Tuesday, 31 July 2012
The bomb-blast had claimed a dozen victims. The problem was, things had been rather messy and the lab boys were not yet sure whether they were dealing with a baker’s bomb or just the average butcher or candlestick maker.
Tommo’s videos were so far inconclusive with respect to the number of persons present at the time of the explosion. They tended to focus on a particular young lady at maximum zoom and there was not even a good enough shot of her head to get a positive ID. To add insult to injury, the pause button had broken on Rhys-Morgan’s video player.
The lab boys were currently running fingerprints of the deceased against all known files. In the meantime, Ifan could do nothing more for this case.
Suppressing a yawn, he looked over at the pile of other cases on his desk. There were some real weirdoes out and about at the moment. The downtown kebab strangler was still at large, for one. Although he was in homicide, he occasionally got sent other case files too and on top of the usual criminal activity, there had also been a recent spate of bizarre thefts and vandalism in the area that had been earmarked for special attention.
St Mildred’s convent boarding school was the first victim. Some freak had broken in and stolen all the schools pets – a tank full of newts, two tortoises and gerbil. Sister Mary had been tied up, so the case was being treated as armed robbery. The young nun had been understandably upset by the experience of being gagged and bound with garden hose. (She was more used to silk stockings.) The texture of the hose had caused her to be convinced that she had been restrained by a snake, and nothing anyone could say was able to convince her otherwise.
Just as strange was the attack on Dynamo Joe’s Petting Zoo and Animal Electrical Experience next to the garden centre on the A48 Joe had lost five guinea pigs, a chinchilla, two sheep, a goat and an electric eel. Streppy, his incontinent Shetland Pony, had been found loose in a field two miles away.
Several unidentified animals had also been taken. As they had lived in hutches and ate cucumber and lettuce, Rhys-Morgan assumed they were rabbits. Dynamo Joe was in no state to give the police more information. He had been tied to a tread-wheel – also with a garden hose – and subjected to multiple electric shocks. This experience had apparently muddled his brain. When asked who did it, he would simply stare with wild eyes and cry: “Those jaws! Those terrible jaws! My babies!” and start crying.
The common use of garden hose led Inspector Rhys-Morgan to believe that the two crimes were connected. The motive was unclear, however. There was no obvious link between St Mildred’s and Dynamo Joe’s, except children and animals. (The perpetrator was unlikely to be a thespian.)
There was one final crime that, if connected to these two, may provide the missing clue. The biology department of Swansea University had been broken into and all the laboratory rats released. Only two weeks before, the department had received threats from an extreme Animal Rights organisation called ALF – the Animal Liberation Front.
Although this seemed suspicious, the ALF had yet to claim responsibility for any of these animal thefts. Normally, liberations were accompanied with vast tracts of graffiti, either in red paint or sometimes even human excrement. None of these trademarks were present at any of the crime scenes. The Swansea University break in also coincided with the theft of two hydrogen gas cylinders from chemistry and a potter’s wheel from the art unit. In addition to the rats, the biology department also lost twenty litres of sterile distilled water.
This just did not feel like an ALF attack. Nevertheless, they had no better ideas at present. Tommo had drawn his attention to a NATO Biological Research facility near Swansea. They too had been subject to online ALF rancour, although he was not sure whether they had actually received specific threats. As yet, they had not been attacked, however, and Rhys-Morgan was not even sure if they had any animals to liberate.
Annoyed by his lack of progress on all fronts, Rhys-Morgan threw the case file irritably back onto his desk. At that same moment, his telephone sprung into life.
Rhys-Morgan pressed the earpiece close and listened intently. The back room boys had identified the first three victims from the bomb blast – they were already on the books of Swansea Metropolitan Police.
“OK. I’ll be down at once.”
Replacing the receiver, Ifan hauled himself to his feet. He was not sure of the significance of this find but it was a lead. At the very least, it gave him somewhere to start.
Monday, 30 July 2012
Cyril looked behind him at the two goats. They were being very slow. The younger goat, William, was busily looking around at all the new sights and sounds. The goats did not get off Toby Ron’s land very often (partly because Garth Jones had threatened to shoot them) and William was determined to make the most of this opportunity. Toby Ron had warned Cyril that the little goat may get a bit too excited and just wander off somewhere.
“He’s a smart kid, that one,” Toby had said, “but you’ll have to keep an eye on him. He hasn’t yet learned that there’s a time and a place for asking questions. Sometimes his curiosity can get him into trouble.”
“It killed the cat,” thought Cyril. “That’s a lot of trouble. Best not tell William that, though: he'll just ask which cat and how did it die.”
“What’s this, Mister Cyril, sir?” asked William, very politely interrupting the squirrel’s thoughts.
“It’s an empty drinks can, William,” sighed Cyril.
“Oh. But why did…?”
“Because people are lazy, William,” Cyril cut in, “and don’t respect the environment. Now come on!”
This was the umpteenth time that Cyril had had to stop and answer questions about litter, snails, stinging nettles, singing blackbirds and various other countryside phenomena. Not that William’s brother was being any better. Young Billy was skulking around miserably, occasionally muttering negative comments about the whole affair. He was not at all happy about the prospect of visiting Mystic Mog.
“I heard she used magic to turn old Harry the nymphomaniac gerbil into a toadstool!” Billy explained when pressed on the matter. “And then he went out of his mind with fear and was mistaken for a polo and eaten.”
“How could anyone mistake a toadstool for a polo?” asked William.
“It didn’t happen like that at all!” Cyril told them. “Mog used magic mushrooms to treat Harry for his sex addiction. He was cured too. He was on the way home when he thought he saw Richard Gere. He panicked, ran out into the road to avoid him, and was run over by a Volkswagen Polo.”
“Now, come on both of you, or we’ll never get there at all and I’ll turn you into a toadstool.”
“You can’t do that,” argued William.
“Probably not. But I can have fun trying.”
As it happened, Cyril’s earlier worries about arriving at Mog’s during the day were unfounded – by the time Cyril had goaded the two goats to her woodland den, dusk was beginning to draw in.
The owls were waiting.
“Her mysticality is waiting for ya, nahmsayin?”
“Er, right. Thanks?”
Mystic Mog was, indeed, waiting. If it was possible, Cyril thought that she looked even worse than when he had seen her earlier that day. And she had not been attacked by half a dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses. She looked at the three of them with weary eyes.
“You were too late,” she told Cyril. It was definitely a statement, not a question.
“I feared as much. And your friends?”
Despite the massive difference in size that made the manoeuvre pointless, the two goats slowly backed away and tried their best to hide behind the squirrel, away from Mog’s penetrating stare.
“Toby Ron’s goats,” explained Cyril. He nodded his head at Billy. “This one went walkies in the middle of the night. Doesn’t remember anything about it, though.”
Mog transferred her gaze to William. “And this one?”
Cyril opened his mouth to answer, thought for a moment and then closed it again. “To be honest, I’m not sure.” Cyril looked round. “Why are you here?”
William was still backing away from the scene. He stopped when he hit something or, more precisely, somebody – one of Mog’s guardian owls.
“Where are you going, mo’ fo?”
William jumped. “Oh, terribly sorry. I, er…”
Seeing the young goat in such a fluster softened Mog’s mood and, despite the terrible strain she was feeling, she managed to put on what she hoped was a comforting smile.
“It’s OK,” she told William, “we’ll get to you soon enough.”
Still not realising that each time she smiled she showed off her impressive teeth in a disturbing fashion and that the goats were now convinced that she wanted to eat them, Mog turned back to Billy.
"C’mon then, kid. Let’s have a look at you.”
Cyril stepped aside and nodded encouragement as Billy. Billy stood transfixed, trembling slightly.
“Billy!” Cyril hissed through clenched teeth. “Stop making a scene and let Mog give you the once over.”
“I can’t...” Billy moaned. “I don’t think my legs work anymore.”
There was a loud snap as Mog clicked her claws in front of her face, drawing the attention of both animals.
“Come, here,” she commanded, staring into Billy’s eyes.
Even though he was not the focus of Mog’s stare, Cyril had to fight hard not the approach the cat himself. The young goat had no chance of resistance nervously trotted up to Mystic Mog’s picnic table. Still staring into his eyes, Mog took Billy’s front hooves in her paws.
