THE ABCs OF A PECULIAR LIFE // V is for Valenki & Vanitarianism

The pursuit of vain things. That’s what Austin the Arctic Fox was all about. What was the point of having this lush blue coat of full-bodied fur if one couldn’t flaunt it on a regular basis? Big and puffy — that’s how he liked it, and that’s how he wanted the rest of the world to see him.

“Could you please get rid of these stinky valenki? By the Great Frost Daddy, I’m tired of stumbling over them every goddamn time!”


“Don’t argue. Please just do what I say!”

Disgusted, Austin the Arctic Fox kicked at the valenki with the pointed toe of his finely lacquered boot. His Mother clearly didn’t understand him and his need to be trendy at all times. How could he possibly bring himself to commit fashion suicide? Austin the Arctic Fox proudly clicked his tasteful heels toward exit of the igloo. It was time to get out of there.

It was the middle of a lovely polar night so warm and gentle. Only minus twenty-five degrees! Positively comfy! All the penguins and polar bears would be green with envy at Austin the Arctic Fox’s resplendent splendiferousness once they laid eyes on it. Eat crow, peasants! (Well, there were no crows around here, but still…)

So, anyway, Austin the Arctic Fox strutted his stuff. He primped, he preened, and he swaggered about like he was on a New York catwalk. He was making sure everybody knew that he was something, that he was someone of note. And, yes, everyone gawped at him, jaws all dropped and dragging in snow. Even the penguins and polar bears… and a hunter’s wife.

It wouldn’t have been so very serious if yesterday the Hunter had come back home sober. But he hadn’t. He’d bar-hopped half the polar night away, spent the whole family budget for February on drink, and lost his left mukluk. Then he’d walked through the door, hugged his Wife, and puked over her shoulder onto the sealskin rug in the hall. And so the Hunter’s Wife was less than impressed. And so he needed to do something extraordinarily romantic to win back her affection.

And so it was that the Hunter found himself out in the elements, his hands trembling quite a bit, and sporting a very sore throbbing head. He was in all of a muddle. He felt like death warmed over a cold stone. He had to find a way to get back inside and into bed where his Wife’s warm body would be.

What can melt even the frostiest heart? Of course, some new duds and yet another oath to stop drinking might do it. The Hunter thought a moment. It was probably best to start with the easier option. If he played his cards right the Wife would soon forget the second part of deal. And so the Hunter went hunting, a pounding skull, crooked hunting rifle, and wounded pride his only companions.

It wasn’t long before he stumbled upon the Austin the Arctic Fox who just so happened to be smugly parading himself before a waddle of starstruck penguins. The Arctic Fox’s lush blue coat of full-bodied fur was truly a sight to behold! Big and puffy was how the Hunter’s Wife liked it, so it was clear that he was going to have to kill the Arctic Fox. Right now. This instant. Snuff him and skin him. And then romance would ensue.

It’s a funny thing but only his first shot was close to the target — just two meters higher and a smidge wide to the left. Then after this… well, the longer the Hunter tried aiming, the worse his attempts were. (Even a Soviet astronaut somewhere had to change the orbital path of his vessel.)

Austin the Arctic Fox began to realise something was up when the third or fourth bullet came back down, nearly aerating a poor penguin’s brains. At first he thought it was hail, but then quickly remembered that hail was almost unheard of in the Arctic region. He whipped his head round, saw the Hunter trying to yank a rifle barrel out of the snow, and took to his heels. (In both senses.)

He ran like never before. He was falling, rising and falling again, scrambling like blue blazes to get away. Finely lacquered boots aren’t jogging shoes, you know, especially with heels. One heel broke off pretty quickly though, so that was a small mercy. The second got stuck in an ice crack. It was at this point that Austin the Arctic Fox got a terrible sinking feeling and his whole silly life flashed before his eyes. The last frame of that reel was him dangling from the Hunter’s Wife’s shoulders with a protruding tongue and plastic eyes.

With a renewed urgency, Austin the Arctic Fox howled, discarded what was left of his boots, and ran on all fours like the sorry fool he was. He scrabbled and scrammed all the way home, his blue fur matted and dirty from his furious flight. Sweaty and panting, he collapsed on the floor of his igloo and wept openly. Holy fucking ice grenades! He could have died because of those goddamned boots!

“I was wrong,” he said to himself between ragged huffs and puffs. With shaking paw, Austin the Arctic Fox reached over to the bureau and took the valenki off the footstool. “Never again…”

And what did the Wife say to herself when the Hunter solemnly presented “Amazing new boots just perfect for Paris” to her? Boots that were scuffed and scratched and broken? Alas, we should withhold this information. After all, this book could be read by children.


