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Excerpt for Bib and the Scarecrow Made of Mice by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Bib and the Scarecrow
Made of Mice













By Dr. A. Gerald Whybray

Copyright 2019 Adam Whybray

Smashwords Edition

Contents

1

The Dream-Death Cops of Then and Now and Will Be

2

Mrs. Fletcher’s Home

3

Scarecrow Made of Mice

4

Eternal Angelic Punishment from the Ambrosial Godhead

5

GUNK

6

Dime of the Century –or– Return of the Director

7

Edgar-in-the-Box

8

Bib

9

Speech by the Mayor of Kendallmire

10

Old Books

The Dream-Death Cops of Then and Now and Will Be



He was a solipsist and guilty, so chose to spend his life in sleep, and then, in being dead. Later, they found a way to expand their terrain of judgement to even those far-flung regions. But that was now; is now; it will be now.

Mrs. Fletcher's Home

Mrs. Fletcher had a happy home, but her garden had no fence and her front drive had no gate. Mrs. Fletcher lived in a village, where the people were too close and rumours spread fast. The villagers would walk a little off the pavement into Mrs. Fletcher’s driveway; their rucksack, purse or briefcase would knock against her car. Smears of gravel, accidentally kicked, would spread from tarmac onto the edge of her lawn. The villagers wouldn’t rap upon the windows, but they would snap a twig or pull a leaf from the pear tree closest to the road. Mrs. Fletcher’s daughter Emma and her son Matthew would play in the garden and sometimes they would move from the garden, to the driveway, to the road, to the pavement, to the shop, buying sweets to take back home, crossing from one, to the other, to the other. The villagers would follow for a second and then their eyes would roll and they would tail off into their own homes, with arms full of eggs and cauliflowers. Matthew and Emma had friends and their faces would appear in the buddleia bush surrounded by butterflies, with their eyelids half shut and their mouths wide open. They would go ‘ow wow wow wow wow’ like cartoon red indians, with their rough hands against their mouths. On village fête days and summer days and especially busy traffic days, the villages might walk one, two, three, steps into Mrs. Fletcher’s garden, to avoid traffic… or, just in idleness, stretching their legs – drifting onto the property like daddy-longlegs.

Those friends of Matthew and Emma. They would play jokes. One, a small boy with a round red face, about eight, put his beetroot coloured tongue through the letterbox, in amongst the bristles. Lovers would kiss up against the house’s walls. First dates that would end at midnight, the adolescent sweat staining the bricks of Mrs. Fletcher’s house a creamy white.

Mrs. Fletcher had a foyer. A little vestibule where Matthew and Emma and herself would keep their shoes. The children’s shoes had laces like curly fries which you didn’t have to tie. Mrs Fletcher only had one pair of high-heeled shoes, but one day there were two. One time, one of Matthew’s velcro shoes was inside a larger man-sized leather shoe, but the other one of the pair couldn’t be found. Coming back from holiday, mud and dog shit had been trodden into the welcome mat, but nothing had been stolen and the house had not been entered.

The villagers would drift like a sea tide, in groups of ten and twelve, walking sideways like crabs towards the house, then back across the road toward the pavement, moving in a sine-wave. Some would come loose from the set and drift erratically at a hurried, frantic pace, eyes closed, into the foyer, banging up against the door, stupid and insensate, like a fly against a window. If they entered the house, they mostly confined themselves to the lower storey, but sometimes would crouch at the bottom of the stairs, reaching up, with muscular arms. The villagers were hairy, but their skin was smooth and their faces were small and freckled. They would coo and gurgle like babies and listen at the door to the bedtime stories Mrs. Fletcher read to Matthew and to Emma. Sometimes they would fall asleep but sometimes they would only be pretending.

One of the villagers was a policemen in a shiny black hat and another was a social worker and another had been a judge so Mrs. Fletcher could not ask the authorities to intervene and anyway, since the villagers had come into the house so slowly it was almost as though that they weren’t really inside at all, but rather, more and more of the house was becoming outside.

Mrs. Fletcher had two children, but maybe she had three or five, because although they were called Matthew and Emma, these were common names and they could not be distinguished from the other villages, who often looked alike and, more and more, began to look like Mrs. Fletcher, who started to doubt whether she wasn’t herself one of the villagers, invading the house of another, separate woman, who may or may not have been called Mrs. Fletcher.

Scarecrow Made of Mice

It was a packet of flour with a gingham tablecloth design and perhaps there were eggs in the packet because, from the moment he was doughed, there was something wiggly and disconsolate about the gingerboy. A sort of writhey, salty tension, as if maggots marionetted deep beneath the crunch of his skin. Something had thrived in that packet and now thrummed – liquid – within him like blackbirds in a pie. A stone sewn through with grubs, he moved like a foot of a sewing machine, arms drawn tight by his sides. The closest I can think of is a tin soldier I had as a child. It was clockwork and had a door in its stomach where you could store coins – and I left it in the garden and when I found it a little grasshopper had made its home in there. I was ivory with fear, shut the door, turned the key and pretended it still contained 20 pieces. It still walked the same, boss-eyed and hairy lipped like a German nutcracker. And no-one would have known that somewhere deep within him a grasshopper was banging its head up against his stomach, screaming ‘let me out let me out let me out’ and that is how it was with Whisperteeth.

As a child Whisperteeth was useless and always preyed on by mice. Mice would love a nibble! They’d shoot him through with holes and leave him rough and nuggety like a slice of pumpernickel. Cold weather was also a problem because his whole body was ribbed with nitty hairline cracks and they’d fill up with rain and prize off bits of his skin when it froze with a pop. He’d never get upset though. His face was tied in a dippy flaccid smile and though it’d veer off a little crooked with the cracks, it was never anything less than placid. But when I caught a mouse I’d kill it all the same because they’d eat him up, before he even twitched a whisker. And the whole thing obviously made a deep impression on him because years later it was Whisperteeth who went down to the basement and thought of ways to use the mound, when I would have just left them.

