Athletico Mince Podcast

My recommendation for the day is the Athletico Mince podcast with Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson. Mostly it’s two blokes talking absurd bollocks for a bit and then stopping, which is great really. If you’ve seen Bob doing stuff like Would I Lie To You? then you’ll know he can spin a ridiculous yarn even when he’s not going full, prop heavy surreal. And without even saying much he can crack you up with nonsense. Andy Dawson’s a bit more sane but he’s got plenty to offer and makes a perfect foil – and break – from the weirdness. Even if ‘break’ is a relative term given his own fine line in bollocks talking. It does (very, very) vaguely circle around football but really, even if you’re not a fan, that shouldn’t put you off because Gangs of the EPL and the adventures of Steve McClaren and his snake are something the whole family can enjoy.

Not every character/sketch works for me but you can always recognise what you might want to skip and the stuff that’s good is great, so you never need to skip far.

I finished binging it over the course of a week and even paid a couple of quid for the recording of one of the live shows they did, well worth it and a show I’m happy to support. Anyway, if you like nonsense, tall tales and the idea of Steve McClaren’s snake throwing up a lot give it a go.

You can find Athletico Mince here.

Feed the Birds

Bastard reached a claw towards the switch, eyes averted from the monstrous creation that lay next to it. It was best not to dwell on that bit really It wasn’t pleasant but it was, in the grand scheme of things, necessary. Next to him Diseased was coo’ing gentley to himself, feathers fluttering a little with excitement but darting eyes not showing a sign of doubt.

“Look” Bastard drew his claw back and took a few quick steps backwards “are we really sure about this? I mean, it can’t really be right can it?”

Diseased fixed him with a beady, judgemental stare.

“Of course it’s right, we all agreed didn’t we? We won’t make a habit of it, we’ll just create enough of them to get things back to how they used to be.”

It was never easy to argue with the scabrous looking grey pigeon, Bastard had tried before although in fairness he’d been in full agreement too when they first came up with the idea. Somehow though the steps between idle, rooftop speculation and grizzly reality had made it all seem a bit wrong.

“I’m not sure just you can just play around with necromancy, can you? Once you start you’re kind of in it for the duration right? And I know you don’t remember the old days, I don’t either, so how do we know they were so good? Maybe they were really crap, and it’s not so bad now is it? I found half a sausage roll yesterday, can’t get much better than that can you?”

“Typical. I knew you were spineless, living on their rubbish like they’re doing you a favour. I don’t need to remember the old days, I know the stories, I know our history. They used to worship us. They used to pay to give us food and I know you’ve seen the temple they built for us. How can that not be better than raking through bins with those manky foxes you’re so fond of?”

Bastard didn’t have an answer for that, or at least the one he did have had been aired before and never gone down well. Yes, there was a temple, anyone could see that, all you had to do was fly over. But why would a temple to pigeon-kind consist of a bloke standing on a big stick and a few excessively hairy cats? Cats hated them didn’t they? Bit of a dodgy choice for reverential worship. The foxes had agreed that it was nonsense too but there was no point bringing them into the discussion, Diseased would never listen to anything that came from creatures with four legs and fur.

“Now, are you going to flick the switch or am I?”

There was no point trying to argue, what was going to happen was going to happen whether he objected or not. It was still a bad idea though, a really bad idea. Pushing his doubts down though Bastard skipped forward again and laid his claw on the switch again, wishing he’d never helped steal it from that human flat in the first place.

It took all of his weight to push it down and even then he had to do a bit of jumping up and down to make it click into place. A sign probably, a warning from the universe not to start dabbling with this sort of madness but when it was done it was done. A buzzing echoed around the ledge, a metallic tang filling the air as the cars passing underneath their bridge drove by blindly indifferent.

For a moment nothing happened, just long enough for Bastard to hope to himself that it wasn’t going to work anyway and that they’d been saved from themselves. Before long though it started to twitch, first just a curling claw, one amongst the fifty or so they’d stitched onto it, but then came a real spasm of movement. One which shook the thing’s entire body and sent both pigeons jumping back, wings half opened to take flight.

Then their creation sat up.

“Fuck” said Bastard.

“Coo” said Diseased.

