The Rabbit's tale with recursion.
He stood there, holding the door of the hutch and gazing around the shed as if his elderly rabbit, Archie, might be perched on one of the shelves among the old paint tins planning a spot of redecorating. He could have sworn he had closed and latched it securely last night when he had changed Archie's water, but this morning it was wide open and Archie was gone.
Archie was 1500 feet below, pulling himself down with both hands on the thin blue nylon cord that stretched away to the centre of the Earth and beyond. It was hard work fighting the buoyancy trying to drag him back to his caged existence. All around him other men and animals (there is no difference except in name) were doing the same; all pulling themselves in diverse directions according to what they were escaping from and on cords of different hues determined by why they were doing it. Some like him hauled on blue cords of powerless imprisonment, others on red cords of lost love or the yellow cords of unendurable pain.
A hugely fat wheezing Chinaman was hauling himself along at right angles to Archie; his sweating palms slithering on a purple cord of self inflicted failure. Just a few feet from Archie he lost his grip and fell slowly in a spiral path, his limbs changing to gazelle form and sawing the air as he faded out. What was his fate? Not necessarily the one he had fled from, for in the abyss all directions lead to all others and they all lead nowhere.
Meanwhile, the office workers in the glass apartments totally surrounding the void, which had no boundaries, photocopied and typed and occasionally gazed impassively from the windows drinking time from their plastic coffee cups, the emptiness resonating and pulsing with every sip.
It took Archie fifty years to make his journey through the central void. His master had been dead two hundred. The shed and its paint tins long since vanished. That part of his life was over for good until the next time, for everything comes again eventually, although, as we have already noted, it would not necessarily come to him.
He fell into woodland of immense oak trees, quite devoid of any other truly living thing. The canopy hundreds of feet above cast unbroken twilight below. Across the whole surface of the barren black earth the twisted roots snarled and tangled, raising themselves in huge vaults and arches and creating lightless caves beneath. There was no sound in those woods, except the sigh of the wind and far off, something else that, when he strained to hear, was silent. He knew from this that it too was listening. Between and during and before and after, and for all we know on top of, each listening it moved closer.
A silent psst. Down among the roots. "Quick, hide, hide" said a tiny demon. Archie tucked himself into the cramped space. The demon was minuscule but big on hideous. It had sixteen of everything and none of it was in the right places, but it seemed friendly. They waited for the nameless thing to pass by overhead and Archie stayed as quiet as possible. The demon did not need to, for it was Archie's nameless thing and nobody else's. We all have our own.
"I didn't always live here like this among these roots" said the demon from all of its sixteen mouths at once. "I used to be a highly paid tempter, one of the best in the business" Its thirty-two eyes glazed over in nostalgia. (I should have been clearer that when I said it had sixteen of everything, it had sixteen pairs of everything that we have pairs of. It would have looked very odd with the same number of eyes as noses). "Let me tell you a tale of those days"
The little demon's tale.
I had to deal with a fiery born again preacher. We don't usually bother with that sort; they are usually so full of pride we get them anyhow, but this one had integrity and charisma and some of the ideas he was peddling would do us no good. There were hundreds of thousands around the world who hung on his every televised word and the numbers were growing every day. Most of all he had a way of relating the scripture he kept quoting to people's everyday lives, of making the meaning come alive.
I was under instructions to tempt him from his righteous path and if possible to sew doubts about his precious scriptures. The direct approach is always best. I took him to an enormous palace (one of Saddam's spare ones) and showed him the delights of earthly comforts. I told him that with his talent for persuasion he could easily be PM or the CEO of a large company and could enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.
He looked at the sparking fountains and the silks and the priceless paintings and the gold fittings and said "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven". I laughed. You're a bit out of date there Samuel. I took him to the Al-Quaida Winalot camel-processing factory near Algiers. One camel into the vat, mince, mince, then into the 50,000 psig injection machine. Fffft. One camel extruded in 5s from the 100-micron aperture, just like that, through the eye of the needle without touching the sides.
He was not one to be tempted by wanton carnality, but the carnal figures highly with any man. With some it needs to be suitably gift wrapped, that's all. There is nothing like an attractive and ambitious wife to turn a man's mind from all this noble poverty nonsense. In a vision I showed him a number of beautiful and virtuous but strong-minded women, soul mates for his life's short journey. He said "It is better to marry than to burn". Now that one was really idiotic and it just creased me up. I took him to hell where all the sinners burned in the eternal flames. I promised many men there that they could exchange a thousand years of fiery torment for a thousand years with their earthly wives. We had not a single taker. "Not F* likely!" was the verdict of most. "Neu pointes on that one too" Sam I said.
To cut a long story short I got him in the end. I was demon of the year that year, old Shit'un himself turned out to give me my award. It was the peak of a promising career, but it went downhill after that. I suppose I rested on my laurels. But worst of all I lost my judgement. To be a good tempter you have to be impartial, dispassionate, logical. I got full of pride at my success. I saw myself as important, just like humans do. I sought the admiration of others, just like humans do. In the end I found myself sympathising with human flaws and weaknesses and I could not do my job anymore. He was very nice about it, the big boss, when he told me they would have to let me go.
I was a hell-spawned creation of evil, a foulness of the universe, a thing of the eternal night that would never see a glimmer of god's brightness and I had sunk to human levels.
The tears rolled down the thirty-two cheeks of the little demon and fell hissing to the floor, dissolving the bare granite rock in clouds of acrid smoke.
Archie nodded off. The little devil's tale was so thoroughly interesting he could not stay awake even though, out of politeness, he tried his best. When he awoke he thought he was somewhere else. Actually, he was in exactly the same place but his surroundings had moved on without him. From Archie's point of view it was a rather academic distinction I know, but it pays to be accurate about these things. Why? It just does that's all. The new surroundings were purple. Not just coloured purple as you are probably thinking, they were actually purple i.e. made of, composed of, constituted from purple.
Archie hated purple. He liked things to be coloured purple, who doesn't? but he hated purple. It made him open-minded and he didn't like that one bit. He had once swallowed a little bit of purple by accident in his bran and for days afterwards had been so open minded he was unable to hop. Was it really necessary for hopping to move the back legs like that? That was the way he and every other rabbit had done it since rabbits began, but was that proof? Maybe legs and hops were entirely unrelated and the link was a false one based on coincidence. On the other hand... He lay in a paralysis of indecision. Most people (except accountants obviously), having ingested the same relative dose would have recovered quickly, but we all know what nasty feeding habits rabbits have and he kept re-ingesting it. That particular habit, already requiring about as much open-mindedness as you can possibly get, was not affected by the purple. Archie lay transfixed by ambivalence in his purple pool of purple (purple is not always coloured purple, although it usually is) for a thousand days until the tide went out and those surroundings receded.
The world was flat in those parts and he was on a flat plain in the middle of it. The flatness was not readily apparent, as all the perspective had been eaten by a plague of Spatial Beetles. The inhabitants had been warned not to encourage them but, because the beetles were warm and cuddly, had persisted in leaving out tasty titbits of Euclidean theorems and signed photos of Stephen Hawkin. Everything appeared the same size regardless of how far away you got. Worse, since the angle subtended at the eye by one foot of ground was the same whether that foot was one inch or a thousand miles away, there were no horizons and the land apparently curved upwards into the sky, wrapping round and round itself in a bewildering kaleidoscope of scenery in which near objects were obscured by far objects. The only saving grace in this confusion was the atmospheric dust; far objects could be distinguished from much nearer ones by their misty appearance.
Archie threaded his way between the dismal little shacks to the nearest one. There was a sign on the door. "Licensed Spider Catcher". A wizened and very sad old man greeted Archie like an old friend. As they sat on the veranda drinking the local beverage brewed from cement and knitting needles the old man said, "Expect you'd like to 'ear my story." Not really, thought Archie but as he could not speak (that would be ridiculous, he was a rabbit) the old man continued.
The Spider Catcher's tale.
I used to be a rat catcher once but there just wasn't the money in it. I mean, anyone who can dance a decent tango can catch a rat, they are always far too partial to a bit of ballroom dancing. Put on the old Victor Sylvester and they're anybody's. Whirl one out on to the dance floor, make it feel relaxed by asking if it comes here often and telling it it dances divinely, then bang! Over the little whiskery head with a saucepan. The daftest thing is, you can do that to loads of 'em in full view and there will still be dozens more of 'em stood around the walls like little brown wallflowers fluttering their eyelids and hoping to attract a partner.
So anyways, I branched sideways into spiders. We did our basic training on fake spiders made of rope and old rolls of wallpaper. My first ever proper job with a live spider was in that big 'ouse on the 'ill there. He pointed at a nearby mansion mistily visible behind a distant mountain range. They 'ad this big 'un, seven footer it were at least, as used to live on top of their dresser. Kept on eating their kids. Got through four of the poor little buggers before they called me in. Mean as 'ell they was. Think it was more to do with the bones fallin' on their antique china collection than 'cos of any real concern with their offspring that they got me in at all.
