Rosalie

A blue hole in a red sea. It’s the best place to revel in the untamed beauty and might of nature, but perhaps not to be having second thoughts. I’m getting jitters crowding in at the periphery of my mind, and I don’t know how long I can hold them at bay. I’d also be sweating bullets if I didn’t happen to be swimming in the bowels of a sunken ship at this very moment.

My mind claws desperately at the sun-bleached memory of the world above sea level. Everything up there is a feast of life. Tanned boys and girls casually posing like Greek statues, all laughing near a juice bar. Bright sails fluttering gentle applause at the wind and waves. Crabs racing one another to the safety of the rocks near the shoreline.

So, what in the hell am I doing down here?

Let’s face it. Emotional blackmail works very well with me. If not for my manipulating boyfriend, I don’t think I’d ever have come to this part of the world at all. I would have stayed at home with a mountain of books, curled up on an armchair by a roaring fire with a nice cup of tea, reading and sipping until the eventual heat death of the universe.

But instead of that, I’m pretending that I’m Queen Mera cleaning up another of Aquaman’s stupid mistakes. And once this minor miracle is achieved, I’m to flick my defiantly red mane in a display of female empowerment. I’m to snort disdainfully at the admiring, slack-jawed loafers and tourists huddling beneath their parasols. And I’m to extract the string of this tiny green bikini from between my arse cheeks whenever no one’s looking.

There’s nothing down here in this submerged wreck. It feels like there ought to be abundant sea life all around. Shoals of pretty fish. Vibrant coral reefs. Seaweed swaying in the undercurrents. Just something. But it’s as if everything got spooked and relocated itself to another area code. Fucking creepy if you ask me.

A phone rings. Say… what?

I turn my head, though perhaps it’s not the best idea when your breathing is literally hanging by a slender thread—or, rather, thin tubes. It wouldn’t bode well if I were to get those tangled or twisted. I’m not about to give my boyfriend the satisfaction of seeing me screw up something so basic as using breathing apparatus underwater!

Another ring.

Where the hell is that coming from? How am I even hearing a phone right now? It shouldn’t be possible. I arc my arms through the water, carefully pivoting myself until I face what I think is the correct direction. It seems to be coming from just through a doorway over there. It’s at a forty-five degree angle to the ocean floor, and pitch black in the room beyond. Thinking about going inside is giving me the chills.

One more ring.

Muffled though it is, the sound is definitely there. I have to see. Feeling like Alice about to jump down the rabbit hole, I swim up to that dark, ominous spot. All around is suddenly quiet. There is no phone. Only my heart is thrumming—as if to remind me that my life continuing beyond this point is a fragile prospect at best.

“Is anybody there?”

Of course, I don’t say it—only think. But even in my head the question sounds absurd. What am I expecting to happen? Will a voice emanate from the doorway, telling me that yes indeed somebody is there? And to come on in for a nice pot of tea and a plate of scones? Jeez.

Anyway, I’m not so sure that I want a response. After all, it could just be a wrong number. And who’d be calling a wrecked ship anyway? A cheap dry cleaner saying they can’t get those ketchup stains out of Jeffrey Dahmer’s long johns? A board of trustees gathering signatures against owners who won’t pick up their dogs’ shit at the entrance to Trump Tower? David Miscavige demanding to know why Tom Cruise won’t return his calls?

And what if it’s so much worse than that? What if really there’s some unnameable horror lurking in there? Something deep down that makes sounds of ringing phones to draw in confused, unsuspecting divers? That reaches up with Lovecraftian tentacles and rips the will to live from helpless stomachs and wobbling knees? But, of course, such things couldn’t possibly exist…

Did I really just wet my already wet wetsuit?

Suddenly, I notice the source of the sound. It is indeed a phone, and it’s not inside the ominous doorway. Rather, it’s hanging on the outside wall right next to the doorway, covered with barnacles and seaweed. I am riveted to the spot, my eyes glued to this new piece of information. Now I can’t decide whether the existence of an actual phone ringing underwater is less or more disturbing.

This looks like one of those payphones from the seventies, the kind you’d see in a cloud of cigarette smoke at the back of a seedy bar—only this one is on a boat. I gaze at it in stupor. Were payphones on luxury ocean liners even a thing? This feels like something I should know.

And then it rings again.

If I could jump out of my skin into a less spooky scenario, I would—preferably one involving a sun lounger, a suitably trashy novel and a nice cappucino. That phone really is ringing! Underwater! On a ship that sank nearly fifty years ago! Unbelievable! And now what am I supposed to do? Why the hell don’t I feel safe? And again, what am I expecting to happen? All of this is beginning to make the skin on my back crawl to China—or somewhere far away at the very least.

Almost against my will, I draw closer. My hand reaches out…

“Hallo?”