“Just relax,” she hissed gently.
Compelled to obey, Billy closed his eyes and remained silent.
“That’s good…” soothed Mog.
William and Cyril could do nothing but stand and watch. There was not actually anything really happening but they felt obliged to look anyway. Cyril made a mental observation that the high-pitched wailing that so often accompanied Mog’s routines was absent: this really was serious stuff.
After about five minutes of inactivity, during which time William had been staring at Billy and Mog as if either – or both – of them were about to explode, Mog released the young goat’s paws.
“He’s a Wanderer,” Mog told Cyril flatly.
“Not a very quick one,” Cyril moaned. “What do you mean?”
It was young William that piped up with an explanation: “A goat Wanderer is a chosen one who is used as a mortal vessel for the great goat-god, Pan himself.”
Mog nodded at him. “I’m impressed.”
William stared shyly at his feet. “I read a lot,” he mumbled.
Cyril was still not entirely sure what they meant. “So, Billy…?”
Mog sighed. “Billy went walkies, as you put it, because Pan, the goat-god, took control of him.”
Billy was looking really worried now. “Yeah, why?”
“Hard to say, exactly,” answered Mog. “The spirit-world cannot interact properly with this one without a little help. Pan was using young Billy here as his eyes and ears. And legs. What it was he wanted to see though, I’m not sure.”
“I think I might know,” offered William. “This is traditionally the time of year for followers of Pan to perform the Sun Dance and welcome in Pan’s new season.”
Cyril leant over and whispered in Mog’s ear: “Why didn’t Pan choose that one? He seems rather bright.”
“He needs an empty vessel, so to speak,” replied Mog softly.
“Can you tell me a bit more about this Sun Dance?” Mog asked William.
“It is a dance first attributed to Spurymedes, one of the founding fathers on the Pan cult. Today, a modified version incorporating certain astrological phenomena is usually performed at dawn to greet the rising sun when Saturn - the ruling planet of Capricorn - has reached ascendance.
“The dance should be performed by twelve cultists, each representing a sign of the zodiac, and is accompanied by the music of the traditional instrument, the wooden panpipe. Just before dawn, one chosen cultist must address the goat-god and then each cult member must present himself (and his member) – or herself – to Pan.
“Cultists then do a circular dance until the sun has fully risen. Originally, this was centred about a stone altar on which” – William paused and looked over sheepishly at Billy (quite easily done if you are a goat) – “a goat had been sacrificed. However, later generations of cultists decided that the goat-god would not really appreciate the sacrifice of a goat and this practice was dropped sometime in the middle ages. In colder climates, the stone altar went on to be replaced by a camp fire.”
“Blimey!” said Cyril. “Toby Ron was right. Goats really do have a good memory…”
Mog scowled at him. “Do go on, William.”
“Once the sun had fully cleared the horizon, it was tradition to sacrifice the addresser of Pan. Originally, this was done on the same altar, mingling cultist and goat blood. Sometimes this would take the form of self-sacrifice. At other times, the sacrifice needed a bit more persuading. In times of extreme hardship, it was not unknown for the entire band of dancers to commit suicide in an attempt to attain the favour of their god for their tribe or family.
“Again, in modern times this practice has been dropped in the face of changing public opinion. People tend to be less willing to sign up to rituals that have a high risk of death, these days. Pan is not much worshipped these days and, my understanding is, his modern followers have decided that he wouldn’t want to lose any more. I’m not sure if they have replaced the sacrifice of the addressing member with anything.”
“One more question, William,” said Mog. “When you say cult members must ‘present themselves’ to their god, how do they do this?”
“There was one cult group in the late sixties that had an elaborate ceremony involving peacock feathers, flared trousers, and a rubber chicken. Generally, though, it is by the removal of all one’s garments and standing naked before him.”
Mog nodded. “This is most disturbing.”
“Does this sound like the group in your dream?” asked Cyril.
“Yes,” nodded Mog solemnly, “it does.”
“But that’s great!” Cyril exclaimed. “Well, not all those people dying, obviously,” he added quickly, “but young Billy here must have seen the whole thing. He’ll know who did it!”
Billy looked confused. “Seen who? Do what?” He hung his head sadly. “I haven’t seen anything.”
Cyril shot Mog a perplexed glance.
“Pan only takes control when a vessel is idle,” explained Mog. “Y’know – asleep. As soon as something happened to awaken Billy, his consciousness would shunt Pan out.”
“And what would wake him?”
“I dunno. What normally wakes someone? A slap in the face? A loud noise?”
“Like a bomb you mean…?”
The two of them looked at Billy. “I don’t remember any bombs,” he muttered. “I woke up in a field near home. I don’t know how I got there.”
Mog shrugged. “Maybe he’s a heavy sleeper. He might have woken up only when Pan decided to leave.”
“Maybe he never made it to the site of the bomb at all?” William suggested.
“Either way, he won’t remember details.”
Cyril sat down grumpily. “Great. So, we’ve got a possible eye-witness who may or may not have seen it happen but anything he did see, he won’t be able to remember. What use is that?”
Billy looked like he was going to cry.
“Excuse me!” William volunteered, “but we may have an eye-witness who saw and remembers everything – Pan.”
Cyril looked to Mog for confirmation.
“He’s right,” Mog agreed. “Doesn’t help us much, though.”
“You’re in touch with the spirit world aren’t you? Can’t you contact him, like?” Mog shook her head. “I don’t do gods. They tend to get rather tetchy. And that’s if you’re lucky. Control-freaks the lot of them. Much as I would like to know what’s going on, I’d rather not have my soul sucked into the ether through my nostrils.”
“So we’re back to square one?”
“Not necessarily. If it was a suicide and my dreams are not connected, this should be the end of it. If not... well, Young William has got a point. If Pan did witness the whole thing then I’m sure he wouldn’t be very happy about someone blowing away a dozen of his most loyal followers. Even if he didn’t see it, he still got to be a pit peeved. He’s got access to this world now through Billy here and, if I know Pan, he’ll want to take full advantage of that to try and find out what’s going on.”
“Do you know Pan?” asked Cyril.
“Not really, no.”
Sunday, 29 July 2012
“Greetings, Cassidy,” Foxy Loxy greeted him.
“Hello Foxy. Good morning, Weasel.”
“There’s nothing good about it,” replied Weasel in customary fashion.
“What’s that lump on your back, Foxy?” asked Cassidy.
“That’s a mole.” Foxy Loxy answered.
“You should get that checked out.” Cassidy told him. “A new mole or unsightly growth could be an indication of skin cancer.”
“I say, old chap, who are you calling an unsightly growth?” asked Turkey Lurkey, for it was he.
“Me, probably.” Weasel chipped in.
Foxy ignored him. “This is Turkey Lurkey. He’s a mole. Mr Lurkey is helping us with our enquiries.”
Turkey Lurkey jumped down off Foxy’s back to shake Cassidy’s paw. Then he jumped back up and hung off the chain round the fox’s neck, for Turkey Lurkey was something of a pendant.
“Why do they call you Turkey Lurkey if you’re a mole?” asked Cassidy.
“My parents wanted a girl.”
“My parents wanted a polecat,” said Weasel.
Cassidy stared at the pair slack-jawed for a second before deciding that some conversations were simply not worth the effort. He turned back to Foxy Loxy. “So what ‘enquiries’ are you making then, Foxy? Someone permed Mrs Rafferty’s poodles again? He he he he he.”
“Ho ho,” Foxy replied dryly. “Something a bit more serious than that.”
Foxy looked around at the patch about which Cassidy had been sniffing. A whole area had been cordoned off by a barrier of police tape, staked into the ground on metal spikes. Within this zone were a number of chalk-lines marking the positions of disturbingly small pieces. At the centre of the taped-off region was a shallow crater.
“What happened here? Bomb blast?”
“Uh huh,” Cassidy nodded, “a Cult Mass Suicide Event.” He puffed out his chest proudly. “I’m looking for identifying remains.”
Foxy waved his head in the direction of WPC Evans, who was still spread-eagle on the grass. “Looks like you’ve missed an entire victim.”
“Ha ha. Actually, all the victims were naked.”
“How odd. I suppose that if you’re going to blow yourself up, there’s no point in wasting a good suit.” He looked back at the crater and nodded to himself. “A bomb would explain the strange objects falling out of the sky near here.”