© All rights reserved 2017

CRACKED FABLES // The Fox and the Hole

“And keep in mind. We do not sell watches. We sell happiness. That should be the main message when you talk to your clients.”

The Fox underlined this last sentence. He then pursed his lips, thought a bit more, and underlined another one. Then another. The lead in his pencil snapped. I guess the class is finished for now, he thought. He put the pencil down.

Everyone was crowded near the tribune where Coach was gathering papers. They vied with one another for his attention, their questions overlapping until the classroom was filled with a burble of noise. I guess I won’t be getting any one-on-one time with Coach today. Grimacing to himself, the Fox stood up and went to the door.

The Fox had it in mind to go and put these newly learned sales principles into practice. There was no time like the present, right? No one else was going to make his dreams come true. A flock of Rams was feeding in the meadow next door, and probably didn’t suspect how unhappy they really were. Silly Rams!

The Fox had walked not twenty paces down the road before a realisation struck. Of course! These Rams are my new clients! He did a one-eighty turn and made a direct beeline for them. The light bulb above his head had now morphed into a giant dollar sign. He was going to make himself happy by making them happy.

Look at them! thought the Fox, tutting in the most patronising manner. Those poor saps stand there bleating, chewing grass, pooing pellets, and mindlessly dangling their balls in thistle come rain or come shine. Dont they know theyre standing at the threshold of real bliss and happiness? Of sheer greatness?!

“Dear Rams!” No. That sounded far too official for the occasion. He didn’t need to be like Winston Churchill ordering a cream bun at a county stall. He needed to ingratiate himself, to make everyone think he was one of them. “Comrades in arms!” No. That sounded worse. “Comrades in Rams!” Shit. He needed to stop and think…

Another light bulb appeared above the Fox’s head. He smiled a slightly devilish smile then, drawing a big gulp of air into his lungs, and solemnly declared, “Gentlemen Rams! I have an offer one cannot refuse. And today, I give it exclusively to you. Are you ready to change your life right now?” Curious, the Rams looked up from their turfy repast. One even dropped some extra pellets, but this could have been an unrelated event.

“Behold!” The Fox hoisted one of the fob watches above his head. It dangled from his paw like a tiny, new-born star, twinkling so invitingly in the fawning light of day. The Rams glanced at the trinket with complete indifference then poked their muzzles back into the manure again. There was another emission of pellets somewhere but that still could have been unrela— Oh, who was he kidding? The Fox knew they were being disrespectful. Bloody Rams!

After some more strategising, the Fox decided to change his tactics. Accidentally on purpose, he addressed the Ram nearest him: “Well met, sir. Pray, would you be so kind as to tell me the time?” He was sure that this tricky plan would work, and that the Ram would realise how bleak and poor his life was sans timepiece. The fob watches would surely fly at that point. They’d be sold quicker than the sweetest sweets at a Willy Wonka convention.

Nope. That fool Ram stuck his nose back into the dirt, chewing like there was no tomorrow. And not just chewing, mind you — actively and obnoxiously masticating! It was as if he was grinding that grass down to prove a point. Evidently, grass was worth more to the Ram than all the glittering mountains of timekeeping devices in the known universe. The Ram turned his butt towards the Fox and gurked. Yup. They’re definitely taking the piss.

The Fox decided to change his approach again. “I heard that the Lion issued an ordinance today! He said that everyone in the forest should have watches, that otherwise they would be immediately gobbled up by the Hyena Guard!” All of the Rams looked at him, and still — it has to be said — somewhat nonplussed. Deliberately, and oh so very slowly, they all reached into their woolly folds and withdrew ‘pieces’ that were clearly not of the time-telling variety. Hm, thought the Fox. Note to self: Look into the weapons manufacturing business. Might be some excellent opportunities for cash flow there!

Suddenly, there was a tap on his shoulder. The Fox turned to see one of the older Rams peering back at him with wise, sad eyes. The Ram baaed with a deep voice: “We can’t wear pocket watches, moron. We have no pockets.” The Fox blinked to himself. Then where the hell were they storing their guns? It didn’t make sense! Maybe the Rams just didn’t want what he was selling.