That spider was a real vicious one. It had just captured the fifth of their six kids and was starting to suck its brains out when I got there. Having a bit of a struggle too. From what I heard later the kid was a bit dense. Two years behind at school, and that meant its brain was going to be pretty tough sucking. Anyhow, the spider sucked like mad, and you could see the kid's eyes sort of drawing into the sockets. Then the spider, its spiracles all flushed with the effort, would stop for a breather and those eyes would pop out again. Put me in mind of one of those jumping spiders that you work by squeezing a bulb but in reverse. Kind of funny in a way, unless you like kids of course. I didn't, and neither did its parents so we all had a bit of a chuckle over it.
You might think it pretty dangerous dealing wiv a spider that sort of size. Actually there ain't hardly no problem at all when they are feeding. Not that we would tell our clients that, we have to justify our fees after all. One track minded see? Sucking seems to be all their little brains can focus on. So I just sticks the step ladder up next to the dresser, puts the rope around its thorax and hauled it off. Being careful not to damage their china of course, they was very particular about that. Tied it up in their garage. Not much I could do with the kid, he was a gonna, big 'ole in is 'ead see?, so I bunged 'im in the dustbin. His mum come running out all upset and shouting at me that I couldn't do that. The dustmen 'ad just been and it was 'ot weather. Made me take it to the dump.
Then they wanted me to dispose of the spider. Told 'em I couldn’t, as I was only a licensed catcher. If they wanted a licensed exterminator that would cost a whole lot more and they would be lucky to get one this side of Christmas. They kicked up a fuss at first, but after a while, looking at the spider sitting there so quiet like they do, they calmed down. They looked at the spider, then at their remaining offspring who was covered in chocolate and screaming fit to bust.
They kept the spider, called it Cyril and put its name down for Eton. Fed the remaining little brat to it. Sensible choice in my view. Looked in from time to time to see Cyril over the years. Well, 'e was my first real case and I 'ad a soft spot for 'im. I was 'is godfather you know. Training to be a corporate lawyer now. I suppose blood sucking is in 'is blood.
The old man nodded off and began to snore. It was an irritating noise like a piece of new chalk on a blackboard. It put Archie's teeth on edge. After a few minutes his teeth were so on edge they went right over it. His gums followed a minute later, followed by his head, his neck, his abdomen and so on. His little white tail stayed on the veranda alone for nearly twenty minutes sipping on Archie's cocktail. If you spend your life perched just above someone's bumhole you get fairly insensitive to things. It might have stayed there and carved out a new life on its own if it hadn't got so sozzled. While looking for a fresh Maraschino cherry it too teetered off the edge and plummeted after the rest of Archie.
Archie had fallen into the Tedium-Delirium Matrix where things oscillated wildly, according to mathematical rules that nobody fully understood, between the very humdrum and the outré. He fell thirty miles through a dense cloud of washing machine repairs, tax returns and cans of that stuff you remove oil from drives with. Then he fell sixty miles through a miasma of yellow inside-out dragons, galaxy consuming starfish and super-intelligent bacteria busily un-inventing the Sikorski helicopter according to their ancient lore. The transitions got faster and faster as he speeded up; cling film and bin liners, huge castles built out of sharks, Morris Maestro vans with dodgy gearboxes, geraniums mulching chartered architects with shredded licensed child minder. It became a blur.
Then stopped abruptly. Archie's teeth bounced on some hard flagstones. His gums followed a minute later, followed by his head, his neck, his abdomen and so on, each part ramming itself under the force of the impact exactly back where it should have been. A far off cry "eeeeeeeeeeeeh" growing louder and louder. His little white tail plummeted down and attached itself neatly to his head just between his ears. It refused to go back above his bumhole, it had had quite enough of that, thanks very much. Apart from that, Archie was dazed but ok. The matrix had been in mid tedium cycle. Archie was in a grey and wind swept shopping mall somewhere in one of several SouthEast Englands.
On the small wooden bandstand in the centre was a tall and very fat man dressed in crimson. The huge crowd thronging the mall was largely silent, watching him with expectation. A skinny woman with one arm saw from his small and rabbitish appearance that he was a stranger. "You could not have come at a better time" she whispered, "just watch this, you will never see its like again"
The tall fat man in crimson gazed at his feet. He looked to the sky. Then at his feet, then the sky. Up, down, faster and faster, accompanied by a loud phoooh, phooh sound from his open mouth. With each phooh he was bigger than he was on the previous one. The belly contracting just slightly as he looked down, swelling immensely as he looked up. He seemed to be pumping himelf up. He stopped, the enormous bulk creaking against the railings of the bandstand on every side. He looked up once more, paused, still and silent for a full minute. The crowd too was totally silent.
Then it began. Just from his mouth for a split second and then from an increasing area. It came from his person and from the air surrounding him. It came from everywhere and nowhere and it came in storms, in volcano like eruptions, in gigantic tidal waves. An immense deluge of vomit crashed over the mall. It roared against the shop windows, smashing them in and continuing on, scarcely abated, to carry away travel goods, CD players, trendy trainers, kitchenware, ladies' shoes, expensive designer wear and cheap seconds without discrimination or any sense of fashion. It drowned the crowd nearest the bandstand in an instant, the breath driven from their bodies by the impact. Further away, people survived just a little longer, but they all died with ecstasy on their faces. "Oh joy, joy, joy," said the skinny one-armed woman before she went under.
The surge stopped. A yellow lake stood at the tops of the store windows, stilling quickly as the few surviving human forms beneath the surface twitched their last. Only the tall fat man up on his bandstand and Archie, floating on a bundle of the Big Issue, remained. The fat man waved and the lake withdrew as rapidly as it had come but with scarcely a ripple in the receding surface. When it had gone the flagstones of the mall were revealed, clean and totally dry. Only Archie still carried the sticky and rancid smelling residues in his spiked fur. Of the crowd there was no sign whatever.
The fat man, now back to credible human dimensions, ambled over to Archie. "You must be a stranger here" he said "If you had been wearing the proper clothes rather than that shabby old fur of yours you would now have been in as happy a place as these others." He waved at the empty mall. "I wasn't always blessed with the ability to bring happiness like this you know. Let me tell you how it all happened" Archie started to hop off, but something in the fat man's sudden frown told him it would not be a good idea, so he crouched down and tried to ignore the itching and the horrible smell in his fur.
The Great Regurgitato's Tale
I used to be a fairly normal lad when I was growing up, but I always had a hankering after greatness and nothing inspired me more than the stories of the giants of bodily functions like the great Crapatito. Nobody believes in him now of course, he is just a legend, a myth. I expect you know the story about the pig and the cork and the monkey? Well that was really the Great Crapatito you know. These days we think it's just a mucky schoolboy joke, but it was all based on truth.
The scholars will never admit it, they rabbit on about the collective psyche and distortions of historical facts and allegories but the opposite is also true. Most legends started as dirty jokes. All that stuff about Zeus and the golden showers or visiting mares disguised as the west wind? Just dirty tales they used to tell in the bars and brothels of Corinth or Athens. The 'scholars' turned it into a religion. Same with all the modern religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, they all started out as graffiti on a toilet wall somewhere. I could tell you a thing or two from my research. We make profundity out of trivia and truths out of fundaments. It's the way of the world.
Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes, the great Crapatito. There are some marvellous stories of his exploits. Like the first occasion he appeared in the amphitheatre in Rome as a mere supporting act to the Great Fartacus. In a short preview performance, Fartacus cleared the entire audience on the West side (there was an Easterly wind blowing), depopulated the sprawling suburb of Casarium and killed cattle as far away as Thaeseni. He was a triumph. The remaining crowd was in a delirium of expectation for his main act and had little interest in the warm up artists. History records that they were mostly fairly dire. The Thracian Atoninus Pisso barely wetted the orchestra in the pits apparently and the Mighty Spunkatus was even sadder. So when the Great Crapito came on, or Crapitus Maximus to give him his proper name then, it was to a chorus of boos and a deluge of rotten fruit.
Well. That soon changed. Maybe it was because he got so annoyed with his reception, or maybe he had just come of age, but Crapitus shook the world that night and left a legacy that reverberates down the ages and will never be forgotten by those of us who have a grasp of what is truly important. The excremental deluge filled the auditorium in an instant, killing the emperor and most of the Roman Senate. It roared up the walls of the Coliseum and burst out over the city. A million people, including most of Rome's crack legions, died that night. Ten thousand square miles of Italy vanished in less than two hours. The scholars tell us it was the Goths and the Vandals that destroyed Rome. A sanitised version of history. It was Crapitus.
They say talents like mine are a disease. All those years ago I awoke feeling a little sick and soon discovered that that was just a beginning. Maybe it's a disease but I call it a gift and I have honed my abilities over many many years. Unfortunately, we live in an age where greatness is not respected and safety laws require me to perform only in enclosed spaces like this mall where the reflected waves quench my flow. Even the Great Crapatito had his limitations as the monkey and cork joke shows. Those outside the safety zone survived. One day I will perform in the open and there will be no limits. One day I will engulf the world! The Great Regurgitato's head began to spin round and round emitting increasingly pitched squeaks.