About 10 years, because it was only when he was an adult that Whisperteeth was really any use and it was then he got the idea that he wanted to start a farm. I suppose it’s because I’d always been so honest with him. I showed him the flour, the ground ginger, the margarine and the brown sugar and simply told him ‘all this is how it was’ and I think he liked knowing. He looked at each of the parts unblinkingly in turn and nodded his head as best he could, tipping his whole body forward like a sippy-dippy bird. Oh he would have chirped could his tight little mouth have allowed it! And then 10 years later and would you know it, it was his very sole pleasure to grow, grow, grow!

Darren always says it was him who crooked up the first 2×4 but that’s gobbledegook from the start! It was me who put in the hours down the basement, boring and planing the wood in long honest strides. Darren’s stomach is always mush and cobwebs after the merest sweatdrops and he doesn’t have the good, solid movements nor the capacity of mind to see any project through. Yes, the woodwork was my own and I am proud to say it. On Christmas day I tied a blue ribbon in my hair and presented Whisperteeth with his first little plot. It was spread half an inch thick with bits of bran & muck and I’d made him little tools out of twigs and glasschips, all his own. And not cutesywootsy littleuns for dolls in thimblehats and doiliedress but real grubby stuff for yanking real hard grub from skuff and muck and dung. Well, I perched by the side of his bed and we found the final advent door together and the foil on the chocolate was so shiny and the chocolate was so sweet it made me cry. And Whisperteeth moved from one foot to the next and back again to show how pleased he was.

Perched at the edge of the kitchen sideboard he would sow and plow and soon there were carrots needle-thick and in the winter insy-bitsy marrows the size of marbles. And though he couldn’t eat, he would grow for I’m sure his ginger limbs gained solid growth from the farming in itself as if his soul were stretching outside like a red balloon in paper mashie. Soon the 2x4s were tiny for his frame and the dimensions would increase and he would increase and nature was thrown into glorious excess! So it was agreed between Whisperteeth and myself that he would farm in the garden and he was going on 15. But it was harder. While in the kitchen there were mice (same as always!) I’d bonk and chuck them but outside the fruits got so juicy the fat skies opened birds. Black beasties swooping, a hundred times cawing and flapjawed. They’d drill cankorsores into poor Whisperteeth with their gristly smiles and I couldn’t get my broom to them fast enough and I’d pat flour into his wounds from the old gingham packet from which he was birthed. In a week he had aged a year and it was getting hard to patch him up. I begged for him to come back inside to the safety of the kitchen but every morning he’d tromp outside and get pecked to pieces. The spitworms always laughing like babies.

Then Darren mentioned scarecrows and it was rude of him to leave the idea so late because he hated Whisperteeth and wanted him back to cold powder. I broke up some chairs for wood but couldn’t weave the splinters. By the time I was confused in knots Whisperteeth was beside me, scraping his broken feet against the back of my hands. He kept rabbiting until he tugged my sleeve basement bound and my toes wrapped around the hem of each step so grasping I was to avoid going down. But Whisperteeth was petulant tugsy even though he’d been pecked squalid by the birds and was practically crumbling down the stairs! And when we got to the mound it was black and seeping because I’d always had mind to leave it, but soon great ratty fistfuls were being slooshed up the stairs and I was weaving and stuffing a scarecrow made of mice. There shall be a nice fat paragraph devoted to it:

First I snipped some backbones, thin and crispy as celery stalks, and bound them rigid-thick with tails to make a cross. Then all the moulder-mice were smooshed like grapes to make a slushy paste and I daubed the paste over the skelebob cross until it was foul and slooshem as the grave! Then I took to kneading back their heads and sewed tails in through the joins of necks to stitchem-up long drapes of fur. When cut and trim I dressed the cross all spick and span and stuffed the clothes with clumps of mice until the seams were fit to burst. Then I gave him a mousey hat with a thousand skelebob faces!

And when I’d finished I wasn’t proud but my teeth were sharp and clickity-boo with fear. All the mice I’d chucked and bonked I thought the scarecrow might spring to life and gobble me up! But Whisperteeth was wiggling with excitement and though my brain was parched I could swear I saw the maggots rolling in the holes that were the deepest. It was heavy as a mountain to carry but we plumped it in the patch with the fruits that were pulp swollen until the whole garden smelt wet.

Then the sky cocked its head in fat curiosity and the beasties swept down a hundred times cawing and flapjawed but the scarecrow barbed the soil and the dapsy brutes got stuck. Some hung in the air strange and quiverbeaked while others went flitting trundlewheeled upon the ground and perched cockeyed on fences. Oh they had nasty intrigue alright but once their necks were leered forward in the way of birds they twitched like something dying and the bristle-feathered babies would hopsy backward but tugged always forward by the stench. But I do not know if it was the stench that had them dribblebeaked. Because now the smell has grown light and waften in the wind and they still crowfoot forward to the scarecrow made of mice in a big slow circle. Like a black seatide the circle moves in and out and in and out and Whisperteeth has aged a lifetime in a month and bits of him are soggy and bits of him aren’t there but Darren won’t leave the house and I have the broom across the door. And Whisperteeth moves from one foot to the next and back again because he is so scared but he still looks wiggly with excitement because bits are writhing out of him and the maggots are dancing on the floor and the eyes of the birds are sharp and gleaming. And Whisperteeth stands next to the scarecrow made of mice and it is raining. And I do not know if the scarecrow made of mice or the grubs in his grain brings them closer. And I do not know if the scarecrow made of mice or the grubs in his grain sends them away.