Of course, I meant to say ‘hello’. And, of course, I can’t actually say ‘hello’ with my mouth stuffed full of breathing apparatus. So, naturally, I do the completely nonsensical thing of saying ‘hallo’ into the receiver of a decades old phone that shouldn’t be ringing underwater while next to a bowel-emptyingly dark doorway that leads down into the ocean floor to… well, I really don’t want to think about that.

“Don’t do this to me, Rosalie! Come on!”

Now that’s about all the blood-curdling bullshit I’m prepared to take. I squeal a rather unconvincing “Fuck off!” into the receiver then let it go. It continues to yell back at me as it drifts down on its tethered trajectory, thudding dully against the wall. I twist away, determined to put as much distance between me and it as possible…

“Wake up, Rosalie! Come on!”

I’m convulsing on my boyfriend’s boat. Water spews from my mouth, slicking over the deck and squelching between his toes. He’s crouched beside me, all white-face and crazed eyes, trying to slap some sense into my cheeksHow… romantic? I splutter and cough some more before pushing his hands away.

“Holy Christ, you had me worried there!”

I look up at him. Our eyes lock. I’m about to say something… but I can’t.

So, I sit up instead, bent forward so that my head hangs between my knees. That’s when I see it. The phone. Or, more correctly, the receiver. A piece of the cord is still attached, though frayed at the other end. There are barnacles and some pieces of seaweed all over it. And I’m gripping it so hard that my knuckles feel like they’ll burst through my skin.

The phone rings.

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

100 WORD SKITTLE // Lay a Chocolate Egg

Rabbit jumped onto the road and froze in the headlights.

Well, this isn’t strictly true.

He did jump out but then opened up his cute plaid vest. The inside pockets were packed with chocolate eggs—you know, like they were bombs. Rabbit spat on the bitumen and hopped over to the car, all slow and menacing.

“Your carrots or your life!”

Driver doubled over the steering wheel in fits of wheezing laughter. What was this carjacker nonsense?! And Rabbit’s squeaking voice—how could she take that seriously? Driver laughed hard.

Rabbit sighed. He was sick of eating fucking Easter eggs!

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

100 WORD SKITTLE // Dungeons & Dudgeons

Maybe if I put the box on that switch over there, it will unlock this treasure chest over here?

Or is it better to draw a red line on the floor? Perhaps around the chest itself?

Do I need to play the right musical notes on my ocarina? Will that open it?

Our lucky ancestors! They just hid keys inside corsets and pantaloons, and didn’t concern themselves with strong passwords, magic runes or occult biometrics. Why must I sift through each and every freaking dungeon with a fine tooth and comb just to claim the Furadore’s mystical hairpin?

Completely unfair!

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // Let’s Knife!

Whilst investigating the case of a missing local fishmonger, a brave captain by the name of Beth Chan uncovered a legend about a cursed, weathered knife circulating throughout Africa. These two things were not at all related, and seeing as the knife sounded more interesting, Beth dropped the fishmonger case and went to Africa instead.

Well, we said Beth went to Africa but actually everything’s quick and easy only in fairytales. Of course, she first needed to investigate which African countries were open for entering from Sápmi, then pass the COVID-19 and serological tests, and fill in a hellscape of official papers and other such bullshit. (We sincerely think it would’ve been easier for Beth to find the missing fishmonger. Moreover, he wasn’t missing at all. He was just sleeping off a three day bender beneath the porch of the Screaming Barnacle.)

Anyway, back to Beth. Once she got into an African country with an unpronounceable name, she began to realise that she needed a bit more to go on than some old fishermen’s tales about a cursed, weathered knife circulating throughout Africa in order to find the cursed, weathered knife that was circulating through Africa. In fact, it could have been anywhere, and Africa was a ridiculously big place. Perhaps Beth ought to have secured herself some kind of mythical treasure map leading to said knife in the first place. This was like leaving for an opera performance without some bladder filtration device strapped inside your pants—she was woefully unprepared.

But Beth was a smart girl and she had a watertight plan. It was as simple as it was genius. If one thing was circulating through Africa and another thing was also circulating through Africa then obviously they would meet somewhere along the way. The odds were fifty-fifty as to whether they would meet or not. So, all Beth had to do was start circulating throughout Africa in order to run into the cursed, weathered knife that was also circulating through Africa. Clever, right?

And so that’s what Beth did. She circulated like a plastic bag in the wind, drifting here and there and everywhere. She flitted across the savannah, dodging the playful swats of lion paws and furry knob catching of giraffe heads. She swooped above the storm water drains of post-apartheid slums and weaved posthaste through the canopies of foreboding jungles. She floated around every nook and cranny and even bypassed a few choice fannies. She and the knife were sure to cross paths at some point. Even if it wasn’t inevitable, she would make it be, no matter what.

Now, back to the missing fishmonger. When he realised that no one was searching for him, he felt deeply insulted. So, he climbed out of the hole beneath the porch, brushed himself off, donned his fisherman’s cap, then curled his mustache and went to Africa. He was going to give that Beth Chan a right old talking to! Fancy calling yourself a ‘brave captain’ and then not following through on the expected heroics that accompany such a title! The bleedin’ cheek of her!

