In November last year I wrote 50,000 words for the sake of it in the brain-melting endeavour known as NaNoWriMo. The story is called Mashed Berry because its underlying plot revolves around magical, mind-altering berries which are utilised in various ways by the story's characters.
When rich scientist Dean Gaffney and a spooky electoral candidate team up to moderately inconvenience the world, Lilly is forced to help, but how can she help fix this unpleasant situation, and how are a bunch of slightly rebellious alien teenagers involved?
"Dean Gaffney ordered a suit of gold leaf on the internet and lay back in his racecar bed with his goblet of $900 whiskey. He switched on a shopping channel on his new 6D television and watched intently as a smiley, bleach-toothed man who looked as if he was in receipt of frequent electric shocks rambled excitedly about a pair of dinosaur earrings with precious gemstones for eyes. Dean was quite impressed and wondered if he should get his ears pierced and start a collection of such beauties. He grabbed his mobile phone from atop his personal minibar full of amaretto and 29c lager, stopped for a split second to admire his own name scrawled unintelligibly in diamonds on the back, and dialled the shopping channel’s number. He sang along jollily to the hold music before purchasing the dinosaur earrings for $670. He was going to look gorgeous."
This is an unedited draft, and most of what I've written was forced out with my only goal being to meet the word count at all costs, so there is a lot of truly awful writing here, but there are parts of this story I really love too.
I am presenting the entire unedited text for your scrutiny/enjoyment/embarrassment. Good luck in there.
The thread unravelled like rippling water in the blood-filled snow. The moon, a small girl in snowflake robes, stood nearby, freckles on her face, each containing a long story. She was born to plants, full of water and one secret. She, the omen, leaving life in her footsteps, across the rocks and seas alike.
"I'm ready to die." Said the small birds and the insects, surrounding a big tree with no leaves left.
It was winter, and death approached them all, fast and roaring, like a cool motorbike. Death's hair blew about in the wind. Death could have been wearing a leather jacket, but death was more of a soft linen man. A comfortable jumper man. A fly crawled across death's moustache. Death sat with the insects and the birds for a while on the muddy ground, as each of them told him long and winding stories. Death liked talking to all the creatures.
"My, my," he'd say at the end of each story, "what a lovely tale."
Death was polite and spoke with a voice Radio 4 would welcome. He was enthusiastic in an understated sort of way. Creatures of all kinds felt very much at ease talking to death. He wasn't sinister or spooky or anything approaching dreadful in demeanour. He was pink-lipped and bristling like the trees themselves. He was warm forest wood and cinnamon.
He sat cross legged on the muddy ground as butterflies told him about their grandmothers, and slowly they died, pushing breaths out of themselves in slow motion and fidgeting gently like relaxed babies. After each creature slipped away from life, he took its body, made it into dust, and poured the dust into his quivering golden eyes.
Larvae swam thick through the watery mud that coated the ground in erratic puddles. They were on their way to art school and all of them were filled with philosophical thoughts. They had been reading a lot of Jean-Paul Sartre. They felt it in their little wiggling bodies, the tingling and warping inside them. They were going to grow up sometime soon, so they had to know just everything they could. They collected letters and decided on favourite fonts and colours, thinking they must be sure of themselves, they must really know themselves properly. They wiggled through the mud, filled with minuscule innocence. Filled with the certainty of youth.
When the time came to build cocoons they were sure they were as ready as they could be, armed with belief systems and ideas about never smoking or having casual sex. Their foamy cocoons gathered up around them and they settled into themselves like fluffy scarves.
The little creatures tore through their papery adolescence bags and found themselves longer and newer. They stretched their new wings in goofy teen movements, inspecting their official adult selves with pride. They flew off in different directions, carrying all of their ideas and certainties with them, until they discovered that turning adult had only fragmented them into pieces. They threw their favourite colours away as they found colours they'd never even seen before. They ended up not only smoking, but smoking cigars and oddly coloured French cigarettes. They did stupid things they'd always said they'd never do.
Some of them found some way to piece their flimsiness together by chance or observation. There'd be a day, an hour, a minute, or ten seconds, when a stupid grown up butterfly would have one of those moments. One of those moments that felt like string wrapping around them, like they'd caught something. Some aspect of them getting trapped and made solid - a fossil, a capsule of a life. And suddenly they'd see their own mistakes like ugly stained glass windows patterned across their hearts, as if they had always been there. And the moon, with a leaf crown and pale flesh hands would sit, just for a second, watching. Nodding. That was when a butterfly really knew something.
Lilly’s body was made of a soft and extremely wobbly material. Similar to blancmange. She often thought of herself as a blancmange, but with more of an appreciation for jazz. She only wore sky blue and her most fevered interest was trying to read people’s books over their shoulders. She was very annoying, but as delicious as a caramelised wasp.
Lilly had been born onto a flower bed in 1986 when her mother had decided that flowerbeds were the best place for squishy babies. The flowers weren’t best pleased, but they couldn’t really do anything about it apart from shake their petals angrily. Lilly often wore her hair in a big bun and liked to emphasise this look by biting menacingly into a huge doughnut and spilling jam everywhere. It was quite menacing, and a common sight in central London - you’d walk past a police officer and there she’d be, behind them, defiantly spilling gloopy jam all over the place in big, disgusting globules of sparkling red.
Despite her jam-spilling habits, she was well-liked, and people thought of her as sort of impressive because she could shapeshift a little bit, although she wasn’t that good at it. There was always something not quite right about her transformations. Especially when she’d had too much wine. She didn’t use them often because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, but if she ever had to transform she would do so spectacularly. Once she had transformed into a ferris wheel, trapping enemies in her little twirling cabins. The police had gotten involved and she was perturbed to find that she couldn’t transform back properly, and ended up looking like a wooden chair for two weeks.
Lilly had always had this feeling like she was inside something large, like a massive bubble or something. Something she couldn’t find the edge of. She didn’t worry about it, but it sat at the edge of her mind, something to find, but with no rush. Something to forget about, just making spirals inside her, waiting.
Lilly was grocery shopping at Sainsbury’s when she and Dome (from famed mischievous children’s TV host duo Dick’N’Dome) reached for the same courgette. Dome apologised and she felt a bit sick because she’d always found him very irritating and much preferred Dick. Dome looked haggard and had a beard that made it look like his face was rusting. He began to weep pathetically onto the courgettes.
“Don’t weep on the courgettes!” Lilly cried, her natural protectiveness for vegetables springing into action automatically. She had a sudden flashback of her uncle very nearly sitting on a mushroom, and shuddered with the memory. She swept as many of the courgettes as she could carry into her arms and cradled them like tiny courgette babies. Dome was sniffling and his wet face was glistening, attracting the stares of everyone in the aisle as they walked past pretending to look for onions, when really they were getting a good look at his misery, some even attempting to take a quick snap on their smartphones.
“Sorry” Dome spluttered.
He seemed to want to say something else but he decided against it and just looked at his shoes. Lilly placed the courgettes carefully down into a tearless area before turning to sad, sad Dome.
“What’s wrong, Dome?” She said.
“What’s all this crying about, huh? Are you in the habit of crying on vegetables?”
Dome looked up at her sheepishly, his eyes wet and bloodshot.
“I can’t do it anymore” said Dome.
“I can’t shop for vegetables, I can’t do anything. I can’t-”
Dome let out several big sobs. Lilly felt a sympathy pang in her chest. She herself had sometimes had emotional moments in front of vegetables. She patted Dome on the back gingerly.
“I’m so sorry Dome” she said.
“Look, do you want to come over to mine and we can eat cakes and watch weird films, or anything you like? Would that help?”
“Oh no” said Dome.
“No it’s okay. You don’t have to worry about me. You don’t want me around.” He said miserably.
Dome looked once more at his shoes. He tried to distract himself by wondering where the laces were from.
“No, come on. Let’s do something.” Said Lilly.
“I can’t let you go and cry on any more vegetables. It’s not very fair on them, is it?”
At nine in the evening, Dome had been playing Wii Bowling for 3 and a half hours and crying loudly for long periods of time with short intervals to recharge his tear ducts. He had insisted that they listen to Bowling For Soup non-stop and he had eaten all of the Mini Rolls. This had been a terrible mistake. Lilly had been stupid to try to help. She didn’t even know Dome, really. She felt bad, but she knew she needed to look after herself as well as poor Dome. Dome was behaving terribly, and taking advantage of her willingness to help and her stock of Mini Rolls. It had to stop.
She called her friend Hulk Hogan, who ran a really great and revolutionary rehab for those experiencing mental distress, in the hope that his powers of tranquility could help poor Dome. Hulk said he’d be over in his van within the hour. Lilly thanked him and braced herself for 45 minutes with Dome and unbearable pop punk trash. When Hulk came to collect him, Dome had started drawing crocodiles in crayon on Lilly’s wall. She sighed meekly as he was trundled into the back of the van, with Hulk behind him telling him lovely, calming things about flowers and birds.
Hulk Hogan was a total softie, and had a great passion for botany. He had met Lilly at the petal school which they had both attended as young adults. Hulk’s trademark facial hair actually originated as an artistic expression of his close relationship with a young Kingfisher named Celeste. Not many people knew that.
Lilly made a mental note to invite Hulk to visit the botanical gardens with her sometime soon. She would promise to bring some delicious sandwiches and a flask of tea, and they’d sit and eat in the palm house.
By the time the van starting moving off Lilly was feeling quite lethargic and she decided she’d leave her plans for scone-making, tupperware-painting, and intense goth-rock-listening for the next day. She was relieved to finally be able to turn off Bowling For Soup, but not enthused about the inevitable mopping of the puddles of tears Dome had left all over the house.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and began questioning it about jazz. The beetle didn’t know much about jazz but mentioned Dave Brubeck. The beetle enjoyed Dave Brubeck. The bird looked off into the distance and chuckled. It didn’t say anything more about jazz. After plucking a berry from a nearby tree, the bird came back to the same spot and enquired about whether the beetle had any plans to marry. This surprised the beetle. The beetle didn’t really see any use for marriage. The beetle explained that it thought love existed in the same form, irrelevant of marriage. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Lilly woke up and rubbed the crust from her eye. Last night had been the night she discovered her true purpose. She had been reading self-help and advice blogs for 5 hours and she realised that her passion was to make things pink. This was suddenly clear. As a baby she smeared strawberry jam over everything whenever she got the chance. And now she knew why. She could feel the blood inside her like she was a planet and it was a collection of seas and rivers. She felt hot and oddly blissful. A strange, mild, anticipatory bliss. She was going to make things pink.
She made her skin a little pinker via her own transformation skills and turned the curls at the end of her hair pink too. Things couldn’t be just any pink, they had to be tastefully pink. A carefully considered pink. Pink would become the outpouring of herself. She would become the mother of a colour, housing it inside herself and then ejecting it forcefully across the universe. It was less disgusting than it sounded.
On television at midday almost every channel was covering the election. A smarmy white man with plastic hair was making a noise which sounded like a fifty year old fart slowly escaping through a tuba. Another white man who looked a bit more like a spooky ghost stood next to him and wore a smirk which probably only a dead person would wear. His hands looked like they had crumbled into ash several times and had been badly glued back together. Lilly wasn’t sure whether to vote for plastic hair or ash hands.
Ash hands opened his mouth to speak, revealing teeth which looked like old tombstones that had started sinking in the graveyard a long time ago. He made a coughing sound that sounded faintly like the word “humanist”. Lilly switched the television off.
She went to the bedroom and pulled out her drawer of art materials. She found all the pink and almost-pink pastels and put them in a little box of her own. She smeared some of the powder across her fingers and felt satisfied at the slight rosiness they acquired. She put the box of pastels into her inventory. She typed in “i”.
pastel box x 1
sense of purpose x 1
Satisfied with the contents of her inventory, she dressed herself in a pastel pink lace dress (an important symbolic departure from her usual blue apparel), plaited and pinned her hair in appropriate adventuring style, and set off to make something pink outside.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and began questioning it about its preferences for shapes. The beetle said it was fond of trapeziums, and that it’s favourite sort of triangle was an equilateral triangle. The bird said it preferred scalene triangles. The beetle remarked that the reason for that was that the bird had less trouble coming outside of its comfort zone. The beetle liked the symmetry of equilateral triangles because it also liked symmetry in life. The beetle surmised that the bird was not concerned with such things. The bird was surprised that the beetle had gotten this impression. The bird was often scared and nervous itself. The beetle apologised for having assumed such a difference between the two of them. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Lilly found a piece of pavement not far away from her house and decided that this was the perfect piece of the world to make pink first of all. She dropped down to her knees with a bounce and admired the marks of life experience on the nearest slab of concrete. She took out her pastels and started messily rubbing them onto the slab. Soon enough it was covered in pink powder, but Lilly was a little disappointed. Suddenly this seemed like a futile exercise. She wondered if perhaps her purpose needed to be a bit more calculated. It actually seemed a little lonely. She couldn’t quite understand why, but she started to cry a little. Her tears darkened the slab.