“Like what?” Cassidy asked, suspiciously.
The police dog’s good eye lit up when he saw the tortoise shell that Foxy, Weasel and turkey had retrieved from the woods earlier that afternoon. (Of the sausage, there was no sign, presumably having been consumed by various denizens of the woods.)
“Can I have it?” Cassidy asked.
Foxy considered the request for a moment. “Sure, why not? I don’t think we can learn much more from it.”
“Cool. Cheers, Foxy.” Cassidy grabbed the shell in his mouth and bounded back over to WPC Evans.
Foxy turned to Weasel. “What d’you think, Weasel?”
“I figure he’ll probably pretend that he found it himself, thus hogging all the glory for himself and giving us none of the credit. But as I’m sure the leading investigator wouldn’t want to acknowledge our involvement anyway, it probably won’t make any difference.”
“I actually meant about the case.”
“Oh,” said Weasel. “Certainly seems to match a mass suicide. Bad luck for the poor old tortoise to get caught up in such things. Probably happen to us all, sooner or later. They do appear to have missed one thing, though. Probably not important.”
“All clues are important at this stage of an investigation.” Foxy reminded him. “What did they miss?”
Weasel pointed back away from the blast site to a set of small hoof-prints in the mud. “Goat tracks. Pretty fresh. Single animal. Judging by the size and spread, probably a youngster. Wandered over, stopped for a while, then wandered back the way it came.”
Foxy raised a bushy eyebrow. “Interesting. Let’s see where they go.”
Saturday, 28 July 2012
“Mmph mph mmmph mmph!” Duke replied.
Toby Ron shook his head in despair, showering his kitchen lightly with self-raising flour. Duke, his sheepdog, was obviously not a Pavlova dog; he was strong with the fork but had not yet mastered full control of a rotary whisking action.
“This meringue must be perfect if we are to triumph over Garth in the W.I. cake competition," enthused Toby Ron. "His cakes are unnatural – he is some kind of Dark Lord of the Sieve.”
Duke spat the fork out of his mouth into the bowl and panted heavily. “I can’t do it. It’s too big!”
“Always with you it cannot be done,” chided Toby Ron Ken O’Bee. “Hear you nothing that I say?”
“Master, making rock cakes is one thing. But this… this is totally different!”
“No!” Toby rebuked. “Only different in your mind.”
“But even the base had caught around the edges.”
“Then you must unburn what you have burnt.”
A scrabbling at the kitchen window interrupted the duo. Cyril the squirrel vaulted in through the open upper pane, performed a perfect summersault mid-air, and landed lightly on the worktop, where he promptly skidded on the abundance of flour and shot straight off the edge.
“Eh, Eh! Calm down, calm down!” he said from his resting-place in a heap on the floor.
“Cyril!” cried Duke, his quarrel with Toby put aside. “What brings you here?”
“I’ve come to ask for some help, actually.”
Duke looked guarded. “Not suffering another invasion by marauding vegetables from another dimension, I hope.”
“Megalomaniac midgets from a parallel universe?”
“Not this time. I’m concerned with matters closer to home. Closer to your home, that is.”
Toby gave Cyril his full attention. “Go on.”
“Mystic Mog’s worried.” He told them. “She had a premonition that there’s going to be a bombing somewhere round these parts.”
Toby nodded. “She was right. There was an explosion near here this morning.”
Cyril was visibly disappointed. After all that he had been through, he had not made it in time.
“I’m too late,” he said quietly. “Do you have any details?”
Toby shook his head. “Sadly not. It wasn’t on my land, thankfully. The Police are keeping it fairly hush-hush until they’ve identified the victims.”
Cyril nodded sadly. “Mog thought there were going to be casualties. She has a very bad feeling about this one. You will tell me if you find anything out, won’t you?”
“Of course. The W.I. cake competition is in the morning. I will listen out for anything unusual.”
“Umm, there is one thing,” said Duke. “It’s probably nothing, but I had to fetch one of the young goats from the fields this morning.”
“Is that not the natural place for a goat?” Cyril asked.
“Not at night, no.” Duke answered. “But that’s not the weird part, anyway. The weird part is that he had absolutely no recollection of how he got there.”
“Really?” Now Toby Ron was intrigued. “That is unusual. Goats never forget.”
“Isn’t that elephants?” said Cyril.
Duke smiled. “I don’t think any of us would forget an elephant.”
“Goats generally have a very good memory,” Toby told Cyril, ignoring Duke’s comment. “Mine do, anyway. You said Mog was worried. How serious does she think this is?”
“On a scale of macaroni cheese to spaghetti carbonara? We’re talking spicy meatballs with mama’s own tomato sauce.”
“In that case,” said Toby Ron, “I suggest you take the kids to Mystic Mog for a reading at once.”
Friday, 27 July 2012
“I’ve got a score to settle with you,” she told him.
Cyril gulped. Farmer Jones’ cat had a score to settle with just about anything that moved. And a few things that did not. (Mostly because they were paralysed with fright or she had just knocked them senseless - or lifeless.) Worse still, her usual method of settling scores involved playfully smacking her opponent about before tearing their throat out.
The last time the two of them had met, Cyril had a sword. And body armour. And a tall pole up which he had been able to climb and escape. This time he did not have a sword. Or body armour. He scanned around him. He did not even have a pole. He was stuffed. All he could do was pray.
Cyril lifted his head to the heavens. “Thank you, God.”
Puzzled by this behaviour, the farm cat followed his gaze skywards. The platinum dildo hit her square between the eyes and then both cat and key ring fell to the ground beside Cyril. With the cat’s grip relaxed, he wasted no time jumping free and turning to survey the new development.
“Oh ‘eck,” said Jimmy the magpie as he landed. “I seem to ‘ave dropped my key ring again.”
“Yep.” Cyril agreed, his eyes fixed on the cat.
“It’s a slippery bugger,” explained Jimmy.
“Next time, I’d recommend holding it by the chain end.”
Jimmy nodded. “Good idea, lad.” He looked at the cat. “She OK?”
Cyril shrugged. The cat wasn’t moving.
“What a way to go – hit on the head with a platinum dildo.”
The cat’s tail twitched.
“I don’t think she’s dead,” Cyril whispered out of the corner of his mouth, taking a step backwards. “And when she wakes up, I know she’s going to be pissed.”
Jimmy hopped over to the key ring as the cat’s tail twitched. “Good point. See ya then!”
Cyril had already broken into a run. “Bye!”
By the time the cat sat up, nursing a bad headache and wondering what had happened, both bird and squirrel were long gone.
Thursday, 26 July 2012
“It certainly was most agreeable!” agreed Turkey Lurkey. “Why didn’t you have any, Weasel old boy?”
Weasel looked over from where he was sitting, near the door. “I figured that something would probably disagree with my digestion, so I though I’d save Vicks any embarrassment and abstain.”
“You could have had a cup of coffee.” Henny Penny suggested.
“Probably just scald myself,” came the morose reply.
“At least have an After Eight mint, dear chap.” Turkey Lurkey offered.
Weasel shook his head. “No thanks. Probably just drop it on the floor and leave a big chocolatey stain on the carpet.”
“But my dear fellow, there isn’t a carpet…”
“Just ignore him.” Foxy Loxy told his dinner guests. “Damned good copper but a miserable bugger, if ever there was one.”
“My Great Uncle Sid had a lovely copper roof.” Chicken Licken said. “But everyone said he was a jolly bugger.”
“Quite.” Foxy Loxy turned to Henny Penny. “I think we have all that we need in the way of a statement but it would be useful if you could show my colleague and me where these strange events occurred.”
“But we can’t go back there!” cried Chicken Licken. “Not where the sky’s falling in! We’ve got to go and tell the King.”
“Queen.” Corrected Turkey Lurkey the pedant.
“No. That was my Great Uncle Sid.”
“How about I contact the Queen and tell her about this?” asked Foxy gently. “Save you the trouble of going all the way to London.”
“No, please! Let the little guy go.” Goosey Loosy countered before Henny Penny elbowed him in the ribs.
Chicken Licken seemed to think it over. “OK. But I don’t want to go back there!”
“Why don’t you go and stay with your Great Aunt Sydney?” Henny Penny advised.
