randomness, joy, and surprises of my life right now. It’s been a pretty awful year, but in this last week or so I’ve started smiling again – grinning even – and had a renewed burst of creativity when it comes to my writing (as an added bonus). 

I could even be accused of being happy; and I’m sure that has some people looking anxious right now, if not for the exits.

How the hell did that happen?

Short Story: A Conversation

“What’s that noise?”

“Hmm?”

“There – that noise; can’t you hear it?”

“What are you on about?”

“Look, just stop what you’re doing come over here.”

“Fine. What am I listening for?”

“That noise – the high pitched one.”

“What is that? It’s like, what, a buzz?”

“More like a whine?”

“No, definitely a buzz. That’s a flappy noise.”

“What, like a bug?”

“Maybe? Where’s it coming from?”

“Don’t know, thats why I called you. Wait!”

“What? Why are you shouting anyway?”

“Look, that book wasn’t there a minute ago.”

“The poetry?”

“No, the history book – the local one, blue; there.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, look and now there’s another on top of it.”

“Eh? Where’d – okay that’s odd. How’d you do that?”

“I didn’t. Look, there’s some more over there. That was History a minute ago, now it’s Travel!”

“Are you feeling okay?”

“You can’t hear that noise, can you?”

“No, but – woah!”

“See! Told you!”

“That’s fast!”

“Oh! Wait! I know what this is!”

“What?”

“That new library assistant, started yesterday? They said he was quick as a Flash, but I thought it was just a saying.”

“Oh… Reckon he needs a tea break?”

“Well he probably shouldnt have any more coffee…”

A Wild Weekend

In the Twelfth month of the year, often near the Twelfth day, a semi-secret event relating to the number Twelve takes place in, on, and around the sleepy town of Reigate. Food and drink are consumed, witticisms exchanged, and there are hardly any knife fights these days.

Later in the evening, fiery death is launched from a great height to annoy the households in the valley below The Hill. These may be accompanied by libations in the High Spaces, and have hardly ever involved police helicopter investigations in recent years.

In other words, this weekend saw the annual Maidments shenanigans known as Douze. In preparation for it, Lady M declined to go to her own work Christmas party – in part because of the ribbing she got last year when she turned up still hung over. This year she went to a football match instead, having been invited to a work-related event in one of the Executive Boxes at the Emirates Stadium.

We agreed to meet at the party instead, and had an enjoyable time – though not as wild as we’ve had in a while because of tiredness and just enjoying the chance to sit and catch up with friends and family rather than scramble around in the more surreal entertainment organised by The Brother Demonic.

Sunday saw us continuing the Christmas party mood with an unofficial gathering of some of the #Tuesday group for lunch. 

We started quietly in deference to the number of people who didn’t know us and the lack of a band to abuse, but before long Lady M was on the verge of an asthma attack through laughing, the Charleesi was launching barbed observations, and the staff had a haunted flinch developing every time they served another course. 

All in all, this weekend can be summed up as “Good Times”, and it has been well needed. Both events blended fine repasts with teasing on all sides with no fear or favour, mixed with truth telling and steam emissions to relieve pressure. 

Now it’s back to work to recover.

Wrapping It All Up

As night follows day, the purchasing of Christmas presents somewhat necessitates their wrapping. So guess who got that job while Lady M disappeared on a work jolly to the Emirates Stadium to watch Arsenal play?

Well it certainly wasn’t going to be left to the House Elves, so that’s how I’ve ended up covered in glitter and with the taste of sellotape in my mouth. 

The challenge of wrapping the more interesting shapes is one that sometimes is a wonderful challenge; but not when it’s nearly every package in the room. Nevertheless, I have risen to the challenge.

I haven’t done every present, but I have managed to get everything done for the people I expect to see at my brother’s Douze event. So far so good anyway. Now it feels like Christmas!

Christmas Raid

Normally the Lady M and I have finished shopping for people’s Christmas presents by now, but with the chaos of this year we’ve been a bit behind schedule. Today was the day we remedied that.

We targeted Kingston, and with a sort of mental list we descended into the tinsel-strewn maze of shelves and staircases to be found in our favourite haunts. Like most mental lists and battle plans, it didn’t long survive contact with the enemy.

I can’t do the thinking and word type things any more…

Admittedly we stopped for lunch after filling the first set of bags, but we managed to tear ourselves away after a mere five or so hours of running relays from shops to the car and back.

That’s when we decided to stop in at the local supermarket on the way home for “just a few more bits.”

We may have been a bit punch drunk by this point. I may have babbled at a few people online in the queue; and I’m still not sure why a supermarket employee insisted on showing me a picture of his mate in Lahore who apparently looks a bit like me. He may have been trying to chat me up, but I was too tired to notice or respond. 

Lady M, who had wandered away to grab some batteries, was rather amused, and just mused she literally couldn’t leave me alone for five minutes.

Whoever that was, sorry for not doing more than giving a slightly frozen grin while my eyeballs rotated in their sockets.

But hey, all the Christmas shopping is now done! Well, until payday and the sight of something else shiny, no doubt.

Next year I think we’ll go back to being organised, or at least buying things in smaller batches across the year…

Oh Ye Of Little Faith

It has come to my attention that there may be some of you who doubt the veracity of some of my reports and musings. Indeed, on one social media network there was even doubt as to the very existence of such an entity as the ex-Lady M! 

All I can say is that refusing to believe in the ex-Lady M is a very courageous decision.

Every time the existence of the ex-Lady M is doubted, a marigold covered hand reaches menacingly for a jay cloth; the squeak of a cleaning spray can be heard; and your pint mysteriously disappears.

