Tales From The Town #4: The Classification Of Animals

Of all the dreams Yulia dreamed, her favourite dreams were dreams of animals.

Today, around noon, as she served a customer some cigarettes from the display behind the till, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, on the street outside the shop, a turtle. And on the turtle’s back she could see a tortoise. And on the tortoise’s back she could see a terrapin. And on the terrapin’s back she could see a fourth creature that was exactly the same as the first three creatures, except this one was even smaller again than all the others below.

She didn’t know what this one was called, but she was certain its name started with a T. It had to. Yet no matter how many names she tried – tartaran? tiralpoise? tintle? turlesque? – none of them seemed to fit.

She was so distracted by all this she was late for lunch.

***

A week from now, when Yulia tells Jeanette all about it in the cafe, she will no longer remember whether it was all a dream or a sight she had actually seen. Not that it matters. That’s not the point of the story now.

The point of the story now is whether on the back of the fourth creature there had been a fifth, too small for her to see, but there all the same. And on the back of the fifth, perhaps a sixth, a seventh, an eighth, a ninth… For all of them Yulia tries searching for a name.

Jeanette eats her cake in silence and smiles wider with every bite.

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Notes:

1. Written between the 1st and the 3rd of May, 2021
2. There’ll be a new episode of this every Saturday morning now
3. Until the end of time
4. Or I run out of things to say
5. And they run out of things to do

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Tales From The Town #3: The New Boy

“Mum! Mum! You’ll never guess what!”

“There’s a new boy at school!”

“He’s so tall!”

“And mysterious!

“He’s called Timothy!”

“His mum’s a weightlifter!”

“His dad breeds cats!”

The cat, who had been asleep until now on her second favourite shelf, slowly opened her eyes at the sound of her name, and then just as slowly closed them again.

“He used to go to a different school!”

“But now he goes to ours!”

“He’s been everywhere!”

“And done everything!”

“He once drove a real car!”

“He once flew in a hot air balloon!”

“He’s been to Antarctica!”

“He’s been to Mars!”

“Well, doesn’t he sound nice,” Agnes said.

“He’s so nice!”

“He’s amazing!”

“He’s so tall!”

“He’s our new best friend!”

But by Wednesday he wasn’t new anymore, and after the weekend they never spoke of him again.

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Notes:

1. Written on April 30th, 2021
2. Hopefully there’ll be one of these every week from now on but who knows

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Tales From The Town #2: Three Short Tales About Antoine

Outside The Cave

Agnes sat on the rock and looked out to sea. Behind her, in the shadows of the cave, a slightly darker shadow lurked.

“I know you’re there, Antoine,” she said. “It’s okay. I just came to talk.”

She took a sandwich from her bag and had a bite.

“What’s there to talk about?” he said. “I’m happy and you’re happy and we’re all happy and everything’s okay, everything’s just fine.”

“I brought you some lunch.” She held out the bag of sandwiches behind her, and almost instantly it was snatched from hr hand. “And we’re worried about you, Antoine. This cave can’t be good for you.”

“What’s wrong with my cave? I love this cave. It’s exactly what I need right now. It’s perfect.”

“Well,” Agnes said carefully. “Maybe so. But it’s damp. And the smoke from your fire just lingers everywhere. It’s a health hazard.”

“It’s atmospheric.”

“And there’s the crabs, Antoine.” Agnes looked down at the little crowd of them on the sand, as they raised their little claws up at her defiantly. “I don’t know how you put up with them.”

“They’re not as aggressive as they look,” Antoine said. “Well, they are, but, you know, you just need to give them space.”

“We still don’t think you should live in the cave.”

“So can I come back to the house?”

“No, Antoine, of course not,” Agnes said. “Don’t be silly.”

“Well, where else am I going to live?”

“I don’t know. But there must be somewhere nicer than this?”

“I am not moving into the well,” he said. “Not ever. No way.”

“Who said anything about the well?”

Agnes waited, but there was no reply. When she finished her sandwich, she jumped down from the rock and started back across the beach.

“Do they miss me?” a distant voice said.

“Of course they miss you,” Agnes said, unconvincingly. “They miss you terribly.”

Inside The Cave

Antoine spent his evening how he spent every evening and would spend every evening for quite some time. He sat beside the fire in his cave and thought about all the conversations he had ever had.

He was going through them in order, and was currently trapped somewhere in his teenage years. Once again it seemed like they would never end.

It would have been simple enough if he was content with simply reliving them, but instead he tried to correct them as he went, so that this time through they didn’t spiral out of control and make him look a fool in front of everybody all over again.

The trouble was that even now, as he carefully reworked them so that he had a ready made answer for everything, he still ended up losing the argument. He didn’t know how, but he did.

And not just once, but thousand times, in a million different ways, until each individual conversation from the past became a fractal filled with an infinite variety of easily rebutted idiocy and absurdly pompous ignorance.

Even his own mind was against him.

A Dream Of Mermaids

I was the middle of the night. In the dark, Antoine thought of the mermaid. She swam and swam in the silence of his dreams.

At least his mind never made him argue with her. No matter what he said, she just nodded in agreement, and occasionally splashed the water with her tail. That meant she was particularly amused by whatever it was he had told her. He told her a lot.

She was perfect, he thought. She didn’t even have a voice to answer him back with.

“I do,” the mermaid said, as she popped her head above the waves of his imaginary sea.

“You don’t,” Antoine told her.

“Of course I do,” she said. “How else would I lure anyone into the sea?”

He blushed. Why would she need words for that?

“Not that I’d want to lure you down here, Antoine,” the mermaid said, before disappearing beneath the waves with a defiant splash of her tail.

