It is terrible
being poor
I feel powerless
I cannot afford

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The Madness in the Ice

We found the hut near the peak, half buried in Alaskan snow. The windows were broken, the glass was lying all around. “So they were broken after the blizzard — from within.” Weston enjoyed playing detective.

Hearne — the other reckless greenhorn — was the first through the door. “The heating’s still on.” He pointed at the crudely lagged jumble of pipes on top of a big tank or boiler. The only sign of it being on was a thin cloud of vapour near the top that looked more like breath than escaping steam.

Then it moved.

Weston grabbed my arm and Hearne reached for his gun, but I knew what it was, now. It was a man, bandaged from head to foot, sitting astride an oil drum nearly as big as him. The vapour had been his breath after all. As I watched he reached into his hip pocket.

Hearne drew his gun, I knocked his arm back before he could bring it up. “He’s gone, Hearne! Harmless. Look at him.” The poor guy was drinking from a hip flask — oblivious.

Weston stared. “Oh God!”

Then I realised: it wasn’t a hip flask. It was a bottle of aftershave. I moved forward and something crunched underfoot.

Looking down I saw the remains of that ‘something’; it was expensively electronic. “They smashed the radio to bits,” I said. I can  play detective, too.

Hearne re holstered his gun and said, “Yeah, that’s why the distress call stopped.”

“But why did they smash it? Snow madness?” I walked up to the man sitting on the oil drum. The bandages made me think of protection against the cold. I looked closer. The white linen was covered in strawberry blotches. In places, shredded clothes showed through gaps in the bandages. He was wearing mittens that were stiff with frozen blood.

He had been hacked to pieces. Somehow, he had managed to just about cover himself with bandages. He must have been weeping in agony as he wrapped the gauze over the raw flesh; losing precious blood as he did so.

Hearne laughed nervously, “Wait until you see the other guy! — Sorry, bad joke. I’ll get a blanket.”

Weston came over for a look. He winced as he said, “Moving him’s out of the question.”

“We can’t get a helicopter up here so we’ll have to move him.” Hearne knew that for a fact having tried and failed before grudgingly coming to me. Weston had picked up the distress call, so he had to be cut in, but Hearne wanted no more shares — assuming there was any salvage to share; which I doubted.

On the floor there was an empty whisky bottle — and a syringe. So, after the morphine and whisky, all he’d got left was aftershave. “Hearne,” I said, “There’s morphine in the green bag with the red cross on it.”

Hearne shook his head. “We’ve got to let him come round,” he said “It’s our only chance to find out what happened.”

“Even if he comes round, we’ll never get him down — alive,” I said.

Weston made for the door, “I’ll see if I can fix up a sledge,” he said. “Oh, and don’t knock yourself out.”

If Hearne was wounded by the jibe, he didn’t show it. But he followed Weston outside. Someone needed to stay with the bandaged guy. I thought I might as well look for some sign of what had happened. Some kind of fight, obviously. But why?

The wind was rising, making a strange, unmusical whine as it blew over the glacier. As I listened, it sounded more and more like a hundred bag pipes running down and not quite together. I looked outside, but instead of a blizzard, there was an unearthly stillness. The weird sound must have been some kind of freak echo. I came back inside and as I re entered, just for a moment, I thought I could discern voices. But no: the man on the oil drum was quite motionless, his head on one side as if listening for his companions coming back. I listened too, and rested my hand on my revolver. All I could hear was that abominable piping; up and down over several octaves.

Weston and Hearne came back in dragging a makeshift stretcher made from one of the frame tents. “Thanks for the help,” said Hearne, sarcastic as ever.

Weston snapped on a big flashlight and swung the beam around. “It’s a prospector’s hut — prefabricated,” he said. “They erect them over test drills. It must have been a big team to drag this up the mountain — even in sections.” He hung the flashlight from a ceiling hook.

“So where is everyone?” I did not expect an answer — ever. Bodies soon got buried in this kind of ice flow. “Did they go crazy — or…?”

“Or what?”

It was Hearne who answered, “Or what they were looking for was worth the risk — worth dying for.”

Weston was trying to persuade our friend to leave the oil drum. He was not co-operating so Hearne and I went to help. Even then, he fought like blazes, and it was only with a big effort that the three of us managed to get him on to the stretcher.

Hearne tapped the drum. “Whatever they found, it’s under this. They fought over it. The last survivor dragged this drum over the test hole and clung to it — like Ahab to Moby Dick.” The simile would turn out to be more apt than any of us realised.

We could see marks on the floor; the sign of a struggle — and crystals that could well be frozen blood. Hearne held up an ice pick and pointed to the red crystals on the tip.

The man on the stretcher was trying to speak.

We stood as close as we could and strained to hear.

He was saying one word over and over: “TRESOR! TRESOR! TRESOR!”

“Treasure!” Hearne laughed out loud. “You know what they found? Remember that plane that went down last year? It was in all the papers. Some French Canadian crime syndicate tried to hijack a charter flight carrying gold bullion. The attempt failed and the plane exploded and went down somewhere. These guys — must be French Canadians — came to look for it, found it, and fought for it — to the death.”

I was not convinced, “You think the plane is under our feet?”

“I’m sure of it,” said Hearne — and I’ve never seen such smugness; before or since. “A burning plane would sink straight down into the ice. After that, the ice fills in over it. They came along, drilled into the cargo hold and hit the jackpot!”

Weston tested the drum with his shoulder. “It’s still full of oil,” he said. “It won’t budge!”

“Looks like it’s jammed into the floor!” Hearne had his arms around the drum. Weston was trying to use a tent pole as a crowbar.

There was no mistaking the gold lust in their faces. They were in no mood to report the find. There are no salvage rights to gold bullion, so they were already outside the law. They would fight for it, just like their predecessors — to the death. Suddenly, I felt expendable. I backed away, feeling for my revolver. I nearly fell as my foot caught in a piece of wood on the floor. I reached down and picked it up. It was a sign:


No. Hearne was wrong — ridiculously wrong. Skewed logic and misinterpreted observations; classic fallacious thinking.

I looked up in a daze. “Hearne, Weston, they weren’t French Canadians. They were English.”

They ignored me and continued to drag at the oil drum.

“They were zoologists — From Oxford University!” I pulled out my revolver. “Get away from the drum!”

But I was too late.

The drum came up out of the hole with a slurpy sucking sound. It shot to the ceiling taking Weston and Hearne with it. The light went out, smashed by the impact.

In the dark, there was a furious rattling as the hut shook. Something whipped across the floor — and the door slammed shut.

First the drum came crashing down from the ceiling, then Hearne followed, his arms flailing and mouth gaping as something dragged him backwards to the hole. I grabbed his arm and tried to hold on to the drum, but the floor gave way with a jolt and I had to let go.

It was then I saw Weston — or what was left of him.

He was hanging upside down from the ceiling, minus his head.

I switched on my flashlight and crawled frantically to the door, unable to get my balance.

Something had fallen against the door. I tried to pull it away, but my strength drained from me when I saw what it was — a corpse, covered in bandages. I turned away and it was then that Weston’s body came crashing down into the beam of my flashlight.

Moving the beam to one side I saw Hearne. He was shaking like a rag doll. And as he shook, bits of him came off.

Then I saw what was doing the shaking.

Those Oxford zoologists must have had a good idea of what it was they were looking for. They must have known from folk tales, or maybe even specimens from earlier expeditions.