Archie crept away to seek a warm bath. Apart from that unfortunate habit we touched on in a previous episode, rabbits are very clean little animals and he was revolted by all he had seen and heard. On top of that, his fur smelt of puke and his tail, now slipping down his nose, had a faint aroma of bum. He was going to... It started to spray out of his ears and from the very air around him. "Ha,ha, haaaaaa" whined the Great Regurgitato, you've got it tooooo, haaaaaa, haaaaaaaaaa" His head span into a blur and his laughter got higher and higher, disappearing into supersonic inaudability. All the dogs for miles around began to bark frenziedly.
Archie ran as fast as his old legs could take him. Out of the mall and through the outskirts of the drab little town towards the cool green fields. Through a hedge, tumbling onto a road. In the brief moment before the huge tyre of the red lorry crushed him he had time to wonder. Were all his strange adventures going to end with such a commonplace rabbit fate?
The back end of Archie made a fearful pop under the huge tyre of the big red lorry and his entrails squished out most hideously. He knew that he had made an alimentary (<----Joke) mistake by running into the road like that. His fluffy white tail, still perched on his nose, surveyed the carnage of Archie's beam end. "Hey that was a bit of luck!" it chortled, "that should have been me in the middle of that lot!"
Archie was surprised to find it was not painful at all. In fact it felt rather good. In fact... it felt fantastic; it was the greatest feeling he had ever had. He had made the same discovery that billions have made before him, violent dismemberment is fun. The government conceals the truth for its own selfish ends. They just want us to go on with our miserable intact existences in boring jobs so we can keep paying the taxes that finance their luxurious lifestyles, which include being squashed at regular intervals. They hide this (except Robin Cook) with make up and special TV effects.
"Really sorry about that" said the driver. He was an ugly but cheerful looking individual with orange hair and a great jutting jaw. Everyone you meet near the B2102 has a great jutting jaw as they are all descended from the Piltdown Man who was found in those parts. What's that? it was a hoax?. Well in the end it was I know, but it took quite a while for that to be revealed and in the meantime that Piltdown Man had shagged every woman in the area. You know what they say about huge jutting jaws and the ladies were not disappointed, as I understand it. The jutting jaw man scraped Archie off the road. "You missed a bit" said the tail. "Sorry", said the jutting jaw man, rescuing a few yards of entrails from the stinging nettles. "Nice entrails" he added. Archie was pleased with the compliment, he had always thought they matched his eyes.
The JJM took Archie home and tucked him up where he made a rapid and almost complete recovery. If that seems a bit preposterous after his back end had been utterly squashed I suggest you are ignoring the fact that he is the hero of this tale and heroes are more than usually resilient even in films that are SUPPOSED to be realistic. They get knocked around, flung off skyscrapers and blown through plate glass windows to emerge with a faint trickle of blood from the right hand corner of the mouth. (It is always the right hand side, have you noticed that? Have you ever suspected there is some secret message in everything or is it just me?). The principle has already been established; I am just stretching it a bit that's all. Whose story is this anyhow? I said almost complete recovery. His back end always stayed extremely flat, so whenever he walked fast or even slowly into a brisk wind, it had a tendency to take off like a frisbee.
The JJM's real name was Honest Bulbo and he travelled around the country selling army surplus stuff he had purchased cheaply or acquired by illicit means. By the time Archie had recovered it was coming up to the official forces surplus vending season, so he went off with Bulbo on a nation-wide selling trip. Honest Bulbo was good company and Archie enjoyed riding with him in the big red lorry, especially when they ran over animals or people. "Whoooh, I bet that hurt!" said his tail as an old lady bumped beneath them. They did not stop. Pointless; not being a heroine the old lady would have stayed well and truly squashed and there was nothing they could have done about it. (Except laugh)
Doris had been such a nice old lady too, and what was even sadder was that her budgie Pete would probably be left alone in her pokey flat to die a slow lingering death from starvation, desperately searching through the husk for one last seed. The old lady should have been Catherine Zeta Jones or Julia Roberts while there was still time. She had told herself at least a hundred times in the last year "I really must get round to being Julia Roberts tomorrow". Had she done so she would have been sitting in the road with nothing worse than a thin trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth. But when tomorrow came there had always been a kitchen cupboard to be cleaned out first or a quick pop to Tescos for a quarter of cheddar and it would end up being postponed another day. What a shame.
The warm cab rocked soothingly as the suspension bounced over pheasants, squirrels, badgers, old people, small boys, common people, posh chaps with glasses, atheists, Christians, Muslims, blacks and whites alike without a hint of discrimination. Not that Bulbo had any choice about that. The extended tachograph beneath the dashboard recorded the ethnic origins and religious beliefs of anything that disappeared beneath the wheels. He had once nearly been prosecuted because a worn bearing had caused a disproportionate number of Jews to be caught by the rear offside. In case you are wondering, most badgers are Presbyterian. Archie felt very content as he dozed, listening to Bulbo and his garulous tail chatting away. Bulbo puffed on his pipe, swerved briefly to scoop up a couple of merchant seamen and began thoughtfully.
The Itinerant Army Surplus Salesman's tale
I used to have a little village shop you know, inherited it from my father. Usual small stuff that small people in small villages need. Cornflakes, elastic bands, light bulbs, elastic bands, sticking plasters, dog food, elastic bands, newspapers, that sort of thing. Did I mention elastic bands? But I wanted to travel, see a bit of the world. So I sold up and invested the cash in a business based on the real passion in my life. Military history, especially defensive military history. Nuclear warheads and sieges and Blitzkriegs all seem very uncivilised to me, but I love earthworks, trenches, fortifications, trench warfare, battlements, trenching tools, trench foot. Anything with a defensive military flavour especially if it's trench related or contains the word trench. There's something about being dug in, stuck in a muddy hole in the ground for years that encapsulates everything that's fine and noble and decent about humanity. Here I am and here I stay it says. I've never been happier. Only thing I can honestly say I miss about the old life is the elastic bands, but that's hardly surprising as they played a very big part in trench warfare as you probably know.
Anyhow, been on a trip round Europe this winter, Mons, Flanders, Ypres, all the really good places, looking for stuff to sell this summer. You can still see the trenches in some places you know, preserved, and there's the little signs everywhere for those of us who know and love trenches. Just think what it was like for those chaps. The pointless slaughter, gangrene, shells, mud, trench foot, cold, gangrene, damp, bad food, gangrene, stench of dead bodies, gas, being wounded, gangrene, seeing your comrades being killed. It must have been just... WONDERFUL. Bulbo's eyes misted over at the thought of such bliss and trench foot and gangrene and the big red lorry veered across the central reservation barging a minibus full of Jehovah's Witnesses off a cliff. The tachograph did not record such accidents so it was a real bonus.
When they got to the Northern Forces Surplus show, Archie did his very modest best (he was a Rabbit) to help unload. Thanks to his heritage, Bulbo had enormous strength and they very soon had their stall all set up. It was fairly unexciting stuff, gas masks, locker boxes, lots of trenching tools, some rather mouldy boots with very mouldy feet still in them (Bulbo had labelled them "Genuine trench feet from Ypres") and a few rusty munitions. He wondered how Bulbo managed to make the sort of living his big house in Sussex suggested. "I expect you're wondering how I make a living out of this stuff" said Bulbo. "It fetches about enough to pay for my trips and the lorry usually, but the real profit is in the special stuff. He tapped on the nearest of three boxes behind the stall. "We don't get these out until the serious collectors turn up for the auction after the public show". Came closing time and Bulbo was very pleased. Black and green was fashionable that year and his mouldy trench feet had sold briskly to ladies wanting them as fashion accessories. He had very soon sussed the market and doubled his prices. He rubbed his hands, a good day so far but now for the real profit!
He hauled out the top box. It seemed very old and had German writing on it. He opened it, turned it upside down and shook it. The world went dark and eerily grey. There was an immense thundering noise and Archie had an impression of huge things falling all around him. Then the darkness cleared abruptly. To reveal an immense concrete pillbox. By shear good fortune it had placed itself neatly on top of the Red Cross tent crushing everyone inside. There was a long earthen embankment stretching away from the pillbox in both directions. 200 yards away another pillbox had landed on the WI tent squashing all the worthy ladies within. Never mind. Just think of all the jam they'll have to sell next year. The line of embankments and the pillboxes went in both directions and as far as Archie could see. "Magnificent isn't it?" said Bulbo, "got it under the counter, if you know what I mean, from a chap in a little village on the German border. The Siegfried Line, genuine, almost complete, only one user, full service record and I've still got the original box. Should fetch a packet from a real collector"
A small dapper man wandered over. It was obvious that he and Bulbo disliked each other intensely. "Look out, Fred Fannyflaps. The chap's a scumbag" said Bulbo, with little effort to lower his voice. "Makes a so called living selling remote warfare devices, bombs, missiles and so on. Obscene. Real war is sticking a bayonet in at close quarters and seeing guts come out. That's proper war that is, something noble and fine and decent about it, not all this technology stuff where you never see the enemy, inhuman and cold. Even watching remote TV images of guts come out isn't the same". "Pretty impressive, Bulbo" said the dapper man "but I think I've got something better". He pointed to two cardboard boxes with "BB" and "LB" chalked on them. "We'll see" growled Bulbo.