The creature looked confused, which was understandable. The parts had been eclectically gathered from wherever they could be found. There was a fair bit of pigeon about it, limbs and feathery patches culled from the unfortunate victims of traffic accidents and culinary mishaps with bleach. They’d wanted it to be too big though, too big for the frail bones of one of their own to support so they’d started shopping around. A human leg here, a foxes tail there, the skin of an elephant they’d pecked to death at London Zoo, the liver of a badger. Things had started to get out of control and what they had now was an unrecognisable hybrid the size of a car, barely fitting onto the arch of the bridge and perilously close to collapsing it, or at least falling to land on a passing bus.

“What do we do now then?”

Bastard was speaking from the edge, eager to fly off as soon as it seemed polite.

“Well we… erm… we send it to the temple, that sounds right, yeah. It goes there, reminds them they’re supposed to serve us, we all fly in for some seed and worship, job’s a good’un. Simple.”

“You really think it can get there? I mean, we did give it a lot of wings but they don’t really look like they’re going to work do they?”

The creature, flailing around now making pitiable moaning sounds, tried to pull itself into what might conceivably have passed for a sitting position but for the excess of potential arses.

“It can walk then, even better, it’ll really make an impact. Now, just go over there and tell it what to do. Flying Rat’s brain is in there somewhere, you two were friends.”

Flying Rat’s was one of the brains in there it was true, but it wasn’t exactly alone.

“No, you’re alright, you can do it, you’ve got a way with words. Commanding voice you know.”

“Coward” Diseased mumbled unconvincingly “fine, I’ll do it, we created it after all, I’m sure it looks up to us.”

Of the dozen or so eyes the creature had it was, in fact, simultaniously managing to look up, down and sideways at them but it didn’t seem like the time to get pedantic. True to his word Diseased did edge towards the monstrous creation and with as stern a tone as he could manage through the evident terror began to speak to their new friend.

“Now, we created you, we’re your gods, in a way. Us pigeons and no one else so you’ll do what your told won’t you?”

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghl!”

Taking the scream of anguish from one of the more human looking mouths as a yes he pushed on.

“Good… good… Now, just over there” Diseased gestured with a wing “there’s a, er, holy place. Our holy place. Now you be a good little… creature, make your way there and tell them they need to start worshipping the pigeons again. Use one of your human mouths, they’ll understand that.”

The thing’s eyes showed a glimmer of understanding of the pigeon’s words, at least three or four of them did, the rest seemed to be silently screaming more than anything. Although they weren’t alone for long as, with a sudden blur of movement, it spasmodically and much to it’s own surprise managed to roll sideways sending both birds flying and bringing up a chorus of shouts and terror from a bus passing below as it slammed through the roof.

The last thing Bastard saw of the beast was a crowd of shocked and confused commuters desperately trying to clamber around, through and over it in a rush for the stairs. Doing their best to ignore both the monstrous obstacle in their way and the handful of people it had managed to crush beneath it. On the plus side though the bus was going in the right direction at least.

Eli of the Woods

Grizzly Bear - Eli of the Woods Short Story

Eli scratched his nose, wincing at the half forgotten pain it awoke. Of course, the bear had broken his nose the night before. The ending highlight of a bad evening, only scattered images of which he could recall.

There had been him, the bear and an otter he didn’t know personally. The otter had been a dick, but the bear had brought him along so that was that, you didn’t have much choice about uninvited guests when they were introduced by a 400lbs apex predator. Although, as memories percolated through the hungover and beaten fug of his brain he did vaguely recall spending most of the evening taking the piss out of otters in general and that one in particular. A childish reaction but he had planned the evening out for two, a quick drink for him, some fishing down by the stream for the bear, and a few hours of talking bollocks with an old friend. Having to put up with the little semi-aquatic prick had ruined all of that as it had gleefully shown off, slipping into the water with barely a ripple and smugly emerging with a newly caught fish gripped in his nasty little claws. It knew Eli couldn’t swim, at least he’d assumed it did, although in hindsight that might have been his own paranoia and, after all, it had offered him up the best part of a salmon.