Foxy was confused. “I thought he said he had a Great Uncle Sid.”
“It’s a long story.”
“Golly,” said Turkey Lurkey.
Foxy Loxy stood up. “Well, that settles it. Turkey, you can show Weasel and me where all this, er, excitement began. Henny, you take young Chicken Licken here to his aunt stroke uncle’s. Come, Weasel! We have mysteries to solve and innocents to protect.”
Weasel let out a long sigh. “I’ll probably just end up having my gonads fried by a radioactive Eskimo again but OK.”
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
Cyril slowly opened his eyes one at a time. This was not the sound of a feathered fury disembowelling him without even pausing to wipe its feet. He found himself looking into the eyes of a rather bemused magpie.
“Er, yeah. I’m f-fine thanks,” he stammered. “Yourself?”
“Aye, canny, lad. I didn’t startle you, did I?”
“No, no!” Cyril lied, his voice laced with sarcasm. “I was just taking a nap. What the hell were you doing?”
“Er, sorry.” The magpie nodded at the object that had tripped Cyril. “I was after that.”
Frowning, Cyril sat up and rubbed the back of his head with his right paw. Still frowning, he leant forward and pulled the object clear of the earth. Still frowning, he sat and stared at it as it lay on the grass, gleaming in the sun.
Beside him, the magpie exhaled with a low whistle. “Champion.” He turned back to Cyril and offered his left claw, which was missing the top of one toe. “I’m Jimmy, by the way.”
Cyril took the claw and shook it. “Cyril. You’re Duke’s friend, aren’t you?” Jimmy jumped back. “Who’s askin’?”
“Eh! Calm down, calm down, it’s OK. Duke’s my friend too, like.”
“Oh.” He hopped forward again. “Me and Dukey have done some business, yeah.”
“Thought so.” Cyril stood and gingerly put the weight on his tangled foot. Nothing seemed damaged. He turned back to the sparkling object, arms folded.
“It’s a beauty, ain’t it?” Jimmy asked, taking another hop forward. Cyril frowned at it once more, puzzled. “Hmm?”
“A bit heavy to carry, though. That’s why I dropped it. Third time today! It sure does shine like a bitch, though.”
Cyril nodded. It certainly did catch the light. “Just one question,” he said.
“What’s it made from?”
“Er, dunno. Adamantium, I think.”
“Adamantium? Isn’t that what the Terminator was made out of?”
“Aye, probably. I just made it up. It’s nice and shiny though, isn’t it? Platinum seems more likely, now I think about it.”
Cyril shook his head, bemused. “A platinum dildo.”
He shook his foot out of the metal ring in which it had been caught. “On a key ring.”
“What on earth do you want with a platinum dildo key ring, eh?”
“What does anyone want with a platinum dildo key ring?”
“Fair point. I’ll leave you to it, then.”
“Champion. Good luck doing... whatever it is that you’re doing.”
“Shit!” Cyril suddenly remembered that he was meant to be in a hurry. He left Jimmy struggling to get the dildo airborne again and tore off across the field, all thought of aerial attack was forgotten.
At the far side of the field, he ducked under a bush and paused for thought. The reasons for this were threefold. Firstly, his head was still thumping and he needed to catch his breath. Second, the fence into the next field was often electrified. Finally, and most important of all, he was very wary of entering the next field, known to all around as Watchtower Valley.
The title was curious due to the fact that it was neither a valley, nor did it have any watchtowers. Instead it was named after the unusual method Farmer Jones had employed to scare pests away from his crops.
The defences were based upon the traditional scarecrow. Originally, following the practices of many farmers in the area, the fake farmhands had been equipped with remote-triggered guns to scare away anything getting too confident. When gun laws had been tightened up, most farmers replaced their shotguns with devices that made loud noises. Garth had come up with something much more sinister.
Working from the principle that the guardians of his crops needed to conjure up some built-in response to flee from danger, he invoked the powers of a group of people that immediately stirred up thoughts of getting away to safety as soon as they were spotted; Garth Jones had built himself an army of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The effect was terrifying. Even Jones’ own cat, a particularly vicious tabby once rumoured to have taken on an escaped Snow Leopard, was not prepared to set foot in this particular field.
Taking some minor consolation from this last fact, Cyril ducked under the fence – being sure not to touch it in case it was electrified – and into Watchtower Valley. He was not sure what crop it was that Jones was growing but it was too tall for Cyril to see over. Although this was good as it meant that nasty things could not see him, it was bad because it meant that he could not see nasty things. In particular, he could not see the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was very bad indeed. Garth Jones was very handy with gadgets and technology. Rumour had it that he had rigged up the Jehovah’s Witnesses with motion sensors and infrared detectors that could potentially spot an intruder and bombard them with pamphlets from over fifty yards.
Cyril cursed out loud. He did not have time to play games. He certainly did not have time to play hide and seek with a load of psychopathic robots. But it was also a very wide field and he did not have time to go around it. He was going to have to plot a course through the sentries, and that meant he was going to have to jump up out of the crops to see them.
Logistically, this was no problem – Cyril had plenty of spring in his step – but it was certainly a perilous manoeuvre; if he was too close to one of the scarecrows, he might end up dropping back to the ground permanently. Figuring that the Jehovah's Witnesses were likely to be near the centre of the field, Cyril decided that it was worth the risk to get his bearings.
Like a meerkat on a pogo-stick, Cyril sprung straight up and scanned the horizon. He only had a split-second airborne above the crops but it was enough. There was a big, ugly Jehovah's Witness scarecrow almost precisely in his path about sixty yards distant. Another was closer at about ten o’clock and a third more distant at half past one. Beyond these, it was hard to tell; he would have to pop up again in the middle of the field.
Keeping low, Cyril set off at an angle to bisect the two in front and to the left. Hopefully the crops, which at ground level had retained much of the morning’s dew, would shield his body from the infrared detectors. Not for the first time, Cyril found himself wishing he had his shell suit body armour.
After about a minute, Cyril stopped. So far, so good, but he judged that he had gone far enough to make another pop up. Re-orientating himself to face the far side of the field squarely, he jumped. His guesswork had been good – he now had one Jehovah's Witness level with him on the right and another behind him. He was by no means out of danger yet, however, and was now completely surrounded by scarecrows with three more at half past nine, twelve o’clock and long at one-thirty. Judging the spacing as best he could, Cyril figured that his best bet would be to head for this last Jehovah's Witness for about fifty yards and then he should have a straight run at eleven o’clock, or half past nine as it would be then. This just made his headache worse.
Mentally positioning the enemy in terms of a clockface reminded Cyril that he was in a hurry. Without pausing to double-check, he headed off in the planned direction, staying low to ground once again. He reached his second checkpoint without incident. This seemed too good to be true. For the last time, he jumped up.
As Cyril’s head cleared the crops, he learnt a valuable lesson: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. He had overshot his mark and was too close to one of the automated crop defenders. He was still in the upward part of his leap as the Jehovah’s Witness spun quickly to face him, informative leaflets at the ready. As he reached his apex, the thing fired. Warned by the red dot of the laser range finder, Cyril twisted in mid-air and just managed to avoid the pamphlet as it skimmed over the field towards him. His evasive manoeuvre did not come cost-free, however, and the squirrel landed awkwardly, upside-down and disorientated.
The crops had broken Cyril’s fall rather efficiently, so he was not hurt but he had lost his bearings and this was bad news. As he sprung back to his feet, he heard a faint whisper from behind him. Instinctively, Cyril dived to his right as a copy of Watchtower scythed its way through the crops past him. He must be within infrared range now, too.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. Picking a direction that seemed vaguely right, Cyril ran for all he was worth. He heard a few more twangs as Jehovah’s Witnesses discharged propaganda at him but the range meant that he had always moved on before they hit their target. Then, all of sudden, he broke out of the crops. He had reached the far side of the field. A quick check verified that it was the right edge too. That meant it was the border to Toby O’Bee’s land.
Smiling, Cyril ducked a final leaflet and vaulted through the fence into the paddock beyond.
“Made it!” he cried aloud in triumph.
The words had barely left his throat when Cyril felt a sharp pain in his tail as if something heavy had landed on it. It had.
“I don’t think so,” hissed a feline voice from behind him.