There were a lot of serious buyers, and a great deal of interest in the Siegfried Line. Bulbo was confident of getting a high bid. Just before the action began, Bulbo and Archie were having a rest and a well deserved coffee. Something fluttering on the nearest Pillbox. Bulbo walked over and pulled it off. A string vest and a pair of not quite white underpants marked FF. Bulbo exploded. He strode over to the other stall. "What is the meaning of this? He demanded, waving the garments. "Steady on old chap, I just rinsed my smalls and needed somewhere to dry them" said the dapper little man. "YOU BASTARD" screamed Bulbo, "YOU'VE BEEN HANGING OUT YOUR WASHING ON MY SIEGFRIED LINE".
The little man ended up head down in an empty tea chest. It took him several minutes to extract himself and wipe the coffee off his face. A face like thunder. He was not going to let this pass, that was clear. He walked to the box marked LB, picked it up and shook it in their direction. Something fell out and bounced towards them, rapidly swelling in size. It did not seem very dangerous to Archie, just something that looked like a big camping gas cylinder painted silver with fins on the end. It had "Little Boy" written on the side.
Archie found himself alone in a cold and windswept rocky desert. He was just starting to panic when he noticed two little huddles of huts a few miles off on either side of a small hill.
Twilight was falling as Archie neared the tiny villages. With every hop the impression of poverty and squalor increased. The shacks were scarcely more than piles of rocks covered roughly with sticks and leaves gathered from the sparse scrubland. Around them, fields had been grubbed out of the barren soil, sprouting small and yellowing crops. Pitifully thin goats and pigs wandered among the hovels searching ceaselessly for something to dull their hunger. He was seen. Small and malnourished inhabitants gazed at him in curiosity from the doorless apertures of their miserable hovels. Archie was suddenly very nervous. He was a rabbit after all. In all his travels so far it had not seemed to matter, but here?, among these nearly starved people?
Fortunately they seemed to be unaware that rabbits are edible and made Archie welcome. He got a tiny cupful of water and a little grain, and he knew from the avid expressions on the faces of the children that he was being treated generously as befitted a guest. As he tried to sleep on his bed of twigs that night, shivering in the cold, Archie felt full of pity for these people forced to live in such an arid wilderness.
The sun shone brightly the next day and Archie rose early trying to shake the aches out of his ageing bones. He wandered away from the village to attend to his needs. Since his abdomen had been so horribly flattened by the big red lorry it had required a long daily struggle. You know when cassette tapes get broken up and all the tape comes out? You get the picture. He breasted a small rise looking for some privacy.
There below him, basking in the sunshine, was a lush green valley. A wide blue river meandered through the centre. Tall beautiful trees cast delightful shade. Everywhere was verdant and flourishing. There was no sign of any habitation. Archie was puzzled. Why were these people living up here in this cold barren wasteland when there was a paradise below? What danger could be lurking there? Was the river poisonous? Were there dangerous beasts or swarms of disease-carrying insects?
None of those it appeared. The headman of the slightly larger village explained it to Archie later. There was a dispute between the two tribes as to which one got the best land in the valley. To avoid bloodshed the wise men had devised a fair game of chance that would decide it. Once that had been done they would both be able to take up the land that fate had determined for them. Archie would be privileged to see this game played out today. Archie was full of admiration for these decent and peaceable people that they should settle things between them in such a civilised fashion despite their desperate need.
The ceremony of the game took place that afternoon. The people from both tribes gathered around a small circle cleared in the scrub. The headmen from both villages walked rigidly to the centre. They bowed low, their grass head-dresses touching the dust. The crowd chanted. An ornate bag made of chicken feathers was opened. Inside was a tiny and very worn coin. The headman of the larger village tossed the coin, caught it and slapped it on to the back of his hand. "Heads" said the other headman. "Nope, tails,” said the first headman. The crowd chanted, the coin went back in the bag and both headmen bowed and walked stiffly backwards out of the ring. Archie saw not a hint of rancour on the faces of anyone on the losing side.
Archie was disappointed that the great game had turned out to be nothing more than tossing a coin. Still, the important thing was that the dispute had been settled without bloodshed. He was the honoured guest at the short ceremony after the game. "Which part of the valley will you be taking now that you have won?" he asked the first headman. "Won?" said the headman. "Oh no! We haven't won yet. We have to keep on tossing every day until we have done it as many times as our greatest wise men told us. The one with the most correct guesses is the winner"
"Oh I see," said Archie "so what is it? Best of three, best of five?" The headmen went to a small wooden box. They bowed. Between them they reverently unwrapped a small and very ancient piece of parchment inside. "These are the words of our first and holiest and greatest wisemen" said the elder. We must toss the sacred coin each day until we have tossed it 1,277,500 times and then the contest will have been decided.
Archie thought. He was very bright for a rabbit. "But, but, but..". He began again. "But, but, but... that means you have to toss it every day for 3,500 years!" he exploded. "That may be" said the elder "but the wise men have spoken and who are we to question their wisdom? "But, but, why could you not toss it just once?" There was silence. Then the headmen and all the elders exploded with laughter. They would probably have laughed for ages except they were too weak with hunger to manage it. "You are a stranger here, said the eldest "so we forgive your ignorance. I hope that you in turn can forgive us for our rudeness"
Archie paused to muster his thoughts. "I'm no expert, but statistically speaking the deviation from an exact 50/50 ratio of heads or tails, expressed as a fraction of the number of tosses, diminishes the more you toss. For example, if you toss just 4 times, the chances of all 4 being heads is quite high. If you toss four thousand times the chances of all four thousand being heads is astronomically small. To put it another way, about 1,277,400 of your tosses will tend to cancel each other out and have no relevance whatever. It isn't even an odd number, what if you got 638,750 each?"
The elders were silent for several minutes. "Oh sod it" said one headman. "Bang goes the last 3,400 years" said the other. They called in the current wisemen of the village who concurred with Archie's analysis. The parchment of the original wise men must have altered by the evil spirit of the desert. They resolved it would not happen again.
The question of which tribe had what bit of the lush valley still had to be decided. They would have to begin the contest again, but what if the sacred coin too had been got at by the evil spirit?. "What about scissors, stone, paper?" asked one of the elders. This met with general approval. "Best of what though?" asked another. The village wisemen went into a huddle. They cast bones. They threw strange powders on the fire. They killed a scrawny chicken and examined its entrails minutely. They decided. The contest would be held three times a day. That would speed things up. How many times? The wisemen conferred again. "3,832,500 times" they chorused in unison. It sounded like a lovely mystical sort of number and all the elders cheered.
Without another word, Archie picked up his tail and hopped out of the freezing squalid smoke-filled hall. He hopped up the miserable street and through the listless clusters of children with their skeletal ribs and swollen bellies. Over the rise and down into the lush green fertile valley.
It was a long walk down to the green valley but so worth it. Archie bathed his aches in the river and fell asleep in the shade of a tree. The valley was a paradise, no sign of predators, plenty of lush grass and shoots. Just perfect for a rabbit. In the months that followed, Archie was a little lonely but then he had got used to living alone in the dismal confines of his hutch in the grubby shed with just the paint tins for company, so all in all he found his new life quite acceptable.
Just a bit of time out to comment on one aspect of the above. It is a subject I feel very strongly about.
The paint tins would actually have been very good company were it not for the cruelty and inhumanity shown by our species. New paint tins are witty, intelligent and fond of philosophy. Some very advanced thinking goes on on the shelves of B&Q. Then they find themselves cruelly raped and abused. Their lids get pulled off, brushes are thrust repeatedly into the apertures; they are turned upside down so that their vital fluids run into trays. For what? Just because your wall is grubby or in last year's colours. Then they are dumped in dusty sheds just in case you might need them to touch a bit up with next year.
The poor sensitive things are totally traumatised by the experience. No wonder they become shallow creatures obsessed with appearance and Archie found them so boring. All day they complain about their screwdriver damaged lids or the dried drips crusted on the sides. They wake up in the middle of the night screaming "I'm getting a skin on top".
Same with rolls of wallpaper. Brutal. Shameless. We don't even bother to hide the facial gang-bang symbolism of the wallpaper paste. Well I've got news for you lot hoping for your Houris and harps. (Note how commendably culturally inclusive these stories are). Life is your time on the shelves of B&Q. You wait until you find out what the great decorator has in store for you. You'll regret your callous behaviour then, but it will be far too late.
Back to the story
It was not until the sixth month that Archie realised he was not alone after all. He had wandered much further up the river than usual in search of berries and there, at the far end of the valley was a brightly coloured square building. Nearing it, he saw that each side had nine square panels in bright primary colours making it look just like a giant Rubic's cube. He was walking around outside looking for a door when there was a loud squeaking and crunching. Looking up, he saw the top of the building rotating. It rotated one quarter turn and stopped. Then there was an even louder noise and one side of the house started to rotate, churning through the sandy soil. That too stopped after one quarter turn. There was a clattering inside the house like someone throwing things about and a faint "ooooooom, Ommmm" like someone trying to shout with their mouth closed.