They would have known that the octopus of the Alaskan coast grows to thirty feet across the tentacles, only they were looking for something bigger, a new species — or maybe a very old one. Maybe they did have specimens, brought up by drills, dating back to when the mountains were still at the bottom of a warm sea. They would have theorised or speculated about the exact nature of this prehistoric gastropod, drawing analogies from the diversity of marine life. Perhaps they had even the fossilised tracks of its tentacles. But this was a cryptozoological expedition — not a palaeontological one — and that shows that they expected a living specimen. But what could have prepared them for the madness in the ice — that hideous, multi tentacled mollusc like thing, with the huge, slurping tongue covered in tiny, jagged teeth that whipped and shivered and cut and slashed and sliced through Hearne and Weston’s bodies, dicing them like carrots and spraying the walls with their blood?

I was brought back to awareness when a tentacle lashed around my boot and dragged me half way across the floor.

It was incredibly fast. That Oxford expedition never stood a chance. Fighting back with ice picks and axes must have been like fighting a nest of serpents with a butter knife.

I fired my gun several times into the tentacle, blasting it to shreds. My leg was free — though badly cut — and I managed to stand. I fired the rest of the bullets into the gelatinous mass, but there was no real hope of hitting a vital spot.

There had to be another way.

The floor was alive with tentacles. They were like very fast blind snakes; randomly whipping this way and that. Instinctively, I leapt up on to the oil drum and found the hole it had punched in the roof. It took an agonisingly long time, during which the tentacles began to explore the air around me. But I climbed through the hole, just in time to see the drum being dragged away, leaking oil. That gave me an idea.

I took a magnesium flare from my belt, broke the seal and — as it began to blaze — hurled it through the hole.

I remember a deafening, roaring in my ears as I rolled over and over in the snow, dampening the flames that licked around me.

After that, I have the vaguest of recollections of dragging myself through a snowdrift. Everything that happened after that was a blank; until I awoke in hospital. Now it is a week later and I wish that blankness would return. It would be better than the sleepless nights. Even sleeping pills do not stop the dreams that awaken me to scream with terror. And the strongest prescription pain killers do not help, for the lacerations from the thing’s tentacles just will not heal. Antibiotics cannot stop the slowly spreading infection; the necrotising fasciitis that is slowly killing me. No, not killing me — eating me alive. Even that is not an adequate description for the way it is slowly digesting the muscles of my arms and legs; rather in the manner of the venom of certain reptiles, or spiders.

And then there is the other poison — the one affecting my brain. I wish that I could know for sure whether the madness in the ice is dead or not, for a deep longing fills me.

And gradually, the longing turns my wish for the creature’s death to a hope that it is still alive.

The parasitic virus lodged deep in my brain sends ever strengthening signals across my synapses, urging me to hire a charter plane to fly me over those dreaded Alaskan mountains, so that I can parachute down to the place where we found that loathsome, but fascinating, giant mollusc — and into its loving arms.

It is the perfect killer. I speculated for a time that it might even be some kind of biological weapon. But no; it is just very ancient and very specialised. You have to love it, in a way. It is efficient in what it does. But until the gradual warming frees it from the ice, it needs help — just as it needed help from the expedition who thawed it out. Its guardian, the man in the bandages would have freed it — if the virus had affected his brain enough, before he died. Now I will have to do it.

And I will, very soon.

But — with my last remaining particle of reason — I still appreciate the irony.

You see, when the rescue team found me, I was laughing hysterically and repeating one word over and over again; the word the English Zoologist had repeated — an English word, not a French one. Having seen that leftover from before the remotest ice age, I know how well the word described that dreadful, fascinating, quivering tongue with its rows of razor sharp teeth that buzzed and sliced effortlessly through flesh and bone — just as it will soon slice and dice my own willing flesh and end my agony of longing!

No, there was no treasure. That was not the word. Oh the irony!

Not treasure. And not “tresor” — but “TREE SAW”!

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Twilight of the Gods

I was just making the final adjustments, tightening the quartz rod and squeezing a drop of oil onto it. And just at this vital moment, Lucy walked in with a brief, “Hi, Daddy,” sat down and commenced to write.

“What are you writing? Let’s have a look,” I said.

Lucy wasn’t enthusiastic. But then she never was about anything. She flashed a page in front of me, hastily withdrew it, and blushed. “As long as you don’t try to read any,” she said. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“At least tell me what it’s about,” I said, hurt.

“It’s about a hundred thousand words,” she said. “Only the first draft.”

“A hundred thousand?” that shocked me. “That’s a lot, you know.”

“I’ll have to revise it,” she said. “Before I can show it to anyone, that is.”

“At least tell me what it’s about,” I insisted.

She sighed with marked petulance. She was seventeen, it was her job. “It’s fan fic,” she said.

“You mean fan fiction?”


“Of what?”

“The Twilight Saga. I don’t want that broadcasting, I might be infringing copyright.”

“Oh, right.”

“What are you doing, anyway?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

She rounded on me, “Typical patronising man. You have no idea that I wouldn’t understand you!”

“Well, for one thing you’re my daughter. And another, I’ve helped with your physics homework. And I know you really wouldn’t understand this.”

“Oh,” she said, arms akimbo.”Well go on, try me!”

“It’s very advanced physics,” I explained. “It’s relativity. Even I don’t understand all of it.”

“Well,” she countered, “touché! Because, dear fah-thah, you wouldn’t understand this, either. So there!”

She handed me her manuscript. I looked at it and, blow me! I couldn’t. “What’s this written in,” I asked, “Greg or Pitman. Never mind. I can’t read either.”

“It’s not written in shorthand,” she said. “It’s written in Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew. You’d be amazed at what they are teaching us at school these days, dee-ah fah-thah.”

“Why are they teaching that?”

“Oh, honestly, Dad! Didn’t you pay attention at parents’ evening? I’m doing ‘that’ and Middle Eastern history and geography. I did tell you. You’ve forgotten.”

“Oh? Why are you doing… um, that?”

“I’m going to be a Biblical scholar. You see, I knew I couldn’t become a wicked, atheistic scientist like you. I wasn’t about to study the Big Bang and evolution from lightning striking a rock for millions and millions of years. You still never explained to me why, if we evolved from monkeys, there are still monkeys?”

I groaned. My daughter, the Creationist! I’d never live it down at the RI Annual Dinner. “Anyway,” she concluded, “What are you making?”

“Oh, funnily enough, it’s a bit like you. You’re studying ancient languages. I discovered a mathematical cypher in one of old H. G. Wells’s books. Amazingly, he uses a form of binary code in the layout of the words.”

“You’ve lost me,” she said. “Just tell me what this code told you.”

I took a deep breath. “It’s a schematic for a time machine. Like the one Wells wrote about. I’ve built it, and I’m about to test it.”

“Bril! I’m coming with you,” she said. And there was no stopping her.

“I tell you what,” I said. “We’ll go back to Ancient Palestine, and you can try out your language skills on the natives.”

“I’m hardly fluent,” she said. “But hey! Will it be safe to do that? With my accent I’ll sound like a tourist, or spy! And as for you…”

“I’ll leave the talking to you, Luce.”

And so I did. It was, as Lucy said, ‘a riot’.

We came running back, miraculously unscathed. Lucy was still in a panic as we climbed down from the saddle of the time machine. “Dad,” she said. “Have you got my manuscript?”

“I thought you had it?”