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Cassidy didn’t seem to mind but then he was a German Shepherd dog. He and his brother, Butch, had been raised from pups by the police, and policing was all they knew. They didn’t seem too bright but they were good at their job. That made WPC Evans happy as it meant that she was good at her job. Safe in this knowledge, she lay back in the grass and felt the warmth of the morning sun on her face. Cassidy would let her know if he found anything.
Monday, 23 July 2012
His destination, the humble abode of one Toby Ron Ken O’Bee, was only a few miles from Mog’s woodland den but this was a long way for a squirrel. Mog had hinted at the possibility of one of her guardian owls giving him a lift but Cyril had politely declined. (As the owl had said to Mog so succinctly: “I might accidentally crush all his bones in my claw, nahmsayin?” Cyril had mentally added: “Yes, and then accidentally swallow me whole.”) He was still haunted by nightmares of a particularly traumatic experience with a mentally unhinged Red Kite named Lloyd. That had been Mog’s idea too. Thankfully, this time she had been less forceful about the matter. Cyril guessed that it was a reflection of the obvious strain she was suffering but, whatever the cause, he wasn’t complaining.
Scampering down the trunk of the last tree, Cyril sprang through the fence that marked the edge of the wood and out into open terrain. This was the most dangerous part of his journey. Not only did he have to run the risk of aerial predators but also he had to cross the territory of Garth Jones, a local farmer with whom Cyril had had a run-in in the past. In fact, last time Cyril was trying to save the world, Farmer Jones had tried to kill him, his girlfriend Sam and her sister Maxine. (It is true that Farmer Jones had not known that the future of civilisation as he knew it was at stake but he probably would not have cared even if he had.) They had all got away with their lives, though Jones’ shotgun had meant that Cyril did not get away with all of his tail. Sam’s family history with Jones went back even further still; several years earlier, her father, Hazel, had liberated her mother and aunts from Garth’s clutches. (Or, more accurately, Garth’s hutches.)
For now, though, Cyril had to put all thoughts of Sam and her family out of his mind and focus all his wits on making it through to Toby O’Bee’s with all his vital organs (and preferably any superfluous ones) intact. He had never actually got his psychic reading about Kathy but this problem had paled into insignificance next to what Mog had told him. She had foreseen another exploding tortoise, sometime after dawn. Worse still, she could not give Cyril a precise location, only that it was somewhere near Bon-y-maen. Toby Ron’s was certainly in the right direction and if anyone would know of strange goings on in the locale that might result in the detonation of an armoured reptile, it was the old conjurer. Normally, Cyril would have taken the scenic route to Toby’s but Mog had stressed the need for speed. Lives were at stake.
As he edged further out into the field, however, it was Cyril’s own life that he was most concerned about. The edge of Toby’s territory was only about a mile away but a mile was a great distance for an animal so short in the leg department, especially considering he had been up most of the night. This was a country mile too, and that really is a long way. Fortunately, Cyril had very good stamina. (He was going out with a rabbit, after all.)
Furtively glancing at the sky, Cyril scampered onwards. He knew from bitter experience that he was vulnerable to being attacked from above. The grass was reasonably short and it was close to convenient perching sites in the woods. Farmer Jones had also failed to place any of his ‘scarecrow’ devices in this field. Halfway across the field, Cyril spotted a shape overhead. A bird-shaped shape. And it was getting bigger. This meant it was either growing very rapidly or it was getting closer. Cyril had never been too hot on ornithology so he trusted his instincts and fled like a thing possessed – a thing possessed by the desire to move very quickly indeed.
As he looked up to check the bird’s position, his back foot caught on something half-buried in the earth, sending him sprawling. Still looking skywards as he fell, the squirrel cracked the back of his head hard on a rock as he landed. Blinking rapidly to clear the stars, he stared straight up to see the bird bearing straight down on him. Frantically, Cyril tried to roll aside but his foot was still caught in whatever it was that had tripped him. He was out of time. Tired from his exertions, there was nothing else to do but close his eyes and brace himself for the inevitable.
Sunday, 22 July 2012
Detective Sergeant Thomas Jenkins nodded with equal sadness. “Me too, Guv.”
Rhys-Morgan shivered but was not sure whether it was the cold. No crimes scenes were nice but there was something particularly unerring about this one.
A uniformed officer, over to Rhys-Morgan’s left, pointed at the ground away from the site of the bomb. “Something was caught in the blast – the tracks go off in that direction.”
A second officer, near the focus of the pointing digit, bent down and picked up something that had been half-embedded under a large grassy clump. He held it up and examined both sides. It was the crumpled remains of a golden sickle. “Look, sir. Druids.”
Rhys-Morgan turned to Jenkins. “It’s just as well you and Tommo were videoing the whole thing or we might have an awkward investigation on our hands. It’s a shame you were unable to hear anything.”
Police Constable Rhys Thomas – or Tommo to his colleagues – shifted his considerable bulk with some discomfort. “What do you want me to do with the videotape, Guv?”
“The ones with…” Inspector Rhys-Morgan consulted his notebook, “naked frolicking of an explicit nature. I think I should take a look at it. Verify your account of events. Get the lip sync experts working on dialogue, that kind of thing.”
“Yes, Guv. Will you want the whole collection, sir?”
Rhys-Morgan looked at Jenkins. Jenkins coughed in a slightly embarrassed way and looked at his feet.
“I think that would be splendid, Tommo. Splendid indeed.”
Saturday, 21 July 2012
Billy’s mum glared at him. “We are goats, Billy. I can only produce one kind of milk.”
Billy kicked at the ground moodily with his front right hoof. “Uncle Joe says he had cow’s milk when he was a kid.”
Mother Goat sighed. “Uncle Joe and I were orphans, Billy. Cow’s milk was all Mr O’Bee could find.”
“It’s not fair!” he whined.
“Your brother doesn’t seem to mind," she retorted. "Besides, you’re not getting any milk at all until you tell me where you disappeared off to this morning.”
“Nowhere,” Billy sulked.
“Don’t lie to me, Billy,” his mother warned.
“I’m not lying, mum," he asserted. "I just woke up in the field next to the woods. I don’t know how I got there.””
By now, Billy was close to tears. “Mum, I swear! Ask Duke. He’ll tell you I was asleep when he found me.”
Mrs Goat studied her son for a moment for signs of deceit. Seeing none, she softened. “OK, son. It’s OK. Now, have your breakfast.”
She watched him as he butted her to get the milk flowing. What he had told her was true. Duke had found him asleep this morning. And Duke was not a sheepdog to lie. (Except when Mr O'Bee gave that strange two-tone whistle with the warble in the middle, but she didn't mean that kind of lying.) Besides, her maternal instincts told her that her son wasn’t telling porkies. The way he was drinking now, though, implied that he’d been for more than just a quick hike to the woods last night. Something strange was afoot. And not just Uncle Joe’s bunions.
Friday, 20 July 2012
All that remained to be done was to swing by Guppy Jones the fishmonger on the way back to Mrs Bailey and it would have been a morning well spent. He was therefore quite miffed to have his parade rained on by finding his car – a three year old Ford Fiesta 1.4 – being towed away by the police and disappearing over the horizon.
Stephen Bailey was left with a two hour walk home in which to think of a good explanation for Mrs Bailey and some choice words for the Boys in Blue.
Thursday, 19 July 2012
“Allo, allo, allo. What have we here then?” asked Foxy Loxy.
“What ho, Foxy Loxy!” returned Turkey Lurkey, who was something of a P.G. Wodehouse fan.
“The sky is falling in,” blurted Chicken Licken. “And we are off to tell the Queen!”
“Are you quite mad?” Foxy Loxy asked, staring aghast at the young bird while his compatriots stared awkwardly at their feet. “Prince Philip would shoot you before you got within a hundred yards of the palace.”
“The sky’s not really falling in.” Henny Penny told him, shaking her head sadly at Chicken Licken, who was hopping anxiously from foot to foot.
“But it is raining tortoiseshells and frankfurters.” Goosey Loosey added, enthusiastically.
Foxy Loxy raised one eyebrow. “Is this some colloquial way of saying that it’s raining cats and dogs?”
Goosey Loosey shook his head. “No.”
“Raining cats and dogs is a colloquialism in itself,” said Turkey Lurkey, who was something of a pedant.