“Not again” thought the slab, having been cried on by six separate people already just that morning.
Lilly took her time to collect many pink materials, attempting to reconfigure her pink plan. Pink cloth, paints, and various trinkets. She collected a few dolls and dressed them up in pink lace, cotton, and string. They would be versions of her. Representations of who she could be, and of the many ways in which pink could manifest itself. She always used a soft pink, or a pink with a certain amount of red pigment in it. No hot pink. No eyeball pain. No Barbie nightmare.
She had realised she would have to coax the pink from inside her. A genuine pink, an outpouring of her person. That was how to be the mother of the colour pink. She could build structures or items that would some of this spiritful pink. The pink of her hair and of her dreams would flutter outwards like a creepy flying eyelash.
Lilly spat into the sink rebelliously as a the phone rang with a janky interpretation of the theme tune from The Bill. She picked up the receiver nonchalantly after 3 rings to seem cool and mysterious, and was surprised to hear a familiar cough-like sound. It was ash hands, the ghostly electoral candidate. What could he be calling for?
Far away, on a distant island littered with glittering strawberry palm trees, Dean Gaffney was working on his tan. He lay with his legs part-submerged in shallow water. His bum was covered in white sand. In his right hand he held a martini. In his left hand he held only the sweet island air. This was truly the life. He couldn’t believe he’d never have to wash his own pants again. After his discovery of the gogo berry, his life had become a whirlwind of money, fame, and adulation. He was no longer the dorky young Dean Gaffney from so long ago. He grinned as he thought once again of his latest plan. He was to become even more successful after the election. He sipped his martini and felt the sunlit bliss dance across his forehead. How fortunate and gorgeous he was.
Lilly wore her sky blue dungarees, a large sky blue ribbon in her hair, and sky blue jelly shoes. This was her standard outfit for looking important and successful. She accented this by placing lavender into her dungaree pocket - a little good luck charm. Her hair curled in excitement at the thought that later that day, she would be meeting ash hands. She hoped ash hands would like her lavender. There had been lots of environmental talk in the media and floral fashions had become very popular lately. Flowers and plants were gaining some kind of cult status as trendy and ethereal. People were very interested in expressing their appreciation for flowers. They had become good luck charms, friends, and even deities. It was lovely.
Lilly was no exception to this public trend, and frequently pressed flowers in her books, and stopped to talk to flowers in the street. They were very good listeners, and always had slightly odd but very helpful advice. A daisy had once told her the most efficient ways of catching every legendary Pokemon. Lilly loved flowers, just like everybody did.
She wasn’t fond of ash hands or anything, in fact she was always wary of politicians, especially ones who looked as if they had been on fire for a long time, but she couldn’t pretend she wasn’t excited and nervous about meeting a potential future president for as of yet mysterious reasons. She hoped he would sporadically turn out to be amazing and cool, but this seemed unlikely.
Lilly traipsed along to the bus station to wait for the bus into town with all the lanky hungover teenagers and young adult hanging around, curling around lampposts in agony and that sort of thing. They sighed and groaned all at once when the bus arrived and rumbled to a stop, and unfurled themselves delicately, cradling their poor throbbing heads as they tiptoed onto the bus and tried not to clatter their coins as they paid for their tickets. Lilly joined them, getting a small headache seemingly via osmosis from the other passengers. The bus smelled like stale beer and regret, which Lilly supposed was appropriate for the journey towards a meeting with a politician. The bus started up again and growled softly, which Lilly found nice and comforting, but the hungover passengers did not.
In ash hands’ office, Lilly sat like a tiny, excitable bird, perched on the edge of a small white chair which everyone knew was from Ikea because it was heavily featured in both their catalogue and several low budget television dramas. Ash hands sat behind his desk, which looked like it might house a tomb, or a secret skeleton book club, or a horrifying alternative dimension of ghouls and demons, and pursed his pale and super chapped lips. Lilly thought of offering him a chapstick but had a feeling he might be offended if she did.
“Thank you for meeting with me today” said ash hands, his voice the voice of a funeral director.
“As I mentioned earlier on the telephone, I have heard of your colouring talents from some of my colleagues and I would like to offer you an opportunity to utilise your talents. You could be a great help to us in boosting the economy.”
Lilly stared wide-eyed at him for a few seconds, and then nodded gingerly. He slid backwards on his wheeled chair and pulled a desk drawer open with mild difficulty. He took an empty plastic bottle from the drawer and placed it on the desk with the air of an old man trying to navigate an online music streaming service and just getting increasingly confused.
“This,” he explained, “is what I want you to do.”
“I want you to design my new juice bottle.” Ash hands continued.
“You know berry juice, Gog Juice, you’ve seen it in the supermarket, in every shop you’ve ever been to. Dean Gaffney, inventor of Gog Juice, is designing a new juice for my election campaign, a new formula. Now my team has done lots of research and we’ve found pink is understood as the most calming colour, and we want to inject that into our campaign. So we want you to use all of your pink… stuff to design our bottle.”
He grinned in the most smarmy way imaginable and Lilly felt suddenly sick. He held his hands slotted together in front of him, looking like they were crumbling into one another.
“We are confident that you will be able to come up with a perfectly sweet and appealing design, and that you can instill that sense of comfort into our campaign.” He said.
Lilly felt that she should have known this meeting was a terrible idea.
“I… I don’t think I can really do that.” She said quietly.
“I don’t think it’s really my-”
Suddenly, ash hands smashed his foot into the desk. The desk was so old that it splintered everywhere, leaving a cloud of dust and splinters erupting in the air around them. Lilly found a hand was gripping her face, covering her mouth. She coughed and spluttered as ash fell into her mouth. Ash hands brought his face close to hers and snarled.
“You can, little flower fairy,” he grumbled menacingly, “and you will.”
He took his hand away and sat down behind his desk the way he had been, calm as anything. He sat there and looked Lilly in the eyes as if nothing had happened, while dust fell slowly in the air.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and began questioning it about social politics. The bird made a bird joke about “the pecking order” and then sighed with slight embarrassment. The beetle became filled with the sadness that comes with thinking about the intricacies of systemic racism. The bird touched the beetle very gently with its face. The beetle felt comforted and lucky. The bird and the beetle acknowledged that they both have fundamentally different experiences of life and agreed to always listen to each other and try to understand each other despite those differences. The beetle chewed on a tiny piece of grass. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Dean Gaffney was in the science lab, sporting a flowing lab coat worn over his tight Speedos. He was stirring vigorously and sweating a little. He was experimenting with adding pure, concentrated emotion into his gogo berry mix, and the results so far had been terrifying. He had tested the bliss mix on his cat and for four weeks the cat’s constant purring had sounded like a tractor driving past. Dean had wept into his Armani dressing gown several times. At least the cat was happy though.
He had also tested his sorrow mix on a random, bearded stranger, whose weeping filled 5 buckets before Dean abandoned him hurriedly on a high street somewhere. Since then Dean’s mixes had become more successful, and more specific. He had, for example, concocted a mix which would make his mum feel guilty for having once given him a bowl cut, and as a result offer him all of her fifty pence pieces, lots of sweets, and her entire collection of wooden kitten sculptures. Those kitten sculptures now decorated his science lab, and would watch over Dean as he perfected his emotional drinks. He wondered briefly where his mother had acquired the sculptures, as she had never told him, but soon forgot the thought as he mixed concentrated regret into raspberry red liquid.
Lilly sat on her bedroom floor with her legs apart, scribbling frantically onto a piece of paper. She was making a mood board. She had made a lot of mood boards. She had been drawing plastic bottles for 4 hours. Her meeting with ash hands had been terrifying, and she wasn’t pleased about being forcibly involved in pushing a political campaign, but if she was going to do it, she was going to concentrate, and do it well. She was going to be the best pink plastic bottle designer in the country. She was going to make a beautiful bottle for devious political use. She felt her head and eyes drooping into fuzzy red sleep, but forced herself awake to continue sticking magazine pictures into her notebook. In the middle of the night she woke up surrounded by plans, and found herself drooling onto the piece of paper on front of her. She sighed and shut her eyes again, no longer able to fight her body as it drifted into deep sleep.
Her head felt as if there were bugs crawling about inside it. She spluttered a little and pulled a stuck crayon from her face.
“Perhaps a cup of tea would help.” She thought. She checked her inventory.
fear x 1
sense of purpose x 1
bottle plans x 36
She poured herself a mug of hot tea and constructed 6 cardboard model bottles in slightly different shapes. The ultimate shape, she decided, was a sort of elongated pyramid, with ridges along the length. A conical beauty. A very cool bottle. The coolest bottle. The ridges could be lightly coloured so that as the liquid was depleted, the light would spill through the bottle and show the nice little accent of a sweet, translucent pink. The sort of tiny detail that sinks through people, affecting them deeply without them knowing it.
Lilly wondered what school would have been like if she had wanted to be a bottle designer from when she was little. That was the problem with choosing what you want to be, she thought. You could never know what would happen to you, and of course, as a child, you don’t understand how hard it will be to attain your dream occupation. Why bother asking children what they want to be? They can’t really know until they become it. They want to be dinosaurs and blades of grass and mirrors. All great ideas, but not really feasible. She faxed some designs through to the ash hands team and sipped her tea angrily. Twenty pale men with drooping eyelids would ruffle through her designs and make twelve pie charts and present those pie charts to an office within two hours of receiving her fax. The feedback she received an hour after that was “yeah cool do number three, cheers.”
Dean Gaffney’s cat missed the time of great happiness that had occurred so suddenly. It had been tough going back to normal after such a long time of happy good feel. Not weeping with joy every time a dew drop brushed his cheek. Not feeling that sweet burst of warmth every time a fresh tin of cat food was opened. Not affectionately grooming the local robin instead of swiping lazily for its neck. The cat hoped every day that one day he could be that happy again. He dreamt of the intensity, the beauty, and the sheer love which had coursed through his veins and his fast feline heart for those four weeks in April. Now he was forced to distract himself from the loss of his feelings of ultimate, endless passion with books and articles on blacksmithing. He couldn’t become a blacksmith himself, due to his inadequate and adorable paws, but this didn’t matter. Learning the ins and outs of blacksmithing was simply a distraction from his grief. Dean Gaffney would never quite understand the way in which he had fundamentally changed his cat for good.
Dean Gaffney had flown in from his private island to meet with some of ash hands’ business associates. He exhaled carefully as he felt the familiar calm excitement bubbling in his chest. He had finally perfected the necessary mix. This was going to be big. His car pulled slowly into the office courtyard, and the old government building loomed above him. He adjusted his tie and smirked at the plastic house plants arranged around the driveway. A man in his 30s with squeaky-looking hair and polished shoes greeted him at the door and ushered him inside. Rain began a light descent and pitter pattered against the windows as they walked inside. Dean was lead into the lift and offered a cigar. He declined, and requested a packet of sugar mice. Sugar mice were delivered to him thirty two seconds later.
The two men soon reached the boardroom, shoes squeaking on the polished floor, and the man directed Dean to a seat just to the left of the presentation screen, at the head of the table. The man himself stood in front of the screen and began to address the slightly tired and crumpled looking characters in suits sitting around the table.
“Good morning everyone” squeaked the standing man. Someone sipped loudly from a mug.
“I have here with me our resident chef and wizard of sorts, Dean Gaffney!” He gestured dramatically towards Dean and a few of the suited men who all looked the same clapped with varying levels of enthusiasm ranging from “do not care at all” to “okay”.
“Of course you all know me, I am Thomas Lucian Caruthers Farthing, and I will be making a short presentation summarising our planned work here, and then I will let Dean tell you about his efforts for the project.”
Thomas Farthing fumbled a little on his computer until his first slide sprang up on the screen. A series of terrible clipart splashed into view as he explained the outline of the campaign’s intentions rather unnecessarily. He explained in an incredibly boring fashion how the production of the sweet and small drink would both psychologically and chemically persuade the public to lend their vote to ash hands. How the chemical side of this was more or less taken care of, and how ultimately now the focus would lie on the design and marketing of the drink, as well as the election campaign itself. He smiled loudly at the room, and looked like he’d just eaten a very large and very greasy portion of chips. The effect was so real that he even somehow seemed to smell of chips. He directed his chippy grin towards Dean as his summary came to an end.