Eternal Angelic Punishment from the Ambrosial Godhead

Once a boy poked his finger into places where it wasn’t wanted like in the ear of his sister or in the food on his father’s plate or in the hole his dog got on the back of his right hind leg and then as punishment from God there opened holes in his skin that were red and raw and looked like little toothless mouths and all the parents and the teachers and the judges and the holy men poked their fingers into those holes all at once and sound came out of the holes like whistling empty air.

Gunk

Amongst the adverts for 3D glasses that saw through clothes; sea-monkeys; and back issues, was a half page spread with two pictures of a boy. The first boy was pulling out his pockets like the ears of a cartoon rabbit. The second boy was riding on a bicycle with a bag over his shoulder. He waved at a house with a freshly mown lawn upon which stood a man and wife waving back at him, so implacable in pose it was as though the very shrubbery had bought and put them on display. Next to the first boy the advert asked: “HAVE YOU EVER FELT LEFT OUT? YOUR FRIENDS AWAY ON SUMMER VACATION WHILE YOU’RE LEFT ALONE IN THE HOUSE? HAVE YOU EVER WANTED MORE POCKET MONEY?” Then below the second boy, in large writing: “DON’T BE A SUCKER! EARN YOUR OWN MONEY TO SPEND ON COMICS, GAMES, TREATS AND MORE BY INTRODUCING GUNK TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS!” Below there were details about how to get started and a coupon to fill out and send away to a PO box for a GUNK starter pack. A page earlier Woody had learnt that the Masked Banshee planned to use her toxic defibrillator on Gamete and he was eager to find out how Gamete was going to defeat the Masked Banshee and rescue the Junior Press Club from their imprisonment in the bank vault. The Masked Banshee reminded Woody of a life-sized model of Boudicca that was in the town museum. In the exhibit, Boudicca was holding a stake high above the head of a Roman centurion, her face contorted into a mad snarl and her hair like red strips of cloth from a bleeding puppet. The Masked Banshee wore thigh-high boots and there were purple and orange wavy lines coming from her mouth in a spiral to show that she was singing to hypnotise Gamete. If Gamete fell asleep then the toxic defibrillator would poison his heart. But he would not fall asleep. Woody stretched himself out on the skin-coloured bathroom floor across some pale orange patches where his sister had spilt her hair dye earlier that morning. A few strands of hair stuck to the grouting around the bath, which had started to blacken. “You haven’t got the heart to defeat me!” shouted Gamete as a strand of DNA coiled around the Masked Banshee’s waist, knocking the toxic defibrillator from her hands. While reading, Woody absent-mindedly tugged at the furry belt of his dressing gown, the end of which had grown soggy in a patch of water by the shower. The tinted glazing on the bathroom window has been installed only the week before and made it look as though there was ivy trapped under the glass. The ivy was flat and transparent. Woody rocked forward on his stomach as the summer light began to fade. The Masked Banshee’s eyes were the same colour as the lawn in the advert. Because his mother was at her sister’s house, Woody found a small brown envelope in the dresser in his parent’s bedroom and putting inside it $5 of his own money, sent the coupon to GUNK Corp., Inc., Abyssport, LO. 08438.

“Now that you’ve swam in the gene pool, Plasma Boy, you have the strength of 10,000 men!” Woody rode up Stanford Avenue, a sack of thin white letters strapped to his shoulder. Every time his feet fell from the pedals he scraped against the tiny black bobbles of the high-friction fibreglass the skin of his Achilles tendon exposed above the socks that had slipped down to his heels. Physically begging the bike up the gently inclining street, the sounds of cars backfiring and dogs whimpering and balls being kicked against garage doors pulsed rhythmically up and down. The street wobbled left and right in time with the bicycle. Woody burped up a little sick. Anderson St., Dors Ave., Wickersham St., South and North Webster Ave., Faber St., Midway Ave. had all been delivered to. Over the last five weeks, he had become accustomed to the length and design of all variety of letterboxes. Some had synthetic bristles that would hug the letter like in a car wash; others had spring-loaded guards that had to be lifted carefully with a finger while the other hand stuffed the letter through. The wind was thick with the sweet sickly smell of barbecue and honeysuckle. Stopping his bike at a crossroads and weighing the bag in his hands, Woody estimated that he had only forty more houses to deliver to. He got back on the bike. Each blade of grass of a newly sprinkled lawn seemed to wink rainbows at him from little watery eyes. He pedalled harder and felt the inner-binding of his shoes puncturing his ankles. Two identical triangular marks of raw skin. The sounds of the street that rose and fell did so with an invisible shape that joined all the points of pain across his body – the bleeding skin over the tendons, the blistering ankles, a stitch at the bottom-right corner of his chest, a dull pain in his ears that made a sound like a boulder makes when rolled across the entrance to a cave. Above all a heavy feeling like dark water in the forehead and sweat prickling upon his back. Keeping one hand upon the handlebars, with the other hand he stroked the blond, downy hairs on his belly in small comforting circles. So far, he had only missed one house just two streets along from his own. Upon poking the white envelope through a particularly thick set of bristles a dog had started barking at the other side of the door and he had dropped the letter. The next day he noticed that a “For Sale” sign had been put up outside the house, but he had doubted that the two events were connected. However, the letter was still there and had clearly been trodden upon, without being picked up. The muddy imprint of the shoe was made of jazzy intersecting triangles. The red “GUNK” stamp on the front of the letter was smeared and something had clearly snapped inside it. Angry, Woody had thrown the letter in a skip and kicked the frame of his bicycle; theatrically, so that the people in the house would notice. Then he had got back upon his bicycle and spent the next three hours delivering letters.