The older Ram turned to the flock. “Let’s go home, brothers and sisters. It’s too hard to be good amid the temptations of this world. And the low air pressure is too much.” The Rams holstered their weapons then raised their hooves to the sky. “Baaa-aaa-aaack to the Mountain!” they cried as one. “Baaa-aaa-aaack to the Holy Mountain!” Oh, god. They were fools. Lost sheep.

The Fox opened his notebook and leafed through the pages. What would Coach do in this situation? He searched and searched, but it appeared that the option of someone refusing to buy watches wasn’t even a possibility. Coach wouldn’t have entertained this notion because, of course, who in their right mind would refuse such an amazing deal? If the Fox paid Coach a mere twenty dollars a pop for them, surely he could resell them for fifty? Who wouldn’t want one for a measly fifty? Easy peasy!

And so it was that the Fox planted himself at the very centre of the meadow, right between the heaps of manure and chamomiles, his thought processes radiating so intensely as to be almost audible. What would Coach do? What would Coach do? And it appeared as though the heavens themselves were listening to his impassioned supplications because no sooner had the Fox raised his eyes from the ground when the Coach roared past in a shiny new cabriolet. This surely had to be some kind of sign!

Sitting next to Coach was a young, pretty weasel, and for some reason the Fox felt compelled to throw himself at the car. Probably to intercept it or to serve himself up as an offering. Perhaps he was having a religious experience. Who knows? What’s certain is that the Fox was almost made a martyr beneath the wheels.

“Coach! Coach! I have a very important question!”

The car braked sharply. Red-faced, Coach jumped out and shouted, “Are you a moron?!” Obviously, he was very angry. “Seriously, man, are you tired of living?” The Fox ignored the fact that he was being called a moron for the second time in mere minutes, and approached Coach with the same fervour and reverence that a starving man would an oasis of cheeseburgers.

“Coach! Coach! If a client says, ‘No!’ then what should I do?” Coach looked at the Fox with a slight unease in his eyes, letting loose an involuntary nervous snicker. “Oh, you’re one of my trainees, aren’t you…” he muttered almost disbelievingly through gritted teeth. This ‘acolyte’ was just standing there looking at him in wordless expectation, all clingy and earnest and… well, needlessly needy. Who wants needy? Not Coach! “Ahhh… ahem… A refusing client is a dead client. Utterly worthless.” And, just like that, Coach was back in his car hitting the gas pedal… leaving the Fox to choke on his dust.

And so it was that the Fox still found himself standing at the very centre of the meadow, his head buzzing with confusion. What the hell now? he thought. A dead client? This made no sense. Was the Fox meant to take these words to his bosom and treasure them forever and ever, amen? He sat there deep into the night, not feeling one iota of wisdom in those words, or indeed any reassurance. There was simply no comfort or revelation to be had. The words of Coach pulsated in the juddering walls of his mind like bees in a fever dream. A refusing client is a dead client. Utterly worthless. Dead. Dead. So pointlessly dead.

The decision was made somewhere close to morning. The Fox rose from his dark thoughts and ambled off somewhere for a while. When he came back, the sun was high in the sky and there was a huge shovel in his paws. If he really put his back into it, the hole would be ready in a couple of hours. And so he did. And so it was. And then the Fox dusted himself off with much satisfaction. He masked the hole with branches and grass before sneaking off to wait behind a large yet inconspicuous shrub.

The following events came thick and fast. Really, the poor Rams had no chance. No time to react or even reel. Lured by the promise of more springy, delicious grass to chew, they were quick to fall into the hole that had been dug expressly for them. In a state of panic they all fired their guns into the air, hoping to achieve who knows what outcome but only succeeding in having a rain of bullets fall back down on their heads. Their cries of “Baaa-aaa-aaack to the Mountain!” were cut short, and it was at this point that the Fox whipped out his cell phone and called a fur trader. Oh my, what a massacre!

Later that afternoon, the Fox stood beside a huge rack showcasing many sublime ‘fur’ coats. You’ve got pockets now, buddy! he thought smugly. Who’s the real moron here, huh? By the time normal trading hours ended, one could say that he had made another ‘killing — a figurative one anyway. He was now in possession of more cash than one could wave a platinum credit card at.

When the Fox was leaving the store, he noticed a small stand full of watches. These were the ones that Coach had been selling for twenty bucks earlier in the day, but for some strange reason each now costed only five. And so the Fox took a gun from his newly acquired secret stash and went to find Coach. He was going to have that lady weasel for himself, and his last words to Coach would be: “I have an offer you cannot refuse.”


© All rights reserved 2018

DARWINIAN // Woke at the Coalface

‘Eat. Sleep. Sprint. Repeat.’