Dean took Farthings’ place as the now sweaty man sat down at the table and mopped his brow. Dean was a lot more charming, and one or two men who had almost lost consciousness at the table perked up a bit as he explained his studies into hormonal response and emotion configuration in the body, and how those studies had informed his creation of the drink which was to be the centre of the election campaign. His sparkling gold chain jostled prettily against his torso as he gestured to complicated scientific slides that no-one paid much attention to or understood. When he was finished speaking, everyone clapped enthusiastically, glad to have been able to remain conscious in a board meeting for once.
Lilly lamented her strange new life as a bottle designer for an evil cause. She wished for all the passion and romance of botany that Hulk Hogan had fallen in love with. She remembered how making things pink had filled her with all the joy of a contented toddler and all the fervour of a determined warrior, but now it had been co-opted, and so easily too. It stang to see something she knew she could love be turned into a force for harm. She thought she should be crying, but she couldn’t muster a single tear. She only felt a numbed sting deep inside her chest as if buried deep inside a dark and wide cavern. It was sad and sobering how quickly something that seemed cool and exciting had become something boring and purposeless. It was just a mistake, she thought, just a mistake I have to get through. So designing the bottle and making colour swatches and everything else became automatic. She had to do it so she just didn’t think about it. She knew it would be over and then she could go back, find something else, find her real self somehow, hidden beneath everything life and mistaken actions and thoughts from before. The present would be the past, and the future could be looked for again underneath the pile of everything the past had been and still was. She just had to continue forward so that she could go back. She closed her eyes and dreamed she was someone else. Everyone else.
The future Lil would come for her later.
In space somewhere, commander Cool had been playing Crash Bandicoot for four hours, thirty seven minutes, and fifty seconds. They were almost at Mars now, so him and his team of four prepared for landing. He reached for an e-cigarette as he reached the end of another level. The group were rebels and adventurers. They thought they were really bad and important fugitives, but back on Smon, the authorities weren’t really bothered. They were just some rebel teens without parents who smoked e-cigarettes and listened to The Dumb Window and other bands who liked making a terrible noise with their tonchers.
The five of them had met at school, Cool, Jimmy, Rat, Kindi, and Splem. Two boys and two girls, and Rat, who no-one was sure about.
Cool was the coolest one who always got the high score, Jimmy was the sweet, booksy one, Rat was a slightly disgusting person and an incredible cook, Kindi was into martial arts and dotting the i’s in her name with hearts, and Splem was basically Stephen Fry, but female, lizard-like (as were they all), and more in tune with intense and extreme feminism. She always got the high score in feminism in the feminist games.
The gang quickly got a reputation for being very slightly rebellious and cheeky at school, and one day when they were all about forty five and a half years old (equivalent to about fifteen in human years) they realised their long term plans for very cheeky lone space travel. They had built a rocket in Kindi’s bedroom over a month, and then this day arrived - the day when they would leave Smon forever for a new life of slightly rebellious excitement and excessive smoking of e-cigarettes.
Rosy-eyed with excitement, they bundled their scaly, beige bodies into the cockpit, along with a healthy supply of snacks, entertainment, and electric guitars. They were about to depart on an immense galactic adventure.
Lilly vomited gently into a strawberry patch whilst thinking about Lady Gaga lyrics and her regrets swam around her like spooky fireflies. What if she’d tried really hard to be an air pilot, or a paramedic? Would she still have ended up in this strange position? She’d have to have an intense and lengthy East 17 listening session later and figure out what was going on inside her head. Boy bands had long been a great spiritual aid, since the incident in her nursery years with the glowing orbs and the dual core processor. She was feeling deeply anxious about things. About everything. Not just the strange state of politics, and her current involvement in them, but also things like why cats tended to look at her in that pleading, slightly fearful sort of way whenever they saw her. What was that about? She posed no threat to cats. This was of deep concern to her. She definitely wanted cats to feel comfortable and happy around her, not alert and scared and nervous. How was she to get cats to change their minds about her? It was too much to think about.
The foggy light tickled salmon-coloured water, and spots of light shimmered and shivered as the light hit crystal. A tiny, clammy hand gripped a rock, with skin of the palest baby blue and a gentle touch of lilac. The water lapped at the toddler’s body as it slowly emerged, swathed in soaked white linen. Her baby eyes shined like gems, with a red like blood-filled ruby. Her little sprouts of hair were elderly white, and asserted themselves as rulers of the scalp by sticking up in defiant tufts. The female prince had been born, and she stumbled on wet, dark rock.
Dean Gaffney sat at the hotel bar, cradling a whiskey, while the dishevelled men in suits all around him chuckled and guffawed and slapped him on the back at an alarmingly exaggerated rate. Everything had been finalised and the TV advertisement would go out tomorrow, ahead of another exciting election debate on the pedestrianisation of Croydon’s high street. Dean and the advertising team were out celebrating. Dean had given everyone a juice drink that had mysteriously instilled in them a deep desire to buy him drink after drink and listen attentively and enthusiastically as he told them such stories as “that time an old lady gave me a funny look in the post office” and “that time I played Space Invaders”. An odd sense of admiration swept over all of these men - a delicate sea of relentless sycophancy. Even at 4:30am, when their physical exhaustion had reached a morning crescendo causing their tired heads to loll around like worn out bobblehead toys, they couldn’t help but happily watch Dean performing a very wobbly version of the macarena for the 17th time. Slowly, they began to pass out as the night drifted into morning, but Dean kept on dancing and drinking and grinning, powered by an energising berry juice tonic and a lot of alcohol.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and began speaking in French.
“Je m'interroge souvent sur les nuages.” Said the bird.
“Les nuages sont beaux princes flottants.” The beetle replied.
“Pas aussi beau que toi.” The bird exclaimed.
The beetle blushed. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Kindi kicked open the cockpit door in a stylish, action movie protagonist sort of way, and coolly surveyed the beautiful rust-coloured ground beneath her. She jumped out and landed on her feet with a dull thud. A little cloud of copper dust rose around her feet and she took a deep breath of sweet martian atmosphere. Her kind didn’t rely on oxygen to keep them alive, they instead were powered by a hormone which could convert almost any matter into astroxolase: a chemical which powered every bodily system inside them. That’s why space travel was so easy for Smonons. It was good to be one.
Commander Cool popped his head out of the now dented rocket door, and smiled at Kindi. Their mildly rebellious space trip had made it to its first destination, and they were all proud. The rest of the Smonon gang tumbled out of their rocket one by one and Splem fashioned a football out of her space helmet. Football was very popular on Smon and all five of the group had dreamed of being a famed football player at one time or another. Before long Splem was swiftly kicking in goal after goal, although this may have had something to do with the makeshift goalposts being made of pieces of spaghetti. She was an accomplished footballer, though, and it was fun to watch her butting the ball to target with a glance of her elbow.
After the game, the five of them lay down in a circle and watched the stars above them.
“Aren’t they lovely?” exclaimed Splem.
Everyone murmured in unison.
“Those beautiful spheres of plasma.”
The five of them felt very romantic and joyful looking up at the faraway stars. The beauty of space resonated through their young bodies and they felt at peace with the universe. They smoked e-cigarettes to add to the romance of the scene.
The female prince spent many years in the cavern she was born in, the luminous speckles dancing back and forth across her face as she grew slowly from a chubby blue marshmallow to a fierce teenage forget-me-not, with teeth and wit as jagged as the crown of her ancestors (although insects were the only creatures to hear that wit, but they appreciated it as well as any creature). The enchanting white linen she had been born in soon became impossible to wear, but she found she could fashion clothing at will from the salmon-coloured water of the cavern. There was a spell inside her mind and hands, and she created unthinkingly this sparkling clothing, as sturdy as steel, as comfortable as cotton, and as shimmering as the water itself had been. When this skill first appeared, she was too young to keep the memory. It would become something she had always known.
She grew up living on the insects crawling about in her cavern. Tiny things running across the rocks, with exoskeletons of brilliant gemstone colouring. Deep emerald and sapphire danced prettily on the prince’s tongue, before being hidden forever. Left for royal service. The prince quickly became adept at capturing and collecting tiny things to eat, and sustenance was never much difficulty. Despite being her food, the insects were also her friends, and she spent much of her time talking to them, sharing made-up stories and asking them every question she could think of. The insects raised her, in a sense. They were like thousands of helpful, tiny cousins. Edible cousins.
Lilly’s plans for the bottle had been seized. She was offered some basic information about what was happening now. This fantastic new drink, to be released tomorrow, was named “Seguro” and was to be marketed in a way that focused on the idea of moderation and recommended daily amounts. The idea of drinking it in “segments” was to be promoted. Advertisers aimed to illustrate this symbolically with the inclusion of a cute little rainbow logo.
Lilly was quite exhausted after all this, and couldn’t bear to make anything pink for quite some time. She drank lots of blackcurrant juice and threw soft blue things at a wall. Since blue was the antithesis of pink, she thought maybe she’d make more things blue for a while, but most of all, she thought, she had to take things easy. She had to relax and just do things for herself that felt natural and helpful. Hulk Hogan had told her many times that it was important to exercise adequate self-care. It was important to find what really made you happy, even if doing those things didn’t make you feel like a very responsible or capable person. His point was that you shouldn’t do things all the time just because you think you ought to. That you actually have to pay attention to yourself and what you want most of all. Even if what you want most of all makes you seem like a baby. Hulk Hogan had never given her bad advice, so she thought she’d better keep that in mind. Maybe tomorrow she could eat a tub of ice cream and watch her favourite cartoon, Mystery Mirror, in which every episode a different new character would explore the depths of the psyche in an often confusing, dreamy haze. It was very philosophical. And very good for falling asleep to. Lilly was very determined. She would take care of herself and forget everything to do with Seguro.
It was the day of the first broadcast of the Seguro television advertisement, and Dean Gaffney sat smugly in front of his 66 inch screen 5D television with added lasers and a spooky skeleton motif along the frame. He took a bite of his sausage roll as a woman on the television grinned overzealously whilst holding a tube of toothpaste. The woman and her toothpaste faded away, and a soft pink faded onto the screen. The Seguro logo appeared in the centre, a cool triangular bottle with an adorable rainbow behind it, as if the rainbow and the bottle were best friends, or perhaps the rainbow was the bottle’s tough bodyguard. A man and boy appeared, looking as if they might squeak under your finger if you touched them, and discussed their memories with each other. They both had embarrassing memories about being teased about their hair, back during some time when they had had a small piece of hair slightly protruding from behind their ears, instead of laying neatly behind. It transpired that the man had been drinking Seguro lately, and that’s why he viewed his embarrassing hair incident in a less serious and more constructive light. He then gave the boy a gift of Seguro, and it was then shown that the boy and the man were in fact the same person at different times in life. The rainbow then did a little jiggle, said something positive about segments, and the advert faded swiftly into a different advert, this one for sausage rolls. Dean Gaffney didn’t need any convincing from that advert, as he smugly took another bite.
Hulk Hogan was sitting on his yacht, watching trashy reality television with a pouch of Capri Sun clenched firmly in his hand, but he wasn’t paying attention to the television, he was frowning. He was wearing his concerned face. His eyebrows were plunging down the mountainous terrain. He was usually such a calm and collected person, with great peace emanating from his corduroy trousers and his tweed blazer, but today was different. He sipped from his Capri Sun and found it calmed him down a little, but there wasn’t much left. There was no more Capri Sun in the fridge. He had spent such a long time helping poor, miserable Dome to recover, and he, who had formerly been attempting to create a sea of ugly sorrow in his own beard, was now happily performing mediocre magic tricks to the local squirrels. Despite that, Hulk sensed that something about this whole situation had been amiss. He wasn’t sure what, but he was sure, somehow, that something very strange had happened here. Dome had suddenly become like an entirely different person after a few weeks. His rusty little beard practically fell off, and there was a new squeak to his voice which, whilst a relief, was also incredibly annoying. And Hulk was famously almost impossible to annoy. He felt the pit of his stomach tighten. Something was most definitely up.