“Oh, crumbs,” she said, (which was mild for her). “That’s awkward.”

“Why’s that, precious.”

“Well, it’s just I doubt that I could write it again. I’m supposed to be handing it in.”

“What, your Twilight Saga?”

“Oh, Dad,” she said. “It’s not really Twilight as such, well it is, but it’s one I set in Biblical times. Totally invented, you see. I made up a whole new Biblical story, really far fetched and supernatural, with ghosts and zombies and so on. I really got carried away. I thought it would be a laugh with straight laced Mr Samuels at school. Well, to pull his leg, sort of. I’m always doing that, inventing quotations and so on. This time I invented a whole new book, but one so far fetched that nobody would believe it. So that’s all right. It’s about a prophet called Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, then came back to life.”

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The Grim Reaper of Frozen Hell

Thanks; that mug of hot cocoa is most welcome. Preferable to the weak, sweet wine I was expecting. Sorry, bad joke. This is the first time I’ve felt warm in days. Those days in Alaska chilled me to the bone, especially the last one. I didn’t think I’d ever feel warm again. It was a total whiteout — a face freezing blizzard coming out of the north east. Our thick coats and gloves kept us comfortable, and our goggles stopped our eyelids freezing to our eyeballs. But the roar of the wind and the hailstones pummelling against our bodies slowed us to a crawl. The Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness has glaciers and rocky terrain so vast that the most experienced explorer would be crazy to trek through it alone.

We kept moving, silent; unable to hear each other above that dreadful din. All I could think of was the mug of hot soup laced with gin waiting for us back at the hut. That and the thick, coarse blankets warming over the stove. My heart pounded in my chest, and my breath was punishing my lungs. But those thoughts of warm comforts kept me going. Trudging over the hundreds of yards. Until that black, wedge-shaped block of redwood greeted us in the heart of deep, Alaskan winter. Hours seemed to have gone by since we abandoned our snow cat. Stupid of us to decide to trek on foot. Rather than wait for the others to come out in the other cat and rescue us. In reality, it was no more than thirty minutes. Had to be, because more than an hour in that blizzard, and we’d be dead. There was no way of telling how long it would be until we finished scrunching our way through the drifts. And emerged into the moonlight, a short walk from our base and safety.

And then I saw it.

It took minutes to make it out. The first thing I saw was a big, black, shapeless shadow moving rapidly ahead of us. It’s difficult to gauge size in a blizzard, and at first I thought it was a man in a long fur coat; a man with a skull like face. I didn’t think it was a bear, because it was too angular, and it walked with a spring in its step. Then, I saw its fierce, blazing eyes and vicious looking teeth. Its long, reptilian head was white and fleshless so that the bones of its skull showed through. It was only when I saw what was in those teeth, that I got the scale of the thing. From its jaws hung a caribou. At first I thought it was only a baby, then, I saw the antlers on it and realised it was a full sized adult. Those beasts are big. The thing holding the caribou must have been huge, much bigger than a bear — bigger than a bison. When I realised it was bigger than the snow cat I said: “Saints preserve us,” under my breath and dropped down flat on my belly. I hoped Fairfax was doing the same. Whatever it was, it was over ten feet high.

“What the hell’s that?” said Fairfax, crouching by my side.

“Quiet!” I said, as loud as I dared. “I don’t think it’s seen us. Whatever it is.”

Up until then it was the blizzard saved us. Snow blinded, the beast didn’t see us. Otherwise, it might have dropped the caribou and made a meal of us instead. Predators gorge themselves, then sleep it off. And, I guessed that was no less true of the thing we saw.

God knows where it came from. There are things hidden in the mountains of Alaska that we’ve never seen. I’m certain of that. Well, I am now.

We’d gone to investigate cries for help on the Canadian border, following on the quake the day before. We discovered we were leaking gas and had to stop. Fairfax suggested making it back on foot. If only we’d sat tight. Green and Pauli would have picked us up soon enough. And then we’d never have seen that — thing. I must have lain there several minutes, hoping Fairfax had stayed put too. And in those minutes, I saw it again. It had changed direction and was lumbering back, tossing its skull like head in the air, swinging the caribou, and dropping it to the ground so bits shredded off. It picked the carcass up again again, repeating the process. Swallowing new chunks of flesh every time.

That could have been me it was swinging around. It could have been either of us. Hell, it could have been us both. The classic, flesh eating dinosaur — with little hands in front no bigger than a man’s. But the creature’s ass was impressive. A massive tail, swinging left and right — like a giant’s club. It could fart in your face and bash your brains out in one move, that beast.

“I know what to do,” whispered Fairfax in my ear, “ You freeze, you don’t move. I saw it in a movie.”

“You’re nuts,” I said. “I saw that movie too, and you’re nuts, I tell you.”

“No, it’s true,” he went on. “It can only see moving prey. It can’t see you, if you’re not moving.”

The beast loped forward. Seen head on, there was a weird foreshortening of its long, white skull, and that’s why it looked almost human. And the rest of it, black and shapeless, hung from it like a long black cloak. The beast was nothing more nor less than a huge grim reaper, hurrying towards us through the blizzard. Messortorva nix, I thought, absentmindedly naming my discovery. The Grim Reaper of the Snows.

“Keep still, keep still,” Fairfax whispered, but I didn’t stay to listen to him. Panic seized me, and I ran. As I ran, I heard Fairfax’s voice going through my head. I knew he was right; yes, I’d seen that movie too, and reason told me to freeze and wait till the beast stopped sniffing at me, unable to get my scent in the freezing air. But the beast’s roar blasted my reason to the winds. I ran as I’d never run before; my chest aching and my throat on fire.

Then I heard Fairfax scream. I looked back and I screamed too. But that broke the spell. I got my second wind and ran harder than ever — terrified by what I saw. The movie was wrong. Movies often are. Ridiculously wrong. They tell things how they should be; how we want them to be. Wish fulfilment fantasies. Rationalisations. My panic saved me from misapplied reason. No; not panic — instinct. What I had seen in that brief backward glance was the beast’s teeth gutting Fairfax in a single movement, while its eyes fixed his with a heartless, cruel stare. It could see him all right.

And then all at once it was gone, swallowed by the whiteness.

And ahead of me, glowing with warmth and friendship was the hut, with the other snow cat alongside.

“What you say is impossible,” said Green, as I sat shaking and sipping my soup. “Apart from the fact that tyrannosauruses are way long extinct, dinosaurs were tropical creatures. No way could they live in this climate.”

“That’s what we assume,” I answered. “But that’s because we think of them as cold-blooded lizards. That thing’s blood was hot as hell. And as for being long extinct, maybe it’s from that deep fissure that opened up behind us. Maybe the quake flushed it out.”

“You’re sure Fairfax is dead?”

“His head went on screaming seconds after the beast ate the heart out of him,” I said. “But he’s dead all right. He coughed up blood, then…”

“Puh-lease!” said Green. “Spare me the details — at least out of respect for…”

“I respect him,” I said. “Of course I do. But he was wrong about the t-rex’s eyesight being based on movement. That’s all I’m trying to say. We need to let people know before anyone else comes up here.”

“Now wait a minute,” said Green, “let’s suppose it is a t-rex, which I doubt. It would be as good as dead…”

“And,” I said, “there are limits to doubt, and scepticism.”