The paychecks when they arrived didn’t have Woody’s name on the front, but just said “To The Occupant”. However the check inside was marked for Woody and was always relative to the amount of envelopes he had delivered. The money he received he spent on more comics, which meant that as the summer wore on Woody stayed inside more and more and only left the house to make deliveries. The muscles on his legs thickened and soon he was able to ride up Stanford Ave. without even catching breath. However, as weeks passed – weeks spent between the sanguine greys of the bathroom and the stodgy heat of the neighbouring blocks – Woody grew troubled by an emerging trend. For it seemed that on weeks where he got through all his bags – weeks without punctured tires or screaming dogs – Gamete was sure to defeat the Masked Banshee and save Hope City from any danger. However on weeks where it rained and try as might to drape his plastic mackintosh over the bag, the ink drained out and the paper wrinkled and twisted as if fevered – then on those weeks Gamete was sure to find his Chromosome Suit torn asunder or the gene pool drained. On one particularly terrible week when Woody was taken ill with food poisoning and so spent a whole two days in the bathroom, hacking and crying, curled up on the floor like a caterpillar with its head staple-gunned to its tail – on that week the Masked Banshee succeeded in killing all of the Junior Press Club. Their skins were hung from the flagpoles outside the Mayor’s office. The skin around the cheeks had been stretched down so they had long faces like Greek tragedy masks and the eyeholes were big and hollow. Five panels had been simply images of the children’s parents crying and the Mayor asking in stern capital letters, “WHY HAS GAMETE FORSAKEN US? WHY HAS HE SO SELFISHLY SHIRKED HIS REPONSIBILITIES?” After that Woody vowed never to be ill again. He would rise at 5.00 in the morning, oil his bike and then cycle until evening, not stopping until every letter had been delivered.

On the day term began again and Woody was to go to school Woody begged with his mother to let him stay home. He locked himself in the bathroom and his father had to take the lock off the hinges with a Phillips screwdriver. All week he couldn’t concentrate in lesson because he kept thinking about Gamete and the terrible fate that had befallen the Junior Press Club. He asthma started to worsen again and he had to sit out of P.E – his white socks pulled up high so as to hide his swollen ankles. The night before Gamete issue. 1634 he stayed awake all night. He had only managed to deliver 200 letters in the whole week and at least 30 of those had been put through the letterboxes of houses he had already delivered to. He was outside the newsagents at opening time and rushed to the back of the store where the comics were kept. On the cover of Gamete issue. 1634 it said “FINAL ISSUE – GAMETE DEAD” and lying at the bottom of the page was Gamete, rogue DNA sprouted from his chest, probing his mouth, filling his nostrils. Above Gamete, standing atop a skyscraper was the Masked Banshee. Her mask thrown to the floor. Her hands two ragged papercuts. Her eyes two postage stamps. Her mouth a great flapping envelope hinged with a metal trap spewing the word GUNK in wild tumbling typescript. Woody felt, very strongly, that if only he could post the final envelope through that hole then everything would be OK.

Dime of the Century –or– Revenge of the Director

The chairs we sat on were office chairs; not like the plush ergonomic sort that executives sit on, but the regular kind that interns get – and we could feel the difference. They weren’t bolted or tied together with rope because they had those clips on the sides which means that the chairs can be slotted into each other. But, our wrists were shackled to the armrests with a velcro-steel hybrid, which looks like metal but is lined with tufty little strands, so we couldn’t move our chairs apart, even if they came loose from the clips. Above us on a 72×52.8ft screen – the classic IMAX dimensions – we’d “crash” zoomed into a thick green tendril sprouting through the splayed face of a U.S. Marine. His latex mask exploded in globules of corn-syrup viscera; loud enough to wake up the child shackled in the seat next to me, who started bawling… and yet, bad as the film was, I knew that as soon as it was over I’d be sure to mark a tick alongside the number 10 on the score card I’d been given; as would everybody else. Kept alive on popcorn alone we’d been down in that subterranean screening room for – what was it? Three? Four months? I’d long lost count. Those of us who hadn’t made it that far, and there were plenty of us, were left to fester and ferment in their chairs until they sloshed onto the floor to be sucked up by the autovacs. Roger Ebert had already gone; though he had told me in a hushed croak one night that he actually kind of liked the man’s films… thought they had a certain cinematic vigour and panache which reminded him of Peter Jackson’s early work. It was good to know that he had “gone” doing the thing that he loved.

And he had incredible powers and I’m not talking about cinematic powers here, he was gifted in the way of the X-men. He could tattoo your synapses with a psychic cattle-brand. That isn’t what I want to say. That isn’t how I want to say it. He could really do a number on you. One guy he made feel like he was having the twist ending of The Usual Suspects revealed to him for the first time, afresh, every second just 5 fucking minutes before the end… now, that might seem humorous to you, but I am sat amongst people who love cinema. Who would die for cinema. Who will die for cinema. By the time the autovacs got him he had crumpled like a skin soufflé. Like a… BBBZBZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTT! BBZBBZBZRRRRRRTTTZZZZZTTTTTTTT! OH GOD! OH GOD! OH JESUS WEPT! Like a shit sandwich. It was as funny as halitosis! He’d jumped the shark! Worst. Episode. Ever. FUCK!

Ok. Ok. Ok. A man is now being strangled with a baby’s umbilical cord. Or maybe he is being massaged with it. I think a man in the second row has just bitten through his tongue. It was Mark Kermode who worked on The Culture Show. Big Morissey quiff and pock-marked face? The tongue is slithering across the floor! No, that is just up on the screen. I should watch the film and give it a 10. It is a very good film.

Where was I? He got me at the press screening. I think it was the trailer for Blood Pirates or Ghost Raptor 2 or Zombie Lolcats… I don’t know, they’ve all merged. My brain is like the cutting room floor of the internet. But, either way, I had been savage. I mean, I had really got my teeth stuck in. He had answered questions at the end; sincere but unpleasant – a Quentin Tarantino type. We just laughed in his face. We called him the new Tommy Wiseau. The Wizard of Gore. Only now can I realise how we hurt him. BBBZBZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTT! CRITICS ARE THE CONGEALED SKIN ON THE WARM MILK OF CULTURE!!!