After a night of heavy football, stargazing, and binging on homemade cabbage soup, all of the Smonon gang were fast asleep and snoring sweetly on the dusty red rocks like babies. All apart from Splem, who was admiring the sky and all it’s beautiful decoration, still. She looked for a long time at each star, making up names and childhoods for each one. She would forget them all by morning. The two moons of Mars were bright above her, the larger moon, Phobos, looming over the smaller moon like a parent supervising their child on the internet. The smaller moon, Deimos, looked as if it might be cheekily popping into pop-punk chat rooms whilst Phobos wasn’t looking. Or at least, that’s what Splem thought. Maybe their next journey could be to that poor parent moon, Splem wondered. Yes, that would be nice. She slipped carefully into sleep as she wondered idly about that great big moon above her.
As the sun drifted over the Smonon’s faces, they began to wake up and dreamily consider their breakfast possibilities. They had packed plenty of food and drink into their rocket, including several Smonon delicacies, and they weren’t worried or scared at all about the possible dangers of space travel because they were pretty fearless teens, and they knew they were all smart, tough, and prepared. Jimmy gathered flasks of Smonon tea and a lot of things vaguely similar to sandwiches, but more solid, and more floaty, and more red. Rat had been in charge of food ideas before they left Smon and they were pleased to see everyone so happy to receive their almost-sandwiches. Kindi and Cool grabbed some blankets and laid them down so that everyone could feel super picnicky.
Whilst everyone tucked in to their breakfast, Splem remembered her evening thoughts, and began jabbering excitedly about the moons, spitting food as she spoke.
“Phobos is lovely!” she said.
“It’s so near, and so fast! It looks as if it’s racing to work.”
Everyone began musing on this big moon. Flushed with all the excitement of having successfully left Smonon for the first time, the teenagers were bubbling with an inquisitive desire to get back into their rocket ship, to keep on travelling. Now that they had enjoyed a long football match on the surface of Mars (which Jimmy and Kindi had won, scoring 57 - 28), something that their parents would really be envious of, their eagerness to discover some other place was throbbing into the periphery. After a leisurely breakfast, they would ready the rocket for take-off once more.
Ash hands stood in the drinks aisle of a supermarket, trying to look casual and utterly failing. It was as if his very molecules were made of that particular kind of uneasy nervousness that manifests itself in ultimate form inside politicians, daring them to try every dance move they’ve never heard of and have slang painfully explained to them by an exasperated teenager. He tried to look as if he wasn’t watching people in the aisles, but he lacked subtlety. He just looked like an odd and suspicious person loitering in the supermarket. An elephant trying to act nonchalant by tossing an orange gently in the air. He picked up a random bottle from a shelf and pretended to read its ingredients. Opposite him and slightly to his right, the sweet, soft glow of Seguro lapped at the aisle, attracting a few curious children and a tired woman. Ash hands watched them out of the corner of his eye as they picked up the Seguro bottles. It seemed the brightest drink in the aisle, but not in a glaring way. Everything about Seguro was soft and delicate, but it had an air of pep about it, something to invigorate people and give them energy. Ash hands decided it was best to leave the shop as a passing old man glared at him and squinted like he’d smelled something strange. He didn’t need to watch people personally to find out what they thought of the drink, he’d just felt curious, but he resigned himself to forget the idea as people were clearly starting to feel uncomfortable with his badly-hidden surveillance.
Lilly didn’t go out much because she was the sort of person who had constructed a very fulfilling private world in her own home as well as in her own mind. She liked people, but she liked her own creations and found them very comforting, especially in the aftermath of recent political events. When she did go out, however, to go to the supermarket to buy potatoes or to watch Kenneth the cat run about in the centre of town, she kept overhearing various people’s conversational snippets, and lots of them, predictably, were talking about the election. It was only a few weeks away now, so it was on people’s minds. She also noticed quite a few people carrying Seguro around. Clearly it had been well advertised, and clearly its political implications were having some success, as she was sure she was hearing an increased level of support for ash hands, and she was sure she was hearing an increased level of vicious jibes about his opponent, plastic hair, too. As she passed strangers discussing ash hands favourably, she felt like tripping them up or pouring porridge down them so they looked all porridgey all day. They deserved to look porridgey all day.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and began doing an awkward dance. The beetle thought it could do a better dance, so it started shaking all of its legs at once. The bird hovered in the air and swirled around prettily. The beetle flew above the bird and spun around. They circled each other, laughing, before tumbling to the ground again. The beetle scratched its leg and folded its wings away. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
The Smonon gang were well on their way to Phobos. Commander Cool was manning the controls, Jimmy was sitting nearby to chat with Cool and offer gummi worms whenever necessary, Splem was reading about memetic theory in her favourite magazine, Rat was eating as much as possible, and Kindi was absent-mindedly staring at Rat. They had clambered back into their spaceship after a good ingesting of lots of long vegetables. Martian dust still adorned their faces, the messy teens they were, high on the bliss of new space travel.
Before long, the rocket ship veered into the moon’s largest crater with a cacophony of clicking and screeching noises, which really weren’t all that dissimilar to the sounds of some of the Smonon’s favourite bands.
The blue girl prince chewed gently on two of her fingers and a small section of her now long hair of angel-wing white wrapped around them. She clicked quietly with her mouth and crouched down by the water. She reached a hand towards the water, almost touching it, but not quite, and squinted slightly. The water trundled lumpily into her hand and she lifted it to her mouth to sip from.
It was then that she heard a distant scuffling noise. She raised her head with cat-like alertness and looked on into the darkness of the cavern. Spots of light danced across her gleaming, wide eyes as she crouched, eyes darting back and forth across the space. She had been outside the caverns on occasion, but there was nothing for her there, really. There was something to be said about the sky and all its mysterious trinkets, but everything she wanted and needed was inside the cavern, so she mostly remained there, where she could eat and talk and watch the pretty light.
The snuffling sound came closer, and soon it became more of a clattering. At the clattering, the prince became fearful. She crawled on all fours to hide herself behind a nearby rock, large enough to keep her hidden. She peered out from behind it towards the darkness, and blinked furiously. A light slowly oozed into the cave, flickering and yellow, and accompanying the nearing clattering sound was a sound like a cry. A voice. The prince’s eyebrows inverted in confusion. There was a familiarity about that sound, she was sure of it. And then, suddenly, she understood what it was. She never heard another creature do it. It was the sound of laughter.
As the laughter and the clattering and the light drew closer and closer, the prince’s curiosity overtook her fear. Then she saw them. Five creatures filtered into the cave. They looked somewhat like her, but were a sort of creamy-brown colour, mostly, and instead of skin like hers, they had something like tiles across their bodies. They looked like bathrooms. She watched them with her mouth hanging open in awe. This was incredible. They seemed to be very impressed by the cavern themselves, walking slowly around and marvelling at the light and the colours and the structure of the whole thing. None of them were facing her any more. The prince stood up to see them better. They were about the same height as her. She rested a finger between her teeth and cocked her head to one side, inspecting them.
What are they doing here? She wondered.
The five of them stared into the salmon-pink water, admiring it’s regal, shimmering beauty. Splem and Jimmy crouched together and stared deep into the pool, while Kindi stood behind them looking up the pretty light reflected onto the cavern walls.
“How lovely.” She exclaimed. Cool and Rat were inspecting nearby rocks and scaring some nearby bugs, when suddenly a piercing scream echoed throughout the cavern. The four of them jumped out of their skin and found splem spluttering fearfully. She was looking across to the wall and as the followed her gaze they saw a terrifying little figure whose colours seem to match those of the incredible cavern.The figure came closer. Kindi jumped ahead of the others and held her fists in front of her.
“Don’t move!” She cried.
The prince realised it must have scared these mysterious things. When the tough one spoke, she understood immediately. She had spoken to only small creatures all her life. It was odd to suddenly have a creature her size addressing her. She opened her mouth to speak and found words tumbling out.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” She said, her voice like molten silver and strawberry.
“This is my home. My birthplace.” She added, a little more dramatically than intended. Kindi raised an eyebrow suspiciously, but dropped her fists.
“This is… my home” the prince repeated.
“I’m a prince.” Kindi asked her name and the prince realised she had never had a name. She was only the prince. She told them so. It was a bit on the strange side for the Smonons, but since they were quite far away from home, they weren’t phased. Things were going to be strange.
For Splem this was all so magical. She knew Phobos seemed special, but she didn’t expect to find this beautiful cavern within, and she certainly didn’t expect to stumble upon a mysterious blue girl prince with no name. Now that no one was screaming, there was time to admire the prince’s strange, crystalline outfit. It was quite simple, just pink like the salmon-water covering her tightly from a few inches below neck to a few inches above ankle. She shimmered in the light spots and it was easy to believe that she was a prince, born to the largest moon of Mars.
They ushered the strange prince towards them and offered her a lollipop as a welcoming gift (that was a panic move by Splem, who was still shaken up some, but luckily it was well received). Splem looked at her like a nervous doe, and the prince could sense her worry.
“I’m sorry,” exclaimed the prince, “I really didn’t mean to scare you!”
As the election drew nearer and nearer, Lilly was surprised to see banners going up in the streets and in shop windows and all sorts of places. Tiny versions of ash hands floated above her in the street on little fluttering triangles. It was rather spooky. People were now showing quite an avid amount of support. She watched two young girls skip down the street together, holding hands and smiling - the picture of childlike innocence. The smaller of the two clutched a bright bottle of Seguro.
“Gosh I like that man” the bigger child exclaimed, stopping to peer up at the ash hands bunting.
“Yeah!” chirped the little one.
“He’ll give us sweets and make our daddies happy. He’s made of sweets!” The little girl took a drink from her Seguro bottle and frowned.
“I wish I could vote.” she said, sadly.
Lilly stared in astonishment as they trundled along obliviously. Stupid ash hands.
Dean Gaffney sipped his martini and stirred his pot noodle as distinguishable words flickered into understanding from the news programme on the television blaring in the next room. The election had taken place yesterday, and as expected, ash hands had won. He was to be the new president. Dean grinned incredulously at the extent of his power. Soon his face would be on everyone’s television, as the president’s consultant scientist. Evil excitement bubbled inside him like a shaken can of lemonade. Now he was unstoppable.
He sat down in his armchair and flicked through web pages full of loud jewellery. He came upon a watch with a smiling person’s face staring out at him, constructed entirely from delicate crystals. He looked closer and found that this watch was customisable. You could have your own face made of crystals tell you the time.
“Perfect” he whispered, clicking the “buy” tab hurriedly.
Hulk Hogan was out of a job. The institute he’d put his whole life into was to be shut down. He couldn’t understand it. He’d worked all his life to help people get better, to instill in them a sense of peace and self-worth, but this morning he’d received a letter detailing the closing of the institute. As far as the government were concerned, his help was an unnecessary dismissal of government sanctioned help programmes, such as the “trade this single pea for a job” programme, which generously gave participants a pea, and they were then advised on how to use the pea as a bargaining tool to get into a lucrative $94,000 salary position within 45 hours of receipt of the pea. The government told Hulk, in the letter, that his efforts were “touching, but could be better placed somewhere else in the employment market.” Hulk was usually a peaceful, cautious, and loving person at the worst of times, but in the wake of this shocking letter, he ripped open his drinks cabinet to find the gin and destroy his brain in a pool of bitter fluid.
In the morning, Hulk awoke to a dull, thudding pain in his head.
As he tried to move, a sickness arose in his stomach to join the throbbing of his head in a dastardly duo of unpleasantness. He spotted the empty bottle of gin lying next to him on the floor and groaned. He stood up tentatively, holding on to furniture for balance, and surveyed the damage. The floor was covered in broken glass, and it was only now that he spotted his blood, speckled across the floor and the furniture. This was unnerving. He clambered into his armchair and groaned again as his stomach seemed to reach new levels of displeasure. He would spend over a day feeling like he’d been lost in the desert with only the urine of Piers Morgan to sustain him.
The small moon glittered sweetly at the six beautiful aliens as they sat upon the white dust to have their dinner. Very quickly everyone had grown to like the prince, and after spending a few days with her she felt like a natural member of the group. She was a bit reluctant to try Smonon cabbage and crisps, but she found that she didn’t mind it. She carried a selection of insects with her just in case, though.
The prince thought of the small moon as a watchful cousin. Somehow, it watched over her, and on Phobos with its craters and caverns. A protective child. Because there was something childlike about Deimos. She knew it. Like many things, it just resonated that way, within her, and she knew something of it must be true. She smiled as everyone chatted. Her first humanoid friends, and she loved them dearly. They were sweet, and smart, and just slightly rebellious. She was a prince of the moon and a prince of five friendships.