Green shook his head. “There’s always room for doubt. I once saw a UFO, and it was a doozy! I followed it for a mile. Turned out it was a hot air balloon. Now you say this thing is a t-rex,” he chuckled. “My money’s on it being a bear. A big bear. Maybe a very big bear; but nothing to be too afraid of. Fairfax must have spooked it, and it went wild.”

“It was too thin and angular…”

“OK, a starving, angry bear. Bears look totally different when they’re starved half to death.

He’d not been there. He’d not seen it. “We’re talking,” I said, “about a bear big enough to carry off a caribou in its jaws.”

Green smiled a grim little smile. “You misidentified an adult caribou,” he said. “Easy done in these conditions. You saw something you couldn’t quite make out. And your brain filled in the gaps with stuff you’d seen in movies.”

Pauli took a swig of gin and considered. “I don’t know,” he said, “maybe you’re — kind of — both right. The Inuit talk about a creature; ‘angulalanuk’ or something. It means, ‘Bear of bears’ — or ‘big-bear’. This is angulalanuk country. No Eskimos comes near it. Maybe it’s time we civilised folk got down off our collective high-horse, and learned a bit of their humility.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth…?” I said.

“Exactly,” said Pauli, sipping gin. “Whatever the angulalanuk is, it’s not a bear. Not as we know bears. Eskimos saw these things and, ‘bear of bears’ was the nearest they could get to hanging a name on it. Their actual descriptions sound nothing like any bear I’ve ever seen.”

“But nothing like a t-rex,” Green insisted. “I’ll bet anything you like on that.”

“Well,” said Pauli, “just try to keep an open mind.” He walked over to the other side of the hut.

Outside, the wind whined and screamed. If it was the wind.

Away from the stove, Pauli’s breath turned to mist, reminding me of the cloud around the beast. I shuddered.

“I’ve got a book with a picture of one somewhere,” Pauli went on. He walked over to the little bookcase. There, after a brief forage, he pulled out a large volume and walked back. He held the book out to me, showing me the title-page. It was called: ‘Dinosaurs and Man’. And it was published by something called, ‘The Cryptozoology Press’.

Green looked over my shoulder, groaned: “Cryptozoology — pseudo science!”

“Not necessarily,” said Pauli. “They keep finding new species around the world. But anyway, look…” He turned over a few pages. And there it was, as if drawn from life. The bony skull-like head. The shaggy black body with its tiny fore-legs. And, it walking through a snow covered landscape.

“They gotta be kidding,” said Green and rolled his eyes. “It’s the boogyman!”

The caption underneath said: ‘The angulalanuk, as it might appear in life as a large theropod dinosaur.’

Green laughed. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Cryptozoology; dragons mammoths, and mastodons, and great sea serpents! Fairfax is lying dead out there, mauled by a bear of some kind — fact — and you two are swapping ghost stories! ‘Angulalanuk’ indeed. Go home Cryptozoology, you’re drunk! And so are you; the pair of you.”

The wind — if that’s what it was — howled louder outside. As much to take my mind off it as anything, I looked at the book.

“ No, look,” I said. “It says here: ‘The idea that dinosaurs may have braved the arctic snow and ice is not so far-fetched.’” I pointed at the paragraph. “‘Not now we know they were the warm-blooded ancestors of modern birds. They may well have been covered in feathers as depicted here. Some of the descriptions of the angulalanuk obtained from the Arctic Circle Inuit may…’” — here Green laughed — “‘just may even point to these creatures having survived into our times’. And that beast outside proves it.”

Green snorted his derision. “A dinosaur could not have survived being frozen for sixty million years — not even sixty thousand. Cooling it enough to preserve the body for that length of time — the tissues would have imploded.”

“Now hang on,” said Pauli. “I don’t buy that sixty million years crap. I don’t even buy sixty thousand years. Maybe six thousand years.”

“What are you talking about?” snapped Green. “There were no dinosaurs six thousand years ago.”

“You can’t prove that,” said Pauli. “There were mammoths found buried in ice in Siberia that had drowned in the Great Flood and frozen as the water turned to ice.”

Green gaped. “What? Are you crazy? Great Flood? There was no such thing!”

Pauli lit his pipe just so he could gesture with it, I guess. “People have believed in the Great Flood for thousands of years. There must be something in it.”

Green shook his head, “Oh my God!”

“That’s what Noah said,” Pauli observed, with a solemn, almost reverential nod.

“I’m prepared to go along with the idea that dinosaurs survived in some hidden valley up here,” I said. “But not that they were frozen.”

“Even that’s bat-shit crazy,” said Green. “What you saw was a bear. It must have been a bear.”

“It was too big for a bear,” I insisted.

The howling outside was louder now.

“In the snow,” said Green, with no reference points, you have no idea what size that thing was.”

“Maybe, they did survive in a hidden valley,” said Pauli. There are plenty of tales of dragons. Like the ones in the mountains of China, for instance. Then there are the dragons of Medieval Europe. And in the Bible too. Again, there are fossil dinosaur tracks in Arizona with human footprints right alongside them. That proves early man hunted dinosaurs in the beginning. We only think they’re a gazillion years old because we’re misled by the fossils we found. But those human footprints prove that they’re not. And, as any honest, up to date geologist will admit, the radiocarbon method of dating fossils is highly suspect.”

“I’ve never heard such mumbo jumbo,” said Green.

“Listen,” I said. “I think I hear something.”

“Just the wind,” said Pauli.

“No, the wind’s dropped.” And it had. Something else was out there.

“Can you prove dinosaurs are extinct?” said Pauli. “Can you prove your ‘millions of years’? No, I didn’t think so.”

“It’s getting louder,” I said.

“Science doesn’t work like that,” said Green, with an air of finality.

“Then perhaps it’s about time that it did — seeing as it’s not working at all right now.”

“Shhhh!” I said.

But Green ignored me. He held up his fingers and counted off the points, “One; folklore is not evidence — and that includes the Bible. Two; the radiocarbon method of dating fossils has been proven to work thousands of times. Three; the footprints you talk about are all dinosaur footprints — eroded dinosaur footprints. Either that or they’re forgeries.”

Pauli has started shaking his head at point one. Now he said, “There you go again, changing the facts to fit your outdated theory. Folklore’s fine when it suits your case, like when Schleimman used it to locate the ruins of ancient Troy. And if something spoils your nice neat picture-book of the world, it has to be a forgery.”

“‘Nice neat picture-book of the world’?” said Green. “That’s rich, coming from a Bible basher like you!”

“Keep your voices down,” I hissed. “I’m telling you. I hear something.”

It is difficult to describe what I heard. There was a deep ‘Crump! Crump!’ that sounded like someone — or something — walking through deep, drifted snow. There was also something like a snorting breath, and a snuffling, deep and loud. And then there was the growl.

“That’s a bear!” Green said.

“Will you keep quiet?” I said, starting to panic.

“It’s OK!” Green insisted, “It can’t get in through the door.”

“You don’t know that,” I said. After all, I was the only one who had seen the thing. I was the only one who knew what it could do.

“It’s prowling around outside,” said Green. “When it realises it can’t get in, it’ll go away.”

It started moving again: ‘Crump crump’.

“Don’t forget the windows,” I said.

“The shutters are closed,” said Green.

‘Crump crump crump crump’.


I was just about to suggest we turned out the light when the whole hut shook. Something had crashed against the wall.

We waited for the best part of a minute.

There was another crash.

“That’s no bear,” said Pauli.

And at that moment, with a terrific bang, the shutters on the window cracked from top to bottom.

