“You can’t signal your plot twists in advance.”
“I can. I just did.”
“Not if you don’t know what they’re going to be.”
“But I do. It’s perfectly simple. The kitten–”
“Anyway, you’re supposed to write your waffly bit first.”
“We shouldn’t be talking like this. Your waffly bit. Where you start by rabbiting on about something completely irrelevant.”
“My waffly bit? Edgalcius the Mage, I’ll have you know–”
“Hang on, what’s this?”
Pipsqueak was woken by a noise. His head – no, it wasn’t his head; Pipsqueak lay very still and the room stopped moving.
If he lay like this for the rest of his life, he quite possibly wouldn’t throw up.
But his head. Yes, it was his head.
Pipsqueak groaned. His head felt– And his mouth– Pipsqueak lay very still. His mouth needed a good metaphor.
But this was one of those situations, Pipsqueak knew, where any good metaphor instantly sounds like it’s been used before.
“Careful. That’s you thinking. Pipsqueak’s a character. And that’s not a thought he’d have.”
“Sorry, I just couldn’t think of a way to describe the inside of his mouth. Have you ever cleaned out a parrot cage? But more leathery.”
“When you can’t describe something, maybe the message is: don’t describe it. Basic rule.”
“I thought I was writing this.”
“Yeah, but I’ve been in stories like this so many times before. By so many authors. The Old Guy with a Thousand Faces, wasn’t that your working title? So many stories. So many heroes to help on their way. Can you imagine the number of ominous storm-clouds I’ve had to ride under?”
“It only rains at night in fantasy novels.”
“Stair-rods, though. And the old guy – the wizard, the mage, the whatever – is always being called out of bed for some late-night intervention.”
“But you must have seen some beautiful–”
“Yeah, but when the descriptions really don’t work? And you have to tell a young woman that she looks like that because some pretentious git of an amateur author fell in love with his own ridiculously over-written description of how her face could launch– hold it! Look.”
Pipsqueak’s mouth, which was a perfectly ordinary mouth, with teeth and everything, slight overbite, some thinning of the enamel, discoloration, possible fracture in Upper Left Seven, periodontitis, very dry just at this moment, parched actually, bits of food stuck between – Pipsqueak felt very bad. But very bad in a normal way that he recognised.
He felt like he felt when he’d been drinking and eating to excess. Which is what he’d been doing. So he felt like that.
He lay very still.
“You’ve said that.”
He continued to lay very still.
That sound; what was it?
“That’s Pipsqueak thinking about the sound, isn’t it? You need to make it clear.”
Pipsqueak rolled onto his side and – well, he felt a bit better afterwards and managed to get it cleared up without waking Myrtille. He got to his feet. The room had stopped swaying. It was a tent. He was in a tent. There was Myrtille and there was – who let him in? Still asleep, anyway – and there was his rucksack.
That noise… It had sounded like conversation. Very faint, kind of tinny, but definitely two voices.
The contents of his rucksack had spilled out onto the carpet.
“Carpet now? Very fancy.”
There were his spare – Pipsqueak shuffled his spare long-johns back into the rucksack – and there was … yeah, this thing.
Using just his finger and thumb on the handle, Pipsqueak picked up the lamp and put it to his ear.
There was a sound like – Pipsqueak frowned – it was the sound that a massive, heavily salted body of water would make if there was a lot of wind making it surge against a sloping surface made of pebbles or sand.
What a weird idea, Pipsqueak thought.
“He’s never seen the sea, you idiot!”
Pipsqueak jerked back, dropping the lamp. He was right: the voices were coming from the lamp!
“And that’s seashells, anyway.”
He scrambled to his feet and backed away from the lamp.
He could hear his heart beating. His breath was short. He felt a powerful urge to fight or – his feet rose two inches off the carpet and then bumped down again.
“Not that kind of flight!”
“I said – shhhh!”
All of a sudden Pipsqueak’s hangover was completely cured.
It’s magic, he thought. I’d forgotten about the lamp. I’d forgotten that it was magic.
But – two voices?
Pipsqueak brought his breathing under control. He waited for his heartbeat to subside.
The genie was on his side. If the genie had a friend…
Pipsqueak glanced at Myrtille. Then he reached for the lamp.
Outside the tent, the kitten crouched in the darkness. It had watched, through a very small tear in the fabric of the tent, as Pipsqueak had woken up and – the kitten wrinkled its nose at the memory.
The kitten had watched until Pipsqueak had picked up the lamp, dropped the lamp, and then reached for the lamp again.
Now there would be magic not of its making.
Fascinated, the kitten reached out a claw to enlarge the tear in the fabric of the tent. Perhaps it would learn more magic from what it was about to see; perhaps some of the secrets of this strange, fantastical world would be revealed.
And then, behind the kitten, darkness formed out of darkness. The stars were blacked out and a dark shape leaned forward over the kitten.
“There you are, my little one,” said a voice as rusty and creaky as – as the voice of an elderly cat-breeding witch who didn’t use her voice very much and hardly ever thought about dental hygiene. “I knew there were seven in the litter.”
Before the kitten could get a proper stare going, it had been snatched up and was held close in the old witch’s black cloak.
“What kind of a familiar will you be, if you’re always running off?” said the witch, turning away. “If I don’t get you properly trained, I won’t be able to sell you to anybody.”
Then the darkness was darkness again. There were stars, and a distance away, the last embers of a camp fire. An owl hooted. Wolves howled. Across the camp, faint snoring could be heard.
Inside the tent, Pipsqueak began to polish the lamp.
I didn’t need a new hat, but I’d come to the supermarket without a hat, and it was cold outside, and there was a rack of hats, gloves, scarves, all roughly the price of an overpriced cup of coffee.
My new hat has a turn-up. You know what I mean. Actually, it’s called a fold-over, and the small amount of research I’ve done for this post suggests that a fold-over is intended to double up the cold-protection over the ears and the neck.
Or to extend the cold-protection down, of course.
Except that the fold-over on my new hat is sewn into place. You can’t pull it down if there’s a wind off the Urals biting into the back of your neck, and you can’t fold it further up if, er, the hair around the top of your head is not as, um, cold-proof as it used to be.
I’ve bought a hat that has to look the same in all conditions. To the extent that it’s just ever so slightly impractical for its ostensible purpose.
I bought a bag recently. The leaflet went on about the brass buckles and the leather straps and how all-round sturdy and important the bag was – except that the buckles and straps were sewn together, and the bag actually opened with the poppers concealed underneath.
Why have a big brass buckle if it’s just a big brass decoration? I suppose I’ve answered my own question.
Why do we take ourselves so puffed-up seriously these days, if we’re not even prepared to unfasten a buckle?
We've all got cold brains. Is that it?