It was only after we had wiped the sass from our mouths, had smirked our post-ironic gobs full of platitudes, had back-slapped, that the green gas started seeping from the holes in the walls and he put on his hypno-specs and the next thing fade to black. Now concrete pillars miles high surround us in the basement of the earth. One of the lolcats is having its head crushed. Sometimes we repeat lines from movies but we don’t know whether we’re doing it to keep ourselves happy or whether he’s got into our brains and is making us do it. I have eaten so much popcorn that I am crying tears of salt. I am crying tears of salt because he took my criticism away from me. I have suffered horribly from this. Now I can only write in clichés, clichés, clichés.

Edgar-in-the-Box

Edgar could not think outside the box, though he had had glimpses of what went on outside it. He had little experience of smell, or taste, or sight, but his sense was, from feeding times, that thinking outside the box was a matter of uncoiling. If he, Edgar, were always pushed down, down, folded, flattened, body like jointed slats, with broken knees shunted up against his chest – then the opposite of that had to be a loose-limbed liquidity – an ultimate freedom of movement. Edgar, who only knew darkness, could not imagine what these figures might look like, but he figured them in terms of outward bounding momentums. If he, Edgar, was the swimmer with his head forced under water, drowning always, then the outside denizens who brought him food and noises, were the water in the ocean. Their tidal bodies sloshing and swaying something genius. They were, are, will be, boundless as sleep. Their voices though were heard by Edgar, flat and muffled through his oaken walls. They chattered, sometimes thousands of them, like roly-poly piping music that went around and around and around. Sticky fingers on his box, never felt by Edgar. The food that they fed him came sloshing and stinking through the crack. The crack gave Edgar’s life rhythm and thus meaning. If Edgar thought, as surely he did, then the thoughts were given to him, bequeathed to him through that crack. After all, there could be no thinking inside the box without something dropping in from outside. The light as it seethed through the crack was white bright whiteness brightness and it hurt but it gave illumination. Fat hairy hands tipping, dropping in the slops. Were these creatures fat, hairy hands boundless and massive as landscape? In the days of – but we shouldn’t speak of days because Edgar did not know them. Anyway, there had been times when Edgar pushed back, felt the springs of his legs uncoil, his slats opening up like a Jacob’s Ladder, pushing back against the outside hands. But they were strong and he was all weak. So he stopped doing that. Resigned himself. Was pushed; not pusher. These things they happened – the days of such horror are not known, not least to Edgar. He has passed now, boxed into himself, buried in the box where he had passed. The outside ones never did find the appropriate moment to spring Edgar. But still, at the end of the day at the end of the day at the end of the day at the end.

Bib

Chapter 1



Bib was surrounded on all sides by a wall of fat greasy pig flesh. He shivered slightly and tried to move his right elbow to scratch ineffectually at an itch on his belly, coughing up a gob of mucus as he did so. It settled next to his cramped right foot and sat there obscenely on the thin membrane of greyish pink blood and grease of the floor. “Shittin’ Hell” Bib mumbled to himself, smearing the loogie into the pork with the heel of his foot. It was when the tankards came down upon the table that Bib knew it was time to come out. Sounding like a stampede of horses’ hooves, the clack-thump of metal on oak meant it was time. Bib thumbed the blade of the knife out from its woven willow sheaf and wedged it into the wet, oily flesh, tearing it open to a gaping crescent moon. “Rrrraaaaayyyyeeee!” the crowd around the table went, “Rrrraaaaayyyyeeee!” Like a synchronised swimmer, Bib’s arms upped-and-outed from the roasted hog as he jumped to the table, the knife now gleaming between his teeth. Practised as he was, he wiped the gravy from his beard with a back-hand hidden in the flourish of a low bow. Long-snouted Irish dogs like weird pigs barked excitedly from the floor. A swift click of the heels then it was down to his knees for the ‘Slaying of the Snaff’. He twined his thumbs together and crooked up his hands to represent the Snaff, then spidered them along the table. He crawled his way forward, knees squeaking on the newly polished oak, hands scuttling before him; showing feigned interest in Bixby, then Buckingham, who eyed him with half-smiles and raised eyebrows. The Snaff rose up upon its fingers and waggled its thumbs at the women, who pushed salt shakers out like soldiers, which the Snaff gamely leapt over, as Bib gave them a wink. This was part of the game as everyone knew that the end of the Snaff’s journey was with the King at the head of the table. There, by the rim of his pearl grey china plate, the Snaff eyed the King horribly – Bib puckering up his face to show everyone the sheer, malevolent evil of the Snaff’s designs. The King raised his tankard, brought it down – clump – on one of the Snaff’s legs. For a second, eyes turned from the Snaff to Bib’s face to discern a wince. Bib gave a double-take, rolled his eyes, looked in feigned curiosity abound him as if he’d felt the wing of the tiniest fly tickle at his finger. CLUMP! Now, the Snaff was fairly crushed – it rolled onto its back and waggled its legs in sorry defeat. Then with a rasp Bib stuck out his tongue and to the hilarity of his audience launched the Snaff up into the air, straight at the implacable face of the King. With keen deference to the King’s age and illness, Bib pitched the Snaff’s trajectory at a slower speed than he would have done just a year previous. For a horrible moment he felt scared that the King might miss the catch; that his reflexes were no longer up to it. Then, quick as a flash, a firm grip twisted him flailing onto the table and the Snaff, fighting to the last – though not too vigorously – was snapped beneath the King’s thick, hairy fingers.