Of course, the fisherman had no idea where in Africa to begin looking. Perhaps if he relied on dumb luck then that might get him somewhere. He’d had dumb luck before, like the time when a great white shark tried to bite him in two but succeeded only in flossing its teeth with him. Who said losing weight and a strict yoga regimen wouldn’t have its benefits? Aye, not the fisherman!

Another thing that would have its benefits is filling you in on the cursed, weathered knife’s backstory. Why was it circulating throughout Africa? Where did it come from and where was it going? Was it circulating for love? Did it have hopes and dreams? Did it have a mother and a father? Was it carrying a gun? No one knew. All that was known was that everything the knife touched turned to sand. (Is this why Africa has an abundance of sand?) Oh, and we guess there was no gun because it would’ve been turned to sand with cute little sand bullets that crumbled amusingly between the eyes of would-be murder victims.

Anyway, we vividly remember that sunny day, the fifteenth of May. Or was it the rainy twenty-first of September? It might even have been Bavaria’s National Cow Milking Day. Whatever. It was a big day in Africa, not Bavaria. It was a day when, as crazy as it sounds, three parallel lines finally crossed. Beth, the fisherman and the cursed, weathered knife would actually meet.

This is how that went down: The fisherman saw Beth and slapped her upside the head with one of his wellies. Her head smacked into a wall, causing it to buckle then collapse in on itself… and a bunch of kittens that happened to be playing harmonicas nearby. Well, that shut them up quite definitively! However, the ghosts of said kittens were quick to take revenge, nudging the cursed, weathered knife onto a new trajectory, thudding it into the unsuspecting fisherman’s back. This, of course, turned him into sand. Let’s just say he’d had better days.

And so the amount of sand in Africa was increased and the amount of kittens playing harmonicas was decreased. Beth, meanwhile, had picked up the knife and was examining it carefully. You’re going to ask why she hadn’t turned into sand as well, aren’t you? Easy-peasy. She had taken one of the ghost kittens and wrapped it around her palm like a handkerchief. Everyone knows that if you touch a cursed, weathered knife circulating throughout Africa with the ghost of a freshly deceased kitten that used to play harmonica that all curses will be absolutely and irrevocably shattered! It’s science, don’t you know? Pure, unadulterated science!

Anyway, Beth returned home with the knife and now uses it in the kitchen when cooking with the fisherman’s widow (who, by the way, is pretty happy that her worthless hubby was never found).

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

Covid Diary pp. 33-34

‘Journeys end in lovers meeting.’

Dear Diary,

Why he’s quoting Shakespeare I will never know. Nor do I care to. Never in all my years did it occur to me that I would one day attract an internet stalker—but no matter. The fool clearly doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.

I started streaming late night gameplay because of boredom, the deadly scourge of security guards everywhere. Especially those, like myself, who prefer the evening shifts. I can’t imagine how our predecessors managed to kill the endless hours of tedium before the advent of smartphones and mobile internet. I’ve heard of reading, exercise or gorging until you puke, but even those activities must get old fast, mustn’t they? Hell, if I wasn’t so lazy I’d sooner be masturbating myself into a coma.

Anyway, my current game isn’t very original, but if truth be told I do love the hidden irony of it. In it I am a lycanthrope hunter, and I’m packing some serious heat—a flintlock blunderbuss to be precise. It’s a bugger to reload but boy does it punch through those candy-ass lycans like so much tissue paper! Yes, I admit I hate their sissy guts. They’re nothing like the lycans in real life, and they sure as hell don’t represent me!

And don’t even mention my character’s costume! Purple velvet knickers, high-heeled kinky boots, a lacy corset with an absolutely shameless décolletage, and a tiny calotte with a massive feather. I think everyone should fall dead if only because of the sight of my gaudy outfit. Or puke all over themselves at the very least.

It should be pointed out that this is what my character looks like. Not me. My character. I never show my face in the live stream. What the viewers get to see and hear is raw gameplay with my commentary. That’s it. So, this stalker has fallen in love with whatever idealised version he has of me in his head, a hypersexualised videogame character in a ridiculous, revealing outfit doing over the top, ridiculous things. I have to ask if he has ever met reality at any point in his life.

So, I’ve been streaming for a little while now, and my stalker didn’t start off being a stalker right out of the gate. If anything, he was positively charming and respectful… until the week before last. I quickly grew bored of his purple prose, self-referential jokes and fawning attention. He was clearly fancying us as something of an item—which clearly we were not. We never would be either. I hate liars.

So, you know what I did? I banned him. Even if he was the last man on Earth, I don’t fucking need him. But, of course, the banning was only the beginning of my troubles. The cowardly weasel somehow managed to hijack all my social media accounts and was soon spamming all my online haunts with naked photos where the faces were cropped out. Obviously, these images were meant to be of me. They weren’t but no one but this prick and I knew that.

Well, two can play at that game. Let the hunt begin!

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021