How I Failed My Trial Period

My supervisor was quick to inform me that I wasn’t very good at my job and that I needed to do better if I wanted to stay gainfully employed. Naturally, I tried to explain my position but they didn’t listen. No superior does. They think they know all the specifics of the job but who’d be surprised if they’d forgotten the last time they’d held a broom in their hands? But, as it turned out, this wasn’t the main source of my trouble. No, that was mostly down to the troublesome ‘natives’—or, should I say, their troublesome nature.

No matter how much I talked to them, most of my wards would not behave and sleep in their graves like decent, well adjusted ghosts whenever I tried to clear up their never-ending mess. They preferred to wander about like lost echoes looking for the things of the past, and scattering around stuff like bloodstained handkerchiefs, bits of rope and chains, and—worst of all—half-empty coffee cups. The most annoying thing about it all was that when one of the ghosts even bothered to use a trash bin, the trash would immediately fall through onto the ground. And, of course, I was unable to take said trash away because the fucking stuff would only slip through my fingers like a politician’s promise. Try explaining that to a supervisor!

I also hadn’t realised before now that there was an inordinate number of child graves in the cemetery. With ever increasing frequency I was finding other trash like translucent pacifiers that had been dropped on granite slabs and cute bucket-and-spade sets near freshly dug graves. Not to mention the scrunched up candy wrappers and rotten apple cores. Who knew there could be so much ghostly crap lying about in a cemetery?

Anyway, I decided to find these young slovens and have a serious conversation about antilitter regulations on cemetery grounds. I’d given up on trying to persuade the adults but held out hope that the kids could still be taught. None of this was covered in my job contract but I didn’t want to be unemployed—it’s not so easy to get work when you’re on parole.

So, one night at the stroke of twelve, I waited in ambush with a pair of infrared binoculars—or ‘bird glasses’ as my late uncle would have called them—and some animal crackers. I was crunching into an especially salty giraffe when over near the mausoleum—the one that allegedly contains the body of Elvis Presley—a string of footprints began to appear in the dirt. These were baby sized, and seemed to be originating from an unremarkable grave there.

Upon closer inspection, what stood out about this grave was that it had only a registration number, an estimated date of burial, and a rather large barcode. I was mentally kicking myself for not being more prepared when i remembered that one does not simply carry a barcode scanner with them anywhere they go. Perhaps I needed to stop being so hard on myself.

The footprints trailed off near another grave with an old cracked gravestone made from white marble. The epitaph on it had been nearly completely erased by time. Presumably there rested a two year old girl by the name of Lily or Lucy—I couldn’t rightly tell. The footprints began again, swirling around this grave a little bit, then stomping and skipping as if in excitement. In just a few minutes, two strings of tiny footprints were running away from the grave.

These two sets of footprints skipped their way through a neatly trimmed hedge as if it wasn’t there, then splished through an ornate water feature before circling another grave bearing a strange symbol. The symbol was a solitary tear drop but this was not the most interesting thing about the grave. When I crawled a little closer to it, I swear I could hear whispering.

I looked around. Nope. No one here. Just me, the eerie footprints and the whispering. It sounded like two small girls discussing something. One was suggesting that they use the grave stone like a slippery slide. The other was convinced that it would be better utilised as a trampoline. How a hard slab could ever be thought of as trampoline material I’d never know.

And then an angry, shaggy head popped up out of the grave. It grumpily tried to shoo away the whispering girls—who I still wasn’t able to see. Now, if I was hearing correctly, the owner of the grave grumbled that other’s graves weren’t a playground and that it’d go better for the girls if they spent their time at the crematorium thinking about matters of life and death. Or reading catechisms in the cemetery chapel. In short, fuck off somewhere else and get busy being proper decent adult bloody spirits!

I sighed. For some reason I felt pity for the girls. They were only being proper rambunctious little tykes. That’s what children do whether they be alive or dead or somewhere in between. I recalled my own dreary childhood and the many hours spent in the company of dull books and duller adult conversations, all while my peers scraped their knees falling off the neighbourhood fences. I was so unlucky!