“Definitely no bear,” insisted Pauli.

It was then something that none of us were expecting happened. There was another crash, the shutter broke away from its hinges, and — surreal though terrifying that it was — a huge, grizzly-bear’s head came through the gap.

“That’s a bear,” said Pauli.

It was dead; its fur matted with blood. We had scarce time to register it before the whole animal was lying at our feet. But none of us were looking at that. The huge, elongated skull like head of the beast was through the window and gazing at each of us. It had used the dead bear as a battering ram. Now it looked at us as if selecting us from a buffet.

“It’s a giganotosaurus,” said Pauli.

The giganotosaurus — if that’s what it was — uttered a low, growl. We were in a weird, dreamlike moment. Time stood still. Nothing seemed real. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

“But, but,” said Green, “it can’t be a giganotosaurus. Giganotosaurus was a carnosaur. And carnosaurs didn’t have feath…”

Whatever-it-was lurched forward and — with almost a studied air of nonchalance — bit Green in half.

Pauli stood there, looking around him in a panic, just like a little boy who’d been caught smoking. He backed away, whimpering. The beast watched him, curious, but only for a moment. Then, almost playful, it nudged him so that he fell over. His spectacles fell off too, and he let out a big wail. He was so short sighted, without his specs, anything more than a yard away was invisible. Maybe that was just as well for the moment. But then the beast opened its mouth and flicked its tongue along Pauli’s body.

Pauli screamed. And went on screaming.

I didn’t wait any longer. I opened the door and ran outside.

You know, life consists of a series of choices. If I’d taken my coat off when I entered the hut, I would have frozen when I went back outside. If we had not decided, at the last minute to only take one of the snow cats, we might never have encountered the beast. But more important: the other cat was waiting, fuelled-up and ready. And I was well insulated against the cold. At the back of my mind, was a movie. But not the same one that Fairfax had seen.

I had to put as much distance between myself and the beast — whatever they called it. I ran outside and got my first good look at its back three quarters. Most of its length was tail; a gigantic question mark of solid muscle arching high into the air. Its body was huge and covered in a long cape of black feathers. I supposed it was adapted to a colder climate. But I hadn’t time to wonder. For even as I tiptoed past, it jerked its head out of the hut and looked straight at me.

And Oh, the horror! It still had Pauli in its gaping maw — and he was alive. The beast was rolling him around on its tongue like a toffee, savouring the taste of his body. And as it did so, Pauli screamed, over and over.

When it saw me, the beast despatched Pauli with a single crunch that cut off his scream. And his head! It came rolling in the snow towards me. Hitherto the blizzard had blinded it. Now the blizzard was over, it saw me plain. I started to run and it turned round to give chase. I think I owe my life to the beast’s massive tail. It was like a Rolls-Royce chasing a scooter. In the short term, the little bike has the advantage. Before the beast had turned round to run, I reached the snow cat and wrenched open the cab door. The beast’s teeth scraped against the cab as I climbed inside. I tried the engine, but it stalled. And then the beast brought those shark like teeth down on the windscreen. I think the glass confused it. It must have never seen anything so hard yet so transparent. “Stay calm,” I said to myself. “Be ready to drive as soon as the engine starts.”

I tried the starter again, and this time it worked. While I was revving the engine the beast was all over the cab. Now we exchanged roles. I was the cumbersome one. I had no choice but to move forward. But I couldn’t move until the engine was up to speed. The second the revs hit fifteen hundred, I knocked off the parking break and the cat lurched forward. The beast was startled, and moved to one side. I put the cat back in neutral and the beast looked down. It was working it out. Is it good to eat? Is it dangerous? Will it break if I bite it?

Now to drop the blade.

“That’s it,” I said out loud. “You’re curious; you don’t know what it is. You can see me inside, but you can’t get at me. Yes, you can climb on that blade and get closer. Closer. Closer.”

I raised the blade the minute the beast climbed aboard it. It overbalanced. For a moment I thought it was going to fall off. “No, don’t fall off — yet.”

The cat shot forward. Got to be quick, it could still jump off.

We hit the incline. It was all uphill from now on. The beast scrambled about on the blade as it overbalanced, and fell backwards. It let out its angriest roar yet. We chugged up the hill. Only minutes to the top. If it managed to swing its bulk to one side I was done for. The sides were the cat’s weak points. And the beast could outpace me, even uphill.

‘Chug chug chug’ went the engine. I couldn’t see past the beast, maybe I could risk a look out of the side window? I opened it and looked out. Yes: five, four, three, two one.

I dropped the blade, and the beast fell forward. But it grabbed hold of the blade and hung on. I put the tracks in reverse and they held. But the beast was climbing up on the front.

Only one thing to do.

I opened the side door, banged the tracks into forward. And jumped.

By some miracle, I managed to land safe by the fissure’s edge. Some foolish bravado made me stand, shake my fist and shout: “Go back to the frozen hell you came from!”

And for one awful moment, I thought the beast was going to climb over and get me. But at the very last minute, the snow cat with its monstrous burden rolled over the edge of the cliff into the deep fissure the earthquake had opened up. it disappeared from view.

But it was some minutes before I dared look down. I was nervous the edge of the precipice might give way. At last, I plucked up the courage to crawl over there, and look.

There was nothing there. It was too dark. But the snow cat and the dinosaur were both — to coin a phrase — extinct.

I stumbled around for hours and completely lost my bearings. Then, through frost bitten eyelids, I made out a dim ‘someone’ walking alongside me. As I turned to face him, he grabbed my arm and pulled me to the right. I looked at his face. And, to my amazement, I saw that it was Pauli.

“This way,” Pauli said. “It’s not far to the hut. Then you’ll need to radio for help.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Nah! I wouldn’t die till I knew you were safe.”

“I killed it. I killed the giganotosaurus.”

“It wasn’t a giganotosaurus.”

“Oh? I thought you said it was?”

“I only said that to annoy Green.”

“What is it then?”

“It’s a do-you-think-he-saurus.”

“That’s a joke, right?”

“No, its vision is based on motion.”

“Isn’t that a myth?”

“No, ith a mythith. They’re all female. Like in the movie.”

“Well, I should name it,” I said. “I discovered it, the discoverer gets to name it, and I name it ‘messortorva nix’ — the Grim Reaper of the Snows.”


Our conversation went on in this inane manner for some time. I only remember fragments of it. At last we reached the hut. “I’ve got to go now,” said Pauli. “Look after yourself.”

And he walked off into the night; just faded away.

Nobody believed me, of course. They laughed when I said the dinosaur had feathers; said I was just trying to be trendy. And when I told them the bit about Pauli’s ghost helping me find the hut. Well that only made things worse.

So, they charged me with three counts of murder as, I guess, you know. They even threw in the theft of the snow cat. But they couldn’t make that one stick. And Alaska not having the death penalty, and Pauli coming from Texas, I was extradited and put on death row here in Austin.

So, your reverend, worshipfulness; here endeth the confession! And no, I will not retract one word of it. And, don’t try to scare me with hell. For you see, I’ve been there already.

And the angel of death and I are on very good terms.

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Savage Echoes

The new constellation sparkled like a phoenix as it rose from the embers of the setting sun. Most of the people who saw it wondered, but did not worry, seeing only a beautiful addition to the autumn sky. Only the Hubble telescope painted a more sinister picture. And by the morrow, the media were declaring, not only that it was not a new constellation, but that it was a clear and present danger to the world.