Still, he reassured himself, he’d been right to say that otters were just lazy beavers and challenge him to a fight. Even if the bear had, apparently, disagreed. These things happened though, in the forest, it was a dangerous place after all and no doubt the bear would forgive him. They went way back, right to the time Eli had rocked up in the middle of the vast expanse of nature and given the last of his ‘human food’ to the little cub, as it had been. The gift of a Kit Kat that had forged a friendship for life. Not to mention the fact that he himself had been forgiving back when his grizzly friend had eaten that rabbit, who had been a genuinely good guy with a suddenly grieving family of fifteen.

Shuddering as the pain in his nose abated Eli stood up and looked around. He was in the forest, which wasn’t much of a surprise really. He’d been in the forest for years now, although he had no idea how many, and waking up in some random part of it with a sore head from his homemade ‘Treesap Brew’ was part of the routine. It only took minutes for the memories of last night and the potential guilt they held to subside though, it was another beautiful day after all. Latticed sunlight was spilling down through the green canopy of trees, the birds were singing, nearby a stream whispered gently to itself and he was glad to be alive whatever social upsets he may have caused the night before.

After a few stretches to get the circulation going Eli chose a direction at random and started walking. He had no plans or obligations for the day, beyond foraging for food at some point of course. Even that was a minor concern though, failing all else he could make an impromptu social call on the squirrels, or maybe the deer, they always had a few nuts or berries going and didn’t object too loudly to one more mouth to feed.

As he walked he caught snippets of conversations from amongst the trees. Only the odd word, he wasn’t planning on eavesdropping and besides it was only the usual chatter of the forest. Grumbles about food, bad jokes about the predators, snide insults directed towards the birds, who were universally held to be bastards of the highest order. In a way it was just like being home in the city, only with less concrete and humans, plus he could walk around it naked of course. That wasn’t the main reason he’d chosen to come out here but on a day like this it was certainly an added bonus.

“Oi, you!”

Eli ignored the gruff voice as his mind drifted away from the background chatter of the woods.

“OI! HUMAN!”

Before he could connect the words to himself he saw who’d spoken them, it was a wolf. A big wolf, with two big wolf friends at either side of him. Bad news, even if your best friend was a bear.

Forcing a smile Eli came to a halt a few metres from them and tried to look defiant and harmless at the same time.

“You’re screwed mate, you know that?”

The two lesser wolves let their tongues loll out, looking effortlessly evil and giving Eli all the reason he needed to believe their leader. He didn’t let the smile slip though, playing dumb was always a safe plan of action.

“Am I? Why’s that then?”

The pack leader padded closer to him, a relaxed strut which all present knew could easily swtich into a tensed pounce.

“Otters mate, otters. Words got out, they’re after you, hear you weren’t very nice to one of their lot.”

“Ah-” Eli hurriedly raked through his mind for more memories of last night. He’d taken the piss a bit, maybe sworn at the party crasher too, but that was harmless enough wan’t it?

“We had a bit of a row, that’s all, no harm done. Sure it’s me you’re looking for?”

The alpha looked over his haunches at his two friends, the glint of disbelief in his predatory eyes.

“Certain, unless you know of any other humans walking around here in the nip who’re in the habit of drinking with otters and bears.”

It was unlikely to say the least.

“I didn’t do anything, honest, we just didn’t get along.”

The wolf cocked its heavy grey head.

“Doesn’t matter mate, they’re otters. Not been around their lot much have you?”

Eli shook his head, which meant nothing to his vulpine opposite, so he said ‘no’.

“They’re nutters, the lot of ‘em. An otter’ll take your eyes out as soon as look at you, sooner in fact if he gets lucky. Haven’t you heard the saying? ‘Never cross an otter, they’re wankers’? Woodland basics there mate. No idea why your bear friend even hangs out with one, mind you he does keep strange company eh?”

They could have been having him on, wolves could be like that, they got bored and spread rumours. That’s why half of the forest was still convinced that he’d been caught being unnatural with an elk, a completely unfair accusation. But then they might be telling the truth, savvy as he liked to think he was Eli knew he was still a novice in the law and lore of the woods.