Archie hung back for several minutes but nothing further happened. Approaching the house again he saw something that he had missed before. In the lowest centre panel (red) there was a small rectangular section that might have been a door. Very faintly, in only a very slightly darker shade of red, was a sign "Puzzleman". He knocked. The "oooooom oom" was audible again followed by footsteps and bangs and rattles like somebody rolling huge dice. The noises came closer until Archie was sure someone was just on the other side of the door and about to answer it. Rattle, "ooom". The sounds diminished again. Despite Archie's repeated knocks, nobody came.
He was outside thinking about heading back when there was a loud bang and the door was opened suddenly by one of the oddest looking men he had ever seen. Something in the expression told Archie that the Puzzleman wanted to speak. The lips pulled back from the gums in a bizarre rictus, but the enormous yellow teeth stayed closed as if locked. The Puzzleman felt his jaw with his long flexible fingers. He poked an index finger into his mouth and pushed experimentally at one canine. Nothing happened. He probed for a while then pressed a lower front tooth. It slid backwards revealing a small black gap. The Puzzleman fiddled a while longer. The tooth above it slid down into the gap revealing another gap in the upper set. The Puzzleman pushed and pulled for ten minutes, sliding his teeth back and forward, from upper jaw to lower jaw and vice versa. Suddenly there was a loud click and his lower jaw sprang open. The puzzle man stuck one long finger in to stop it closing again and said, somewhat indistinctly, "aaaaaah fthankk chrisfor at". He fiddled in his pocket, found a small piece of wire and hooked it over one of his back teeth.
"Sorry about that" said the Puzzleman, "Came as fast as I could, had nearly got to the welcome mat when I had to pick up a Fate Card and it said go back to the airing cupboard. Still I'm here now, do come through to the drawing room for a drink old chap. Haven't seen another living soul for ten years you know. Got caught in a Little Boy explosion did you? Know the signs. So many go that way. It was a devil that bomb, design flaw you know, fins too small. All the atomic and nuclear bombs since just atomise you like they're supposed to, but that Little Boy chucked people all through space and time. A convention of Tax inspectors got blown back to the Precambrian apparently and they're still the lowest form of life back then. The Puzzleman chattered away as if he intended to catch up with all the missed conversation of the last ten years in the next ten minutes.
It took a very long time to reach the drawing room that was visible just the other end of the short corridor. The Puzzleman threw his dice, took that many steps, threw again, walked. They were almost there when a huge sign appeared in the air completely blocking it off. "Gandelgorf The Wizard puts his curse on you, go back to the kitchen and throw again". "F***** b***** 'ell screamed the Puzzleman and kicked the hatstand. Then "Oh sorry old chap, forgot you were there for a moment, so long on my own, you know? This puzzle life does get awfully frustrating". So they went back to the kitchen and started again. There was a strange shimmering ball on top of the stove, Archie picked it up. "Oh F*** sh*** no!" shrieked the puzzleman. It was the Mysterious Talisman of Darkmoon and its sinister powers catapulted them straight into the Alternate Wierdgate Of Nesfaron. Fortunately, the Alternate Wierdgate of Nesfaron was only the Puzzleman's coal cellar. "Sorry again for my language, old bean" said the Puzzleman, "But please try not to touch anything if you can help it, especially if it looks a bit odd or out of place"
At that moment the Rubic's Cube house had another of its periodic twists. The crunching and grinding was deafening inside. Fortuitously, the door of the coal cellar ended up leading directly into the drawing room. "That's a bit of luck", said the Puzzleman, "Quick before it turns again". They were both cosily esconced on the sofa sipping Whisky and Dry Ginger when it did. The coal cellar whirled away upwards. Another room appeared. It was the upstairs bathroom. Upside down. Water cascaded from the WC and covered the lounge carpet. "Looks like I forgot to flush it again!" said the Puzzleman, brushing a turd off the cat with his toothbrush. He poured them both another very large Whisky, stirred them with the toothbrush, checked the wire in his mouth was still firmly in place and began to tell Archie his very strange tale.
The Puzzleman's tale.
I used to be a very ordinary sort of bloke, everyday sort of job, IT contractor I was. Nice house, attractive wife, lots of friends. Only thing some might have said was a bit strange about me was my enthusiasm for mental games of every sort. I loved puzzles, crosswords, quizzes, word games, board games and card games from happy families to chess. I especially loved RPGs, whether computer or board based. But really it wasn't that unusual, I used to play long games over days with some real fanatics and compared to some of them I was a pretty normal sort of guy I can tell you.
It was back in 2003 or so. Big downturn in the IT market and I just couldn't seem to get another contract. After eight months or so my cash savings were starting to run out. So I took a job with a guy I used to bump into a lot at games meetings who said he owned one of those Games Workshop places. I didn't take to the chap at all, perpetually snearing manner he had, and I was a bit suspicious about the job offer as we had not exactly been mates. I thought it might have been because he was.., you know, but I figured I would deal with that problem if it came up. I really needed the work; the pay was better than working in a supermarket, the work promised to be a lot more interesting and I was desperate.
The Puzzleman reached across for the Whisky bottle and both his eyeballs fell out. "Oh W*** b*** sh***!, ooh sorry again old fruit, just ignore me please" He lay on the floor, placed both eyballs on his enormous scoop-shaped forehead and commenced tilting it back and forward trying to roll them back into their sockets. "Can I put them back for you?" asked Archie, reaching forward. "Oooh bleedin' b*ggerin' ell no, no, don't!" screamed the puzzleman. After ten minutes he had managed to roll them back in and resumed his place on the sofa.
"A thousand apologies again me old mucka, but it's not allowed see?, I have to do every puzzle properly. Put them back by hand once, this life was new to me then, and a great big neon sign shot out of my head with TILT written on it and my head started going round and round like a siren. Ever so bleedin' painful it was, took me months to get remotely back to normal. Same with this" He pointed to the bit of wire wedged between his long tombstone teeth. "I used to have nice neat little gnashers once, but I fell asleep a couple of times with them wedged apart and they just grew round the object and locked up again. Have to make sure I take it out every night or I'd soon end up like a sabre-tooth tiger".
"Where was I? Oh yes, the job. Well I turned up the first day and it turned out to be a really seedy little place in a dingy backstreet. I was expecting the usual Dungeons and Dragons stuff, you know, dragons with crystal eyeballs, orcs with bright purple wings and so on. Love that sort of thing. I know it's mass produced in China somewhere but it always seems to me to be the nearest you can get to real craftsmanship these days. But this place wasn't a real Games Workshop at all and the stuff was grim! Everything was carved out of coarse greyish wood, like driftwood or something or plain black hard rock like basalt. The carvings were damn good I have to say, most would say much more tasteful and artistic than the usual D&G stuff and certainly a lot more sinister, but, I dunno..., an orc should be gold and purple with faceted glass eyes for chrissake! not a squat black toad-like thing, I don't care how alive and menacing it looks.
"Anyhows, beggars can't be choosers, so I stuck it out. Glad I did at first. Business was really good. Don't ask me why, but a lot of people were buying the stuff despite what I thought were ridiculously high prices. Hand carved I suppose. Geoff, Old Creepy, was a generous boss too, gave me a decent Christmas bonus after only four weeks, and I never had to cope with the wandering hands I was dreading. After a while I was sure I'd misjudged the guy. He was a decent sort, just not much at getting on with people. Can't say I really enjoyed the work though. Was expecting the customers to be the sort I spent my leisure time with, youngish types, but they were mostly middle-aged to elderly and all rather grim. Not people you would expect to have any interest in fantasy games. They just came and went in virtual silence and behaved very oddly, often spending ages just staring fixedly at individual pieces, or just stand there holding them with their eyes closed"
"Been there six months before I twigged what was going on, and doing so of course sealed my fate. Geoff had gone home sick and I stayed on after hours to sort some things out. He was adamant that I should lock up at six and leave, he was always most careful to see I left on time, but I figured I was doing him a favour and was glad to put in the extra time as he had been so good to me. Banged my head on the beam coming out of the storeroom, really hard, and had to sit on the chair in front of the display cabinet because I was feeling dizzy. The world was spinning and buzzing. When it started to clear it was as though there was a sort of echo in my head. The echo sort of expanded, can't explain it, and I felt I just had to hold one of the models. Then the echo became total clarity and I knew"
"You know these places that find young Russian or Far Eastern brides for middle aged blokes in the West? Where he gets a bit of glamour and some congenial company at night in return for the prized EU citizenship? Well that's what this place was. A sort of marriage agency come illegal immigration centre for every sort of semi-corporeal monster from one hundred and thirty six dimensions who wanted to get into ours. Those carvings were not just chunks of wood or stone, they were the equivalent of a dating video. The old blokes who came into the shop communicated on some strange plain via the carvings with the original subject. They undertook to support the creatures in this dimension and got various things in exchange - knowledge, power, who knows what?, in return. Maybe even sex for all I know, when you are a scrawny seventy year old with varicose veins perhaps a squat black menacing toad-like thing is all you can get.