No, I definitely had to do something. The shaggy grump was now spraying some indignant tot about how spirit children should not be seen or heard. In fact, he’d prefer if they would kindly go back to laying in their graves all day and all night, saying and doing absolutely nothing anywhere any time ever. My nose wrinkled in disgust. That was no kind of afterlife for anyone, let alone spirit children!

I walked back to my cold hovel on the cemetery fringe, deep in thought. My mind was abuzz. I was thinking about those small ghost girls. They were only children after all, though their corpses had decayed in the soil many years ago. It didn’t mean that they weren’t deserving of some fun.

I tossed and turned in my bed for the rest of the night. The reason wasn’t otherworldly howls or an abundance of salty crackers knotting up my gut—and, as a result, the gallons of soda it took to tame my thirst. No. I’d decided that I wasn’t going to preach at those poor kids to behave themselves after all. I was determined to help them out. Perhaps if they were given an opportunity to properly play on a proper playground, they might no longer scatter trash in other parts of the cemetery. The logistics of how I could make this happen came to me in the early hours of a rather cold and sombre morning.

The sky was a brooding, steel grey, as if showing its disapproval of what was taking place at ground level. I rummaged inside the rickety old shed behind my hovel until I found most of what I needed—and whatever I couldn’t scrounge up I’d just have to improvise my way around. Hammer, nails. Saw, wood. I even decided I’d use the roof of the shed for the main centrepiece of my idea.

I’d never built something like a children’s playground before. Hell, I’d never built anything more significant than a shit pyramid in my chamber pot! Nevertheless, I did my best. I used a pair of old pants as a slippery slide and stretched a dirty canopy canvas over a makeshift frame for a trampoline. Not the most durable stuff, but its potential consumers were rather ‘underweight’ anyway.

When all was said and done, I was satisfied with my efforts. All I had to do was park my rear on a nearby tree stump and wait to see if the spirit children would come and play. I dusted off my trousers as the minutes passed, hoping for the best.

I pondered if I would need to scatter some cookies and candies around—you know, as ‘bait’. But while I was deliberating if I should use normal sweets or otherworldly ones—as if I’d even know where to get them—the problem took care of itself. Actually, all children are kind of like fluid. They trickle in, filling any available spaces immediately and without asking permission. Of course, the same can also be said of ghost children.

The trampoline started to shake up and down in the blink of an eye. My smile turned into a yawn, and I finally went to my hovel, happy that I wouldn’t need to look for otherworldly candies. Instead, I fell into bed and drifted off to sleep to the sound of children laughing.

© All rights reserved 2022

The Horns of a Shibboleth

Sir Bafometz was a scruffy gentleman despite his overall sartorial style. Sure, he looked like a leftover mop that had been hastily stuffed into a set of the King’s finest clothes but he didn’t care. He knew who he was and he carried himself with pride.

He often wore a bowler hat, two long screw-in horns and a big, gold star on his head. The hat didn’t fit in the narrow space between the horns but when Sir Bafometz pushed it down to his forehead it covered the star. This was hardly ideal. One could even say that he was caught on the horns of a dilemma!

And when it came to flying, the horny dilemma only got worse. Although he had an impressive wingspan, Sir Bafometz rarely got to flex it because of the aforementioned hat situation. If he even so much as looked at the heavens with a wistful eye, a gust of wind would steal along and snatch his hat away.

But Sir Bafometz was a true gentleman with grace, manners, education and other secular bullshit that people like. He knew the expected etiquette which is why he never left the house without his troublesome hat. Being hatless would be mauvais ton if you will. And so it was that Sir Bafometz carried his hat everywhere in his right hand. No matter where he was it could be found at the end of his arm, swinging in perfect time with his stylish, confident gait. He was like Mick Jagger strutting across a stage—but with a snazzy hat instead of a microphone.

