A Meeting Room, Somewhere…
Feb08

A Meeting Room, Somewhere…

“Heil Hitler!” said with a snap and a proud billowing of the cheeks. The guard shuffled into attention trying to hide some of the slouching that invariably comes from hours of dull duty. “Heil Hitler,” came the perfunctory reply as Oberleutnant Schmidt bounded into the office. As he expected, the room – if you didn’t include the guard (Friedrich? He wanted to say Friedrich) and himself – was unoccupied. Naturally, he was dead on time for the meeting and naturally he would be made to wait again. Schmidt picked one of the pad chairs and settled into it facing the office’s only other piece of furniture, a desk hewn from local rock and topped off with a thin sheet of steel cannibalised from the force’s now-useless lead exploration craft. To pass the time he closed his eyes and listened to his surroundings; his own, heavy breathing (this environment didn’t help); the low-pitched whirr of the ventilation system recycling the air for the ten thousandth time; just at the limits of audibility the hint of a couple of other discussions elsewhere in the structure echoed through into the semi-circular room. He felt he sensed rather than heard the general approaching but he conceded quickly his subconscious may have simply alerted him to the sounds he was zoning out of hearing. How long had he been there? He glanced at the clock on the wall. Under five minutes. Not too bad. The general and another soldier – the Festungswerkmeister, or fortress works master – entered and acknowledged the guard’s voiced salute. Friedrich was dismissed with a wave of the general’s hand leaving the three men alone. “Why, generaloberst, you’re very nearly on time!” said Schmidt, who hadn’t bothered to stand for the other two. The general grunted and slumped onto the pad chair opposite Schmidt. The fortress works master, Schroeder, smiled weakly and nodded at the oberleutnant as he took the seat next to him. “Schroeder, you’re to begin preparations for dismantling of the defences – as much as possible – and restoring the Kalkgrund to service,” said the general flatly. Two sets of eyes widened at that statement. “We’re leaving under our own power?” asked Schmidt, shifting slightly. “There are no reinforcements coming?” “We are, and there aren’t,” answered the general. “There will be no need for reinforcements because as we’ve all surmised over the past half year here there is nothing to reinforce against. This has been a colossal waste of time and effort.” He took a breath. “Naturally,” he added, “the fault lies not with our leaders but with the cunning of the enemy.” “Of course. Naturally,” answered...

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Alberto Frog’s Coffee Problem
Jun22

Alberto Frog’s Coffee Problem

“Oh, Alberto Frog, thank you!” said Father Leopold. “Thank you for saving the church fĂȘte with your charity orchestral performance.” “An absolute pleasure,” said the orchestra’s conductor, beaming widely. “How ever can I thank you?” asked the priest. “Well…” said Alberto. “Um… Er…” Zebra knew what he was going to ask for. Kangaroo knew what he was going to ask for. Ostrich knew what he was going to ask for. “Well,” continued Alberto Frog. “I wouldn’t say no to a coffee.” There was a clang as cymbals fell to the floor and a loud gasp was heard from most of the orchestra. “Coffee?” asked Father Leopold. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a milkshake?” “No,” said Alberto quickly. “Coffee. Please. Coffee.” “Er, okay. Any particular flavour?” Tiger thought Alberto might choose Bounty Island Cream. Flamingo thought Alberto might choose Blueberry and Vanilla. Elephant thought Alberto might choose Toasted Pecan. And Monkey thought Alberto might choose Chocolate Cherry. What do you think? “Anything. Anything will do,” said Alberto. “Come now, Alberto, you must have a favourite flavour of coffee.” Father Leopold’s smile was thin and forced. “I. Don’t. Care,” said Alberto through gritted teeth. Father Leopold was taken aback as he didn’t realise frogs had teeth. “Coffee. Any coffee. I just want a coffee.” “Would you like Blueberry and Vanilla coffee?” asked Flamingo, keen to be proven right. “JUST GIVE ME A FUCKING COFFEE!” screamed Alberto Frog. “I JUST WANT A FUCKING COFFEE!” “Steady now Alberto!” said Coelacanth, wary of how much much the baton was shaking in the conductor’s hand. “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?” yelled Alberto. “WHY IS THERE A FUCKING COELACANTH IN MY ORCHESTRA?” “Hippo’s on maternity leave,” said Squirrel timidly. Alberto stared at the rodent with fury in his eyes. “Here!” said Father Leopold suddenly. “Here’s a coffee.” “Finally!” said Alberto, grabbing the offered mug from the priest’s hands and taking a loud slurp. The orchestra’s conductor’s shoulders relaxed immediately and Alberto closed his eyes, savouring the taste of the hot liquid. “Was that so fucking difficult?” he said quietly. Suddenly Alberto Frog felt a sharp pain in his left arm and a crushing weight on his chest. He clasped a hand to his heart even as it gave up beating to one of the many rhythms in the conductor’s head. Father Leopold and the orchestra looked on as the amphibian died from a massive heart attack. “Stress,” said Raccoon, breaking the silence that followed. “I told him coffee was no good for him.” “What coffee was it?” asked Elephant. “Toasted pecan,” answered Father Leopold as he made the sign of the cross over Alberto’s stiff...