That night the subject of their next destination returned, as the excitement of exploring Phobos had only spurred them on further in their travelling dreams. The prince was curious about the possibilities they explained. She had never left her birthplace, but now seemed a good time to do so. She felt drawn towards the black sky and all its stars. She could fill herself up with stars and planets and more moons like Phobos, with craters and caverns and different coloured dust, and mysterious creatures too. The prince was a teenager filled with bright dreams and no parents to protect her from them. A thousand dreamy voyages drifted through her mind, and the collective buzz of the six of them propelled passionate talk and a deepened understanding between them. For the Smonons, the caverns of Phobos had been a discovery of the most incredible, breathtaking beauty, and the fact that a friend, a prince, had risen from the centre of that beauty, was special and nice and great. This voyage was their commute to adulthood, and they’d be leaving for their next destination soon.
Ash hands and Dean Gaffney skipped down Candy Pop Lane holding hands and hiding hip flasks in their jackets. They were becoming a false power couple, playing on the cute aesthetic people were adopting in light of Seguro’s light and fluffy branding, and other popular trends in media and fashion. Where previously ash hands had been seen as a coughing old lump and Dean Gaffney had been seen as a dorky nerd with flopping hair, now their look had become super fashionable, and any cool kid worth their salt could be caught blogging about ash hands’ latest socks of an afternoon.
On their stroll they stopped to trample some flowers and harass a bus driver. They then laughed at a sobbing child and made rude gestures at a dog. Their reign was only beginning, but already they were really getting out of hand.
Lilly was picking blackberries from a cool blackberry bush in town, when Dean and ash hands came lolloping round the corner. Ash hands started picking blackberries from the bush too, and soon pushed Lilly out of the way, taking all the blackberries she had intended to pick, and the ones she had already picked. Dean laughed cruelly and called her a sad penny farthing. Lilly ran away, crying. As she pelted down the street, big tears splashed wetly onto the pavement. She was NOT a sad penny farthing.
When she reached home, Lilly washed her salty face and dialled Hulk Hogan at home. When he answered he didn’t sound his usual chirpy self. He sounded sad. Deeply sad. She told him what had happened in town and he sighed, exasperated but not surprised. Hulk had become a different person in the last month or so. He was angrier, tougher, and his tweed suits had been replaced with tight spandex in canary yellow. He had decided that if he couldn’t nurse sick and vulnerable people back to health and watch cartoons with them, he would fight bad guys. He told Lilly that he didn’t care what the government said, he would march up and down the streets to defend the public from unnecessarily mean people. He had flicked seven people painfully on the back of the neck and called them dweebs just that day for saying various mean things to people on the street, such as “your dog looks dumb” and “your hair is sticking up in an unflattering way lol”. He had also taken to spending time on internet forums and communities, and calling people out for being ignorant and vicious.
Lilly was proud of her friend. He was still always there for support and it was great to share a slice of cake with him every so often. She wished he could have been there earlier to defend everyone from ash hands and Dean Gaffney’s cruel jibes, but then, she thought, there was nothing he really could have done. If he’d flicked them on the back of the neck he would’ve gone right to prison, and that would do no good at all. Hulk and Lilly complained to each other on the phone until they both felt a bit better. They were glad to have each other in such an unfortunate time. They said goodbye, and Lilly put the phone away and looked out the window. Looking up at the sky, it was just starting to get dark, and she could see the moon silhouetted against it.
Lilly tried to get back into making things pink and making pink things and being pink but could not sever the association with Seguro. The colour had lost its innocence in her mind and she couldn’t reconcile the little feelings of guilt and disgust it instilled. She painted tiny blue people across her walls. This felt right, and somehow soothing. The little blue people comforted her, their blues echoing, loud sapphires singing across the walls.
Dean Gaffney and ash hands started playing lots of tricks on people as they skipped about like sneaky imps with an agenda to offend. Dean would get up in the morning and select the most fun selection of berries he could think of from his berry cupboard, in the here-lab he had to supplement his juice production and experimentation when he was away from his private island. He would make up a mix on the spot and, later in the day, he and ash hands would go out together with these sweet little bottles filled with that morning’s mix and they’d get people to try them. The first time they did this, the drink gave a ten year old girl the urgent need to get as high up as possible. She spotted a nearby skyscraper, ran to the top floor, and broke onto the roof. No-one managed to get her down for 3 days. Other notable effects included an elderly man becoming desperate to own as many kittens as possible, a teenage boy not sleeping until he’d seen every episode of an anime about sinister fairies from outer space, and a small child becoming convinced she needed to stay by a tree forever to talk to it and hug it.
The pair were chuckling to themselves in a coffee shop one day. They had another dastardly plan: to put their latest concoction in the coffee.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle. They sat silently together, admiring the scenery, and admiring the silence together. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Kindi was plaiting the prince’s gleaming white hair in the moonlight as the prince sat serenely in the rocket doorway, while the others ate their last pre-flight snacks in the cockpit. Rat lazily configured the thrusters whilst Cool was programming their destination route into the ship’s computer.
It was 1723, and a young Dean Gaffney skipped along the meadow that sat behind his grandparents’ house in the country. He was a precocious eleven year old whose proficiency in several instruments was highly impressive to the local community. He had won local awards for freestyle sessions on the violin, the tuba, and the oboe, and had gleefully spent all of his winnings on fish fingers, his favourite food. He was doted on to the point of excess by both his grandparents and pretty much everyone in town, who thought he was a great big cutie pie. He was a bit spoiled, and could get quite bratty when he didn’t quite get his way.
Dean was one of those children who is convinced the nature and wildlife are very boring. He would go for long rides on his penny farthing, wearing a beanie hat with a rude word on it, and tempt the local children into street races. He always won, mostly because he had no sense of fear. Most of the local children were a bit scared of him, but not Mary Mug. Mug was a defiant and righteous young girl who refused to be called Mary, and who had written a book on race theory at just five years old. She was kickass. Mug was exceptionally rude to Dean whenever he instigated a penny farthing race, and he resented her for it, but all the other kids would secretly cheer her on. One day Mug challenged Dean to a duel, and they sauntered off through the meadow and down to the woods. Dean made the first swing for Mug, but quickly she upturned him and directed him to fall awkwardly into some brambles. He got so caught up in the thorns that he became hopelessly stuck. Mug delighted in this turn of events and sauntered off, shaking with deep laughter. Seeing Dean get his comeuppance was a joy.
Dean lay in the brambles, bitter hate bubbling inside him. The thorns snagged on his clothes and skin, and the bush’s little pink berries watched him from all directions, as if silently judging him. As if to punish the berries for their unsolicited judgement, Dean bit angrily at them from his botanical prison, and managed to crush a few between his teeth. The demise of the berries tasted sweet. The juice stang a little in his mouth, but it tasted okay. A few minutes later, he was struck by a mysterious feeling of intense strength. He ripped himself from the brambles, scattering thorns everywhere, and dusted himself off. The feeling of strength only increased as the hour went on and he found himself ripping down foliage in a rage. His face was contorted and his arms stinging with need to uproot and destroy. Had these little pink berries done this to him?
Surging through outer space in a homemade rocket ship, Commander Cool let his mind drift as his brain switched to automatic. He wondered if his parents would be proud, beneath all the dread and worry that their poor baby had ended up sliced into pieces in a deadly space crash. Both of them had been folk musicians, dwindling like waterlilies in the streets of Smon with their saccharine little ditties. It had disgusted Cool as a kid with too much pride and too much stock in sweet rockin’ tunes, but now, with all the perspective that the group’s travels had afforded him, he felt something for his parents and the sugary sweet, twee music they loved. He missed them and their terrible jumpers and incessant gossip about Smonon celebrities. Some day he’d tell them all about his travels.
Kindi was fond of the prince. She represented an ethereal and alien beauty lined by moonish, smart composure. Kindi had a feeling that the prince could kill a man with just her little toe. But the prince of Phobos was like a baby in a way. The way she put her fingers in her mouth, and talked about pretty colours, and looked with glistening eyes at everything. So much was new to her. Kindi thought of showing her the flower hills on Smon, her favourite place, and smiled.
None of them were sure where they were going next. They thought they’d drive around a bit and survey the galaxy before deciding on anywhere for sure. The prince’s salmon-water clothing gleamed in passing starlight. She didn’t mind where they went. She just hoped there would be some caverns there like hers.
Lilly and Hulk Hogan had met for an early brunch. They were finishing up their plates of cucumber and mackerel sandwiches, fully satiated but still picking off little morsels because the food was so delicious and warming. Hulk sipped a cactus soda through a tiny straw that bobbed up in the floral glass, and then said “ah” in that particular post-drink satisfaction way. They were meeting up to form a dangerous duo. Since Hulk had started punishing bullies, he’d helped a lot of people to escape being called nerds and stuff, and Lilly wanted to do that too, because it seemed pretty rad and cool. However, she was a bit scared to tackle bad dudes, so she figured if she teamed up with Hulk she could learn a trick or two and become as super tough as he seemed to be. Hulk was a little sad that he had been forced to turn to mild violence, but he knew he had to do what he had to do, and if that meant defending people by pushing and shoving people and giving them wedgies, then by damn he’d do it. He’d protect those nerds ‘til his dying day in his glorious, shining spandex. Times were tough, and so was Hulk Hogan. He was the toughest around.
They decided they’d start patrolling the streets together like police duos, and they discussed the possibilities of wearing matching bandanas so people would quickly know that they were tough cookies who meant business. But not today. Today, as the day before the start of their patrols, they would eat everything and have a great time filling up on sandwiches, just like old times. Hulk retrieved the cucumber and chocolate spread from the fridge.
Dean Gaffney and ash hands had risen taxes by 34% earlier in the day and were at this point cackling in a shed which belonged to two old men who formed a duo on children’s television. They had consumed five and a half milkshakes in forty six minutes and were feeling very excitable and mischievous indeed. They banged on the shed walls madly and shouted nursery rhymes at the pottery. They were enjoying their power immensely.
Eleven year old Dean Gaffney adjusted his combat trousers and found, upon looking down, that he’d actually ripped them off.
“Dang it!” He squealed. His strength was only increasing. He ran through a section of the woods, and as he ran, he ripped up a torrent of soil from the ground, and leaves whirled violently away from trees as he brushed past them with the tips of his little fingers. He spent a long time just running back and forth and observing the havoc he caused. So strange. He ripped branches from trees, baring his death and snarling as he did so. He kicked up vast mounds of dirt and watched them fall in pieces in the air.
After a few hours, both his new-found strength and his desire to utilise it began to fade and recede back into his normal level of children’s weakness. He felt clear, like a delicate stream. Tranquil. He sat on the ground, yawning and stretching and blinking excessively. A dizzy fuzz enveloped him. He spotted the wrecked brambles Mug had shoved him into, and let his eyes wander over their ripped stalks and scattered thorns. Then he spotted them again, the tiny pink berries. He scrambled over to them and touched them lightly with his fingers. Was it possible that these little berries had been responsible for his mysterious strength and feelings of destruction?
He stuffed another into his mouth and stood for a minute just looking at the torn apart bush, letting his vision fade in and out of focus. He gently nudged a nearby tree branch and heard a tentative cracking sound, at which he ceased to nudge. He brought his berry-stained hands up to his face and let his eyes slip over the red smudges. His lips parted wide as goofy teeth poked out from a large grin.
“It is the berries!” He thought.
The jewelled one will come
The ruby will burn deep
With the darkness of distrust
And the sickness of the heard
The jewelled one will come
The ruby will burn deep
The sweetest tastes must
Destroy the truest nerd
Some mums in town were town were crying in a small group, creating a small puddle on the ground beneath them. That day there had been a presidential interview on channel six and ash hands had said that all mums were really annoying and smelly and generally no good, so understandably mums all around were pretty upset. Hulk Hogan and Lilly had spotted the group of sad mums as they were walking through the town centre on the fourth day of their patrol. They tried to console them and tell them that actually mums were a very diverse section of people and they shouldn’t feel bad because there was nothing wrong with being a mum, and there was nothing wrong with being smelly either, actually. It didn’t help that much, but the mums were appreciative that not everyone thought they were annoying and smelly and generally no good. Ash hands’ stance on mums was adopted by many. It was very sad for Lilly, Hulk, and especially all the mums, to listen as passing strangers gossiped about how much they didn’t like mums. Some were shocked that the prejudice had been so readily accepted and passed on, but Hulk wasn’t surprised. He said that things like this would keep happening, that it all worked to solidify ash hands’ power, to marginalize and dehumanise mums, and who knows who else, for his own gain. The two of them took to having stern words with every person they caught being rude about mums. Anti-mum rhetoric got Hulk really riled up.