Out in the kitchen, Bib sat with an ice-pack on his swollen hands and wondered if he’d got the pacing wrong. The urgency of the tankards had suggested to him that people were keen to eat so he had kept the performance short and sweet – hadn’t even danced, just leapt straight into it. He swatted his thigh irritably with the back of his hand and gazed at the cold cuts on the plate in his lap. He’d been inside the roast for twenty minutes, but a couple of holes drilled into its rump had meant that he was able to breathe and could have kept it up for a while longer. As for the gravy, that must have attached itself to his beard on the way in. Through the corridor Sip’s lute playing sounded sad and faintly Eastern; long twangs that twinged at Bib’s scrotum then rolled up his back. He wanted a shower – his hair was slick with the stuff – but getting to the shower would mean going through the servant’s quarters and Bib wasn’t in the mood to be laughed at. Too hot. Too sticky. Outside, big bubbly gobs of cloud like cheese whiz were being churned by the blades of the windmills. Bib missed the bright red and green windmills from home. Made of wood, scrubbed daily, and painted patchwork with designs by the women showing bread-making and hunting and men shaving bark from the trees to make summer boats for the children. The memories seemed unfairly disconsolate, almost mean in their inadequacy, because they were overlaid upon the background whine of the lute and the hard, bitter aching in his hands. Bib sniffed to himself and nibbled at a piece of breast meat. Maybe he’d take leave this month; visit home. The air was too close and hot here and it still seemed vaguely blasphemous to him to be living so far from the windmills, rather than directly underneath one, like at home. It seemed strange to be so physically distant from the source of power that helped you through the day. Here, at the castle, Bib only got to see windmills from afar, never got to scrub them, far less climb them, play by them, sit in their shadow. High on his wooden stool Bib, stinking of pig grease and plagued by the warbling of a faux-sitar, wished for home.

Chapter 2

The shampoo hadn’t done the job, he could still smell the scent of burnt flesh and fat upon his skin, so Bib tugged his jester’s hat tightly down over his scalp, hiding his hair. At the end of the long corridor, laid with silk carpets of complex arabesque design, sat the king in a platinum throne marbled through with finely-worked slithers of mahogany. Bib padded his way across the carpet, did a roly-poly half-way down but kept his expression poker-faced since he was making a sensitive request. Light cast by chandeliers danced madly off the sharp, slated angles of the King’s eminence. Looking up into the King’s face was like looking into the face of one of those deep-sea fish that masquerades as a rockery. Every bit of skin, save for two patches below the eyebrows, was covered in what looked like barnacles and it was from these that the King drew his strength. Without them he would have had the intelligence of a chicken. Every barnacle, known as cynae, contained a bundle of neurones, which helped the wearer think faster and about more complex problems. Each cyn was about an inch each way in all directions and once set leeching from a patch of flesh would be a firm friend for life (ho! Not a joke for the memory banks though – Bib knew better than to ever even approach the merest possibility of making light of cynae, a capital offence). It generally followed that those who managed to accumulate the most cynae were the ones who became the Kings and barons and knights of the realm because if you didn’t have any you would just fall off the back of your horse or suck on your sceptre like an over-sized lollipop. Or rather, in the distant past it was those whom had managed to accumulate the most cynae through now-mythic acts of courage and expedition. Now, as for hundreds of years, it was exceptionally rare, miraculous even, to come across the creatures in the wild and cynae were passed down through the generations from father to son (daughters were granted a limited number of cynae through marriage as part of a dowry payment). Bib’s late father had been possessed of one cyn and Bib’s mother had none. The King – though the numbers were kept strictly under wraps – had, it was rumoured, eighty two; an almost unprecedented number. About thirty five were visible upon his face, with the rest obscured under his furs, tunic and silken robes. It was said that when he filled the spaces underneath his eyebrows then he would know everything there was to know in the entire world. Some of his cynae – those on his knees for example – had been part of the family lineage for thousands of years (as depicted on a tapestry within the Autumn Gallery). An essential ritual of any royal funeral ceremony was that a pair of ceremonial pincers would pluck the cynae from the body of the deceased and that they would then be placed – right there, under candlelight, in the vault of the dead – upon the eager and most likely trembling body of the next-in-line. Bib himself had seven cynae; six of which he had, to his ever-lasting shame, chanced upon as a youth while walking in a forest near his home (the remaining cyn, of course, having been inherited from his father upon the latter’s death). In a patch of dead grass, in a ring where the ashes of a fire remained, he had found the body of what must have been a nobleman. The man had killed himself in the way that all the books, all the legends, all the songs Bib had ever heard, had told you not to. His eyes were closed and his mouth was prised wide open with the length of a stick, a-gog. Bib could see black furry legs rubbing up against the molars, relishing their new found warm, wet home. The top of the nobleman’s head looked like someone had opened up a metal umbrella from the inside of his skull. The Snaff’s paper thin translucent egg sack crowned his scalp like a knot of blue-veined bubble gum. Bib had wasted no time in smashing the Snaff over and over and over again with a heavy rock until some of the cynae on the face were cracked and broken. With his pocket knife (the same one which was now oily with pig fat) Bib had cut away the six cynae that remained and studded them in a row of four and two along his back.

Immediately the world swam into colour. The blood pooling in the soil around his feet; the screaming of jackdaws; the light through the trees; the rhythmic sucking on his back that now pulsed along to the off-beat of his heart – all of these things were felt keen and bright in a way that Bib had never felt them before. Since then, any cynae he had found – he had once been part of a search party which had found two – had gone directly to the King to be retained as gifts to the likes of Bixby and Buckingham or, occasionally, to be placed upon his royal personage. Looking up at him now Bib felt as if he were gazing up into an infinite rock pool of quite ineffable mystery and wisdom. “My Lord,” he stammered in his reedy castrato voice, “I was thinking perhaps, if it doesn’t ever so much inconvenience – your Grace willing – of taking my holiday. I wish to see my home.”