“Look, I can see you’re not convinced son so I’ll come straight with you. I know we’ve got a bit of a reputation, givin’ it the big one and all, but I’m bein’ honest with you here. Not gonna help you out or nuffin’ but I fuckin’ hate those semi aquatic little wankers so fair warning, stay away from rivers for a bit and watch your tail. That one’s free.”

With a savage nobility that still impressed him even not that he knew what liars they were the wolves turned and trotted off into the trees, their last words drifting back to him.

“And stay away from the elks, you dirty bastard.”

Eli was starting to panic, muscles tensing from his twitching feet to his his unkempt thatch of hair. The wolf had seemed honest enough, for a wolf anyway and even if otters weren’t exactly what you’d call nature’s fiercest killers they were still capable of doing damage. He needed to find out if the rumour was true though, that was the thing to do, not just go running off in a frenzy.

And for truth you couldn’t beat an owl.

It didn’t take Eli much searching to find one, they were surprisingly easy to track once you’d gotten used to them. It was disappointing really, for an animal he’d always assumed to be wise and profound in its way they had a habit of being startlingly obvious. He’d learnt long ago though that owls were, for want of a better phrase, ‘thick as dirt’. If you needed to find one you pretty much just needed to follow the sound of forest animals sniggering and there you’d have it, an owl in the middle of a circle of mocking fauna doing something stupid. In this case it was waddling as fast as it could head first into a tree, for reasons best known to itself.

The circle of gawkers didn’t break up when he arrived, they were used to him for the most part and those who didn’t know him to look at probably assumed that, in the worst case scenario, they could mob him anyway. He watched over the top of the smaller animals as the owl repeated his thudding exercise, seemingly un-phased by the blows to the skull and determined to pursue whatever strange end it thought it was heading towards.

The bird was a Barred Owl and no one Eli knew, not that he hung around with owls, or birds in general for that matter, it gave him a sore neck to try having a proper conversation with them and even the smartest never seemed to have much to say beyond mildly offensive jokes about raccoons- a deeply rooted form of bigotry no one had ever been able to explain to him. Familiarity didn’t matter though, the one good thing you could say about the mystic looking flyers was that they were honest to a fault. Mostly because, it was said, they were too stupid to manage lying. He’d asked one for the real reason once, as it sat looking wise on a low level branch, it had just stared at him and, for no good reason, fallen out of the tree and landed on its head. It definitely hadn’t lied as it did it though.

Stepping over a giggling rabbit he broke up the entertainment by planting a foot in the owls path, bringing it skidding to a halt as it looked up at him in confusion, wondering where it’s tree had gone.

“Alright owl, quick question for you and then you can get on with your, uh, business here. I hear the otters are after me, true or false?”

The bird thought for a second, or more likely froze while the slow processes of it’s brain kicked into action, before replying.

“Yes, absolutely, definitely. Otters are going to kill you.”

Eli felt his shoulders slump at the same time as his mind sank to his feet. Owls didn’t lie, there was no arguing with it. And he didn’t fight, not if he could help it, besides half a dozen otters on a dark night, even if he struggled it wouldn’t matter.

“Are you absolutely sure? I mean, I know you wouldn’t lie, but could you be mistaken?”

The owl paused to process the question and turn slowly around in a circle a few times.

“No, definitely true, otters are going to kill you, any second now, lots of them, very angry.”

“What? How can you know that? You’re not allowed to exagerrate.”

“I’m not, they’re behind you.”

With a lazy sweep of his wings the owl took off and drifted off above the trees, leaving Eli to turn and face a line of more than two dozen otters with vicious looks on their faces. A rabbit brushed past his ankle as the circle of creatures which had been watching the self-destructive Barred Owl expanded for some new entertainment, otters eating a human. Something a mumbling badger happily admitted that you didn’t see every day.

Putting his hands up placatingly as the snarling critters came closer Eli took a slow step backwards.

“Now lads, I’m sure we can sort this out. I’m very, very sorry if I caused offence.”

“Lazy beavers are we? Fuckin’ ‘ave it you twat!”

The furry mob surged forward and with in a panicked dash Eli took off in the opposite direction. Long legs versus short legs, he knew that was his advantage but they wouldn’t stop coming and, given how out of shape he was, he was willing to bet that otters would outdo him on stamina.