“And we don’t mean tortoiseshells as in cats," clarified Goosey Loosey, "but rather as in shells belonging to tortoises.” He paused. “And frankfurters as in sausages.”
Foxy Loxy raised the other eyebrow. “Raining animal carapaces and processed foodstuffs? It sounds like something fishy is afoot, and I’m not just talking about old Joe Goat’s bunions." He drew himself to full height, head aloft. "I have a nose for these things.”
“You have a nose for fishy sounds?” asked Chicken Licken, who was still slightly concussed and more than a little confused.
“No," Foxy smiled. "But I do think that this is a matter for the police. You’d better come with me to the police station and make a statement.”
Henny Penny eyed him suspiciously. “Is this where you actually lead us to your den and we get eaten by you and your family for dinner?”
“No, no,” Foxy Loxy protested. “You are thinking of my evil twin brother, Foxy Woxy. He’s the black sheep of the family.”
“Your brother’s a sheep?!” Chicken Licken was totally lost by now.
Foxy Loxy flashed them a badge that he had on a chain round his neck. “I’m a bona fide police animal investigator now.”
“That’s disgusting!” Henny Penny cried. “Those poor police dogs. Does Mrs Loxy know?”
“Bona fid-ee.” Goosey Loosey whispered to her.
“Oh. Sorry.” Henny Penny returned to staring at her feet, embarrassed.
“It’s true, he does work for the police,” confirmed Turkey Lurkey, who had been watching the discourse with wry amusement. He turned to Foxy Loxy. “Where’s Weasel?”
“I’m here,” came a morose voice from a pile of leaves.
“What ho, Weasel!" hollered Turkey Lurkey. "What are you doing down there?”
Weasel sighed. “I figured everyone would just ignore me anyway, so I thought I’d save some embarrassment.”
Henny Penny had eyed up Foxy Loxy’s badge with one beady eye, while keeping the other on the fox himself. “Good enough for me,” she said. “Let’s go.”
So Foxy Loxy led Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey and Weasel to his den, where he and his family had them all (except Weasel) for dinner.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
In a small clearing, surrounded on all sides by matted walls of high brambles strung between the sycamores, all was not as one would expect. Not a small creeping creature could be seen nor a bird in song heard. The clearing itself was dominated by an old picnic table surrounded by leaf litter and the occasional toad stool.
If an observer of particularly keen eyesight were to purvey the scene, they might just make out a pair of Tawny owls in adjacent trees, scanning their surroundings in a rather guard-like fashion. For those in the know, this was not surprising; they were indeed guards, for none other than Mystic Mog. And this was her lair. (Although it may seem odd that a cat would gain the loyalties of owls, the family of owls in question shared a great deal of history with Mog’s own ever since their ancestors had first set sail together in a beautiful pea-green boat.)
Mog herself was seated on the far side of the picnic table. The table was bare, except for a chipped china beaker in its centre that contained a pair of snow globes, glued together. This was the Mystic Mug, and Mog’s front paws lay flanking it. The claws of her left paw drummed idly on the table with a hint of impatience.
There was a faint rustle and a thud, just audible over the whispering of the trees overhead, as something grey and furry dropped down from the canopy. The owls cocked their heads imperceptibly towards the source of the noise but were otherwise unmoved. Mystic Mog yawned, exposing her impressive mouthful of teeth.
“You’re late!” she told her visitor.
“Eh, calm down, calm down!” came the scouse reply from the other side of the table. “I was helping our Jermaine repair the damage to B tunnel up on the Down. Some idiot farmer must’ve mistaken the warren for a badger den and tried to blow it up. Probably that tosspot Garth Jones. The evil bastard…” He tailed off. “Mog…?”
“Hmm?” Mystic Mog snapped her wandering attention back to her client. He was a large male grey squirrel sporting a couple of old injuries: a small chunk of his right ear was missing, and his once-bushy tail looked like it had been through the wars and was only just beginning to struggle back to its former glory.
“What appears to be the problem?” Mog asked, forcing a smile that revealed her teeth once more.
The client was mesmerised for a second by the toothy display. He was fairly sure that the white feline would do him no harm, at least until he had settled his account. On the other paw, Mog appeared less stable each time he saw her. He wondered if she was sleeping properly or, worse, whether her frequent dabbling in the spirit world had begun to leave her somehow unhinged. (A particular problem experienced by the robot psychics of Mikeleron II. That and rust weevils.) Either way, Cyril decided that is was best not to keep her waiting any longer and cut straight to the chase.
“It’s my girlfriend,” he told her, with a shade of embarrassment.
“Cyril, Cyril, Cyril,” Mog shook her head gently. “Cross-species relationships are always hard. Sam is a rabbit. You’re a squirrel. She eats her own poo. You eat your nuts. It’s bound to be difficult.”
“Eh! It’s not Sam,” Cyril retorted, sharply. “It’s her sister! I think she hates me and I’m not sure why.”
Mog frowned. “I always thought Maxine liked you.”
“She does!" Cyril agreed. "I’m not talking about Max.”
“Hmm." Mog tapped her cheek pensively with her right index claw. "I know Jermaine was a bit icy at first but I’m sure she’s come around now.”
Now Cyril frowned. “She has. She loves me. Especially after the B tunnel business last night.”
“Well, Cerys and Tina are only young, they probably don’t…” Mog tailed off as she noticed the expression on Cyril’s face. “Not Cerys or Tina. Suzy? Maureen? Betty? Julie! Now, Julie’s just got major bushy tail issues that… not Julie. Mandy? Sarah? Chris? Lula? Na? Na’s always been a firm supporter of the two of you, particularly during that whole business with the aubergine. Er, Debbie? Pat? Arwen? Rachel? Oh, I give up!”
“I thought you were supposed to be psychic!” complained Cyril.
“Look, chum,” Mystic Mog replied indignantly, “it’s not my fault that your girlfriend’s got twenty-three sisters!"
Cyril visibly tensed, causing Mog to soften her tone. "I’m sorry," she explained. "I haven’t been sleeping well recently and I’m finding it harder than normal to concentrate.”
Cyril studied the fey feline for a moment. They had been getting on well since the incident with the Cabbages of Doom a few months earlier but he still did not really know whether they were friends, as such. True, he no longer felt threatened by her guards when he visited but neither did they exactly make him feel welcome. He certainly never saw Mog socially. As a result, his concern was primarily about the quality of her advice rather than her health and well-being. Nonetheless, she did look tired and Cyril was nothing if not honourable.
"Look," he started, "I can come back later, if now's not a good..." He tailed off as Mog silenced him with a shake of the head and wave of the paw.
"Please," she interjected. "Proceed."
Cyril was still not completely convinced but he had come a long way to see Mog and did not really fancy making the return journey with nothing to show for his efforts.
“I’m talking about Kathy,” he told her. “OK?”
“And what appears to be the problem?” Mog asked.
“That’s what I want you to tell me! I’ve tried everything. Dandelion leaves. Burdock. Even offered her a foot massage.” Cyril shook his head. “Nothing.”
Mystic Mog nodded at the exasperated squirrel. He knew rabbits better than her, so this was clearly not going to be something with a simple common sense resolution. She was going to have to go over. “All right. I’ll give a reading.”
“Thank you,” he smiled.
“Just be aware that I’ve suffered a bit of psychic interference lately,” Mog told him, flexing her paws each side of the Mystic Mug.
Cyril's smile dropped. “What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to explain," Mog answered. "The other night I was helping Will the schizophrenic badger – or Mary-Jo as he wanted to be called at the time – when I suddenly got some really weird feelings.”
Cyril leant forward, his own reading forgotten for the moment. Stories involving Will the schizophrenic badger were normally quite entertaining. “What happened?” he asked.
Mog stroked the top snow globe distractedly, letting her mind return to the events of the previous evening. “I’m still not really sure, to be honest. I was still establishing an astral connection when I experienced some buffeting crossing the psychic jet-stream. Suddenly, my mind jumped and somehow I found myself inside this tortoise.”
“A tortoise, eh?" Cyril interrupted. "Our Jermaine found a tortoise shell last night." He sensed Mog glaring at him. "Sorry, do go on…”
“Thank you," she continued. "As I was saying... I was inside this tortoise. And he was there too, only not totally there.”