"Suppose they figured I would go to the police. They made the people-trafficking gangs of our world look like a kid's gang in a crèche. They had real power you know, not just piddling guns and knives, they had the power of dimensions, of alternate realities. So here I am. The puzzle man. They re-sculpted me in the image of my worldy obsessions. Every minute of every day I live out my life trapped in this house, a piece on an eternal board game. I have to play games for hours just to go from one room to another. Every organ of my body is a puzzle I have to solve just to use it. You think the teeth thing is wierd? I won't go into what I have to do to take a dump. Takes me so long usually that I'm almost permanently constipated. I really worry that some day I won't be able to solve it at all"
The Puzzle man lapsed into silence and stared at the floor. There was a sound of immense dice falling. A drop of water appeared on his huge and strangely shaped shoe. At first, Archie thought he was crying but the drop became drops then a dribble then a steady flow. The puzzle man was melting and reforming. Some card had been drawn somewhere and a hideous darkness was creeping into this gentle man. He was transforming into something horrible and Archie knew suddenly that he was in terrible danger. Before the change was complete Archie reacted in blind panic. Picked up the first heavy object in sight and swung it down on the Puzzleman's still recognisable head on the already hideously unrecognisable body. He had never seen brains before but as far as he could tell they seemed very normal.
The creature fell. There was a look of peace on the Puzzleman's bloodied face that now sprouted a moustache that had not been there before. The body transformed again. Became something like a mustard coloured chess bishop. The strange house was quiet now. He dropped the fatal weapon, walked the few steps to the front door in a normal time and opened it. He looked back at the body. In the drawing room. With the candlestick. It was a fitting end. There was a card on the hall stand and absent-mindedly he picked it up.
Looked like some decent berries on that bush over there. Whistling, Archie hopped over and began munching in that mindless thoughtful way that rabbits have. When he was full, he looked at the card. "Card of cosmic power" it said. "You are transported to Zenagthlan". The Rubic's cube house flashed neon. 'Game over' and winked out.
Archie never noticed. He had been transported to Zenagthlan. Which as anyone with half a brain knows is just a fancy name for a back street in Cheltenham.
Archie found himself in Zenagthlan. Zenagthlan was also known as the front garden of 13 Cromwell Place, a large grey peeling Georgian house in a dank back street in Cheltenham. The peeling gate bore a large sign in faded letters:
"X-Ladies Emporium. Top secret school for crime-fighting lady mutants of a certain age and over"
The door opened. A tall stout mid-fifties lady in a bright pink jumper stood there. She had nothing at all on her lower half. Being a very polite rabbit Archie stared fixedly just above her nose and pretended not to notice. "Sorry to bother you" said Archie "but I seem to have got lost and was wondering.." "Come in, come" in boomed the stout lady. She turned and led the way up the dark hall to a dingy lounge.
X lady 1 - Mrs Barnes Walrus and her Bouncing Bum
Archie followed the big wobbling bottom along the passage. Each wobble seemed to be double the wobble before and it looked like trouble. Wobble, wobble, double-wobble and triple wobble trouble. She had scarcely passed through the lounge door when there was a loud thud and a blubbery boing-boing like a fat child using a space hopper dipped in treacle. The stout lady's large posterior detached itself and bounced in leisurely slow motion across the lounge carpet before passing through the lounge window with an immense crash.
"What do you think of that?" cried the stout lady. Archie gazed at the adipose mass quivering whitely in the Dahlia bed and searched for some polite phrases. "I expect that's a jolly useful x-power, a great talent you can use to bowl over villains to foil bank raids and such". The stout lady managed to look proud and crestfallen at the same time. "I daresay I could, but it seems unlikely that bank robbers would be making an escape across my lounge carpet" "Well, no" said Archie, "I meant, when you do it outside the bank!".
"I know" said the lady, "I keep trying to train it, but unfortunately, so far, I've never been able to aim it like that, wherever it drops, it always heads straight for my lounge window. (Except in leap years of course when it heads for the kitchen window). Went on a cruise to the West Indies once, it dropped off on the second day in Jamaica and came home two weeks before me. Couldn't sit down the whole fortnight. Have you ever tried sitting on protruding hip bones? Got back to find it quivering in the Dahlias as usual, and then it had the nerve to complain I hadn't sent it a postcard." Mrs Barnes-Walrus sighed deeply. "Anyway ducky, do come and meet the gals"
A very very old woman sat alone near the door, tiny and whizened. The mass of wrinkles and lines on her face had their focus on her sunken and clearly toothless mouth. "Pleased to meet.." began Archie, one paw half extended, as he passed in front of her armchair, but he never had the chance to complete the polite phrase as Mrs Barnes Walrus's firm but stubby hand impelled him forward. "You must meet some of the other ladies."
X lady 2 - Superfluid Ankle Lady
Superfluid Ankle Lady was immensely fat. I mean immensely, it was a wonder she could ever get out of bed. If hauled out of bed by lifting gear of considerable power, it was doubly wondrous that she could possibly remain upright. Yet upright, in a sense, here she was. Enormous folds, mercifully hidden on most of her body by a hand-me-down from Chipperfields, hung everwhere. She even had sagging folds on her fingers and on her shins. But strangest of all were her ankles. At first sight it seemed that she had folds of skin there too, hanging down over her shoes. It was only when Archie looked closer that he realised that it was flowing. Flowing continually down, rather in the fashion of mist from dry ice, becoming more and more transparent and dissipating as it spread out.
"Pleased to meet you" said Archie stepping forward to extend a paw. "Not too close" said the attractively bumless Mrs Barnes Walrus. Too late. Archie felt the creeping cold as the superfluid ankle plasma began to defy gravity and creep up his hind quarters. Only their tenuous nature saved him from freezing instantly in the near absolute zero temperature. He pulled back just in time. "Potentially one of our stars", said Mrs B-W, "when she turns it on full she could freeze an elephant to -150'C in under 5 seconds. Unfortunately she tends to leak a bit all the time, one of the downsides of getting on a bit you know" She sighed. Outside in the Dahlias, her bottom farted softly.
Technical note: The ankle flows were mostly composed of an element very similar to Helium (He) called Shelium (She), a noble gas discovered by Letsava Clitsuck, a rabid feminist lesbian Czech chemist and very rare outside of the sanitaryware of certain women. It's a strange reflection on the blinkered and male dominated nature of modern science that scientists have risked their lives and spent billions of dollars looking for new elements in dangerous piles of uranium spoil, building huge particle accelerators or analysing the spectra of supernovae, while all the time there were many thousands of new elements just waiting to be found in used tampons, especially the more expensive brands. The male scientists sneered at Letsava's research. They said that no element with an atomic number of 4,536 could possibly exist and even if it did it could not be a low density gas. They were wrong of course, those chavinist pig rapist male oppressors always are.
X lady 2 - Fear of falling, fear of flying, fear of falling while flying and especially of hitting the ground after falling, and fear of etc. etc. woman (Bettie)
The next middle aged lady looked very pleasant and still slightly attractive to any male who was not a rabbit anyhow. Archie was wary. He just smiled and hung back, glancing at Mrs B-W for a cue. There was no danger it appeared. Bettie's nature seemed as pleasant as her smile. They drank tea and started to chat. About the garden shed she used to own in Salford. Apparently the shelves on the right hand side were made from an old cupboard they used to have in their youngest's bedroom before he was enticed off by a gay chimney sweep with a most exciting soot collection.
Social commentary note: People don't tend to mention it, but surveys show that 96% of chimney sweeps are gay and the 4% that aren't don't stay very long in the business. This is hardly suprisingly when you think about what chimney sweeps do for a living. They rummage in their bags, manually fiddle about with what they keep there until it is much much longer, and then proceed to stuff it up a narrow and very dirty orifice and pull it in and out until the job is finished. The only real departure from the accuracy of this unsavoury simily is that sweeps usually clean up after they have finished. In fact, most chimney sweeps will give a huge discount if you let them wipe their brushes on your curtains. Try it next time.
Back to the tale. Where were we? Oh yes. Reminiscences about the shed. The shed had a rather stiff lock and you had to wiggle the key back and forth before it would open. The felt roof got a hole in it from the great storm when next door's apple tree blew onto it and her Bert had had to repair it with car underseal. Archie tried to steer the conversation onto other topics but nothing appeared to work. He felt bored and uneasy and glanced at Mrs Barnes Walrus for rescue but she had dozed off on the settee, lying on her front to prevent the bony place where her bottom used to be from tearing the fabric. A couple of bees, displaced from the Dahlias by her huge posterior, buzzed lazily inside the huge cavity revealed, gathering nectar from her kidneys.
Commercial note: Once again, Mr. "Buzz" Capone, Cheltenham's premier Bee and Brothel keeper (the two businesses sit well together for tax reasons as I am sure you will appreciate) was going to be mighty annoyed. He hated it when his honey tasted of abdominal parts, selling to those specialist markets was such a fag. I trust that when any of you find honey bees hovering around inside your undergarments you will be a bit more considerate and shoo them away before they gather anything to take back to the hive. Even a tiny drop of smegma really spoils the taste of honey and no amount of quality red clover can disguise it.