There were a great many who either did not hear the astronomers’ pronouncement, or did not believe it, and continued to delight in the new pattern in the heavens. Then, as the days passed, the glowing points of light grew further apart, and more significantly, glowed brighter and more baleful with each passing hour.

Now the papers carried the headline, “Meteor Shower”. And astronomers on the news tried to quieten fears by saying they would — undoubtedly — miss the earth and go spinning down into the sun.

But the meteoroids did not fall into the sun. They made a course change that specifically targeted the earth.

Only one kind of meteoroid changes direction like that. The glowing orbs were intelligently guided. “Extraterrestrials of Unknown Origin” was the established code name for them: “E.U.O”s, usually rendered as, “Echo Uniform Oscar” or “Echoes” for short. And privately; indeed secretly, preparations were soon underway to deal with what the world leaders perceived as a true menace to life on earth.

Missiles were launched under the cover story of a new series of communication satellites being parked in a geosynchronous orbit. The missiles knocked the Echoes out of the sky in minutes. And a public statement was quickly released that told only half the truth: that a number of ‘bogies’ had been destroyed by the earth’s “Asteroid Missile Elimination Network” or “AMEN” for short.

But when more missiles took the place of the ones destroyed by AMEN, it became impossible to keep what was really happening a secret. Now the media openly admitted that the earth was under attack.

No one knows how many of the first wave attackers burned up before they got better at navigating in the earth’s atmosphere. Soon, a few got through. The first anyone paid attention to was destroyed on impact. It came down in a blaze of golden fire and when the American army task force went to look at it, they found only a burning heap of twisted metal.

Another fell the following night –- intact this time. But by morning the army had shelled the crater and completely obliterated it.

“A very crude construction,” said Professor Heinz Zeit when the CBS News asked him to comment. That was the consensus in the scientific community, apparently. The ships were huge, but simple hollow cylinders — hardly more than that. The short, stubby wings slowed them down. So, at first, they lost hundreds. But hundreds more got through.

Soon there were more getting through than even the united armed forces of earth could deal with. When there were no more earth defence missiles left, the surviving cylinders opened up and the aliens came out fighting… Carrying only spears, bows and arrows.

“Tell me, Professor,” said the news anchorman, “how could primitive aliens like these develop rocket propulsion?”

The professor polished his spectacles (he only wore them for show, of course, Heinz Zeit’s eyesight was twenty-twenty.) “The answer is simple — they did not. We have examined the rockets, and it is clear that they are an obsolete type, very similar to the ones that were once used by the Russians during the Cold War. Many of these were fired off into space in those days, you know. These aliens — it seems — found some and made copies of them. They may be primitive, but they are good at making crude yet serviceable copies of technology. They do not have to understand it, and they do not need all the electronic monitoring equipment and safety devices NASA uses for life support, and getting the crew home again. It is clear that for these aliens, life is not at all valuable. They are probably considerably overpopulated. And so they are hurling their surplus population at us. Inevitably, they will either use up all their surplus population in a war, or find some living-space on another planet –- ours for instance. From their point of view, they have nothing to lose either way. In killing the invaders, we are rendering their leaders a service.”

And so it was, that the aliens perished in their thousands as the planes of the combined earth air force strafed them into the ground. Yet, still they kept coming.

The head of the task force, General Man was incredulous: “They’re deliberately coming down in and around heavily populated areas! We can’t nuke them. We have to evacuate the area before we can shell them. There are so many that we can’t manufacture ammunition fast enough to maintain a steady barrage!”

Flame thrower tanks were brought forward, and only then did the tide of battle turn — until hundreds of spear waving aliens began to fall on the tanks, bogging them down in a swamp of burning flesh.

“They haven’t even got parachutes!” the General cried, thunderstruck, as wave after wave of aliens jumped out of their missiles in mid flight to splatter their remains over the front line, while the cylinders themselves crashed into airbases, pock marking the airstrips with craters.

“There is a risk,” said General Man, mopping his ample forehead as he faced the notoriously pugnacious US President. “There is a chance that if they keep up this kind of attack, that is, if they keep dropping on us in these numbers, we might not be able to stop them overrunning the earth.”

“Liberal defeatist commie crap!” shouted the President with his customary eloquence. “Kick ass, General! Nuke them if need be. But if I don’t have their asses by tomorrow, I’ll have yours for a trashcan!”

And so it was that, inevitably, with the President’s disturbingly eager ascent, nuclear weapons were deployed on domestic civilian targets. First New York, then Washington DC were fire balled out of existence. Other major cities followed them into oblivion –- and still the aliens continued to drop out of the sky.

“Do you want your cyanide pill now, Mr President?” said his Aid. “Or do you want to make a speech first?”

“Is there anyone left to make a speech to?” asked the President.

The Aid buried his face in his papers. “Nobody sane,” he mumbled. “Most people are too busy looting and fighting and killing each other to care anyway.”

And so it was, with increasing desperation that the armed forces released powerful biological and chemical weapons. Millions of aliens died, and still more kept coming. The remaining human beings were few in number and mostly sterile or dying. The army retreated behind a wall of firepower all the way back to the hills.

“Mr President,” said General Man to the late president’s white-faced successor, “Our intelligence informs us that the number of aliens hitting the ground has halved in the last few days. The tide is turning! Hallelujah!”

“You mean we can win this thing?” gasped the President.

General Man spat tobacco into the fire and slapped his thigh for emphasis. “Hell! We are winning, Mr President.”

The new President relaxed his grip on his cyanide pill. “Are you sure?”

“Yessiree, Mr President. I have every confidence in our boys. We now have the requisite firepower — and the enemy has none!”

“As you say, General –- Hallelujah!”

But their triumph was short lived, for with the dawn came a new wave of attacks, considerably smaller in numbers, it is true. But with an important difference. These aliens were firing weapons and driving tanks. They had fighter planes and bombers.

“What?” quavered the President. “General Man, you said those aliens were primitive savages! What does this mean?”

“I’ll tell you what it means, Mr President. It means that Capitalism has prevailed even if we haven’t. Someone’s been running guns to the enemy. The arms dealers have sold us down the river!”

The president opened his mouth to speak. But his reply disappeared into a mushroom cloud of burning ash as his blood boiled in his veins.

And so it was that the earth became the first colony of the race that has now conquered the galaxy — by using borrowed technology.

As they conquered planet after planet, the invaders tempered their warrior ways. Gradually, they developed a technology of their own.

And as the need for expansion and war faded, they became more curious about the people they conquered.

And out of this curiosity came ethical sentiments and even compassion.

Now they are the great civilising force of the universe, although, great saviours as they undoubtedly have become, they learned their lessons far too late to save the earth.

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Astrology Is Nonsense



Randi, Stephen Fry, and the professional astronomer are right, I did an academic study of astrology at University in the late seventies, early eighties and it is absolute tosh and an insult to the intelligence. I don’t know why the video is so chopped up, though. The best part where the astrologer gives a totally ludicrous analysis of Hugh Laurie that had everyone laughing their little cotton socks off has mysteriously vanished. Perhaps the spirits whisked it away, but it looks more like a clumsy effort on the part off the uploader to edit the piece to make it appear more favourable to astrology. This backfires when another astrologer attempts to line up married women with whom they are really most compatible, and when it all goes pear shaped, the women ‘shown’ to be compatible with men other than their husbands, she stupidly says: “Well that just goes to show that people can get along with anyone if they make the effort!” So what use is astrology if people can get along with anyone regardless of their horoscopes? It’s also a terrible recording. And if you’re going to believe Nina Myskow I despair of you! She was so obviously trying to make her reading fit. “An important relationship?”
“Yes, I found a new therapist that year who I stayed with for seven years.” Crap, all of it.