It made no difference though, forward was the way to go and there were no other choices even as branches snagged him and rocks chipped away at the skin of his usually leather like feet. Go far enough though and something had to change didn’t it? For once he wished he had more of a sense of direction. Strolling around randomly might have been fine for a gentle day around the forest but a destination would really have helped in a life or death dash. He recognised nothing though, the forest was as anonymous as ever, trees were trees, dirt was dirt and trucks were trucks.

Eli skidded to a halt and bowled over the orange jacket and camoflage wearing hunter who been idly taking a leak into the bushes. Ignoring him, the niceties of human society having faded a bit in his mind over the years, he made straight for the unexpected truck and didn’t turn to talk until he was firmly secure inside it.

“OTTERS! LOADS OF THEM! SHOOT ‘EM!”

The hunter didn’t look bemused for long before he saw the tide of semi-aquatic animals swarming towards him and, to his credit, he packed away his manhood in record time. Barely pausing to shake before starting to take pot shots into the crowd with his rifle and making a measured retreat to the truck before jumping in alongside Eli.

“DRIVE! OTTERS! KILLERS!”

Shaking a little the hunter turned the keys and, still too confused to ask any questions, gunned the pick up truck out of the clearing it had been in and off down the track.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Dead Man Dying

It was dark and it was cold and it was a cemetery. Kay shook as he squinted into the night, looking for tell tale signs as to the quickest way to get out. No matter how many of these places he ended up in, no matter how certain he was that he was the scariest thing in them, it never got any easier.

Looking down he could see that his sign was gone, another idea to cross off of the list of potential solutions. ‘Not dead, do not bury’ – how much clearer could he have been? And why did people never listen? A bird made a noise in the distance and Kay let out a brief gasp of fear. Why did everything have to be so goddamn atmospheric? If he had to have his… condition, then why did they always have to take him to the most gothic, spooky, Hammer Horror place they could? Why was it never a nice clean morgue that he woke up in? Why was the graveyard never a brightly lit one overlooking the sea? Was it him? Well, of course it was. Things like this never happened to people who weren’t him after all. Normal people didn’t have to worry about falling asleep in case the coroner came to haul them off, but then normal people didn’t look like the walking dead. For the fiftieth time he reminded himself that whoever had interred him here had probably meant well, in their own way. No point being angry about it. And at least they hadn’t buried him, that was a definite plus, a crypt was infinitely preferable to another six hours spent scraping away at wood and dirt in a desperate bid for the surface.

His night vision was kicking in now, he could see the obligatory gothic gravestones all around him, the elaborate angels carved over the mausoleum he’d just exited, the desiccated trees which never seemed to grow any leaves. He suspected there was some janitor whose sole duty it was to hack off any sign of green shoots in places like this, an aging Goth probably, revelling in the aesthetic continuity of it all.

There was a crack. A loud one that sent Kay leaping a foot into the air, which played havoc on his barely hung together knees. That wasn’t a bird, not unless it was an ostrich anyway.

“Hello?”

With luck it would be a groundskeeper, or a late night mourner, even some Emo kids out playing at being vampires and having sex between the graves would do. Any of them might, after suitable persuading that he wasn’t a zombie, give him a lift back to civilisation, or at least a pointer in the right direction. Kay held his breath for a heartbeat as he strained to hear a reply, a bit of a pointless exercise given that he neither breathed nor had a beating heart – facts which had led him to his unfortunate funereal routine.

“Grrrrawwwwwl”

Knees giving way he did his best lurch back to the doorway of the crypt he’d just emerged from, cowering in the meagre security of only having the definitely dead behind him and the growling darkness in front.

There was shuffling and more low-pitched grunting, definitely not a bird although teenagers still weren’t out of the question. And then he saw her, shambling out of the night, skin tattered and rotting, eyes sunken into black pits, desiccated orbs glaring at him with an unnatural glow that he recognised from his own fleeting experiences with mirrors. And she smiled at him, as best she could through wasted cheeks and with blackened teeth.

“You alright there? Sorry about the growling.”

Kay saw the world rising around him before he noticed that his legs were buckling, just in time to grab onto the wings of a passing marble angel adorning the doorway. A grunt was all he could manage as the natural urge to either grab a pitchfork and get to stabbing or to run to the hills washed over him. A process of inertia which lasted just long enough for the woman to drag her clumsy form over to him and stick out a welcoming hand.