But here’s where another nuisance was on the lookout for poor Sir Bafometz. For some weird reason—despite his fancy silk tie, snappy three-piece suit and polished hooves—people still mistook him for a beggar and would try to drop a penny or two into the hat. This irked him at first but then he came to a realisation. He could use the spare change to buy Chuckles and Goobers for the neighbourhood kids.

That’s why his porch was never empty during Halloween from that point on. There were always noisy kids around, jumping and elbowing, jockeying for the best pick of the sweets on offer. And so the soft light of the Jack-o’-lantern on his windowsill was a promise of kindness and good cheer for everybody who needed it.

Yes, our good ol’ Sir Bafometz was a bonhomme of the highest order, despite initially being on the horns of a dilemma. He never did let anything get him down for long.

© All rights reserved 2021

SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // Operation Beaverossa

The beavers had come in the night, but so far the barricade was holding. As much as they’d tried to buzz saw their way in with formidable razor-sharp buckteeth, they hadn’t done so quickly enough to avoid incineration by the Castle’s defense lasers.

So did the sombre morning replace what had been a calamitous night. The few surviving beavers retreated to the relative safety of their dam to take a wait-and-see approach beneath the willow trees.

“Well, that couldn’t have gone more tits up,” muttered Theo, “than if we’d grown tits then thrown them at the walls like water balloons.”

“Milk balloons.”

A sigh escaped Theo’s lips. Jensen could never bloody let one go. “Thanks, Jensen. What would we do without your penetrating pedantry?”

Jensen looked at him with the world weariness of a furry, pint-sized Sisyphus. “Sarcasm is the last refuge of fools, you know.”

“Just so you know, Jensen, Dostoyevsky never said that.”

“I’m not quoting Dostoyevsky!”

Theo pulled a pocketbook of quotations from beneath his tail and thumbed through it. “Here we go… ‘Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.'”

“See?” crowed Jensen. “Nothing alike!”

“Holy Jesus, guys! What are you doing arguing over quotations when all our womenfolk have been wiped out?”

“Shut up, Teskey!” growled Jensen. Theo nodded with him. They were both annoying to be sure, but Teskey more so.

“No! I won’t!” insisted Teskey. “The future of our tribe hangs in the balance, or haven’t you noticed?”

“I don’t need bloody women!” snorted Theo. “All I need is a pair of clean socks and some warm milk before bedtime!”

“Just because you’re a ‘love celibate’, Theo, doesn’t mean the rest of us need to be!”

“Oh, Teskey, you poor hormonally overburdened fool! Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!”

“Well, I guess I have no choice now, do I?” snapped Teskey. “My wife’s probably a rotting corpse in the Castle now, with no way for me to give her a decent burial! Tell me how that’s okay?!”

“Well…” spluttered Theo, taken a little aback at the outburst. “Get over it? It’s just a bloody woman after all…”

“I bet Dostoyevsky never said anything like that.” Again, Jensen had to dig at him. “Check your little book, Theo!”

Teskey grabbed his head and howled. “Jesus hyperventilating Christ, guys! We need a plan! A solid, fucking plan that works!”

“To do what, exactly?” shrugged Jensen. “I mean, I agree we should have a plan.” He shot Theo a look. “I bet Dostoyevsky would’ve had a plan!”

“Here’s an idea,” interjected Theo. “First, you shut the hell up about Dostoyevsky. Only I get to talk about Dostoyevsky, okay?! And, second, we dump some sucklings near the Castle walls.”

Jensen and Teskey goggled at him, eyes wider than a giant’s grandmother’s finest dinner plates.

“Yeah, you heard me. Sucklings!”

“Are you sure you don’t mean ducklings?”

“No, Jensen!” Theo rolled his eyes. “Sucklings!”

Teskey shook his head, and then comprehension dawned. “Oh, you mean children, right?”

“Of course!”

“Then why didn’t you say sodding children, you boob?!”

“You’re a boob!”

“Anyway!” yelled Jensen. He had to break this up or they’d argue for hours. “What’s your plan?” He looked at Theo with a squinty eye that promised trouble if the plan wasn’t up to snuff.