“What, Will the schizophrenic badger?" asked Cyril, who just couldn't help himself. "He’s never totally there.”
“No," Mog replied, a little annoyed at another interruption. "Not Will. The tortoise. His higher reasoning self was there but it was just a passenger, like me. And very scared. The rest of him – his body – seemed to be acting of its own accord. He was locked out, just as I was locked in. Then things got really weird. We were up on the…”
Mog tapered off and, although she was white to start with, Cyril could swear that she went pale. The colour even seemed to drain from her nose. Without warning, she leant forward and grabbed Cyril’s front paws tightly with her own.
“What did you say before?” she asked him, urgently.
“Eh?” Cyril leant back, alarmed. “What, about Will the schizophrenic badger? You know, he’s never…”
“No! Before that. When you arrived. Why were you late?” she demanded.
“Like I said, I was, you know, helping Jermaine mend B tunnel after some goon had blown it up, like.”
It was Mog’s turn to lean forward. “B tunnel. That’s on the Down, right?”
“Er, yeah. They all…”
“It doesn’t come out under the big old oak, does it?”
“Er, yeah. It does. Why? What’s going on, eh?”
“Have you ever felt like you know you’re going to die?”
Mog’s claws were now beginning to draw blood. Cyril had never seen the cat look so frightened. Or frightening.
“Like now?” he hazarded.
Mog visibly did a double take of the situation and relaxed her grip on Cyril’s forelimbs. “I’ve been having terrible nightmares, Cyril. It’s hard to describe them. I just have this sense of deep foreboding.”
“I don’t see what this has to do with our Jermaine.”
“The tortoise in my vision was on the Down. It passed under the big oak and entered a burrow of some kind. And then…”
“And then it exploded. Cyril?”
Cyril’s jaw had dropped. “Like I said,” he croaked, “Sam said that our Jermaine found a tortoiseshell last night. It was, you know, in the collapsed tunnel. She figured it must have just got caught like, in the blast.”
Mog was a professional and, her fears confirmed, had already regained most of her composure. She looked the squirrel straight in the eye. “Do you feel up to saving the world again, Cyril?”
“Do I get a choice this time?” Cyril swallowed nervously and shrugged. “I guess…”
“Good.” Mog cut in. “Cos I think we’re all seriously up the swanny. What time did B tunnel go up?”
“Dunno. After tea time, certainly. Probably before midnight.”
Mog glanced at her bare wrist. Why didn’t animals wear watches? Judging by the angle of the light filtering through the trees, she guessed it was not long after dawn. “Hmm. If you hurry, there might just be time.”
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
"I say, where are you three hurrying off to?" asked Turkey Lurkey.
"The sky is falling in." Chicken Licken informed him. "And we are off to warn the King."
"But we do not have a king," said Turkey Lurkey, who was something of a pedant. "We have a queen."
"He's received a blow to the head." Henny Penny explained, patting her little friend sympathetically. "The sky isn't really falling in."
"But it is raining tortoise shells." Goosy Loosey told him.
"Damn and blast, not again!" moaned Turkey Lurkey, who was also somewhat insane. "I thought that reptile monsoon season wasn't till June."
Monday, 16 July 2012
"Aaah!" cried Chicken Licken. "The sky is falling in. We must go and warn the King."
"Elvis is dead, son," Goosey Loosey told him. "Let it go."
Henny Penny frowned at the two of them. "Look, Chicken Licken, we've been through this before. The sky isn't really falling in."
In the distance there was a loud bang.
"See!" exclaimed Chicken Licken. "There it is! There it is!"
Henny Penny opened her beak to reassure the little one but was cut off as a smoking tortoiseshell crashed through the trees and embedded itself in her breakfast.
"Stuff telling the king," said Goosey Loosey as a decidedly charred sausage on a toasting fork dropped out of the sky and landed beside him. "I'm on the first ethereal plane out of here!"
Sunday, 15 July 2012
Following Em’s declaration, the twelve followers of Pan began to circle the fire, arms raised skywards. The only exception was Brother Duncan. He continued his musical accompaniment on the panpipes, tightly gripping them in both hands lest he got caught by a flailing elbow of Sister Em in front of him, who was prone to a bit of freestyle spinning when caught up in the spirit of the occasion.
Behind him, Brother Patrick, who was both easily distracted and rather high on marijuana, considered how great it would be to have an ethereal plane. Then he wondered how you would land one without breaking your legs.
Before he could worry about how an ethereal plane could carry you in the first place, Patrick was counter-distracted when, after one and a half revolutions, Anthony cried out and started hopping about on his left foot whilst clutching at the toes on his right.
The others looked at each other and exchanged a few bemused shrugs. Not wanting to make their leader any more angry and suspecting that this was a new, “improved” part of the ritual, they also began to hop and make pained sounds.
The sight of Em jiggling about in the altogether and moaning was too much for Duncan. Whilst trying to setup some ambitious harmonics, the pipes slipped from his grasp. Instead of landing softly in the grass, however, they clattered off something unexpectedly solid.
The cessation of the Celtic moods, combined with the realisation that the obscenities streaming forth from Anthony’s lips would not be particularly pleasant even for the great pagan goat god, cut the ritual off in what Dawn considered to be its naked frolicking prime. Gradually, the jiggling stopped and the arms were lowered. As one, they turned to Anthony.
“My toe!” cried the Grand Master, still hopping. “I stubbed my bloody toe!" (The little piggy that went to the abattoir.)
Anthony stopped hopping and slowly collapsed backwards into the grass, clasping his injured foot. "I think it’s broken.”
Duncan, quickly trying to retrieve his pipes before Anthony turned his anger on him, pointed at the small mound that his instrument had just bounced off.
“Look!" he yelped, his voice breaking in excitement. "There’s a small rock or something. You must have kicked it.”
Duncan stood, pointing and beaming. It had been Sister Toni's turn to perform the ritual of cleansing and to check for unwelcome debris earlier that morning. He was going to avoid Anthony's temper for a little longer, at least. With any luck, Anthony would ultimately find some way to point the finger of blame at A - he usually did.
"I'm pretty sure it wasn't there earlier," Toni told them, craning her neck forward to look. “I’m sure I would have spotted that.”
“It’s a miracle!” cried Sister Dawn in a vain attempt to reinitiate the naked frolicking.
Em did not seem quite so pleased with Duncan’s pronouncement. She did not really believe in miracles but neither did she believe that her sister would screw up. She stepped forward for a closer look.
“That’s no rock," she said, after a moment's scrutiny. "It’s moving! Look!” Duncan frowned and looked closer for himself. Sure enough, the lump was moving very slowly through the long grass towards the campfire. “What is it?”
By now, all twelve of them were peering through the murky pre-dawn light at the mobile mound. Even Anthony had stopped cursing and hobbled over to investigate. It was at that moment that the sun finally peered over the eastern horizon, bathing the scene in a crisp, clean light.
“Blow me!” said A, turning to Brother Peter next to him. “It’s a tortoise!”
Sure enough, sunlight was now glinting off of what was quite clearly a tortoise shell. The animal was still making slow but steady progress towards the centre of the group and, as yet, seemed totally disinterested in the naked humans that surrounded it. In total contrast, the worshippers of the goat god were wholly absorbed with their reptilian gatecrasher. Duncan had even stopped watching Em out of the corner of his eye.
There was a moments shocked silence before Grand Master Anthony, who was slowly regaining composure and sensed the need to re-assert his authority, spoke up. "I don't know about a miracle but it's certainly not natural. Tortoises are not indigenous to this part of the world."
"You're right there," agreed Brother Dave, who had been working on local farms since he was a boy. "I know these fields better than anyone and there ain't no tortoises running around normally"
“What’s he doing here?” asked Brother Patrick, all thoughts of ethereal transport driven from his mind. He glanced at his fellows. “Where did he come from?”
“Search me!” declared Brother Peter, defensively. “He’s not one of mine!”
“Look’s like he’s heading for the fire,” observed A, as a small argument broke out of the meaning of the tortoise's appearance.
He was right. The tortoise was indeed heading straight at the fire, like a very slow heat-seeking missile.
“It’s the sign of the self-immolating tortoise!” Anthony declared, determined to regain control of the situation. “An omen from Pan himself.”
“Hooray!” cried sister Dawn. “Let’s frolic naked in celebration!”