“I’m Lou-Anne, pleased to meet you.”

“Ugh”

Kay reached out tentatively and shook her hand, for once in his life as wary of someone elses fingers becoming detached in the process as he was of his own.

“So, got a name there?”

“Kay, I’m Kay, and you are?”

“Lou-Anne, like I just told you. Shit, don’t tell me you’re one of those ones whose brain has rotted away, if you are I’ll take a lighter to you myself now, save the angry mob the trouble.”

Rushing to martial what remained of his motor skills Kay pulled himself back into something resembling an upright position and grunted in what he hoped was an eloquently coherent way to buy himself a few more seconds to gather some words.

“No, my brain works good. I mean, no, it hasn’t rotted away. You’re… like me?”

“No flies on you there Kay. Well, obviously some flies, but that comes with the territory, yes, I’m dead, just like you. First time meeting one of your own eh?”

Kay took a second to consider the question, half aware that his jaw was hanging slack as he stared at her. Technically speaking he had known for a while that he was dead. The lack of a heartbeat, the lack of breathing, not needing food, being hit by that bus, they’d all been clues that a more willing mind might have picked up on. Then again, he’d also been successfully walking around, talking and even, occasionally, working for the last three years despite those minor disabilities so the idea had been an easy enough one to avoid. Barring the occasional good Samaritan hauling him off to the with grave ceremony when he fell asleep of course, something he did his best to avoid given that the ‘sleep of the dead’ seemed to be a genuine thing which could endure all sorts of autopsies, funerals and internments. Faced with one of ‘his own’ though he couldn’t do much to deny his somewhat unliving state.

“Yeah, erm, yes… I suppose I hadn’t really thought about there being others…”

Lou-Anne smiled again, a few flakes of skin falling away as she did so. Kay did his best not to register disgust, after all, he was no oil painting himself. Unless it was an oil painting of a cadaver of course.

“Well, don’t worry, you’re not alone and we all process it in our own way. Anyway, fall asleep did you? Gotta be careful about that, the more you do it the deeper you go, heck, it was only when they tried to cremate me that I got the message about doing that. Best to stay awake eh? Avoid all confusion.”

“I had a sign, it said I wasn’t dead.”

She nodded sympathetically.

“Nice idea, always hard to convince people though eh? Especially when you reach the point you’re at, I mean, you know your nose has fallen off right?”

Kay didn’t, although he had been feeling like something important was missing recently, but mirrors were always something to avoid if you could.

“No need to look so glum there Kay, it’s not the end of the world. If it makes you feel a bit better I’ve got a box of spares somewhere – prosthetics you know – we can sort a new one for you. Something nice, you’ll feel like a new man.”

“Are there a lot of… us?”

“Oh yeah, there’s a fair few. That’s why I come down here, never know when you’ll find a stray like you wandering around. Always in the spooky graveyards too, never been sure why that is. I like to pick ‘em up and get them back into society, you know? Doing something productive with themselves.”

Kay wondered to himself if ‘productive’ meant shambling around and growling but it felt rude to ask.

“Y’see, Kay, there’s all sorts of things you can do with yourself now you’re dead. I’m guessing that so far you’ve just drifted right? Lost your motivation? Lost that lust for life you used to have? Well it doesn’t have to be that way, sure society might see us as abominations but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for us. Just look at reality TV, there’s a place for everyone in this world.”

The situation was starting to sink into it’s own normality, as the shock wore off Kay started picking up the slighty manic tone in Lou-Anne’s voice. She sounded like an evangelical, a TV preacher, her words just that little bit too enthusiastic. He smiled politely, he hoped, and started scuffing his feet a bit, trying not to let the awkwardness in the air show.

“Oh yeah, it’s a whole new world Kay, there are all sorts of things you can do and I’m here to make sure you find your way. We have meetings you know, every week, kind of like a support group – which trust me some of us need when bits start falling off! You’ll have to come along, get involved in the community.”

