PYRAMID - Preview
‘Walk,’ I announced firmly, consigning Chapter One to the electronic scrapheap; I’d give up writing this stuff if I thought I could get away with it, but the one time I’d tried, my agent had apparently received hundreds of protesting letters and had plied me with disgustingly large advances.
‘You owe them,’ he’d said, smiling winningly and waving convertible paper. ‘You know you do. And I’ll have to tell them where you live if you don’t, won’t I?’
‘Bother,’ I’d thought. There were lots of things I’d rather write than yet another Pyramid tale and he knew it. I own my little heath-skirted cottage with a fair swag of the surrounding countryside outright and have few vices save the odd tot or two of bracing beverage. I’ve enough money put aside to keep me and my canine friend Gerald in whisky and bones for many more years than either of us is going to last, so I’m in the happy position at the age of just thirty-one to be able to wipe out the entire bloody Pyramid in one go if I feel like it … and if I can invent a convincing way of zapping a whole universe, I just might.
Thinking back to its tottery beginnings, I can sympathise with the critic who’d reviewed the first book with: ‘… his pretensions are matched only by his inadequacies …’ but as I’m still writing them and he’s no longer critiquing, maybe Aubrey knows best after all.
Aside from being my agent, Aubrey is also a good friend and one-time lover. We decided many years ago that although we had lots of things in common, our many mutual friends had been wrong in assuming we’d end up living together, which was what most of them had schemed and connived towards. To the obvious chagrin of the lot of them, we’d both chosen careers that demanded a measure of solitude, thus the infrequent times we spent in each other’s company seemed all the more valuable.
‘Besides,’ Aubrey’d once said, ‘you’re far too tall and altogether craggy,’ which I reckoned was a mite rough, coming from someone so short and plump. I’m only just six feet, with what I’d always thought was an attractive, weather-beaten look. My parents must have been mildly amused when they christened me Cliff. Not Clifford, mind you - just Cliff. I suppose it did make some sense for a family that rejoiced in the surname of Face.
When the full horror of what they’d done to me had finally dawned I’d naturally tried to run away, but being only six, hadn’t gone too far before reconsidering. Luckily for me I’d been granted ‘David’ as an escape clause and made damn sure none of my schoolmates ever knew what my real first name was. I wouldn’t have survived …
‘Died of shame, they say.’
‘Went bright red and burst, just like that!’
‘Poor thing … so young, too!’
I could see the headstone …
Mortified To Death
How was I to know my name would later strike some obscure chord, and turn me into a best-selling author? I’d thought for a while that maybe my writing, or perhaps the stories themselves had something to do with it, but Aubrey’d assured me it was quite impossible and that if I changed my name, sales would cease instantly.
So I suppose Mum and Dad knew best after all as well. I really should write to them soon and if I can find their new address, I will:
Dear Mum and Dad,
I have adopted the
‘Oh … very nice, dear.’
‘Suits you, son. Keep up the good work.’
Sigh. They’re wonderful people, but interact much better with things like mulch and petunias.
Gerald’s bark is not so much loud as subsonic … you can sense it vibrating through the floorboards. I’d promised him a walk and he was obviously starting to feel quite neglected, so I fetched the lead from its hook on the back of the kitchen door. He hates it, but he knows he has to lump it if he wants to go into the village where loose dogs are frowned upon. All walks consequently tend to avoid the village unless Gerald feels he’s running low on bones and will then reluctantly consent to being hobbled. This suits me fine as he’s large and very strong for his breed, which I was assured when Aubrey presented him to me four years ago as two floppy black and white handfuls, was The King Charles Spaniel.
Ah, thought I … Spaniel … a small dog. Not Gerald. I have at times contemplated changing his name to one a little more appropriate, such as Biggy or Clumsysod, but he’ll answer to anything so there’s not much point. Aubrey calls him ‘Paws’ and as he sometimes appears to consist entirely of whirling feet, it fits rather well.
My ruminating was cut short by a remindful shove in the back of the leg accompanied by another ‘woof’ which threatened to dislocate my kneecap, so I followed Gerald to the front door, sitting on the stool to put on my walking shoes as he squeezed out through his dogflap. I should really make it a bit bigger for him, but if I do, one day someone will no doubt mistake it for the garage.
I shouldered the Useful-Bag, full of items indispensable to a habitual walker, grabbed a Granny Smith from the bowl on the hallstand and walked out into the bright sunshine. Five seconds later I freely admitted I’d been neatly tricked and quickly returned for a thick parka and a pair of woolly gloves, nearly yanking Gerald’s head off with the door as he dashed back through the dogflap to find out what on earth I thought I was doing.