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All Ears
Jun03

All Ears

“I’m all ears,” I said as I lowered myself onto the tree stump opposite the doctor. The doctor fished one hand into a worn-looking pocket in his coat and pulled out a short wooden pipe. Over the next couple of minutes he also retrieved tobacco and a lighter and proceeded to do all the right things with those three objects. He made a couple of sucking sounds and exhaled a small cloud. “Well,” the doctor said, after quite a long wait. “Well, you’re not all ears,” he continued. “There’s a mouth there.” He pointed at me with the mouthpiece of the pipe, a far better use for the item than using it to smoke in my opinion, though I kept the thought to myself. “Yes,” I answered with a sigh. “This right here is a mouth. Technically, I’m not all ears but for all intents and purposes I am.” “Hmmm.” We sat in silence for as long it takes a doctor to inhale and exhale from a pipe three more times. “How did you know who I was and where I was?” he asked. I shrugged my ear-covered shoulders. “I’m not sure what you’re asking there.” “You don’t have any eyes,” the doctor continued. “I’m over 90% ears,” I replied. “Despite not having any eyes my hearing prowess enables me to build up an in-depth view of the world that’s probably better than every other person on the planet.” “A bit like that superhero in that bloody awful movie?” “Daredevil? Yes, I suppose so. I suppose you could say I’m just like Daredevil if Daredevil was a walking bush of ears. Do you think there’s much call for a comic book adaptation of a mostly-ear bit of shrubbery? Is that the sort of superhero kids will want to be?” The doctor looked uncomfortably at his pipe. “I’m sorry for snapping,” I said. “I’m just after some help. I’m tired of being this way. Can you help?” The doctor took another deep puff. “My doctorate is honorary,” he said, punctuating the sentence with a smoke ring and barely-concealed look of joy at the O-shaped cloud. “And it’s in philosophy.” “Damn.” “Hmmm.” I slumped, defeated. “Have you thought about taking up pipe-smoking?” “No hands,” I said. “I’m all ears.” “Hmmm.” The doctor tried his best to ignore me, tried his best to concentrate on smoking, and I sat in silence for a few moments more. After what seemed a satisfactory amount of time to convey my disappointment and send waves of what I hoped was guilt over the man in some petty way of spreading misery I lifted myself off the...