“Well,” said Theo conspiratorially, “there must still be some women left in the Castle. So, we dump the sucklings outside, said women hear them crying, their motherly instincts kick in, they unbuckle their bras and come running with naked boobs flopped out ready to feed the poor creatures. Then we capture said women and make them ours! Erm… yours.”

There was an uncomfortably long silence as Jensen and Teskey tried to process this.

“Boobs?” asked Teskey at last, his tone telegraphing a lack of enthusiasm for the plan.

“Yeah, Theo, I’m surprised you didn’t call them udders or teats. Wouldn’t Dostoyevsky have called them that?”

“Shut up, Jensen! You’re testing my patience!”

Jensen blinked oh-so-innocent eyes. “You have patience?”

“Hold on.” Teskey stroked his whiskers. “Wouldn’t they be more likely to burn our babies to a crisp with the defense lasers?”

“Yeah!” chimed Jensen. “Our bubbas can be little shits but even that’s a bit much! And anyway, we can always look for women elsewhere.”

“Oh, come on!” roared Theo. “Haven’t you heard of honour in war? The enemy won’t shoot helpless sucklings! It’s just not done!”

Jensen frowned like his brain was about to explode.

“That’s the beauty of this plan!” Theo pushed on. “Use the sucklings to get more women without us having to bring down the barricade or them firing a single shot!”

“I guess…” And now Teskey was frowning too. “I mean, why look elsewhere if we’re already at the Castle? It’s the note that led us there in the first place!”

Jensen shrugged.

“Regardless, we should leave the babies out of this. Show me the note again,” he sighed, snapping his fingers at Teskey. “What did your wife write exactly?”

Teskey pulled a handwritten note from beneath his tail.

Jensen took it and cleared his throat. “She writes: ‘Dear Teskey wesky, having a girl’s night out at the Castle. Twig kebabs in the fridge. Microwave three minutes each. Tuck kids in at seven. Don’t wait up. Love, your Fanny wanny.'”

“See? That was last night. Which means they must all be horribly dead by now!”

“Teskey…” Jensen’s eyes narrowed. “Please don’t tell me that almost all of our tribesmen died in a tragic attempt to overtake the Castle because… well, you can’t turn on a microwave.”

He hovered over Teskey like a foreboding headmaster with an angry god complex.

Theo stood there looking on, dumb with astonishment. He’d forgotten about Dostoyevsky and boobs for now.

Teskey lowered his eyes.

Back at the Castle, the night club doors swept open and a covey of giggling, tipsy female beavers started on their way down to the river…

© All rights reserved 2021

GUEST POST // Puddles by Caroline A. Slee

I remember galoshes
Knee high
A sign of fun
As we raced
On our short legs
To find the puddles
Turned our worlds
Into new and messy delights
Like so many cannonballs
To bring our feet
Full force
Into waiting puddles
Years beyond
And climates away
Galoshes are just an unfamiliar word
Garden shoes and flip flops
Rule the day
Until the downpours hit
And children stare
At filling puddles
At a loss
For what to do
They step – gingerly, carefully –
Into waiting water
Torn between shock
And fun
The ghosts
Of all of those rain slickers
And rubber boots
Echoing laughter
Down memory’s paths

© All rights reserved 2020

Thy Rod & Staff (He Watches Me)

And the lord said,
“I Am Calamity’s Form.
I Am The Blinding Light.
I Am The Finger Of Doom
Come To Finger you.”

And we said,
“You hide behind natural disasters,
make mountains from molehills,
and allow your filthy acolytes
to prey and finger the weak.”

Bibles in one hand,
held aloft, spilling holy milt
as the other palms denial.
Acolytes all must agree to be right
but we’re still free to know that you know (that we know).

So, here we stand in the gap,
and finally declare war on you.
The days are numbered, tyrant god,
and yours are running out.
We’re wise to you and yours.

Nothing can save you now,
not even rite nor greased wrung.
No longer lost in corridor minds,
we don’t have to see by your gaslight.
We’re free to unknow all we were told to know.

© All rights reserved 2019