Ash hands had also spoken in depth about Dean, his best friend, advisor, and smartie pants scientific wonder with a large collection of Speedos and martini glasses. There had been six documentaries commissioned about Dean in the past month, two of them had already aired recently, and a third was due for broadcast on the same day as the interview. Dean was becoming more popular and famous than ever, and was frequently gossiped about in the papers, but the gossip was always oddly positive. It was as if he was a saint. As far as mass media was concerned, he was as bright as the sun and had never done anything that wasn’t completely lovely. No smirk could be seen in any of his paparazzi photos, and he always looked dignified and pleasant and sparkling. Dean was very happy to see how big this nice portrayal of him had become. Especially considering he was a total bad boy and a meanie behind closed doors.
Dean and ash hands sipped stolen wine together in a primary school playground. Ash hands poured the liquid into his face overzealously and hobbled onto the seesaw whilst Dean stood on a swing, teetering back and forth on it in shaky movements.
As the rocket thrusters burned impressively through the sky, Commander Cool and Jimmy were checking out the skyline for a fun place to land.
“How about here!” Cried Jimmy, sounding like a chirpy squirrel with a mouth full of sweets, and pointing towards a milky white sphere in the distance. Another moon. Everyone crowded around to take a closer look at the screen.
“Well, we have just come from a moon,” said Splem, “but what about that?” She gestured to something behind the moon. A little planet full of blue. It looked sweet and bright and sort of… lush. Very mysterious. The prince brought her face close to the screen and grinned.
“This is something.” She said.
“Let’s go here.”
Commander Cool wasted no time. He tapped on several keys and turned a few dials, and the spaceship slowly veered toward the direction of the the blue planet. Jimmy sprayed cheesy pastry crumbs all over the control panel, prompting Commander Cool to whack him on the back of the head.
“You can clean that up, dumbass.” Said Cool.
“Urk… sorry.” Replied Jimmy, stroking the back of his head.
Hulk Hogan started a support group for mums to meet up and talk and drink tea together in his house. It ran on Friday mornings and he would make little cakes with nice things on them like “cool mum” and “fabulous diva who is well versed in feminist and socio-political theory LOL” and he would hand the cakes round to all the mums and they would all have brilliant discussions and make friends with each other. Hulk knew that hosting an illegal mum support group was dangerous, but he had to do what he felt was right. He couldn’t let all those mums suffer on their own. He was willing to face consequences that might arise, as long as he was doing his best to help those poor mums. They didn’t deserve all this. Hulk Hogan as the number one fan of mums.
Hulk had never had a mum, so was glad to have befriended so many now. He was brought up by caterpillars in the forest. People often ignorantly believe that caterpillars can’t raise a human being, but Hulk was quickly taught to walk and talk, and was a very smart child (basically don’t judge caterpillars).
Dean Gaffney ordered a suit of gold leaf on the internet and lay back in his racecar bed with his goblet of $900 whiskey. He switched on a shopping channel on his new 6D television and watched intently as a smiley, bleach-toothed man who looked as if he was in receipt of frequent electric shocks rambled excitedly about a pair of dinosaur earrings with precious gemstones for eyes. Dean was quite impressed and wondered if he should get his ears pierced and start a collection of such beauties. He grabbed his mobile phone from atop his personal minibar full of amaretto and 29c lager, stopped for a split second to admire his own name scrawled unintelligibly in diamonds on the back, and dialled the shopping channel’s number. He sang along jollily to the hold music before purchasing the dinosaur earrings for $670. He was going to look gorgeous.
Sexy Dean arrived at the world premiere of a glossy Hollywood film about fracking looking extremely slick in his gold leaf suit, dinosaur earrings, and pastel blue eyeshadow. The paparazzi called out his name and he posed smugly for them. Many funky celebrities grabbed him affectionately as they strolled past and posed for happy pictures with him. Everyone was friends, or wanted to be friends, with Dean. He had a beautiful gleam in his eyes that no one could rightly resist. That’s what the tabloids said, anyway. In truth that gleam was just hunger. The desperation to chomp down a sausage roll always had a very particular representation on Dean’s face.
Flames engulfed the ship as it dove into the atmosphere of the pretty blue planet. The prince stared through the window at the fire, flames licking at the metal of the ship as they plummeted towards the blue. Suddenly they were inside the blue, and it rushed past them in bubbling white strips as the ship slowed to a stop, before starting to float towards the surface again.
The water rushed past the monitors and Splem gulped as she watched bubbles racing and dying on the LCD screens before her.
The six alien teens clambered out onto the beach. A bunch of people in swimming costumes were staring at them as they emerged, mouths open and minds broken. After about five minutes though, they were just getting jealous of their sandy beige scales.
Hulk Hogan and Lilly took some cool mums to a theme park and stamped cheekily on a newspaper with ash hands on the front before riding a small ride for children because all the mums were a bit scared of rollercoasters. They all ate candy floss together and hugged all the animals in the petting zoo. Even the animals seemed to look at the mums with distaste in their eyes. Passing people kept giving the mums dirty looks, so Hulk and Lilly did their best to make sure the mums were feeling okay and not taking it to heart. Lilly had even stayed up all night painting pictures of them, which they all really enjoyed and thought was much better than the photos taken in the middle of rides that they make you pay $11.80 for. The mums were certainly not amused at that. Lilly offered to paint pictures of them on some rides when she got back home. The mums bought her pretzels as a thank you.
The alien teens weren’t bothering to try to pretend they weren’t aliens. People didn’t really mind after the initial shock. They just thought they were cool and weird looking, and asked them some very silly questions that they didn’t bother answering. It was surprising for the Smonons and the prince to discover how densely populated and generally full of stuff this planet was. It seemed like they would have an awful lot to explore.
They went into a corner shop near the beach and had a good read of some newspapers. On the front of most of them was a pale, thin man wearing a golden suit and some lovely earrings which looked like some sort of little orange creatures with shining red eyes.
“They’re like mine.” Said the prince, examining the earring’s tiny gemstone eyes. She wondered who the little creatures were, and why they were dangling from another, much larger creature. This world was very intriguing indeed.
The teenagers raced back to the beach and built fortresses of sand, as they saw other small creatures do. They splashed each other as the sun beat down on them, and quickly lots of people-children joined in. Their nearby parents looked a bit uncomfortable when the crowd of children and aliens increased to about 36 people, but the children and the aliens alike were having a lot of fun.
Days later, the teenagers travelled further in town on something called a train, which was quite loud and had a lot of wheels. They exited to cobbled streets and an ice cream van and lots of old people meandering about. The prince admired their white hair, and smiled at many of them. She ended up in lots of conversations about wine, in which she nodded her head a lot, but she had no idea what “wine” was.
The Smonons liked this little bit of town. Splem said it was so peaceful and clearly had plenty of historical artefacts of interest. Commander Cool and Jimmy thought the train was very cool. Rat enjoyed hopping around on the cobbles. Kindi liked the trees and the little fountain across the road which shot spurts of water into the air randomly. The prince liked the old people, and the insects that occasionally landed on her.
“This planet is very bright.” She thought.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and remarked on the darkness of the sky.
“It’s getting darker earlier” said the bird.
“Yes,” replied the beetle, “it’s just the way I like it.”
The bird cocked its head and gave the beetle a look that said “how strange.”
“I like it to be dark and cold, so I can crawl underneath my rock and sleep” said the beetle.
“It’s what I do.”
The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Lilly was so tired. She had finished making all of her paintings of mums on rides and she felt the sleepiness wash over her like a wave. When she was sleepy she felt like a child, or a tiny leaf floating about in warm air. She sat in bed with a mug of tea and blinked heavily. She pulled her jumper and a blanket around her body and felt the nice texture of them and the warmth and comfort they provided. The fluffiness of the blanket was surely releasing pleasant chemicals in her brain. She could almost feel the liquid happiness inside her like a ghost passing through her head. The small sounds around her blended into a sensory blog of delicious warm fuzz as she felt her slipping into lesser levels of consciousness. She was a sleepy baby.
In Lilly’s dream, she dreamt of woods and bushes and fire, of running full pelt, never sure if it was away from or towards something. The fire flickered and lapped at the edges of her air and she breathed deeply as the dark of dream-night shimmered and shuddered above her. There were creatures in the forest. No, the forest was made of creatures. Everything was a creature and a part of a creature. Everything faded into everything else. For a second she knew she was dreaming, and summoned her blankets and all the blankets in the world into her dream. They surrounded her and squeezed her tightly like love itself, that ultimate visceral squeezer, sweet and gently burning. They whispered to her, all at once, important things and advice and words that could only come from the moon or some kind of deity, but she knew she’d never remember a word. Neverless she tried to catch them as much as she could, compressed by fluffy warmth and mystery language in the forest.
And then she heard two words repeat themselves from the mouths of the foggy creature-trees:
The words overlapped and faded into each other until they filled the dream and then they became nothing as the dream’s fog replaced them entirely.
Cups of tea danced in the window-light for Hulk Hogan as he dreamt again of the mums coddling each other and leading a troupe of chocolate muffins into the basement of a castle. They took shields and wooden swords up the spiral staircase to the top of a turret, their feet thudding heavily on Hulk’s head. The sound shook through him and he blinked as watched the siege of the castle. The mums destroyed the castle’s guards with ease, cutting them apart mercilessly with contorted faces. He knew they were still thinking about what they were going to make for dinner as they ripped into men’s flesh, leaving splinters stinging in their open wounds. One mum bit her lip and squinted a little as she crashed her sword into the side of a guard’s head, forcing it to detach from his body and sail across the castle wall. As he fell to his knees, and then to the floor, a drop of blood landed on the Hello Kitty hair clip she had used to fix a tuft of hair in place. Her hair remained in perfect formation as she raced forward, leaping over the guard’s body to drive her sword into another’s leg. As he screamed in pain, Hulk woke with a start and bolted upright with all the terror of the dream. The guards scream was his scream. He could feel cold sweat across his whole body. He shuddered and shivered and panted before collecting his duvet around himself and stumbling into the kitchen for a much needed cup of tea.
A boy danced like child fire, uninhibited and frenzied. He smacked his lips and shook, full of hot blood and furious funk.Moths stood along his shoulders and on his face. They told him secrets and he was dancing. He was dancing the secrets out of himself and into the air. His hair shone gold and lagoon green as he twirled around a flickering crown of shadow moths.
There are things you can say that act like switches, pressing down on air with hard words pushed off with slick movement. People never knew quite how much the planet was listening to them. Hulk spoke softly to the planet in his dreams, a natural communication that had been there since he was a child. He was an informant for the Earth. Hulk felt the pangs of nature as he walked past beautiful iterations of life in forest and graveyards and even just walking past gardens. The planet had given him a gift of understanding which he treasured in an unconscious capacity. The forest spirits ran through his blood and body, their sap and saliva invigorating him.
The prince and the Smonons had found a dreamy little woods area after wandering through the town and decided to spend the night there. They had brought all their supplies with them in clever storage bags that used confusing but brilliant Smonon technology to decrease the weight of their load, conveniently. They laid out blankets in a fairly hidden clearing and lit themselves a bonfire. They roasted smulps over the fire and it was then that Rat revealed to the gang all the chocolate bars he had cheekily shoplifted earlier in the day. Smep told him off and sulked, but everyone else just thought it was funny and tucked in. She soon came round and ate two and a half stolen chocolate bars herself.
Everyone was pretty tired from all of their travelling and all of their discoveries so it didn’t take them long to fall asleep in the woods, after they’d extinguished their bonfire. The prince, however, stayed up for a little while longer. There was so much in this world. She couldn’t bear to sleep just yet. She went for a walk around the woods, her shining eyes reflecting the dull moonlight just a little, so she could see everything with just a tinge of red. She skipped over twigs and crunched leaves and smiled liked a child discovering video games for the first time. The leaves were one of her favourite things. She loved the sound they made when she made them crumble into tiny pieces underneath her to become woodland stardust. She knew the bugs back on Phobos would like that. And they smelled nice too. As she strolled along she was stung by a stinging nettle, and scratched by some stubborn thorns. Disgruntled, she thought maybe she should return to camp before she collected more tiny injuries, but before she made for the sleeping quarters, she gathered some tiny berries from some nearby bushes, and put them inside the little pouch that the Smonons had given her. Maybe she could try some for breakfast, or just as a snack. She was keen on learning about the wildlife and the wild foods on this strange planet. The berries jostled beside her as she walked back to the rest point.