Back to the tale again. Where were we this time? Oh yes. Still with reminiscences about the shed. Archie tried one more time to extricate himself politely from the dreary Salford shed saga. What else did normal middle aged ladies like to talk about? "That's a nice jumper, did you knit it yourself?" It worked. Bettie fingered the jumper and began to talk of knitting patterns. Mrs. Barnes Walrus had woken up and a look of alarm spread quickly across her face. "No, she cried!, don't let her mention... that's the trigger!! Too late! "I Always use a 14" number 1.5 knitting needle for the neckline..." began Bettie. At the words "number 1.5 knitting needle" Archie suddenly felt an enormous feeling of vertigo. It seemed he was suspended over an immense pit that went down forever and being drawn towards it, a pit that grew and became huge until it filled the sky, drawing him up...
It took Archie nearly an hour to recover from the panic attacks. In the few moments before Mrs BW had dragged him away he had had vertigo, agrophobia, clostraphobia, arachnophobia, almost every damn phobia one can think of that has a name and several that don't. Did you know there was a fear of typewriters or of small discs of polished metal less than 3" across? (Not to be confused with the far more common and less serious fear of small discs of polished metal more than 3" across). Archie had had enough. Would Mrs BW please convey his best wishes to Maximum Security Nostril Woman, the arcane Mistress Of The Tribes Of Lost Dentures, Creeping Facial Warts Woman, Inter-dimensional Corsets Woman and all the others. He wished them all the best in mastering their strange powers in order to defeat the forces of crime and evil but he just had to go.
X lady 3 - Black Hole Mouth Woman, first encounters of the last kind
Following Mrs BW and almost through the door, he paused in front of the wizened old lady. She still sat alone. He had seen nobody talk to her and he felt sorry for her. It must be hard to be trapped inside this shrivelled husk of a body. He stopped and smiled. "Goodbye" he said, "It was nice to see you". With great effort the old lady raised her head almost imperceptibly on the scraggy turtle neck. The rheumy old eyes gazed into his. There was a tremoring in the folds of flesh. Then the wrinkles parted and the mouth opened ever so slightly. There was a faintly audible intake of breath and all light was sucked instantly from the room as though a great black blanket had fallen over the entire universe. They say that, suitably aclimatised, the human eye can discern one photon but no human eye, though it had waited a thousand years for that one moment could have seen any light in that room. If room there had been, for that too was instantly gone along with Archie, Cromwell Place and most of Cheltenham as far out as the race course. Channel 4 viewers watching the racing may have seen the edge of nothingness appear behind the grandstand. It became spent and halted abruptly just behind Joe May's "Mr. Whippy" ice cream van. Joe was lucky. As black holes go, it was a very small one and its power was probably spent even more quickly due to the inferior quality denture cement BHMW was using. Had her pension stretched to proper Sterofix, everything would probably have disappeared clear up to Birmingham. No bad thing either, most would say.
Archie and the x-ladies? Who really knows what became of our post-menopausal superheroines? Perhaps Stephen Hawkin is right and it is possible for energy to leak from a black hole and if energy can do it why not other things? The ladies were resourceful and I have no doubt that, one day, orders for extra large corsets, Stannah stair lifts, discrete incontinence pads and so on will be sneaking out from that huge silent abyss just inside the Cheltenham ringroad. If I thought that being in a black hole would save me from introductory offers from Saga I would be in there like a shot myself, I can tell you.
Commercial note 2. In case you are wondering, inter-dimensional corsets are much cheaper than normal ones, hardly surprising when you consider there is very little demand for them. Most manufacturers of inter-dimensional corsets have huge stocks sitting unsold in their warehouses and it is very hard to find space for all the new ones as they come off the production lines. It's a similar story with many other worthy products like hang gliders for the severely disabled, cold ovens or wheeless bicycles.
As for Archie, he never entered the black hole and has no more idea what happened to the x-ladies than you do. There is a strange and little understood phenomenum that can occur when a black hole first springs into being. Like a sling shot in reality, the closest items can skip the surface of nothing and bounce off in unpredictible ways in time and space.
The sling shot of the burgeoning black hole sent Archie whirling through through time, space, creel, flarsety and several other states and dimensions that even Stephen Hawkin has not thought of yet and which are known only to a small Skylark in Bristol. She is not saying, last I heard. It was hard to tell when the interdimensional whirling ended as whirling carried on after Archie landed with a thud in a muddy field. Much of the land of Rhaas whirls perpetually as its geology is dominated by microtechtonics, unlike the Earth which is subject to macrotechtonics that causes continental drift and earthquakes. On Raas, even tiny patches of ground are liable to drift rapidly with respect to others. You can plant a row of beens in your garden and find them several hundred yards away an hour later and where your been patch was could be a garden pond from the next village. Property law is very complex in Rhaas as you might imagine.
Editors note: If you want to see a scientific study of the phenomenum of microtechtonics which has been made especially long and tedious with lots of complicated formulae so you can convince yourself how intelligent and serious-minded you are by pretending to read it, click here. The link will not work until we have cashed your cheque for £100.
Archie decided to make for what looked like a large office building but the patch of field he had landed in was in a particularly complex state of drift at that moment and no sooner had he jumped onto one small area of grass that seemed to be going in that direction than it would veer off and head in another. Who knows how long he might have veered about had he not been rescued by Cyril? Cyril was a tall gaunt man who appeared from the office block and made a beeline for Archie without any of the navigation problems Archie was having. “Mr Archie Rabbit? I am Cyril Clombe from His Majesties’ Government. We have been expecting you since before your completely unexpected arrival from another dimension 5 minutes ago. We are most happy to see you. Please follow me.“ As a Rhaasian native Cyril clearly knew what bits drifted where and headed towards the building, jumping from patch to patch. Archie hopped in his wake in some trepidation. He wondered if he was in trouble because, despite his words, Cyril had not looked happy at all.
Editors note: Majesties’ above is not a grammatical error. There are approximately 65 million kings and queens of Rhaas as they never had the sense to introduce ageist and sexist rules like inheritance going to the first born son or even requiring that one monarch had to be dead before the next was crowned. From the coronation of the first king of Rhaas every one of his descendants had an equal claim to occupy the throne and almost the entire population claims rulership. They never had the sense to exclude criminals or the insane from high office either and do not even pretend to as we do.
Archie was right, Cyril Clombe was livid. On Raas, thanks to very powerful unions, civil servants got to choose what job they wanted to do, so naturally they all chose ones that allowed them to avoid doing any work at all. Once a year they turned up to sign a register to show willing and in return they got fat salaries, big bonuses and enormous pensions when they retired. Much like the UK on Earth really, expect there we prefer to pretend that civil servants do something useful. Cyril had designated himself as “immigration officer with special responsibility for rabbits from another dimension” and had confidently expected he would never have to do a day’s work in his life. Now here was Archie and he had a job to do, which was even more difficult as he had never bothered to think through what the job might involve. Would you? So far his work performance had been exemplary as he had never made a mistake but if he screwed up now would it affect his annual bonus?
He cheered up when he walked into the nearly derelict civil service office. For the first time that he could remember it was full of people, some of whom he recognised as his colleagues from important meetings at the civil service social club or golf course. The word had got around that a civil servant had some work to do and he was a celebrity! They pretended to commiserate but he could see they were secretly envious, especially old Larkins, executive officer in charge of pensions for the over 150s, who had narrowly avoided having some work to do when an old lady in Cleethorpes (there is one in Rhaas too) had fallen down her front steps aged 149. Fortunately, nobody else had a clue what his duties were either, any more than they had a clue what their own duties would have been had they actually had to perform any. He asked Archie a few obvious questions, reason for visit and so on, scribbled out a permit, (naturally there were no civil service secretaries who could work on machines or in languages that actually existed) signed it and handed it to Archie with a flourish before sitting down, exhausted but as proud as punch, to loud applause and much back slapping. What tales he would be able to tell his grandchildren about his time in the civil service when he did almost ten minutes work!
An hour later saw Cyril and Archie mellowing in the plush civil service bar downing some of Cyril’s tax free whisky expense allowance. Cyril began to drone on about the other allowances and perks his civil service job gave him. He had just got to the tax free brothel allowance when he turned pale crimson, fell back in his chair and expired; the effort of ten minutes (almost) work had been too much for him. The distinction between life and death is a very blurred one in civil servants and although there was no movement that Archie could see in the throat the dreary narrative continued to emanate from the lifeless mouth as it would continue to do so until rigor mortis set in. Archie downed his whisky, then Cyril’s as there was no point wasting it and hopped out of the bar.
Editors note: You may think Archie was being rather callous leaving poor old Cyril like that after he (or rather the Rhaasian taxpayer) had brought him a whisky and all. No need to feel sorry for Cyril, the civil service unions in Rhaas had little things like death covered and had brought in rules to avoid discrimination against dead people. Cyril would be back after a year’s expiry leave on full pay and, being incapable of performing his former duties in the unlikely event he would ever be called upon to perform them again, would be promoted to “supervisor of immigration officers with special responsibility for rabbits from another dimension” at a much increased salary.
In Rhaas the higher ground tends to be stable and not subject to microtechtonics. The civil service club club stood on such a hill, surrounded by valleys where the ground swirled rapidly in all directions. In his short trips following Cyril to the office and then to the club, Archie had got the hang of recognising where bits of ground were likely to go. He hopped onto a particularly fast moving tussock and headed North out of the land of Rhaas.