Chapter 3

Bib wasn’t keen on the idea of filling a back-pack full of mackerel, but mackerel was what the cook had and so mackerel it would have to be. He hadn’t even strictly been given permission to take any provisions, but the heads were left-overs for stew that would be fed to the servants and as the King’s jester his rank fell somewhere between lute-player and scullery maid. He stuffed a head into each of the leather side-pockets of the bag. The King’s royal insignia of a golden crown atop a golden windmill was stitched upon each pocket. Bib knew that there were other kingdoms further afield than Rasharge and had often wondered whether his kingdom’s royal insignia was actually unique, or whether other kingdoms, also traditionally reliant upon windmills for their energy, hadn’t chanced upon the same insignia independently. Bib imagined the soldiers of the Royal Army of Rasharge fighting the soldiers of some other royal army, both fighting under the same insignia, the soldiers killing members of their own armies in the confusion. However, Bib mused idly, it was always possible that other places had different ways of powering things than windmills although it was hard to imagine what they could be. “Ketch, you finished with that mackerel? Because if you have, clear off as I need to get this pheasant plucked and you’re taking up my space” rumbled Cos’p, affectionately though pointedly, prodding Bib out of his reverie. “I’d rather pluck a pheasant than schtup a peasant” gibed Bib, as was expected of him. “Though you seem to stuff the peasant judging by your wife and scoff the pheasant judging by your waist… so it’s no surprise to me that you should need the space for your schtupping and plucking!” “Be off with ya, Ketch” yawned Cos’p, swatting at Bib’s head. “Or I’ll knock the stuffing out of you! Ha! That one’s on the house!” “Yep, that one’s a keeper,” smiled Bib amicably. “Have a good couple of weathertides and I’ll see you in the fifth quarter.” “Be seeing ya, Ketch.” Ketch meant a man with a stature so small that his genitals were assumed to hang no lower than the man’s hypogastric region. The name was affectionate since it was common knowledge that Bib had been castrato since his acquisition by the kingdom at the age of fourteen.

Chapter 4

Bib stepped out from the glade of khaki trees, forked like giant divining rods. He zipped up his flies and shrugged his backpack onto his shoulders. Steam rose from the icy soil where he had pissed, lapping faintly at his ankles as he emerged. Ahead, metal beacons cast dim pools of light by the sides of the road. Mosquitoes slid in and out of the glow, boiling their tiny bundles of blood in the golden heat. Bib smiled benevolently at them – had he blood to share he would have given it gladly, such was the merry richness of the hour. The last fortnight had been spent travelling through boggy pastures and dark woods and Bib was comforted to be finally walking along a path that many hundreds must have walked before him. He smiled, experiencing a rare sensation of ease, scuffing his feet along the dirt and kicking a flume of tiny pebbles into the air. Chancing upon a thicket heavy with bindweed, he plucked out a white crown, snapping it off at the stem. Taking the flower’s calyx between forefinger and thumb, he squeezed sharply, calling out, “Nanny Goat, Nanny Goat ~ Off with your head!” The flower leapt gamely off the stem and was promptly carried, by the wind, over and across to the other side of the thicket. “Do not blush my little white maiden,” cried Bib, beseechingly. “Though it be windy, that is no reason to loose your head at my fingering embrace!” He chuckled to himself rounding the dense tangle of shrubs, but immediately stopped short. There the flower lay quite serene upon the face of a prostrate man, covering the nose like some ludicrous white horn. It was as though the flower, upwardly mobile, had sought to emulate its magisterial cousin, the lily, but having only the grace and breeding of a common weed, had inadvertently made a travesty of the funereal rites. The deceased himself looked quite cold and grey and Bib instantly thought of the suicide which had gifted him six of the seven cynae upon his back. However, it soon became clear to Bib that the man before him had not died of self-inflicted wounds. Deep cuts like great toothless mouths opened on one side of his torso and his jaw was set at a vicious slant, broken. In addition to these wounds were ten leathery welts of a raw pink joining the man’s two nipples in a crescent shape from below. These were where the cynae had been cut from his flesh. There were no articles on the man and he was dressed in nothing more than a tunic and sandals. Clearly he had been journeying down the road when he had been set upon by bandits, who had stripped him of his possessions and left him for dead. The man had either crawled, or been dumped, behind the thicket, but not before the brigands had cut from his body his cynae – either to place upon themselves or, more likely, to trade upon the black market for gulden. The corpse had rested behind this thicket unmolested, until now, when Bib had accidentally assailed it with a flower.

Reflexively, Bib cupped his umbilical region with both his hands, the scent of damp earth filling his nostrils. The ice had begun to thaw and it was now warm enough to sleep. Using his backpack as a pillow, Bib lay upon the ground, just around the side of the thicket some fifty metres away, so that the corpse would be hidden from his view upon waking. His hope was that by sleeping in the same region as the crime he would avoid a similar fate, working upon the assumption that the bandits were unlikely to picket the same area twice within the same handful of days. As such, he slept untroubled until morn.

Chapter 5

Bib inhaled deeply the crisp evening air and the mackerel, sweating deep inside their leather prison, seemed to cry out to his nostrils to be released. “Shut your gills and glut yourselves on your own stinking eggs!” Bib chided. It was a week since the incident with the flower in the copse and the remaining fish had begun to decompose.