Neither of these people is the ex-Lady M

The ex-Lady M is the mother of the Charleesi, a being of such dry wit as to be positively arid (I’m so proud), and has silenced whole pubs with a single sneeze. We’ve worked bloody hard to get to where we are from how things were, and #Tuesday is as much part if that process as a celebration of it. 

Admittedly, my ex wife doing the cleaning in our flat is a bit of an outlier when it comes to post-divorce relationships, but to not believe it? Well there’s a disservice right there to all of us involved in continuing to make the world a stranger place.

And besides, would I lie to you about such weird and wonderful things? Embellish for comedic effect, yes. Obscure to provide plausible deniability for people, yes. Lie? Nope, it’s far too much fun telling the truth and watching people tie themselves up in knots.

All I promise is that I will try not to be mean, or unfair, and that I will try not to spare my own blushes in the process. Anyone can pretend to be normal. Admitting to being myself though? That continues to be hard work, and I’m forever grateful to those who believe in me, even if they don’t believe in the ex-Lady M.

Management Training Day

So at least today wasn’t as odd as yesterday, which started with the ex-Lady M walking in on me as I was about to step in the shower. Did I not mention we’d hired her as our cleaner? 

It’s going rather well, leaving aside the “completely forgetting she was due in” moment. The Ladies M get on like the proverbial house on fire, albeit with less broken glass and things exploding, and I am famously so laid back as to be practically horizontal, so it works out and is just fodder for winding people up at #Tuesday or in casual conversation.

Her dry comment that “well this really couldn’t get any weirder” was the perfect caption for the day as a whole, even without the Warlord’s Lollipops Incident.

Today was the first part of an pilot scheme to extend inductions to the new wave of duty managers, and was based at our central depot at Drill Hall in Dorking. I’ve been there before so I knew where the heavy traffic would be and planned my journey accordingly.

If only I’d remembered to double check the start time, I could have avoided the rush hour shenanigans. Instead I was an hour early in a town that has a frankly disproportionate number of antique shops in its High Street. Fortunately a coffee shop was open within comfortable walking distance, so I engaged in the time honoured tradition of people watching and noting characteristics that I can use as colour in my stories. 

Yes, I am incorrigible – a label I’ve had applied to me by several people, so it must be true… Admittedly it’s usually while I’m winding them up or being wildly inappropriate, but that’s half the fun of word play.

Anyway, cutting a long ramble short, the training was, to my surprise, actually quite useful and took the form of discussion and coaching and mentoring around expectations, and identifying support, and a wider view of the library service and it’s focus…

I know, here’s me not taking a scathingly cynical view of something in my workplace. Don’t worry, I haven’t been kidnapped and a robot put in replacement. Normal inappropriate shenanigans will continue shortly.

Served by the Warlord

And so another #Tuesday has rattled by, fuelled by beer, slightly cramped musicians, and a lightly bedraggled pub dog called Bailey.

There weren’t many of us in there tonight. At one point the band outnumbered the patrons, and I was glad of the rings on my fingers clattering loudly as I clapped the table top in applause.

Even so, the various Ladies M (ex-, current and honourary) were in fine form, discussing bra fittings, the power of Baby Groot, and how well the Charleesi is doing in preparation for her A Levels. 

It was so quiet – in terms of customers rather than volume – that our irrepressible landlord began to serve us at the table; and a fateful message relaying key events to Mre B was hit by the joys of Autocorrect. In an instant, our landlord was transformed into our warlord. 

Oh it's that time is it?

As he was handing out lollipops at the time, this has now become immortalised on social media as being “that time of the night when the warlord hands out lollipops”

Derek may never live this down as we will be using his name in vain for quite some time. Derek the Warlord has a certain charming ring to it, and I’m sure he will turn up as a character somewhere, either on game night or in a story. We may even explain the joke some time…

So, not the most riotous night, despite the near ignition of Lady M’s bag, the near-licking face-off, or the attempts by the band to get their own back, but as ever a great milestone in what has been a weird day and entertaining week.

Book Review: The Devil’s Detective – Simon Kurt Unsworth

I picked this book up on a whim, and after a couple of false starts I was able to devote some time to this dense police procedural set in Hell. I’m glad I persevered with it.

Hell, as depicted here, is definitely other people. The days of burning brimstone are long gone, and instead a crushing and labyrinthine Bureaucracy exists. The Damned don’t remember why they are here, only that they deserve the brutality of demons and crushing banality and squalor around them. 

Our protagonist, Thomas Fool, is one of Hell’s Information Men, tasked with solving or at least reporting on crimes committed against humans. There’s usually no resolutions or punishments and it’s another thankless and unending task that is as much a punishment as anyone else’s.

Brutalised bodies start cropping up, an angelic delegation is in town on an inspection and to administer a lottery of souls to be released from Hell, and Thomas knows that all eyes are on him.

The violence is grisly and the misery unrelenting, and yet like Dante’s Inferno there are new visions and even a beauty in the unfolding structure. I feared I was in for an extended short story by someone who had read too much Neil Gaiman, but I was relieved that instead there was an individual voice and inventiveness at play. This is a story that puts it’s own stamp on the tone and narrative.

There’s some intriguing world building here, and I was pleased that it wasn’t spoon-fed to me, leaving room for ambiguity and inquisitiveness to match that of the weary narrator and protagonist. Not every plot twist was a complete surprise, but by the same token nothing felt entirely pulled from a hat, staying in keeping with the established rules of the setting.

What was a pleasant (for lack of a better word) turn of events were the changes to the status quo along the way that served to underline the treacherous nature of Hell. I’m torn between wanting more books in this setting and being happy with it as a standalone tale.

Over all, an engaging read once I got to grips with it, with unrelenting misery that serves a purpose. Four out of five pitchforks.