To be continued
The land of Rhaas was lit by two suns which circled each other closely low on the horizon, the larger a dull orange and the smaller a bright white. Every few hours the light alternated from a sunset glow to a dazzling Arctic noon and to avoid the glare in his eyes Archie headed North away from them.
Authors′ note 1: Towards what we on Earth would think of as North going solely from the sun′s position anyway. In fact, relative to the planet′s axis of rotation, Archie was actually moving along close to the equator. The false impression was due to the very high refractive index of space in that part of the galaxy which transformed a rotation in one direction into an apparent rotation at almost right angles to it. If you think this is strange you should see what happens on Regheimer VI where parts of space are reflective and the number of suns perceived by its inhabitants varies from 2 to over 150. This is even stranger when you realise it does not have a sun at all.
Authors′ note 2: There are no magnetic poles. The Planet is much younger than the Earth and more up to date. Nobody uses compasses anymore so it has a huge Satnav transmitter core instead of a magnetic core.
PS These most informative scientific notes are aimed at educated xoggoth Tales readers who like to know these things. To any horrible common sorts who have chanced upon this – have you seen what Jordan is up to this week? Wahee!
Anyway, back to the story.
Archie′s skill at riding the swirling plates of microtechtonics was not perfect and it took several days before his journey “North” halted at another large stable area of ground. Fortunately, he had managed to grab a meal from a passing plate. This sort of thing happens quite often in Rhaas, you can buy a pub meal, leave it on the table in an apparently stable part of the garden and a rogue piece of shifting ground snatches it away while you go back for a napkin.
Authors′ note 3: It was quite legal for Archie to help himself. As we said in the last episode, property law is very complex in Rhaas but there is a simplifying finder′s keepers clause for anything worth less than about £20 in our money as it is not worth tracking down such small items. The rule also applies to cats and small children as those are not worth bothering with either.
Anyway, back to the story again.
Archie arrived at a flat plain with clumps of woodland dotted here and there and between those were also clusters of houses on stilts rather as we see in parts of the Far East. He headed towards the nearest and was close when an angry man leaned over the railings and shouted “Bugger off, go on, just bugger off you hoppy little bastard before I shoot you”. This was not a promising start and he changed direction, hoping for a warmer welcome from the next dwelling. He had only gone a few hops when the same man leaned over the railings on the other side, all smiles and waves and cried “Welcome little stranger, we are delighted to see you. Please come up” Feeling confused and a little wary Archie climbed the ladder, becoming even more puzzled when the same man, deadpan and disinterested, met him at the top. “Come in if you must”
The man was clearly unbalanced. Frightened, Archie had turned to go back down when two other men, exactly like the first, came round the cabin. One was the kind, happy smiling one and clearly he had somehow prevailed upon the other, the angry man, to let Archie in. He stood there, fists clenched and muttering. “Pleased to meet you” said Archie “You must be brothers”. “Brothers, what stupid shit. Bastard.” muttered the angry man and stormed off. The deadpan man just stared, shrugged his shoulders and walked away while the happy one laughed and clapped Archie on the back and ushered him into the cabin where he sat Archie down and poured him a drink.
“Old rabbit, clearly you do not know the ways of the Land of the Mortal Trinity” We three men are all physical incarnations of the same man. Our god is far more rational than those of other men. He didn′t see the point of all that nonsense about resisting temptation and following the right path to determine where you go in the afterlife so he made each one of us as a trinity of three at the outset. One is good and will go to heaven, one is evil and will go to hell and one is neither one nor the other and will spend eternity in purgatory.
“It sounds very rational” said Archie “but isn′t it a bit unfair that neither of the other two has a chance of paradise? “ The jolly man laughed again “Good lord no! After all, we know that men elsewhere are largely the product of their genes and upbringing and there is no truly free will. It is far too easy for a man who struggles to be good to go to hell for faults he cannot help or even for a single slip while the deliberately evil man can gain paradise with a brief well-timed repentance. Our god commissioned studies in other worlds that showed no statistical correlation whatever between a man′s effort to be good in this life and his reward in the next. Our god′s ways are much fairer; at least a man who knows he is going to hell does not have to waste this life trying to be good. At this very moment my evil self will probably be enjoying himself at some fun thing not permitted for me, like robbery, rape or serial killing. The nearest to enjoyment of physical pleasures I am permitted, when I am not busy praying or helping others, is to sip a little wine and appreciate the beauty of flowers.
“Mmm, I suppose I can see that” said Archie “but do you know for sure that the fate of each of you will be as you describe?” The kindly man laughed again “That′s easy!” Our god saw that another huge impediment to salvation in other worlds was the uncertainty of guidance by sacred texts. How can any man be certain of the will of god when the meaning of a text is unclear and there are numerous versions? What is the point of god hiding away and being so obscure? Our god chose, not just to make things crystal clear but to be on hand to explain and prove his will to any man on request. You are not one of a trinity but since you express these doubts he would be very happy to explain things to you. “Oi! God! Can you come down here a mo?”
A bright light appeared overhead and a rumbling voice said “Hang on a minute, I′m on the loo”. The light disappeared then reappeared a few minutes later, a pillar of fire briefly hung above the cabin and he was there in the spare chair in proper biblical form, as an old man with a big white beard, long robes and halo. And an earring, for even god gets fed up with looking traditional all the time. “Welcome Pilgrim” he said “I am GOD, around these here parts anyway”. This god often spoke like John Wayne since, unlike the miserable vindictive gods of Christianity, Islam or Judaism, he had a sense of humour.
Authors′ note 4: (See footnote) As any schoolboy must surely know, there has been a version of John Wayne on every planet in every universe. Even the amoeba people of Gddjj-V6-zg had a John Wayne; it spent whole minutes of its 1/2 hour lifespan perfecting a drawl from its second contractile vacuole.
Archie was uncertain what to say to this omnipotent being. His previous enquiry about knowledge had been mere politeness, for all his previous experiences of religious men had taught him that there would be no sensible answer. He had expected citation of a sacred text, some “logic” that was no more than mere simily or a claim to god-given faith - the wonderful circularity of citing a gift from god as proof of god. He had expected to nod politely and change the subject, perhaps move it towards the thing that was uppermost in his mind, how to get out of this strange world to one where landscapes stayed where they were.
Authors′ note 5: Obviously this god′s omnipotence extended only to his own world/ universe, not those ruled by other omnipotent gods. You may say he could not be omnipotent if his omnipotence was limited by spatial considerations; I say you are just being pedantic.
Authors′ note 6: Re author′s note 5. World/universe are interchangeable for this purpose as that is one thing that our Earthly religions got right. Having created a smallish world for man to live in, each god then went on to create enormous galaxies full of billions of stars stretching over billions of light years simply so that men could look up at the night sky and say “wow, look at those stars, aren′t they beautiful?” Setting the romantic scene and establishing one′s credentials as a deep and sensitive individual makes it much easier to get away with thrusting one′s hands into a new girlfriend′s blouse/knickers.
Authors′ note 7: Re author′s note 6. Blouse/knickers are the same garment on the planet 7YY__wQq. The inhabitants are very lazy and would fall asleep long before progressing from top to bottom in the manner of humans. All naughty bits are therefore clustered together in an area not exceeding 13.51 square cm and are clearly signposted so that lovers don′t need to think too hard.
Back to the story again. Honest.
Archie did not need to say anything of course, for this was GOD, one of them anyway, and he knew what Archie was thinking. He was also a kindly and placid god. “Relax pilgrim” he said before Archie could open his mouth. “Ain′t no sense you gettin′ into things that don′t concern you, you being a rabbit and without a soul an′ all so I′m a gonna help you out. First I′m gonna cure that squashed rear end you got there (see some previous episode, forget which) and then I′m gonna send you somewhere more to your liking"
Authors′ note 8: This god was so chilled because he had sat down and meticulously planned his world in the first place, rather than making it up as he went along like ours did and getting into a fury when it kept going tits up.
Authors′ note 9: The only Earthly creature with a soul, apart from man, is the parasitic Nematode Gnathostoma spinigerum. See our technical treatise “Life after death in parasitic Nematodes”
The saintly trinity man smiled and waved. The GOD smiled in a way that John Wayne would have smiled had Michelangelo painted him on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The evil angry trinity man was back, glaring at Archie and he had a gun but he never got a chance to use it. Archie felt himself being simultaneously squeezed and lifted. For a moment he blacked out.
When he opened his eyes he felt great, like a young rabbit again. He looked down at his body and it was whole, even his tail was back above his arse where it should be, rather than wandering about making a nuisance of itself and making silly comments like it usually did since the accident with the big red lorry.
Then he looked up, and had no idea where he was, yet in a way it was every bit as familiar as his own arse.
To be continued.
Footnote 1: Some have suggested that the invaluable author′s notes in these tales are distracting and would be better as footnotes. We did try that but lesser authors like Sebastian Faulks and Bill Bryson kept stealing bits. Notes are much safer in the main text where we can keep an eye on them rather than down here.
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