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The Myopia Paradox


Cobras do not strike in sunlight, rattlers never rattle when they’re wet. That’s all you have to know about council officers. Fionnghan MacIain, the assistant curator fell into the second category. I should have slipped him a quart of Glen Fiddich, beforehand. “The trouble is,” he waffled, “we’ve not got the time, let alone the space. And, if I were to leave your work in our storeroom, gathering dust, until someone could look at it, there’s a risk it might get damaged. In which case, according to the manifest, we couldn’t afford the higher insurance premium.”

All gobbledygook. If the Mossback Gallery wanted to do something, they did it.

I suppose I’d better tell you who I am. Pat Bart is my name, though lately I’ve taken to calling myself Giselle Bartleby. I’ll keep you guessing why, for now. You could call this my autobiography. Legend has it I died when I finished it; turning up my toes as I finished the last page. There. Where  it says copyright MMXV. And don’t you forget it. Pinch any of my scintillating prose and I’ll haunt you till your hair falls out onto the ground like horse shit — plop.  Yellowbrown and steaming, falling on the floor in great, hot lumps. All right, that last bit about steaming lumps was exaggeration, poet’s license. Well I renewed my poet’s license this morning, for five of your Earth pounds. So fingers off, or I’ll bite them off, and spit them in your face like dumdum bullets.

I’d better paint a bit of a picture so you don’t go thinking I’m tall and svelte and comely. You’d like as not think me the opposite of those three. That’s why I don’t ‘do’ glamour, as a rule. But I did intend the peach-blossom silk choker to bring out the cerulean of my eyes. And that is my one concession to femininity. My gunmetal dungarees were bought for the occasion. My mahogany hair close-cropped to a sensual, finger-tickling velvet an hour before.

That’s enough about me for now. Back to Fionnghan MacIain. “So,” he continued, a purring wasp in his nest of paper, “if you could have them picked up again, ASAP, we’d appreciate it.”

Thinking of something else I’d like to pick up — and throw off the roof — I nonetheless managed the ghost of a smile. And even nodded in quasi agreement. They could all stay till I got George to pick them up in his four by four. He’s a little treasure, is George. He took my pics there in the first place. He was a bit openmouthed when he saw how many, but helped me heave them into his four by four. To be honest, he did most of the heaving — my back was playing me up. The porters hadn’t complained about carrying them to the lift. They lugged pictures about all day. And to the unlearned, one art treasure looks no different from another. It was this so-called ‘expert’ that was the buggeration factor.

“I’m not saying, don’t bring any more,” MacIain insisted, “just better if you bring them one at a time.”

Then he got snidey.

Cheek of it. They refused to show my work. Well, that’s their loss. But that snide remark was the limit. I mean, fancy saying they won’t show it because I don’t have a degree in fine arts. That’s just snobbery, of the intellectual kind. Can’t they recognise an authentic, self-taught genius when they’re looking at her? What’s that you say? Modesty? No place for modesty in this world. You’ve got to blow your own ophicleide, (a trumpet’s too small these days). And you’ve got to put your shoulder to it. Especially if you’re a woman. And double-top on life’s dartboard.

“I mean,” he said, taking hold of ‘The Horse Whisperer’ and turning it this way and that, “what’s it supposed to be?”

“That’s a horse,” I said. And it was: a real horse; with fetlocks and withers and mane. How could he not appreciate the beautiful, sweeping curve of the horse’s neck with the man’s arm following it round. Had he no soul?

I could see he was working himself up to say something uncomplimentary. It was time to go. He was not in the mood for anything that wasn’t Pre-Raphaelite, or neo-classical. No spirit of adventure, that’s him.

“And that sky,” he said. “What colour do you call that? Snotgreen?”

Time to leave the gallery, time to go home. I picked up ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (pearls among swine, it was) tucked it under my arm and made a dramatic sweep of an exit.


To cheer myself up, I descended on the students’ art show in the Hays Building next door. Most of our University was glass, steel and concrete. But the Hays was Gothic and inherited from the Freemasons who had moved to the suburbs ten years ago. I was homeless at the time they moved out, and I joined a squat in there for a short while. There was no lecky, and we used to tell ghost stories in the dark featuring the masons and their human sacrifices. Nowadays, the interior was much brighter for its trendy makeover. The weird Egyptian symbols were still there, though; chiseled into the stonework. They still cast spooky shadows on the floor when the sun shone through them.

I entered through the grandiose arch. But instead of going into the main gallery I turned right into the area reserved for the 2.2s — unofficially.  Was it bound to be nasty? It was, indeed it was. A young man of impetigous appearance quite blended in with a metal table, splattered with dried paint. Close to, I saw it was also covered with rough-cast, unglazed porcelain Buddhas. The scabious young man lowered his Morning Star, stood up, and touched a button. The table began to vibrate. The pot Buddhas jigged around. One of them fell off the edge of the table and smashed to pieces on the floor. The young man smiled. Another two pot Buddhas fell off the edge and smashed. He switched off the motor and bowed from the waist like a Japanese. Was I supposed to comment? The young man went back to his ‘Morning Star’ and I walked off as my headache intensified. If that’s anything to go by, they can keep their degrees. Wankers, the lot of them. I will admit, a few of them have technique. But none of them have originality. You can have all the technique in the world, but if you’ve no originality you might as well try whistling down the wind. That’s the thing you can always say about a Giselle Bartleby painting. ‘Originality guaranteed’. Of course, sometimes it’s the dyslexia coming out that brings the originality. Like the times I get the hands and feet mixed up. But I always paint over those. If I spot them. Anyway, I’ve evolved a special technique to avoid that happening again. “Note the distinctive Bartleby sweep,” future critics will say. “The continuous line enclosing the figure.” A pity I didn’t think of that before. As long as I keep my charcoal on the canvas, I can ensure everything’s where it belongs. And the outcome’s picture-perfect. And effortless. Every time. More or less. Being blind in one eye doesn’t help, when you’re an artist. But being a bit deaf does, sometimes.

They know me too well, that’s their problem.

I used to be a life model in the Mossback Gallery. That bunch of tossers can never admit one of their own meat-loafers has talent. Apart, that is, from the usual, physical one of enduring the same position for a thirty-minute stretch.

It was for my debut as an artist I decided to try using a different name. ‘Giselle’ is from the ballet. Pat Bart just didn’t sound like anything. But when you are eighteen stone, it’s hard to be invisible. They still say, “Hello, Pat,” as soon as I walk through the canvas jungle, my paint box underneath my arm. I’ve tried to suppress ‘Pat’ ever since I heard someone referring to me as, ‘that Cow Pat’. Only jealousy, of course, but still not polite to call someone that.

Let’s see them make something of ‘Giselle’. Or Bartleby, if it comes to that.