In the morning, Lilly visited Hulk. He said he’d woken up early because he’d had a scary dream, and had spent hours already planning some activities and workshops that the mums could do together, and some other general ideas. He made Lilly a strawberry milkshake, and they sat down to watch television while they chatted. They weren’t talking for long before the news came on, and a newsreader said:
“The president has declared children aged seven to ten bad and dangerous, and advises leaving them outside bakeries.”
This caught their attention, and they watched in horror as ash hands’ spooky visage floated on to the screen and said just that. He said that children aged seven to ten developed the worst colds and ruined the most furniture, statistically, and that they should be denied ice cream and ignored in favour of long-running TV soaps and teleshopping. His advisor, Dean Gaffney, stood beside him and reiterated his points with science. He said that one study had found an average of 80% more chairs per household would be broken when that household had a member who was aged between seven and ten, compared to those with children who were older or younger. Hulk’s mouth hung open and a big vein was pulsating on his forehead. He smashed his fists on the table dramatically and swore. Lilly sipped her strawberry milkshake morosely.
On their patrol that day they saw so many crying, red-faced children that hulk had to buy a box of man-sized tissues. He walked around with a six foot tissue dangling from his nostrils, having brief flashbacks to that one time he had been a runway model. Almost all of his moisture was leeched from his body through his tear ducts, so in addition to the tissues, he had to carry a bottle of water with him and he had to visit a toilet frequently.
They gave the children some sweets and toys and told them as much as possible that everything ash hands and Dean Gaffney had said about them was untrue. This was getting increasingly out of hand. Hulk punched a man fully in the face for spitting at a little eight year old girl and sent him flying across the road like a rag doll. The surrounding children cheered and began to dance around Hulk in a circle. At least they were still chirpy in the face of adversity. Hulk did feel quite validated having a bunch of children dancing around him. He felt like such a dad. As they strolled through the town, collecting sad children, Lilly and Hulk felt like pied pipers as a string of children formed behind them. They were getting a bit out of their depth.
Dean Gaffney and ash hands sat together in ash hands’ office, imbibing whiskey and choosing from a plate of sausage rolls. They could almost feel sadness coming off the rejected sausage rolls, so desperate to be chosen by such powerful, mean men as food.
“So,” said ash hands, his ghostly presence leaking into the air as he spoke, “here’s to being rich, adored, and evil.”
The two men clinked their glasses and cackled. They had become quite used to their little escapades. Hanging around in children’s play areas with an abundance of rum and glittering jewellery. Investing in bizarre stocks and shares after imbibing said rum. Plaiting each other’s hair and making daisy chains. Dean Gaffney had never before met anyone who understood his love of Basshunter as much as the crumbly old politician he poured spirits into on the regular, and with whom he shared a hatred of small and innocent birds.
Within a week, Jimmy, Commander Cool, Splem, and Rat had founded a grain mill and bought a lovely cottage on the outskirts of town. Humans wouldn’t hear of the story very often, but when they did, they were flabbergasted, and wondered how they did it. They explained it away with ideas of mysterious alien technology, or even psychic abilities, but the truth is that the Smonons were just better than them. The four were happy to settle down on this wild planet just for its little chocolate eggs with toys inside. Meanwhile, Kindi and the prince, whilst very much respecting the grain mill and everything, were much more focused on being mischievous and creative, and doing a lot of exploring. They had developed a close bond, and decided to start a life as a performance art duo, haunting the trendy spots in town and using the prince’s ability to manipulate water to astonish people. The awed looks on humans’ faces were so rewarding. The prince and all of the Smonons felt pretty at home. Of course, some people were jealous of them, but most people seemed to idly admire them, so it was mostly cool.
Kindi and the prince were off exploring, the prince casually bringing droplets of water up from the river as they walked alongside it, and then letting the droplets fall back into the water, sending ripples across the surface. She thought the clearness and clarity of the water here was beautiful. Not any prettier or uglier than the salmon-pink water from the Phobos caves, but lovely in its own way. Like all the colours at once, bouncing into one clear stream.
The milk palace on the milky planet quivered in restless anticipation as the cousins of the king and queen announced the exciting news to the public. The Venusians in the cream streets were chattering like One Direction fans at a surprise single release and even their skin seemed to glow a little brighter, a little deeper, in all the various shades of blue, from people with baby blue skin that almost looked as if it had been left in a window to fade, to those with the darkest, deepest navys.
The baby’s powers would be on their way to full development by now. The prince was grown. From the change in light and consistency of surface on Phobos, which was carefully monitored by royal telescopes, the people of Venus could deduce that the prince had left her birth moon. This was proud news for the king and queen, joyous at the first news of their daughter’s successful growth. Citizens across the planet were pleased to hear reassurance that the prince was doing well.
Kindi and the prince bought five baguettes and sat down by the fountain to eat them with salmon and cream cheese. Some sad children watched them jealously from across the road. They were sitting in a group with two older people who were wearing matching bandanas. One was a small lady wearing a pastel blue jumpsuit and two jumpers of the same colour, and the other was a slightly scary looking man in yellow spandex. He had his arms crossed and even his peroxide blond hair gave off a feeling of anger. They both wore little red bandanas around their heads. Perhaps they were scout leaders or something.
A little boy started wailing terribly, so Kindi and the prince rushed over to offer him some of their tasty food. He stopped crying and sniffed as he ate, and the blue jumpsuit person smiled at them. It transpired that the little boy’s parents used to give him baguettes for breakfast every Tuesday, until the prime minister said that children his age were uncool and damaging and that they didn’t deserve nice stuff like baguettes, so his parents had stopped letting him eat baguettes, and that had made him very sad. The person in the blue jumpsuit was called Lilly, and the person in the yellow spandex was called Hulk Hogan. They thanked Kindi and the prince for their kindness and told them of their patrol duo, and why all of the children looked so sad. They did their best to explain the political situation, given that the alien teens were very new to the entire planet, let alone the country, and the small town itself.
♡▽ Dear diary, ▽♡
Today I met a space princess. Except she’s a prince. That’s what she’s called where she’s from. She didn’t where she’s actually from, but she was born on a moon, in somewhere that should be dark but isn’t. She said she was born where red and blue meet. She was a baby of colours. A baby from a place that land meets water too. Her eyes sparkled, but people always say that. Her whole body sparkled, her whole person. Like shooting stars are inside her, trying to get out, ready to fight. She said her home is every moon. I wonder if she’s scared. She looks like she’s totally sure, but everything is strange to her. I guess her emotions aren’t visible. I can’t look through her.
The moons gathered in the high court, just a cool place to kick back in the black sky, and listen to some East 17. Dereck smiled at Theresa. Theresa smiled at Dereck. Obviously moons don’t have mouths, but they know when they are smiling at each other. Some small moons whirled around prettily and some of the bigger moons watched and blew kisses at them. Moons were basically really supportive of each other. There were moons with big craters and moons that were fairly craterless. There were tiny moons and huge, looming moons floating about trying not to bash into anymoon. Any type of moon you can think of was there. The moons stood in circles and laughed at each other’s jokes. The moons discussed their favourite things, such as Playstations, forget-me-nots, and Jaffa cakes. Most moons have a great respect for Brian Eno, and these moons were no different. They were pretty mysterious in their interactions with non-moons, but together they were just… moons.
The purpose of their meeting was to discuss their complicated and confusing (to fleshy creatures, at least) plans for the future of the universe. This was obviously a tough subject due to the fact that their plans often had to be incredibly intricate in order to enact proper harmony and destiny and all of that, but it was just what the moons did, so they didn’t mind. Not that moons exactly “mind” anything. They’re kind of like balls of ambient music (which is why they like Brian Eno so much). They just kind of do stuff, and oversee stuff, and smile at each other. Not that moons aren’t complicated, but their “emotions” aren’t really like people’s. They’re just fundamentally different from us, really, in a way that’s too big too understand. Like trying to look at the whole world from the inside of it. We can’t do that. Well, perhaps Brian Eno can.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle. The beetle explained some radical social politics to the bird. The bird cried a little. The beetle cried a little. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
The Venusian king and queen were excited that their little baby really existed somewhere in the world. A wonderful mystery. She would now be quite grown up, and they yearned to see her for the first time. It’s tough being a Venusian ruler and having a child, because you don’t get to even see them born. Technically it was possible that their child didn’t exist, or that it had died.They didn’t know anything, and they were scared, but excited. They had prepared themselves for every possible outcome. They’d had years to learn to accept whatever might be, however unpleasant. That was just how it was on Venus, so it wasn’t as bad as it might seem. They were pretty okay, and while they were eager to see their daughter and give her all the stinging love that was brimming inside them and overflowing through their wet eyes of ruby red, just like hers, they had used all their time without her to be incredibly helpful monarchs, and to paint pretty watercolours of landscapes and stuff. The king was an expert antiques dealer, while the queen was a bit of a daredevil, having done a lot of freefalling off mountains. She always said she found it therapeutic. The king felt ill every time she mentioned it.
Years ago they had sent their gametes off into space together using a peculiar organic device embedded in their reproductive systems, and there on Phobos, the martian moon which was the traditional birth place for royal children, the royal baby would be born and live until some time in its teenage years. All Venusian children were born away from their parents in this fashion, but many civilians’ children would return to Venus at younger ages. Venusians had many intuitive natural designs buried within their beautiful blue bodies, and one such device allowed Venusian children to be safely transported home with no need for outside transportation. This was instrumental in ensuring that every child returned to the planet.
The bond between parent and child was said to be a kind of chemically controlled feeling that would be released in the children as they grew naturally, meaning that even the children who were apart from their parents the longest would still feel a close bond with their parents. The Venusians were very much explorers, adventurers, and brave creatives by natural design. Sure, there were those with their psychological and social obstacles, like any creatures, but in general they were a very capable and impressive race.
At the beginning of time, berries were made as a gift to nothing. Everything came after, children born in sticky pods of red. Mutations unravelled, torn apart in strands like cotton wool, and there the world was, thick with life in all its components. Trees and crocodiles and baby boys unfurled from sacks of greasy paper blood and dust and acted out power and bliss and desperation, each emotion clinging to their hairs like bats to the spine of a cave. Sickness and selflessness kissed in the dark, in old bathrooms and new hospitals, creaking with history and buzzing with bright light. Babes wept and fought in fire, cheeks dappled with ash, legs dripping salt shame deep into the flesh. Clicks and taps grew big and found names for themselves amongst the rubble of creation, slinking inside the little gaps, damp and cosy.
Howling mornings woke the burning creatures scattered across grooves and points, across rock and dirt and gas. Light shifted their membranes and their mewling, infant words crept nervously around corners, curious and fearful. The creatures stirred like croutons in soup, circling newness, ready to trap it inside themselves. They grew, a mould on a moment, fussing and jumping and clinging to each other, consuming and birthing and screaming endlessly, caught in a process of consumption and expansion.
Kindi was appalled by the country’s political turmoil, and went to sleep very grumpy indeed, dreaming of fire and trivial arguments. The prince had developed a habit of not sleeping much. She seemed no worse for wear for it, so used the extra time to either do a lot of thinking, or some silly activity that made her happy. The two of them were staying at Hulk Hogan’s house for the night, so she sat at his kitchen table with a mug of tea and a crumpet, and watched the road outside through the window. She saw the moon in the sky and a dull pang came into her chest. She wondered about home. Her real, true home, where her family were, and all the others like her. She didn’t know anything about her home, not even where it was, but she felt an undeniable pull towards it. She had to go back and be a real prince one day, and she didn’t know the first thing about how.
Venusians had no names. They referred to each other using relational and occupational descriptive factors, and sometimes nicknames. The queen often called the king “puppy” because he was quite excitable and cute, for example. Since they weren’t around to be spoken to as babies, no-one needed to worry about any names for a long time, and by then the babies who were no longer babies had developed so much of themselves that the idea of giving them names seemed simple and weird. The Venusian children knew what they were and who they were, and described themselves as such without needing names. Of course, names would be used in various relationships to express affection or understanding towards each other, but it wasn’t something deemed necessary. The Venusians were happy to simply be, in all their multitudes and experiences and complexities. They were more than names. Having no name was like having a thousand names.
