Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Heat

In the absence of Evil Editor’s writing exercises, I find myself making up titles for books and then trying to write them. What kind of a waste of time is that?

To stimulate the squirty bits of my creativity glands, I’ve signed up to an Indie Ink writing challenge. The idea is a simple one: lots of writers swap ideas for stories with each other then go away and write them. Everyone has a different prompt, which means that when all the stories are written, no-one has to trawl through 101 versions of My Favourite Dog or The Day I Contracted Vaginal Herpes.*

* or The Day I Contracted Vaginal Herpes From My Favourite Dog...
My partner on this fledgling escapade is Brad MacDonald, whose rendering of my suggestion of “The Glistening Arc” appears here.

Me? I got...

c/o dishwaterdreams

July is here in England again, and with it, a sub-zero Alaskan chill to freeze toads fast inside their ponds and flocks of birds onto horizons like they’d been nailed there.

I walk to the pump house in my tri-layer whale blubber boiler suit with the gait of a female wrestler with fat thighs, cursing myself for sleeping through winter. Every February, I’m charged with painstakingly setting the temperature for the coming summer’s bloom, guided in my hundredths of a degree calibrations by insider information about the proposed swanky hot pant designs from Jean Paul Gaultier— only this year, I messed up, and now look at the place! There are almost as many icicles dangling from branches as curious whiskers poking round corners on the Planet of Cats. As for the snow, I expect the citizens of some distant Tundra world are already filing a complaint for climate theft.

The temperature valve is much as I left it last September, poised to usher in Icelandic dust clouds and a frosty reception for news about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s extra-marital shenanigans. Its mechanism is stuck fast with a combination of ice and rust and it’s clear I’m going to need some help. Summer is for dying of skin cancer, not hypothermia, and if I don’t get this valve fixed, people will start to complain.

I poke my head out of the pump house door and whistle for Dexter, my cartoon badger accomplice. When I got the job as temperature guy, I requested something exotic like a dragon or a humungous spider, but the God of Literary Tropes said no. Personally, I think there must have been a job lot of badgers left over from The Wind In The Willows. Either that, or Dexter is one of A. A. Milne’s editing casualties, cut from Pooh’s adventures to make way for Eeyore.

Whatever the truth of his factotumic existence, Dexter emerges from under a pile of newspapers by the hedge and stomps across the snow with a couple of Rafael Nadal signature model tennis racquets strapped to his back feet. It’s a perfect strategy for a cartoon badger able to walk on two legs, but since Dexter is a quadruped-style cartoon badger, his front legs slip about all over the place like the snow had been sprayed with engine oil, and he struggles not to skeeter headlong into the hedge.

He squares up to me in his workman’s cap and pyjamas. “Is it the pump again, boss?”

I sigh, recalling the washout summer of 1991. “Indeed. Fetch the tools.”

Dexter looks back at me disapprovingly, as if to say, “whaaaaaat? You beckon me over here through this wasteland of frost only to send me back again? If you knew there was a problem with the pump why didn’t you call me over with my tools and save me the trip?” I’m so glad Dexter isn’t a cartoon badger telepath.

Suitably tooled up, we toil together for half an hour, the heat of our labour stemming the combined frostbite count to a single toe (which Dexter snaps from my foot and tosses into the Let’s Make A Golem bin), but in spite of our efforts, nothing shifts the last scales of rust from the valve — not even the Coldplay CD we hung on a scarecrow several summers ago to strike terror into the hearts of marauding starlings.

I set down my dual wield machete and pickaxe combo, resigned to glance back over my shoulder to the pump house’s shadows — shadows in which lurks the mightiest weapon ever to threaten to blight the cosmos: the pan-Galacticaar Uber Super Whopper Plasma “Destroy All” (tm) Mega Ultra Cannon. Had I not won it in a Help The Aged tombola, no doubt some intergalactic despot would have destroyed the universe with it by now.

Dexter’s badgery eyebrows prick up, snagging on cobwebs overhead. “You realise merely thinking of pressing the ON switch on that thing could risk fracturing the time-space continuum?”

I grin. “As we’re already two goes in on that count sans evident Armageddon, what say we plug her in?”

With odds like these, my accomplice needs no persuading: he clearly wants to go back to bed whatever the cost, one hundred and ten per cent.

I stand the galaxy-destroying artifact against my Black & Decker workmate to peruse its vast array of knobs and dials while Dexter zig zags erratically back toward the house, unravelling the flex.

“I’m about a foot away from the socket in the kitchen,” calls Dexter. “Can you move the cannon a little my way?”

The flex tugs, whipping a line of snow into the air from the frozen lawn outside. “Technically, yes — but then the nozzle will be too far away from the pump to wreak the precise kind of havoc upon it we require.”

Neither of us requested background Conundrum Music, but it nonetheless sounds from a hollow in a tree trunk between us as if cued by a wicked minor deity with a penchant for irony.

Dexter grins uneasily. “We could always argue it was never destined to be a ‘barbecue summer’...”

“Or we could grab the extension lead from the scullery.”

It’s a Eureka moment on a par with the day I stopped using meringues as paperweights — only problem is, I followed up said brainwave with a subsequent flash of brilliance which saw off all ten of my extension leads in a charity bunjee jump.

Dexter grins uneasily once again, his demeanour morphing from perplexed badger to manically enthusiastic chewed rat. “Maybe if we switch the cannon to STANDBY we could eke out a bit of warmth...”

I nod, flipping back the dial from Total Destruction Of All Known Things Past Present And Future, through Oceans Boil But Selected Androids And Reptiles Survive and on past Your Granny May Fall Ill For A Week With A Stomach Bug But Don’t Hold Out Too Much Hope For That Pet Guinea Pig till the light next to the nozzle dims to a pale amber.

I’m expecting lightning bolts or arcs of pure inferno hellfire to come bursting from the cannon’s nozzle, but instead, a gold-coloured liquid drips from a hidden funnel, and unfolds slowly across the snow like a drizzle of honey, revealing green sprays of grass steam cloud by steam cloud. Butterflies flitter from its undulating gloop, the beat of their wings prompting flowers to erupt from the snow-laden hedgerow and blue streaks to race across the sky. Before we know it, there’s some idiot in Hawaiian shorts on a pushbike chasing a girl in a bikini and a dozen Morris Men snorting the pollen-fuelled snot of their allergies into handkerchiefs as gnats buzz about their hats and bells.

Dexter glances at his newspaper bed. “Shall I break out the sun loungers?”

I reply with a nod of my head that shakes nary half a pint of sweat from my tanned brow. “The loungers, the sound system — and The Beach Boys...


Anonymous said...

I love the little details about the badger, like the A.A. Mille castoff. It's a very interesting setup. Aren't prompts fun?

Whirlochre said...

I too have a liking for small details, though it seems the trend at the moment is for editing these out in favour of "the story".

As for the prompt — beats being whacked over the head with a length of bamboo cane...

Debra Ann Elliott said...

Enjoyed the read and I for one love the little details which to me make a story come to life. Great job!

Whirlochre said...


That's three of us against the world. Any more takers?

supermaren said...

Oh, definitely the details make the story! Also, anyone who uses the word "factotumic" in a story gets bonus points from me. :)

Whirlochre said...

You can never have too many bonus points.