‘Yes, I know … I’m sorry …’
I gave him a couple of hefty thumps to prove I still loved him, suffered the reciprocal licking and locked the door as he dashed off down the path towards the front lane. I used to leave the door unlocked as most of the villagers still do, until one day we arrived home happily tired and hungry to find someone had taken every scrap of food in the place, even Gerald’s biscuits. I know one can encounter weird behaviour in villages, but I thought the purloining of dog biscuits quite strange.
‘Tramps,’ announced Aubrey, from the comfortable security of his city lodgings. ‘With dogs. Roaming hoards of tramping dogs.’ He was apt at times to let his imagination take his tongue for a run, but we did at least agree that I should lock the door from then on. Three weeks later he spent an hour huddled over the stove in the garden shed, waiting for us to come home, not having bothered to ring and warn me of his impending visit. Then again, he rarely did, blithely assuming that since I am me I would be in. He now has a set to both front and back doors just in case.
Gerald had disappeared, I assumed down the lane towards the road through the wood, but ‘woofs’ coming from somewhere behind me eventually lead me to him, quivering with excitement outside the shed door.
The shed’s actually more like another cottage, at least in layout and was possibly originally intended as servant’s quarters - though there’s a conspicuous absence of Grand Mansions nearby. I suppose it could have been a sort of medieval granny flat, but the present contents put it squarely in the category of shed. There’s one large main room with a wood stove which smokes a bit but heats the place up nicely given an hour or so’s start. The rear section contains a small kitchen and a toilet which Aubrey won’t use, as he’s terrified of spiders and has made up his mind that the shed is overrun with them. It’s not, but he says if it ever comes to the crunch, he’ll squat in my three-apple-tree excuse for an orchard, snowing or not … and this far North, it often is.
‘Woof,’ Gerald insisted, so I opened the door and followed him inside. He went straight through the main room into the little kitchen, emitting another sonic boom which shook the entire structure and would surely have stunned any spiders not already frozen solid.
‘Shut up!’ I yelled, but he kept it up until I picked my way through the accumulated junk and opened the back door.
It was pouring with rain. Absolutely teeming down, with nasty-looking black clouds which only just seemed to miss the trees as they were whipped past by a howling gale. Yuk. I heaved the door shut to avoid being simultaneously soaked to death and blown to pieces, only then realising that Gerald had gone out in it. Steeling myself, I cracked the door open a bit. Still pouring. I’ve seen the weather round here change awfully fast, especially in winter, but this was phenomenal!
‘Gerald! …’ I called a few times, with the rain lashing around my ears. ‘Where are you, you idiot!’ He normally comes when yelled at, but presumably didn’t hear me over the incredible racket the storm was making. I shoved the door shut again and started to drip my way back through the bric-a-brac to the front door when my eye caught a slight movement behind me, followed almost immediately by a bright pink flash. There was also a dull thud, which the resulting pain told me was something hard hitting the back of my neck.
I came to with a splitting headache and a feeling in the stomach which made me glad I’d skipped lunch. I was lying half draped over the stove, completely naked and going blue. My hands were tied around the stovepipe with what looked like ivy stems and I knew if I didn’t get free and thawed up soon, I was going to be converted into an item of statuary. Hoping the ivy wasn’t the poison sort, I began chewing my way through the tightly wound vines. They tasted truly dreadful, quickly sending my salivary glands into acid overdrive and it was extremely hard not to swallow any of the juice. With my wrists eventually freed, I set out towards the door and promptly fell sideways back over the stove. My feet were bound together and already so numb, it occurred to me that I might be quite badly frostbitten.
I couldn’t see the Useful-Bag with its assorted Useful Knives and my hands were starting to scream with pain, but I slowly managed to free my ankles, still spitting out mouthfuls of ivy cocktail. I found some old potato sacks in a trunk by the door which went part-way towards defreezing me, though my feet still felt like blocks of wood and my mouth had now gone ominously dry and was starting to hurt like blazes. It was still quite light which meant I couldn’t have been tied up for much more than a couple of hours; I wasn’t able to tell exactly as my watch was gone too.