“Whatcha talkin’ t’fish for?” leered a voice from out of the darkness to Bib’s right. “Get ya company from tarryin’ w’fish ’cause no human folks can right stand to look at ya, eh boy?” Bib, humorous by instinct when faced with any conflict, chanced; “Better tarry with a fish n’uncle, than marry one who sells ’em. We both cast our rod into a trout hole when out country fishing!” The sound of a chuckle and a man clad in a black tunic and a long purple cloak emerged into the light. His reedy fingers pinched compulsively at the ends of a thin ginger moustache sat facetiously above a perfectly triangular ginger beard. Bib – assuming the man to be a dandy or country squire from the exuberance of his outfit – immediately began to regret the bawdiness of his joke, but his regret was interrupted when the man spat, quite deliberately, at the floor, with raised eyebrows that signalled a coarse, rustic amusement. Bib realised he had assessed incorrectly and that he was perhaps faced with a farm labourer who had managed to acquire clothing above his station, whether by licit or illicit means. Deftly Bib opened a side pocket of his bag and wrested out a mackerel. Scooping up from the dirt the yellow-grey wadge discharged from the stranger’s mouth, Bib gave a play of feeding the discharge to the fish, with which – raising the mackerel to his belly – he then mimed a hideous birthing, as though the spit from the stranger’s mouth had been the life-giving seed to restore the creature to former vitalities. “Papa!” whined the fish plaintively to the man, as Bib fingered its gullet, “Papa!”

Wheezing, the man laughed a throaty laugh and clasped a not unkindly hand upon Bib’s shoulder. “Tha’s some mischief y’ave thar, boy…” the man appraised through yellowed teeth, “but I dare say it holds but a sparrow’s fart to the mischief I ‘ave in my bag.” Bib opened his mouth to give some half-formulated ribald reply, but caught himself, sensing that the man was not altogether in jest. Much of Bib’s art – and the reason for his continued survival in a profession in which a badly-judged insult could lead to almost immediate execution – was in his ability to present his jesting as being a natural, almost unknowing extension of his identity as a little person, as though it were the babbling of a child; while, beneath the surface, constantly assessing the potential dangers that a certain line of mockery might expose him to. He had learned to be absolutely cautious while appearing absolutely spontaneous. In this instance Bib judged discretion to be the better part of valour and simply replied, “My jokes are but trifles – all jelly and sponge. I am sure that any mischief on your part is a very serious mischief indeed and, if taken from the correct position, quite worthy of laudation.” The curious man nodded his head just once, accepting this small token of respect. Turning his back to Bib so as to reach into his bag, he replied, in a markedly reflective tone of voice, “If a fellow thought ‘imself an angel but, in lackin’ a mirror, failed to see the horns growin’ upon ‘is head and the tail stickin’ out from ‘is britches, don’t ya ‘spose he might mistake a most laudable performance for an act of the most degenerate devilry?”

Bib noticed that the man became more eloquent as he spoke and his accent more rarefied. Perhaps he was, after all, some minor and eccentric nobleman, who amused himself by adopting the speech and mannerisms of those far beneath his station. Used to the comparative clarity of the roles adopted within the King’s court (-one would not, for instance, mistake Buckingham for a lute player or Sip for a lord-) Bib was quite at a loss for words, unable the assess the situation or the gentleman before him. He merely mumbled, “Yes. Yes. I once ate an angel egg that tasted like a devilled egg… or perhaps it was a devilled egg that tasted like an angel’s…” and then, far, louder, “OH!FUCKMEWITHASTICK!” Scuttling down the man’s purple cloak was a fistful of quavering and ragged legs. It was as though a leather strip had wrested itself away from the stranger’s tunic and had come horribly and jerkingly to life. Bib stood rooted to the spot with fear as the Snaff tumbled to the floor, righted itself, then lurched decisively towards him. Bib emitted a low moan. His eyes clenched tight involuntarily. A loud crack sounded just inches in front of his face. He reflectively raised his right hand to his cheek as though stung; then opened his eyes.

The man, now somehow taller and far less ridiculous than he had seemed before, wielded a whip high above his head in one hand. In the other hand he held a small tin box, with a rotational handle he manipulated deftly with his forefinger. From the box came strange metallic music. To his horror, Bib saw that the Snaff was still before him, just a couple of feet from where he stood. However, it now appeared to be entirely uninterested in him, as though Bib were invisible to it. The Snaff seemed to be reaching into the air on the tips of its claws, as though it were Job pleading to the Heavens, begging for its own annihilation. It began to sway, with an almost serpentine motion, to the left and to the right. The grace of its movements were almost comic in contrast to the grotesque shapelessness of its form and Bib would have laughed had he not been so afraid.

The music that issued from the terrible little box was like a madrigal with three looping and intersecting melodies each played upon a differently-tuned mbira. The music was unlike any Bib had ever heard before and he felt it take possession of his gut, seeping deep into his bones, its effect both enchanting and nauseating. Water began to form at the corners of his eyes without his knowing why. The legs of the Snaff seemed to undulate like coral deep under water. The whip cracked and the music changed to a churning and metallic arpeggio. The Snaff splayed itself, its belly to the floor and, like a shapeless hand kneading some unseen dough, rose and fell, its claws slowly contracting and expanding to the unheard pulse of the music. Bib felt the obscene intimations. He remembered how one of the King’s borzoi – almost as tall as himself – had once mounted and humped his leg, its grinding slow and rhythmic rather than frenzied, as though it had been worried about upsetting Bib, deferential to the disembodied object of its lust. He remembered how the courtiers had laughed and cheered and how afraid he had been to push it away and its weirdly human-seeming dejection when he did so. Crack. The music was now a clangorous flurry of counter-rhythms. The Snaff writhed spasmodically, twitching and tearing at itself, emitting a high-pitched whining sound – “Krrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

It was this sound which roused Bib to his senses. With a howl of confusion and despair he bolted down the road; the sneering, laughing eyes of the Snaff Seer upon his back. “Heaven at the end of a hag’s nose!” he laughed triumphantly. “Heaven in the embrace of a pubic louse!”


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