Kay could feel his smile growing stiffer, becoming a rictus grin that he vaguely suspected would never fade. Taking a step or two sideways, out of the doorway and away from Lou-Anne, he started to trawl his dusty and decaying brain for excuses to make a move.

“Well, that sounds great and all, but I really need to go.”

“Oh Kay, where could you possibly need to go? You’re dead, remember? Come on, I’ll take you to meet the crew, we’ve got a meeting tonight and Stewie’s bringing his ukulele! We’re going to have a sing a-long. It helps keep the mind active you know, very important when you’re one of us. Of course he does struggle a bit, poor guy, always losing fingers in the strings but we’re there to keep him going.”

With a surprising turn of speed her hand shot out once again and clamped itself on his shoulder, pulling him in closer with the inevitability to of a black hole. Before he knew it she was steering him into the night, radiating an iron will that his atrophied muscles felt helpless to reject. She was still talking too, something about an annual summer camp and a mentoring programme. His limbs surrendering to her guiding hand Kay gave out a low growl of his own.

Why did it always have to be somewhere like this that they left him?

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

Canis Lupus, Felis Catus and I

Two Tone the Cat - Post Apocalyptic Bastard

“Move faster you lazy bastard, I’m hungry and the wolves are coming”

I nod vaguely, the best I can do given the searing pain in my legs, the sweat dripping from every pore on my body and the worrying burning sensation in my lungs.

“Son of a bitch. Are you actually slowing down? Are you really that out of shape? I could walk faster than this”

I consider suggesting that he does it but there’s not enough air left in my lungs to pull the double duty of moving and talking, plus I know the answer, or at least the vague outline of it, something along the lines of “shut up fatty”. I used to take offence at that, but he has a point, I’m out of shape and sensitive about it.

“Come on, there’s the trailer, get your lard ass over there and then you can feed me”

Like syringes his claws dig into my neck, poor motivation but the only way he knows. I can feel small drops of blood start to mingle with the sweat, oddly enough the new pain does help surpress the old aches, which is something I suppose.

A wild howl goes up in the distance as I stagger through the door, kicking it shut in the same inelegant motion as falling over. With a padded thud he leaps off of me as I collapse and walks around to look down at my unhappy face, his disdain tangible but easily ignored through the exhaustion.

“If you worked harder we wouldn’t have to do this”

I grunt, all the reaction I can offer.

“We should have gone out earlier, moved faster, we could have been home and fed hours ago. Get up and feed me.”

“Ughh”

My muscles have gone limp now, defeated for the day but gradually the air is coming back into my lungs, heart slowing to it’s usual dull thud rather than the frenetic Irish jig it’s been doing for the last ten minutes. Still I don’t move, both because I can’t and because even I have my limits with him.

He watches me for a few seconds, eyes narrowing into snake like slits, disgust no less evident. A paw reaches out and taps my nose, a gentle touch, loving almost and completely false. Unlike the full rake of claws that comes next, scoring a line of fine read scratches across my slick and tender cheek.

“Ow”

“Don’t ‘ow’ me, get up and feed me, then you can die for all I care, in fact, hurry up and die now, I’ll just eat you where you lay. Although given the fat content I’ll probably end up with heart disease for my troubles.”

He’s exagerrating, I’m out of shape, not morbidly obese and I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t eat me. Well, not immediately anyway and he’d definetely rather I stayed alive, that’s why he’s here, that’s why he comes out with me, otherwise I’d have given up long ago.

With probing delicacy I pull myself back to my feet and let the overloaded backpack drop from my shoulders. It takes a second to be sure but I’m fairly confident I won’t fall over, although moving at anything more than a pained shuffle is out of the question. Excercise, or at least the sort of life or death fleeing I have to do these days, is a new one for me, like so much in this world.

“We found that can of tuna, I’ll have that. And the catnip, don’t tell me you don’t have any I can smell it even through the plastic and I’ve had a long day.”

I look down at him, still lecturing me even as I tower uncertainly above him. He’s small, even for a cat, his ragged black fur puffs up in a poor attempt to look bigger whenever I look at him but you can see he was the runt of the litter regardless. I mentioned it once, he nearly took my eye out, he has body confidence issues he said, before calling me fat for the fiftieth time that day. I don’t mind, I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t mind. After all a talking cat is worth the odd insult no matter who you are.