I opened the shed door and shuffled painfully out into the garden, then it dawned on me I didn’t have a key to get back in. Smashing a window wasn’t going to help much as they were all of the quaint-and-charming leadlight variety. I was going to have to use the dogflap. It was a tighter fit than I’d thought it’d be, but luckily, nobody came by to add to my misery as I was struggling through it, as I’d had to let go of the sacks and just allow the wind to whistle coldly around my already freezing nether regions. Once inside, I dithered over whether to dress first or wash out my mouth, until sanity asserted itself and I both washed-out and warmed-up in a shower as hot as I could stand. My mouth still didn’t feel normal and I was starting to doubt my feet ever would. I dried myself gingerly and was halfway through dressing and starting to anticipate a cup of strong tea with something even stronger in it, when I remembered I’d just been attacked and that my dog was missing.
I suddenly felt cold again, easily breaking the record for the twelve-foot dash from my bed to the phone. Once the urgency of the matter had percolated into our sweet but rather decrepit Postmistress, she put me through to the local Policeman, one Constable Frith, who listened without comment to my semi-lucid babblings for a little while before breaking in to assure me he would be there within the hour. Frankly I doubted it, as the village is all of two miles away and most of it’s uphill. Frith does have a police car but it’s ancient and almost always up on blocks for one reason or another; he can actually drive quite well, but isn’t easy with it and habitually uses a bicycle.
While I waited I spent a fruitless quarter of an hour searching for Gerald, somewhat torn between hoping I’d find him and hoping I wouldn’t. Needless to say, I didn’t.
slowly becoming twilight, with the last reddish gleams colouring the scattered clouds
I thought I’d have another last look in the shed and even went so far as to open the back door - desperation courting disaster, I suppose; I didn’t see any movement this time - there was just the pink flash and the pain in the neck.
I regained consciousness in the altogether unwelcome but familiar position, tied stark naked, hand and foot across the stove. The vines were tighter and thicker this time and I could feel a large ball of them in my mouth; I was shivering and now had two separate headaches, though fortunately it looked like I’d only been out for a short while. There was nothing I could do but be thankful my elusive and alarmingly persistent assailant hadn’t thought of gagging me the first time while I waited for Frith to have the bright idea of looking in the shed.
Although I could hear voices and now and then, people clumping around outside, it was a frustrating ten minutes or so before the front door creaked open and a torch flickered around the room; I tried to thrash about as much as possible.
‘In ’ere, Albert!’ someone yelled. Frith, bless him!
‘Lummy!’ - that was Frith’s youngest. Gerald had a lot of time for Albert, a hulking but gentle lad with the biggest brown eyes I’d ever seen not connected to a cow.
‘Careful now … cut them things orf ’is ’ands.’ Frith dealt with my feet while Albert dutifully started cutting my wrists free.
‘Blimey … look, Da! … ’is mouth’s full of ’em too,’ he said. ‘You okay?’
He shone his torch on my face. I nodded weakly through the resulting squint as he began tugging the ivy out of my mouth. Frith had meanwhile finished untying my legs and I was soon thankfully clear of vegetation for the second time.
‘Go in’t’ouse lad, an’ find ’im some clothes,’ said Frith.
‘Roight,’ replied Albert, and clumped off, his father placing his coat around my shoulders as I vainly tried to rub some warmth back into my limbs.
‘Not good, Sor,’ he said. ‘Not good at all.’ He shook his head in wonderment. ‘Did yer see owt?’
‘Nothing - j-just a p-pink f-flash.’ I couldn’t stop trembling and leant heavily on Frith’s arm as my circulation slowly recovered. Albert dutifully reappeared with armfuls of assorted clothing and they helped me to dress.
‘You didn’t see Gerald, I s-suppose?’ I said, as they half-carried me into the cottage. Albert shook his head in the middle of lowering me carefully onto the sofa by the fire.
‘Still missin’ is ’e?’ he said, ‘… that’s not like our Gerald.’
‘Since the first time,’ I replied. His eyes got a bit bigger.
Frith’s ruddy face grew a thoughtful look. ‘Now; that’s what I was wonderin’ about,’ he said. He spied my bottle of Malt on the mantelpiece and went over to fetch it while Albert got a glass from the kitchen. ‘I was wonderin’ ’ow t’is you managed to phone me, all trussed up an’ that.’ He poured me a generous helping of scotch, sitting patiently as I drank most of it and completed the warm-up process from inside.
I commenced my sorry tale of flashes and thuds. When I got to the first thud, Frith asked about lumps and such. ‘That’s the funny thing,’ I replied; ‘there aren’t any … and no blood - just a nasty headache and a sick feeling.’
‘Should I call Nurse for ye, d’yer think?’