Antoine lay back in the sand and sighed. The wind moaned through the cave like the lament of some lost and distant whale. The crabs tugged at his sheet, but he would not relax his grip.

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Notes:

1. Written on April 29th, 2021
2. Please see the cast of characters for more information about the protagonists

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Tales From The Town #1: The Poetry Competition

They were going to have a poetry competition, Claire had decided. She had things to say.

“Can I paint a picture instead?” Ethel said, picking up a particularly appealing piece of paper from the pile. “I don’t like writing at all.”

She didn’t care for people correcting her spelling, which they did all the time. It was so rude.

“No!” Claire said. “It’s a poetry competition. And besides, we’ve only got pencils.”

She brandished them like knives.

“But a painting’s a kind of poem,” Ethel said.

“It is not,” Claire insisted. “Who told you that?”

“Anna,” Ethel said. “And she’s a student!”

“Well, she’s wrong,” Claire told her sister. “If you paint a picture you’re disqualified.”

“Can I write a story?” Daniel asked.

“Only if it rhymes,” Claire said. “But it still isn’t going to win.” She took her hairbrush out of her pocket and held it like a club. “My poem’s going to win.”

“Poems can’t win,” Tina said. “They don’t work like that.”

“Everything works like that,” Claire said.

“It does not.”

“It does,” Claire declared. She began brushing her hair with such intensity it glowed. “Anyway, I bet you don’t even know HOW to write a poem!”

“Of course I know how to write a poem,” Tina said. Upstairs, in the box beneath her bed, were 973 neatly filed poems, at least one of which was over a hundred pages long and written in the alliterative style. Even Tina knew that this was a bit much. “I’ve written loads!”

“Well, I’ve never seen any of them.” She looked at Ethel and Daniel. “Has anyone?”

“No,” Ethel said.

“Yes,” Daniel said.

“No you haven’t, Daniel! No one has.”

Tina never showed her poems to anyone, especially not Daniel. Not because she was embarrassed, or that they were private. She simply didn’t like to see anybody cry.

Especially not Daniel.

“Anyway, I’m not playing,” Tina said. “It’s wrong!”

“You’re only saying that because you’re going to lose,” Claire said with a wild stare. “You and your stupid poem.”

“Poems can’t lose, either,” Tina said, shaking her head and slowly fading away. “It’s not what they’re for.”

Claire stamped her feet, and then turned round to glare at the others.

“You better not be giving up!”

“But the room was empty. It was so empty it gave the impression that it had always been empty. Even Lucas seemed to have left his usual spot down the hall.

“I win, then,” Claire said sullenly. She sat down on the chair between the bookcases and looked out of the window. “I always win.”

Outside, she could see Daniel and Ethel playing on the swing. Claire threw the pencils on the floor and stamped on them, then picked them up and very tidily put them all away.

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Notes:

1. Written on April 28th and April 29th, 2021
2. Please see the cast of characters for more information about the protagonists

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The Dinosaurs

A big dinosaur and a little dinosaur were walking through the swamp together.

“God, you’re so small,” the big dinosaur said to the little dinosaur. “So small and tiny and pathetic.”

Although he only said that last part to himself rather than out loud. You never say those bits out loud.

“And you’re so big,” the little dinosaur said to the big dinosaur. “So big and huge and amazing!”

The little dinosaur was so excited he even said that last part out loud. He couldn’t help himself. Everyone knew it was true. Big dinosaurs were brilliant. All the stories said so. Big dinosaurs went on exciting adventures and had all this amazing fun together and all their friends were beautiful and they lived in the biggest caves and everything. It was so cool.

The only stories anyone ever told about little dinosaurs were ones where everyone was miserable and dying and ugly and dead. Who’d ever want to listen to those?

“I wish I was as big as you,” the little dinosaur said. “I wish I was bigger than everyone!”

“Well, you just need to put the work in,” said the big dinosaur, magnanimously. “That’s what I did. I didn’t get this big by lazing around all day doing nothing! I did it by working my bloody arse off!”

“I work hard,” said the little dinosaur. “I catch and eat a fish every single week!”

“That’s not work,” snorted the big dinosaur. “I eat a thousand pounds of swamp grass every single day! That’s the sort of work you need to put in if you want to move up in the world. No fucking lazing around in the sun for weeks at a time. ‘Oooh, oooh, look at me, I’m metabolising my food!’ Pathetic. You don’t see us big dinosaurs napping on the job. No, we fucking digest our food while we eat it. We don’t even stop eating while we talk. I’m eating right now! See! See!”

The big dinosaur bent down and took another big mouthful of swamp grass, spitting great lumps of it in the little dinosaurs face as he fantasised about shouting at the stupid pathetic lazy workshy little arsehole. Fucking little bastard! As if you could ever be as big as me! Bigger! What a fucking cheek!

The little dinosaur ran away and cried a bit probably and then resolved to improve itself in the face of adversity, because that’s what little dinosaurs always do in the stories. So much bloody crying. And resolving. Always resolving. Resolving to do this and that and the other and whatever. Fuck them. Little shits.

Anyway the next day the big dinosaur came back and found the little dinosaur was already in the swamp. The little dinosaur was lying on its side and its stomach had burst open and blood and swamp grass and even a little bit of undigested fish leaked out of it all over the marsh.

“Hah!” the big dinosaur laughed down at the little dinosaur. “Less than day of hard work and you’re already sleeping on the job. Typical!”

Later on a group of medium dinosaurs appeared and fought with each other over who would get to eat the little dinosaur but no one was watching by then because honestly what would be the fucking point.

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Notes:

1. Written on March 7th, 2021
2. While still in bed
3. Before getting up
4. I did not feel well
5. Please forgive me

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.