At no other time in history could I wear this summation of existence on an article of clothing and not be thought of as odd. But nearly everyone’s doing it nowadays, so I guess that makes me somewhat normal — or at least someone somewhere’s definition of ‘normal’. It’s funny how society bolted from the t-shirt as an undergarment in the nineteenth century to being worn as outerwear in the mid-twentieth century. Quite the transition, no? We shrugged from ‘shock of the new’ territory into the realm of blind acceptance in one quick, easy, costume change.

So, what does this actually mean? It means that t-shirts are in. It means that catchy sayings in bold typeface beneath cartoon pics of hollow, burnt up earths with factory stacks belching out poison are in. And it means that the combination of all these things is in. I guess the t-shirt is what society now deems ‘social convention’. Yup. And the only constant is change.

Frankly, I’ve never understood the appeal of t-shirts. To me they’re just walking billboards littered with guache advertising for untruths mixed with half-truths dressed up as ‘The Truth’ that you absolutely cannot live without… so buy today. And I happen to live at the fraying edge of all of that. Oh, damn, I don’t know what to do! Should I wear this shirt and risk exposing my unmanly physique for all to snort in derision at? I’m barely hanging on here, trying not to be the wonky thread that makes my carefully insulated life come undone. My face is already unacceptable by society’s standards. Now my body too?

Is this irony? The fact that I can be shamed for my pear-shaped body rather than the trite maxim on my overstretched top doesn’t seem right to me. Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe I shouldn’t be perturbed that not only is this the uniform that must be worn if I want to be part of society’s cabal of acceptance but that I can also be rejected if I fail to squeeze into it in the prescribed manner. No, I should just push these thoughts out of my mind…

The earth coughs up flowers for no one to notice.  The mighty dig past said flowers for coal to burn to make loot. Said mighty diligently practice their brand of self care, amassing said loot to the neglect of everyone else. And here I am, trying to decide whether what I’m feeling is mere vanity or the emergence of some awful realisation.

God. What possessed me to buy this stupid shirt anyway?


© All rights reserved 2018

MMORPB // Tati & Tony in Raiders of the Lost Snark (Moderately Multiplayer Online Role Playing Book 18+)

“Hey, Tati. Do you like interactive stuff?”

“What? Cooperative staff? What do you mean?” Tati blinked in confusion.

“Stuff you can interact with. Like a knob or Rubik’s Cube.”

“Hmm… knob. I sense a trick.” She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “Do you want to beep my nose again?”

“Could I?” Tony’s mouth broke into a sly grin. “Although that’s more like a button really, not a knob.”

Tati wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Tony, I won’t fall for this shit again. You and your speculative staff!”

Now Tony blinked. “Well, I’ve never heard it called that before…”

“What? These were your words! You asked me if I like copulative staff only a moment ago. I’m not crazy. I know what I heard!”

“Actually, I was referring to ‘CYOA’ books. My knob… erm… knobs in general… erm… staffs… Shit. Let’s just say Rubik’s Cubes.” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Look, I was just using these as examples of things that could be interacted with…”

Tati stared at him. He slumped his shoulders and said sheepishly to himself, “Damn. I’ve become a dirty old man, haven’t I? I always promised myself that wouldn’t happen.”

“C’mon you! Old ass!”

Tony blinked again. “Hey, hey, hey! No need to get insulting!”

“‘CYOA’ books! Doesn’t this mean ‘C’mon you! Old ass!’ books?”

“No, it really doesn’t. Please, Tati, do save me from your endless guessing, okay? Let me put you out of your misery.”

“Well, you can try. But, please, without your silly euphemisms like ‘knobs’. I’m a big girl. You can say ‘interactive dick’ if what you mean is ‘interactive dick’.”

“Good lord. Now you’ve got me blushing…” And he really was!

“Well, out with it!” She tapped her foot on the tiled floor, impatient.

“Erm… yes. ‘CYOA’ means ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’.”

“With dicks?”

“NO! Not with dicks! What’s wrong with you? This isn’t an adult version of ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ y’know!”

“Such a pity. Okay, so what is it?”

“It was a series of children’s books that began in the seventies. Each story was written from a second-person point of view, and each section of the story would end with a list of choices for how it could progress.” Tony was in full professorial mode now. He was so cute when he got like this. “You could be a pirate, an astronaut, or even an investment banker. Actually, I don’t think there ever was one with an investment banker in it…”

“Tony, stop your verbal flood. Couldn’t you have said just one word at the start?”