‘Er … no; I’ll manage.’ Once called, it was very hard to get Wilhelmina Cork, RSN to leave. The village had been without a doctor for many years and though Nurse Cork could handle almost everything from bruises to breaks, she talked non-stop. Gerald doesn’t like her one bit and I’ve never found cause to doubt his character assessments, though in this case, it could be due to an over-liberal use of lavender perfume. I like lavender in moderation but I think Nurse Cork must bathe in it.
Frith nodded slowly and waited for me to continue. Albert’s eyes kept getting rounder as I went on with my tale and when I got to the second thud, he slowly slid off the edge of his chair onto the floor. ‘Lummy!’ he breathed, ‘… lummy!’
After I’d finished my story and Frith had taken a detailed list of what was missing, he and Albert went out to ‘have a wee poke about’. Rather at a loss myself, I made a strong cup of tea and returned to the comfort of the sitting-room fire; I was starting to get a bit worried about Gerald - I hoped to goodness he wasn’t dead. I didn’t know what I’d do if he was … or if he’d been badly hurt. That would be worse somehow, to think of him suffering out there; it gets very cold at night and an injured animal wouldn’t last long.
Finally I decided to phone Aubrey - it was a bit selfish perhaps, because I knew he’d drop everything up to and including his own funeral once he found out what had happened. He’d be up here quicker than a dart from a blowgun, ready to rend villains - or perhaps merely sit on them and squash them to death.
I’d just sat on the hall stool and picked up the phone when Frith returned, wearing another of his thoughtful looks. ‘Not a lot t’ see, this time o’ night,’ he said, ‘but I’ll be back early on for a good look. Don’t seem t’ be nobody about.’ He warmed his hands by the fire. ‘Will y’ be okay?’ I could hear Albert already revving up the car.
‘I’ll be fine,’ I replied, though I was quite sure I wouldn’t. Frith walked to the door and turned.
‘There’s no sign of t’ dog, I’m afraid.’ He looked embarrassed, even a touch guilty, as if it was all his fault he couldn’t find Gerald. We both knew it was no good saying he’d ‘probably turn up soon’; Gerald was adventurous but not stupid, so I could only hope he wasn’t dead and had been taken by whoever it was who’d attacked me.
‘I’m going to ask Aubrey to come and stay for a bit.’
‘Ah now, that’ll be a comfort to ye.’ He smiled faintly. The entire village was well acquainted with Aubrey and not a few of them were scared to death of him ever since he’d chased poor Clarrie Edmunds, the fishmonger, down the entire length of the High Street, following an alleged attempt to pass off a ‘whacking great turbot’ as lemon sole.
‘G’dnight to ye, then, an’ mind ye lock up well,’ bade Frith, closing the door behind him. I nodded absently in the direction of the departed constable and sat staring into space for a while, wondering how to secure the dogflap, then realising that it was rather lucky I hadn’t unearthed the spare keys and locked up before the second pink thud. The notion of Albert forced to essay dogflap entry-mode cheered me up a bit, until it occurred to me that my mysterious attacker now had keys to both doors and I was going to have to change the locks as well as go through the tedious process of replacing all my personal effects.
A sharp, tinny noise reminded me I was still holding the phone.
‘Are ye there, caller?’ Getting quite irritated. ‘… Are ye there?’
‘Sorry, Mrs Whipple … it’s Cliff Face here,’ I apologised.
‘Oh … Mr Face. And how are the troubles, now?’
‘The constable’s been, thank you and I’m okay. But my dog’s missing.’
‘Oh, dear … oh dear, dear.’ She sounded suitably upset. ‘Well, an’ I hope ye’ll find him soon … now, who was it y’wantin’?’
‘Aubrey Baines … his number’s …’
I got autocratically interrupted.
‘I know the number, Mr Face,’ she said, ‘dialin’ now.’
Luckily for my peace of mind, Aubrey answered almost immediately. His normal cheeriness became hushed as he listened to my tale of woe, until about halfway through he broke in. ‘I’m coming up, love. Right now.’ Brooking no argument … just as well, because I wasn’t going to give him any. ‘If they’ve hurt my dog, I’ll kill the buggers.’ Despite the fact he’d given Gerald to me, Aubrey still regarded him as ‘his dog’.
‘I’m on my way.’
Pyramid - available in book or download format. Who … or what … had attacked our hero, and what has happened to his dog? How can an author suddenly find himself inside his own creation? Buy Pyramid, and discover how David meets an alien, a dragon and some giants … while trying to save the world from being eaten by a very nasty monster…