Another reason I use ‘Giselle Bartleby’ is to stop the DSS finding out about my professional pittance — if ever it arrives. You see, most times we barter. Suzie at the health emporium balances my chakras in exchange for drawing lessons. Then there’s George, helps me do a moonlight flit with his van, every so often. I did his portrait the last time. He came off best because the painting cost £30 in materials alone. If I’d bought them new, that is. In real terms, it’s worth about £300. Maybe more. A real investment. I might buy it back, one day. He said I could take it, if I wanted. It worried him that it might get damaged in his own, forthcoming move. And  anyway, he’d run out of wall space. But just taking it, without a payment, wouldn’t be fair on him. I’ll give him a fair price, when the time comes.

That awful snob MacIain doesn’t know what he’s looking at. “If you had an art degree,” the smug bastard said, “I would at least know that someone had put some value on your previous work.” So forty-five years of life experience doesn’t count? They’re all in it together, is what he really meant.



On my way out, I was pleased to see Rex Gallivant, on his way in. Rex was a history of art lecturer who used to have his own little gallery in the backroom of a remaindered-book shop. He was going to exhibit some of my paintings. Until the bookshop closed down, that is. “Hello, Rex,” I said. “I was hoping to bump into you.”

He frowned at me.

“Giselle,” I said.

“What about it?” he answered. He’s forgetful, as well as long-sighted.

“I’m Giselle,” I said. “Giselle Bartleby.”

Still no response.

“Pat Bart.”

“Oh yes,” he said, with a smile, of sorts. “How’s the modelling going?”

“It’s not,” I said. “I haven’t modelled in months. I’ve become a professional painter.”

“Ah, right,” he said. “How’s that going? Have you got a full order book? Of course, you’ll need your own van and ladders…”

“Not a house painter,” I said, holding up ‘The Horse Whisperer’. “I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve launched myself on a new career as an artist.”

“Have you really?” he said, squinting at me through an invisible lorgnette.

“Yes. I’ve already sold one painting.”

“Have you really?” he said, again. I could tell he had something else on his mind.

“Tell you what,” I said, linking my left arm with his right and butterflying my lashes like a bad un. “I saw a vacant shop on Cathedral Mount — the old secondhand food shop. You know? ‘S & M Foods’. And naturally, I thought of you.”

“Naturally,” he said, distracted by a pigeon or something, over my right shoulder. Men should not try to multitask.

“I checked, and it’s dirt cheap rent. Because of the hill, I expect.”

That pigeon must have been doing something pretty acrobatic, because he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He reached into his pocket, excavated a silver snuff box from his hip pocket and transferred a pinch to his hairy nostrils. This action meant he had to unlink his arm from mine and it would have been too cheeky to grab onto his again.

“You know,” I said, bringing my voice down to Thatcherine depths, “you could afford to rent it, and start a new art gallery. ‘The Gallivant Gallery’. It has a terrific ring to it.”

“Yes,” he said. That was a good sign. “I suppose I could.”

So I pressed on. “And if you did, I could have a studio in the backroom.”

“Yes, I suppose you could,” he said.

“And, I could teach people to paint, to contribute to the rent.”

“Yes, I suppose you could,” he said. If Rex had his own TV show it would be called, ‘I suppose You Could’.

“And sell my paintings, of course,” I said, more to fill the silence than anything.

“Of course,” he said.

“And we’d both be quids in,” I said, with what I hoped was an encouraging wink.

“Yes, I suppose we could be,” he said. He looked at his watch, a gold Rolex. I could tell it was genuine because the second hand didn’t jerk as it swept round the dial.  “If you don’t mind,” he added, “I’m a little pushed for time. In fact, I must dash. I’ve got a train to catch.”

“So, do we go ahead?” I asked.

“We could do,” he said, backing away.

“And store all my paintings at your place until…?”

But he had already swept off into the crowd.

He didn’t jerk around either.



It being Saturday, I decided on a walk home by the river. It’s a wondrous varied route. It winds its way through sparkling woods and grey old factories, ending up by an industrial museum that combines the two. A decrepit, brick and stone-built edifice wherein an ancient water turbine is preserved. Here the fluvial force powers an old drop hammer and various other Victorian appliances of science. The trouble was the trickling water was soon calling to my bladder. So I made haste for the horrible little public lavatory tucked away behind what was laughably called the café.  And on my exit, I bumped into George Meek, ambulance driver of this parish. “Hello George,” I said. “You off somewhere?”

“Erm, not really. It’s my day off. Just had coffee here and now I’m going home.” Peculiar, that. I’d swear he had the distinct look of someone just arriving.

“Ah, good,” I said. “I’ll come with you. Got a job for you, George.”

“A job? What do you…?”

“Driving job. Taking my paintings up to Rex Gallivant’s place. I’ll explain on the way.” I decided to advance the right arm this time. It stayed put.  Less intimidating, perhaps? Must stick to the right in future, when linking arms with men — and talking business.

“Any payment for this…?”

“Oh, same basis as before. Payment in kind.”

“You see, I don’t really want another painting,” he said. “I mean, it was good, sort of. But I just don’t want another portrait cluttering up the place.”

“I’ll do you a landscape this time. I’m good at landscapes. It will be like having another window. Open the room up.”

“Ah, I see,” he growled. He unlinked his arm and thrust his hands deep into his pockets so that his arms made twin exclamation points. “I don’t know when I could.” He went on, quieter now. “Honestly, Pat, your ‘jobs’ tend to turn into ‘mini adventures’. Like that time we ended up pretending to be Arab diplomats at that trade delegation…”

“This one won’t,” I said, cutting him short. “I’ve already talked to Rex about it. It’s quite straightforward.”

“Yes, well,” he went on, “I don’t know when I could…”

“We’d best do it now,” I said. “Before Rex has a chance to change his mind. Just joking. He’s really enthusiastic for us to go into business together. I want to show him how keen I am, by taking my paintings over there straight away.”

“Your paintings?”


“Not anybody else’s, then?”

“Who else’s could I take?”

“Are your paintings actually worth something?” he said. “I ask purely for information. I mean, no offence. Most people’s aren’t.”

“Mine are.” I played my trump. “The Mossback Gallery think they are. I left some with them, to be appraised. They said the prices I put on them were too low. They told me to increase them tenfold.”

“What? Frank Raphael said that?”

“Not Frank Raphael,” I said. “One of his minions. I had to fill in a form. There were boxes for the titles and value. I thought I’d price them low. You know, enough to cover the cost of materials, plus twenty percent. But he said, ‘You need to increase your prices. Put a nought on the end.’”

George reflected. “Ah, for insurance purposes,” he said. That pigeon had come back and was bothering him, now.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s what made me realise that I was undervaluing my talent. And, that I could make a living from painting.”

“So is the Mossback exhibiting your paintings?”

“Probably; I’m waiting to hear,” I said. “But I’m really talking about the ones I’ve got at home. Come on. Help me carry them downstairs and up to Rex’s and I’ll cook you supper.”

His brow furrowed as he said, “But he may not be in. Have you thought of that?  All that way for nothing.”

That was a point. Rex had said he needed to catch a train. Always going somewhere, Rex. Every time I met him. Envied him, in a way. Big family and always in demand. Suppose you’d call that charisma. But if you’re not born with it, you have to work at it. That’s harder for a woman, in the current climate. “It’ll be all right, George,” I said. “He’s got a big garage, and he never leaves it locked. We can leave the paintings in there. I’ll sleep on the garage floor till he comes back and lets me use his sofa. Don’t worry about me. I’ve done it before.”

And I’ll do it again.

“Look, I haven’t enough room in my car…”

“That’s all right. We can always make two journeys.”

We made three.


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