Brother Patrick frowned at the group leader. The frown had formed earlier, when his easily-distracted brain had found itself mentally searching the naked Brother Peter. He had not enjoyed the experience and was quick to put the frown to good use.
“There is no sign of the self immolating tortoise,” he told Anthony.
“There could be after tonight!” Dawn enthused.
Sister Toni looked horrified at the suggestion. “We can’t let the poor thing burn itself!”
Sister Em agreed with her biological sister. (Together, they had formed a local mixed interest society called RAVEN – the Ravenhill Anti-Vivisection Existential Nudists. They believed quite firmly in personal responsibility for one’s actions and the creation of one’s own moral values through freedom of choice, so long as that choice involved being nice to animals and, whenever possible, in the altogether. They had been attracted to Anthony’s group that worshipped Pan partly because he was the goat god but mainly because they shared Dawn’s desire to frolic naked.)
“Somebody stop it!” she cried.
Duncan, who would gladly risk singing his privates to impress Em, jumped forward and placed his panpipes as a barrier between reptile and its conflagration. (He had been attracted to Pan’s People partly because he had originally thought he was auditioning for the reformation of the 70’s pop sensation but mainly because he shared Em’s desire for Em to frolic naked.)
Unable to progress, the tortoise stopped and eyed each of the disrobed devotees in turn. It opened its mouth as if to speak. Twelve necks craned forward to listen. Then the tortoise exploded.
Saturday, 14 July 2012
"I think the fun's starting, sarge," said the man-mountain, a slight tremor in his voice betraying a touch of excitement about the mounting spectacle.
"It certainly is, Tommo," came the soft Welsh brogue of the soft, suited sergeant. "It's just a pity that their fire stops us using our night-vision goggles."
Tommo, who was kitted out in his black Police flak jacket, baseball cap (worn backwards) and camouflage face-paint, agreed. He liked night-vision goggles.
"Still," he countered, "the sun will be up soon, sarge."
"Yes it will, Tommo," the other agreed. "Yes, it will. Get out the video camera."
Tommo tucked his binoculars into one of the many pouches that adorned the webbing of his flak jacket and pulled out a video camera. One with a zoom lens, naturally. A very long zoom lens. To their left, the changing colour of the sky indicated that the sun was indeed about to rise. And it wouldn't be the only thing.
Friday, 13 July 2012
To the east, the sky lightened slightly in advance of the rising sun. In the west too, the sky lightened slightly, this time due to light pollution over Swansea. A slight murmur went round the group as they could sense dawn approaching. The bearded fellow, who had now moved on from marshmallows and was flaming a frankfurter, looked up.
“Hello, Dawn!” said he.
“Hello, A.” Dawn replied. “Have I missed anything? We haven't got to the naked frolicking yet, have we?”
It was not A that answered her but rather another chap with a patchy grey goatee beard. “We do not frolic naked, young lady. For we are Pan's People, and we perform our ceremonies with pride and dignity.”
“But…” started A.
“Young man!” interrupted the goatee. “The sun is almost upon us. Sister Em is to lead us in the address to Pan, after which we shall parade in the pasture as nature intended.”
Dawn broke into a frown. “But I thought it was Brother A's turn to lead the address of Pan's People. Why Em?”
"Why Em?" the goatee repeated through gritted teeth. "Why Em?! See A? Abusing the sacred flames with a sausage is not conducive to the address of Pan. That's why Em.”
Slightly shocked by the outburst, Dawn turned to her bounteously-bearded buddy and raised one eyebrow inquisitively.
“I got Grand Master Anthony's golden sickle gooey with marshmallow,” he whispered, making Dawn giggle and the goatee scowl at the pair of them.
Grand Master Anthony had a serious case of beard envy. It was he that had abbreviated A's name - also Anthony - so that people did not get them confused. Em's sister Toni had eliminated one possible abbreviation, and Anthony had chosen A in the hope that the younger man would somehow seem inferior. It had not worked. It was also he that added the "Grand" in "Grand Master" in the hope that it would gain him more respect. That had not worked either. Instead, it had given him the nickname "Grab a Grand" when the other members of Pan's People were talking about him behind his back. They did this quite regularly, for Grand Master Anthony was a man who tended to turn his back on those he deemed beneath him, which was essentially everybody.
Although a man who was used to having his hopes flung back in his face (or back), the Grand Master was unwilling to be upstaged by sausage, marshmallow, nor any other form of consumable on a stick, and decided to get things moving. “Brother Duncan - the pipes, young man.”
Brother Duncan, a spotty youth whose mother ran the B & B in Bon-y-maen, produced a set of panpipes from the recesses of his robe and began to play them softly. It was not so much a tune as a gentle meandering of notes but what the boy lacked in talent, he made up in enthusiasm. Brother A was the real talent of the group when it came to the pipes but, again, the Grand Master forbade him from "showing off" and so it was left to his less skilful kindred to start the proceedings.
Next to Duncan, Sister Em stretched forth her hands. “Oh great goat god, Pan. Hear us from Arcadia and smile on us as we welcome the new season. Jupiter has waned and Capricorn is here. Bless us as we celebrate your coming. I present myself to thee!”
With that, Sister Em flung off her robes to reveal her naked body. Brother Duncan's music faltered slightly as his control of the panpipes was momentarily affected by the horn. Then, one by one, the group presented themselves to the great goat god, Pan.
Thursday, 12 July 2012
Princess awoke with a start. Another nightmare. The silk blankets in her deluxe cat basket were slightly damp with sweat. She had not been sleeping well of late, and had even started taking naps at night to adjust for her lack of restful shut-eye during the day. It was probably just interference from the ascendant transition of Jupiter to Saturn - under her alter ego of Mystic Mog, Princess was aware of many potential forms of psychic disturbance - but her dreams had given her a deep sense of foreboding.
Princess glanced at the gold embossed Carriage clock on the mantelpiece. The night was at its armpit - things were getting smelly but had not yet come to a head. Time to go to work. Shaking off the fading memories, Mog left the house through the fake marble cat-flap in the kitchen and leapt nimbly onto the garden wall. Swansea stretched away before her. Like a pair of bad fitting Calvin Kleins, everything looked good but something just did not feel right. Trying to ignore the hair rising on her back, Mog set off into the night.
[NB. Read the Foreword if you have not yet read The Cabbages of Doom.]
Wednesday, 11 July 2012
The Cabbages of Doom is available on the Kindle (Amazon), as an e-book (Lulu.com), or as a PDF.
A sample chapter (PDF) is available here.
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
The sequel started life almost as randomly, as a title: "Mystic Mog and the Exploding Tortoise". I can't remember how or why that title became fixed - it happened when I was a PhD student before the first story was even finished - but now it has become quite established and the story has grown (or continues to grow) around it. Finishing Cabbages gave me a bit more time to dwell on the plot of the sequel, so I have an approximate plan this time of where it is going, although some things - such as the end - are still lacking. What is really lacking, though, is the writing! Things were a bit slow with my iPad because it's not that great for heavy text input but now I have a MacBook Air, I am hoping this will improve.
I am still finding it a bit hard to make the time, though, particularly as I am stuck in a bit of tricky spot - over 44,000 words are already written but not for quite a long time, so I need to try and refresh my memory (and edit) somewhat before really launching back into it. With so much of the story still to go, however, I have this "will I ever finish it?" feeling that keeps clawing me back.
Time to take action, and that action is to serialise it in this blog! I've never blogged a story before, so I am not entirely sure how, or even if, this is going to work but the rough plan is essentially to follow the original genesis of The Cabbages of Doom, releasing one "episode" (snippet) each day or so until completion. I have fifty or so such snippets largely ready to go (with a bit of neatening and editing) and a whole 'nother bunch planned, so I should have enough to keep going for a while. The hope is that, in the meantime, I can write some more and keep ahead of myself. (I probably won't post every day.) If nothing else, the commitment will hopefully keep me going!
Once it's "finished", much like with The Cabbages of Doom, I imagine I will go back over it and edit out the bits that don't work, fix a few continuity errors, flesh out some weak bits and whack it out as another eBook. So, if you liked the first one, or just want to help be a "muse" (and, with luck, amused), do sign up and join me on my journey to more madness. I hope to post the first snippet in a day or so.