The backpack goes on to the stained and scratched formica worktop which dillineates the optimistically aspirant kitchen from the rest of the trailer and I start to rake through it. Tins of beans, bandages, a pitifully rare half bottle of vermouth, some sachets of cat food and, of course, the tin of tuna. There is no catnip, no matter what he thinks, but I know he’s fiending for a fix and I’ve gotten tired of explaining that to him. Besides, every time I try to he just turns the tables and points out the shakes I keep waking up with, we end up throwing addictions at each other until we’re both too defeated to do anything but sleep. Except tonight I have my half bottle, something to look forward to.

“Hurry up, I’m wasting away here, not all of us have layers of blubber to rely on when we feel hungry.”

“You want to eat sooner, go out and hunt.”

He hisses in a perfunctory sort of way and leaps up on to the counter, watching eagerly as I open the tin and then rushing in to gourge himself as I dump the fish out in front of him. I manage to make it over to the fold out bed before accepting my bodies final surrender for the day, although not before grabbing that precious bottle to see me off.

“We did well today.”

He doesn’t hear a thing while he’s eating so the words are said more for my own benefit than his. And we have done well, enough food to last a week by my reckoning, as long as neither of us indulges too much. Past experience, I admit, suggests that we will, neither one of us has the impulse control to stop but still it’s a nice thought that we might not have to brave the wilds again for a few more days.

“You’re right though, it was close and the wolves are coming nearer and nearer to this place. Might be time to move soon.”

“Move where? Wolves everywhere” he manages to mumble around a mouthful of fish.

We sit in near silence while he chomps down the last of his meal, barring the echoingly loud sound of my unscrewing the lid of my bottle and taking a swig. Outside another howl echoes around our canyon, it could be close enough to be terrifying but it’s hard to tell, the geological oddities of the place can play tricks on you like that. He doesn’t move though, just finishes eating and sets about licking away at the formica, rinsing the last traces of flavour from it. His hearing is better than mine, if he isn’t panicking then I won’t, not that I could do much if I did anyway.

“We’re better off here, you just need to learn to run faster, if we leave it’ll just be the same thing somewhere else.”

With another gulp from my bottle I lose the will to argue, the medicinal mix of fortified wine relaxing my body into wilfully tipsy apathy. I’m dimly aware that, as he’s a cat, his vote shouldn’t count for much but this is no democracy anyway and when he disagrees even the threat of walking away from him and going my own way would be seen as hollow. Besides, it’s an old conversation, a played out one. We should have left weeks back but we didn’t and now it was too late to worry about it, or at least we’d grown too lazy to bother trying.

“Maybe I can dig some traps tomorrow, sharpen some sticks or something.”

He leaps off of the counter and jumps onto the bed next to me, eyeing my bottle with the cynicism of a cat logging its rapid depletion for later use in an argument.

“Don’t be stupid, they’re giant, bastard wolves, not humans. They’re smart enough to walk around holes and use your sticks as tooth picks. They can’t open doors though, so you learn to move faster and we stay inside.”

Until we get caught and killed I think to myself, although as that’s the unspoken punctuation mark to almost everything we say about the future I don’t bother saying it out loud.

“Yeah, ok. I’ll start excercising tomorrow then.”

“Meow”

He always says that when he’s bored of talking to me, which happens at the end of most days. It balances out though, I’m bored of talking anyway and we both know that anything else we say now will be a false promise. By tomorrow we will, one way or another, have eaten everything we gathered today and then we’ll have to make another run into the ruins of the town. The same routine as we’ve followed for the last six months, everything else is just window dressing to our slow decline. For now though he’s slumped down next to me, his face buried in his fur and sleep rapidly slipping over him. He’s not even mentioned the catnip, he must be tired. I rest a hand on his back, ruffling his fur with casual affection, he doesn’t shake me off although neither of us mention the contact. As his eyes slide shut I hear one final mumble of ‘fat bastard’ before we both slump into sleep.

With a final tired gesture I drain the vermouth and fade away as the wolves shuffle and growl outside.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. All ideal escapes from 2016 and, if you time the reading right, you can dodge a chunk of 2017 too just in case…