“Actually, that’d be in the list of choices. ‘If you decide to listen to Tony’s lengthy, long-winded explanation, thus running the risk of slipping into a coma, turn to page 17. If you decide to convince him to use fewer words, thus saving yourself valuable drinking time, turn to page 21. If you decide to slap him in the face with a wet fish, turn to page 34.’”

“WOW! And what will happen if I jump right to page 45?”

“Then the story won’t make any sense! You can’t just go skipping pages!”

“Tony, actually I’m teasing you. I understood almost three hours ago what you’ve been saying about gamebooks.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“I’ve never read such books, but I suppose it could be fun. So, what is your idea?”

“Well, I was thinking that you and I could try writing one of our very own…”

“So, why are we still sitting here beating the air? Let’s write!”

Tony blinked, then smiled. “Hang on. How are we going to do this? Should I come over to your place and we can write there? Or you come over to mine?”


© All rights reserved 2018

THE ABCs OF A PECULIAR LIFE // D is for Dugongs & Decidophobia

Little Dugong was very talented. He actually was, and not only because his Mommy Dugong thought so. (Every mom thinks their baby is the best. I once even heard a holbrookia boasting that her daughter had an exquisite ear for music, but I preferred to break no squares with another quixotic mommy.) Anyway, let’s return to our muttons… or, rather, dugongs.

Yes, Little Dugong was very talented. He painted with watercolors in the Biedermeier style. He painted an ocean, ships, topless sea-maids and sunken treasures. His forelimb was free and easy, his eye was sharp, and his imagination went above and beyond. Little Dugong would have a great future as an artist.

This year Mommy Dugong decided to prepare something really special for Little Dugong’s birthday. She woke up very early, quickly supped up morning kissel, put on her best tilt-bonnet, gave a peck on Little Dugong’s nose, and went to the city. In a few hours she was back with a big package; it was gift wrapped with starfish and chamomiles. Little Dugong was bursting with curiosity as to what this could be, but he knew he would have to wait until the festive dinner.

Finally, that long-awaited moment was upon him. Little Dugong impatiently droned, “Many happy returns!” then snuffed out the candles and with bated breath unfolded his precious gift. Holy mackerel! It was a drawing book!

It was covered with smooth emerald-green leather and had acid-free cold-pressed pages with a pleasant ivory hue. There was even a wide elastic band to keep the book securely closed to the nosy beaks of curious gulls and the beady eyes of elephant fish! It was the best drawing book in the whole world!

Happy Little Dugong fussed over the drawing book for the entire evening. He was opening and closing it, caressing its flawless sheets, sniffing its sweet-smelling leather. He even licked it once or twice while Mommy Dugong was busy with the dirty dishes. When Little Dugong got between the blankets later that night, the drawing book rested cozily beneath his pillow.

As soon as the next day broke, Little Dugong hurried to the shoals, climbed onto a big stone, and opened his treasure. He imagined all the beautiful things that he would paint, and this sent his heart fluttering with delight and joy. Little Dugong decided to start with a charming mermaid that he had met a day or two ago near some random rock.

However, once he raised his limb to a pristine sheet, a wormling of doubt started to gnaw inside his mind. After all, the mermaid wasn’t so youthful; her breasts were a bit faded and the pearls in her hair were kind of wishy washy. No! She wasn’t worthy to be in these pages! Little Dugong decided to paint something else.

An ocean! He would paint the illimitable ocean. It was deep, green, and full of mysteries and lost ships. Then Little Dugong dropped his eyes and saw a white plastic bag swaying on the waves. Yuck! No, he couldn’t spoil his flawless drawing book with such an imperfect thing as an ocean! He simply had to pick something else, something ultimate and picture-perfect.

The time ticked by… Little Dugong was still sitting on his stone with his untouched drawing book. He didn’t hear his Mommy Dugong calling him for midday meal, he ignored his friends who ran off to play hurlbat, and even disregarded a youthful sea cow who gave him a playful wink. Of course, he hadn’t even noticed a sea gull who sat not too far away and was looking at Little Dugong with malevolent curiosity.

The sea gull got off the ground and made a slow circle. Then another one… and another one… then it hovered right above Little Dugong… and shat all over the drawing book with much relish.

What happened next? Of course, Little Dugong howled like a jackal and ran to his Mommy Dugong. He was just a child after all (though he weighed more than a metric centner). The spoiled drawing book stayed on the stone and its smooth emerald-green leather gently shimmered in the late afternoon sunlight.


© All rights reserved 2017