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Without Incident
Nov12

Without Incident

The little fish clung to the underside of the jetsam, shivering with fear. After everything that had happened this somehow seemed the most scary moment of all. It was nearly silent; only the occasional bubble and splash on the surface punctuated the oppressive terror. There was nothing around. Which direction should he go? Would he ever see anyone again? Some shadow shifted in the distance. The fish held his breath. A trick of the fading light? No. The shadow became a shape and headed directly at him. Friend, or foe? Or… could it be? It was! “Dad! You came for me!” “Pierre! It is you! I knew it! Pierre, I’d swim every ocean for you. I’d go to war for you. I’d enter a squid’s suicide volcano for you. I’m just happy you’re safe.” “I was so scared, dad. But I met some new friends who helped me and then I got lost and, and, and I just knew you’d never give up.” “And I never will, believe that. Even when the shark gang had me encircled and even when the Eleanor the clumsy, giant squid inadvertently took me to the edge of her suicide volcano I knew I’d find a way out and find my way to you.” “I love you so much dad!” “And I love you too, little Pierre!” “I’m quite fond of the pair of you!” “Who’s that dad!?” “This is Petunia and she’ll be your new mum.” “This couldn’t have worked out any better dad. And look! A sparkle in the sky above! Even the oversea is happy! Everything’s just perfect!” * * * Olivia flexed her tentacles, squeezed them together, and soared upwards. “Whee!” screamed her babies as one even as they clung ever tighter to their mum’s arms. Olivia slowed and came to a halt, floating and bobbing gently with the warm current that came out of the west at this time of the year. She grinned and turned smoothly making sure that they were all alone in the deep, vibrant blue of the twilight-lit ocean. “Okay, now you,” said the octopus looking at the tentacles she had stretched out in front of her. On them, wrapped around tightly, were Leo, Lisa, Jenny, and Jack. “Let’s show your father how well you can swim when he gets back from the office.” Nobody moved. “You go first,” said Lisa nervously, looking towards her twin Leo. “No way,” said her brother, and he twisted his arms into a knot around his mother’s. “Jenny? Jack?” asked Olivia, amused. Darting eyes and nervous shakes of the heads were the only answer. They were the youngest two...

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The Media Beast
Oct07

The Media Beast

I went down to the zoo today. There were many people there. I think a lot of people visit the zoo every day. I stopped by the media beast enclosure. I was not alone. There was quite a crowd. The media beast is a strange beast. It is large and powerful. Its eyes are soulless, dark and flat. I studied the media beast. Other people watched it and wandered off. They looked at me and shrugged. The media beast chewed on news bushes. Sometimes it chewed and swallowed. Sometimes it chewed and chewed and chewed. I saw a news bush sprouting from the earth. It was intricate, interesting, so different. The media beast trampled it flat. They let some more media beasts into the enclosure. They were smaller media beasts. They gathered around the larger one. The large media beast regurgitated a news bush. The smaller beasts fought among themselves to eat it. They ignored a fresh news bush growing in the corner. The zookeeper walked past me. I told him what I’d seen. He asked if I would be back again tomorrow. No, I don’t think...

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The Alliteration Assassin
Apr04

The Alliteration Assassin

The mirror’s steamed up on account of all the hot, wet bodies sheltering from the rain but the obscured reflection that greets me still looks haggard. I’ve been putting the decision off long enough and it’s not as if the weather’s going to improve any time soon so I down the golden film coating the base of my whiskey glass, pull my still-damp hat from the hook under the bar, and make to leave. There’s a hand gripping the crook of my arm. “You’re not going are you?” I know this guy by sight; a recent transfer to the local police department from some out-of-city place I never bothered to learn. Some kind of big-shot detective, only unlike me he’s the kind that gets a regular paycheck. “Are you buying?” I figure I’ve got nothing to lose by asking. Mister Big-Shot gets Brett’s attention behind the bar straightaway – not a difficult job seeing as this cop is built like one of those new upright refrigerators; bulky, long-faced, distinctive nose – and indicates three whiskeys. He’s either being very generous, needs to drink twice as much to maintain his fluid levels, or he’s got a partner here I haven’t spotted yet. “Let’s take them outside,” he says, handing me one of the glasses. “We might be able to hear ourselves speak.” I don’t have much to say but I’m happy to listen if he wants an ear. It’s not that much quieter outside, truth to tell. The rain’s pelting down on the sidewalk and the guttering of the bar’s blocked, sending a waterfall crashing onto an iron chair not quite under the canopy out front. Still, it’s a little cooler and that’s something. The third guy in our group who was waiting outside has the look of a rookie cop and I figure if I get close enough to him he’s probably got that new cop smell too. “Cheers!” I say, nodding appreciation and taking a sip of my gift. It could do with a little water and fortunately there’s plenty of that around so I stick the glass out from under the covers. I wait for an automobile to pass and for the waves in the surface water to hit the kerb. “You’re after my help with something, I take it,” I say, since nobody else seems to want to chat. “Yeah,” says Big-Shot while chewing his lip. “People say you’re quite good at your job and we could do with a fresh look at a case. Any information, insights, ideas. That sort of thing.” I raise the glass against one of the lights outside the bar to...

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