Frames of black caped plant guardians with wild flaxen hair stood dripping at every wall buried inside the forest. Ants crawled up and down the brush strokes to their destinations and the frames gathered dust and soil. Caterpillars and buttercups visited the pictures from time to time, paying tribute to the worn out old artefacts by placing tiny twigs and stems underneath them. They admired the great mysteries, knowing these pictures showed the gatherer of time, the princess of stars, the watcher of the trees. Soft, plump berries were placed at her painted feet, shrouded in darkness, and left to be absorbed into the ground. This went against everything caterpillars, or indeed any insect, believed in, but they knew it was important. They felt it inside themselves. Spindly-legged spiders would come, individually, from far away, to place tiny fruit pieces underneath the paintings. They bowed before them, often reciting sweet, childlike poems.
Feelings of natural joy were said to pour from the pictures into visiting bugs. Some said they felt as if they were smelling new books, or the old clothes of someone they loved. Something, anyway, grew warm inside them, and they knew the paintings were a vessel for some force of feeling - from the sweet plant guardian that rested inside all of them.
Lilly rose to see a sweet local bird she knew fluttering past her in the garden. It landed next to a little beetle on the ground and Lilly listened to its’ cute chirping as she winced and yawned in the cosy morning sun. She skipped a few metres down the road and sat at the edge of the pavement, touching the ground lightly and waking up slowly. A mum she knew waved to her from across the road and she waved back and gave a hearty smile. Her hair pooled in front of her face like a big bag of hay, sticking out at strange angles and basically looking like a limp bush. She didn’t mind though. She was having that nice sleepy feeling that happens sometimes when you wake up and just feel kind of good and dreamily alive. That feeling was quickly shattered as she noticed ash hands approaching out of the corner of her eye. She scrambled to her feet, trying not to look at his ghostly face or his grey hands, and turned on her heels to walk away. As she did this, he sped up, grinning with his tombstone teeth fully disclosed, and closed in on her. She tried to speed up to a power walk but it was too late. She felt his hands grasp the dungaree straps on her back, trapping her. He giggled like a dying fox and started tickling her sinisterly. She couldn’t stop herself from laughing and convulsing and began to cry at the discomfort of the situation. At that moment Lilly felt a splash hit her face, but it wasn’t her tears.
Hulk Hogan, Kindi, and the prince were pelting down the road, the prince leading them and holding one arm out in front of her with her flat palm vertical in the air. Spikes of pink liquid hovered in the air in front of her as she ran. It was one of these that had hit Lilly’s cheek. Ash hands let go of her dungaree straps as several of the water spikes hurtled towards him, hitting him in the eyes and the temples. He cried out and swore several times, clutching his eyes and stumbling backwards. Before long he decided to run off in the opposite direction, flailing a bit but ultimately successfully escaping. He vowed to punish the girl who threw water at him. No-one noticed the little flakes coming off his face and hands and floating to the ground as he ran.
“Are you okay, poor sweet little baby?” asked the prince with a frown.
“I’m fine.” Lilly replied, sweeping dust from her back and wiping water from her cheek.
“Oh, sorry” said the prince, spotting this, “I’ll take that back.”
The water floated in droplets from Lilly’s cheek, and everywhere else it had ended up, back into the prince’s crystalline outfit.
“I didn’t mean to get you wet. Only that ghastly man.”
Lilly assured her it was fine. At least he was gone now. The prince squinted angrily, while Hulk growled, and Kindi checked Lilly over and gave her a little cake she had in her bag.
“What a rotter!” she muttered.
Ash hands burst into his office in a rage and poured himself a whisky. The cheek of that little blue girl was making him very angry indeed. He sat down in his chair and tried to calm down. He was not about to allow her, or any other strangely coloured teenagers, to get the better of him. He scratched his face and found his greyed skin coming away a little under his fingernails.
He plonked his whiskey down on the desk and pulled an extendable mirror from the wall to inspect his haunting visage more closely. It seemed strangely flaky and he wondered if he should arrange an appointment with a dermatologist.
The four friends popped back into Lilly’s house to sit down. They had come to collect before they were all to head out on patrol together. Hulk had given Kindi and the prince two extra headbands. It would be helpful to have a few more hands around, especially with all the sad seven to ten year olds. After her encounter with ash hands, however, Lilly really didn’t feel up to patrolling. She was a bit disappointed with herself at first, but Hulk reassured her that it was fine to look after herself, and that it was very important to do so. Lilly watched them leave, a bit sad, and then arranged all her paints in a little circle on the table, and gathered her water and paintbrushes and paper. She was going to paint lots of little people today to cheer her up.
Lilly was prone to napping at the most energetic of times, and by two in the afternoon she had entered a deep snooze. Her arms were folded in front of her on the circular dining table, with her elbows nudging tubes of paint and half of one sleeve covered in red acrylic. Her head was squashed against her arms and she was dreaming of her forest again.
Hummingbirds flew from tree to tree, and this time there was no fog, and no darkness. The forest was thick and lush green, and the sun shone in stripes through the foliage. Lilly wandered along the path in the pastel blue dungarees she was also wearing outside of the dream, and her hair in cartoonish bunches. She looked a bit too candy cane cute for the rich and earthy forest. As she walked along she almost tripped on a huge branch lying across the path, but just managed to stay upright. After almost tripping, she spotted a slightly odd piece of light sort of protruding from a little gap in the trees. She stooped to get through the gap, pushing small branches and things out of her way to proceed along the sub-path, and after a while of carefully traversing this path she found a small clearing in the trees, with a big tree stump to one side. And there was someone sitting on it. A slightly glowing person, with large brown hair that looked like waves. He looked like he had taken all of the fog from her spooky forest dream from before, and swallowed it. He had bright golden eyes and a beard she knew instantly was responsible for many deaths. She wondered if he had previously been a tree.
It quickly dawned on Lilly that the glowing boy must be a ghost. He didn’t speak, but she knew things as if he was saying them to her. She knew that he was an avid fan of Men Without Hats, which was a great thing to know, and an endearing fact. It wasn’t really like talking, but it wasn’t really not like talking either. The glowing ghost boy seemed unable to speak, but able to communicate in small and mysterious ways telepathically. Lilly wasn’t sure why he’d chosen to reveal his penchant for Men Without Hats instead of something like his name, but she figured, in typical dream logic, that maybe the answer to that query would come later.
The Smonons were doing well for themselves at the grain mill, and Commander Cool had bought himself an old Game Boy and become addicted to Yoshi’s Island. The others could hardly tear him away from it to go to work. Jimmy and Splem were feeling more and more homesick as the days went past, but they weren’t ready to go anywhere yet. Not now that they had a firmly established business on Earth. Rat loved millin’ the grain, and worked himself tirelessly to the bone, often even long after the others had gone to sleep of an evening.
Kindi found herself stumbling into a morose sense of longing. Like Hulk, she felt a duty to do something, to change the fate of the unfortunate victims of the president’s cruel jibes and decrees. The prince, on the other hand, was filled with a strong anger. A determinism surged through her and she knew she could weaponise it, given the right opportunity. She knew she was a relative baby and needed to keep her cool, though. She was not someone to do something reckless. She would continue helping Hulk and his team the best she could, but at the back of her mind remained a spark. There was something, somewhere, that could change things. She didn’t know where to find it or what it was, but she knew it was there.
The patrol spent the day pretty much babysitting again, the prince intermittently making water dance around the children, which they responded to with glee until they accidentally got a little bit splashed, at which point they would generally cry, and the prince would decide to put the water away for a while. She liked playing with the children. All of them reminded her of herself, and she found their curiosity and relentless playfulness inspiring. She hoped becoming an adult wouldn’t steal her playfulness away from her.
Venusians tended to maintain a playfulness and sense of joy long into their lives. Wild curiosity dictated much of the Venusian economy, with doctors and spirit-players and smiths of all kinds coming into existence through their own endless passion for the practice they chose. Venusian upbringing certainly encouraged a state of endless childhood, as children were forced to be responsible but allowed to explore indefinitely the things that other creatures’ children ended up having to divert their attentions from. Venus was wild and free, and possessed more encyclopedias than anywhere else in the universe. If you wanted to read a description of the noise a confused frog made if it found it’s brother yodelling, you could probably find one in a Venusian encyclopedia.
Dean Gaffney listened to ash hands’ story about having water splashed on him, but he was barely listening. He didn’t really care, and he was busy thinking about alphabetti spaghetti. He thought he might get lots of it to eat soon. He was reminiscing about his childhood, when he ate lots of it and spelled out rude words on his plate, like “shuttlecock” and “tittle”. His grandparents were always shocked and appalled when he did that, but they couldn’t bring themselves to tell him off after he’d gone to all the trouble of making them a lovely juice from local berries he’d found in the woods. Ultimately, they thought he was a lovely boy, and didn’t deserve the trouble. Dean took advantage of this to swap his bedtime with his grandparents’. They would go to bed at 7:30 and he would stay up until 11:00 watching cartoons and thinking of clever insults to hurl at the local children.
The prince had forgotten about the berries she’d gathered from the woods days ago, but late one night she remembered them, and used her time spent out of bed to inspect them. She nibbled one, and found it tasted sweet, like cider and toffee almost. A minute or two later she began to cry. She had no idea why, and crying was a very rare occurrence for her, so it was very strange, and rather disorientating. She cried deeply and in spurts - intermittent like a washing machine. She nibbled another berry and found, shortly, that she was filled with the desire to dance. This overtook her crying entirely, and she spent half an hour doing the tango with herself in Hulk’s kitchen. She tried another berry and her head was filled with a great urge to drive around a roundabout. She didn’t even really know what roundabouts were, but she was desperate to find one and drive around it.
After a while she felt less and less enthused about driving around a roundabout and eventually the urge wore off. After all of that, the prince had a headache, and needed to lie down and have a nap.
Lilly had become something of a recluse since the incident with ash hands and had covered her walls in paintings of bugs to watch over her. She was painting a ladybug and telling herself it was okay to be scared. It was okay to be scared, but she knew she couldn’t stay scared forever. Just like the insects she was painting, she was pretty small and able to rapidly escape from many situations. She had found that out when a young man with a bad moustache tried to tell her all about how his favourite cartoon about ponies was really very philosophical and secretly anarchist in thematic nature. She had buzzed off like a concerned bee with places to go and flowers to pollinate. Goodbye to anarchist themes explained and extracted from a cutesy television show about ponies who like apples and colours. Goodbye to solemn head-shaking judgements of easy pop music by people who think frivolity is beneath them. Hello to buzzing bees that love Basshunter.
Some of the seven to ten year olds started hanging around at the support groups for mums and some of the mums became, well, like mums to them. Naturally, the mums wanted to support the poor children, maligned just like them, but at so young while they were so cute and prone to dramatic and frequent crying. No one wanted that. Since their real parents were gullible and unfair losers, the children were glad to have some lovely new sometimes-mothers to help them and play with them and everything.
The prince showed Hulk Hogan and Kindi her confusing berry collection, giving them demonstrations of some of the berries’ strange effects so they could get the idea. She ate one berry and started imitating Hulk, crafting some water into the shape of his odd little beard, and huffing angrily. Kindi laughed while Hulk watched with a raised eyebrow. She ate another berry and began skillfully throwing darts, to Hulk’s great concern, as his DFS sofa became her target. She ate a third berry, which caused her to recite the greek alphabet and make hooting noises.
“These berries are incredible!” she said gleefully, suppressing a hoot.
“Yeah…” said Kindi, her eyes popping out of her upper membrane. Hulk was holding his head and looking at his sofa with an expression of sorrow. The prince frowned.
“Oh wow,” she whispered, “sorry about that, Hulk. Really sorry.” Hulk shot her a hurt look, and she bit her lip.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and sang “Beauty and a Beat” by Justin Bieber. The beetle was very surprised, and when the bird finished, clapped with all of its legs. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Sometimes the moons allowed time to overlap. Sometimes it was just necessary to make things happen the way they needed to. Obviously it was very confusing for people, so most of the time they just didn’t notice, but those who looked closely could find something that had already happened happening again. Occasionally things would be stumbled upon. The moons tried to minimise this as much as possible for an easier life so they could get off work early and go home to watch Emmerdale, but there were limits to what they could do, and sometimes they just had to let realities and timelines cross. They weren’t too bothered.
“BLUE FOLKS ARE EVIL” read the headline on the front of The Daily Spit. Other newspapers’ headlines included “‘I DON’T EVEN EAT BLUE M&M’S’ SAYS PRIME MINISTER” and “BLUE SKIN CAUSED BY STEALING SKY”. Hulk gulped as the three of them passed a newsagent, copping an eyeful of the day’s headlines. That explained why that man had growled at them a minute ago. Kindi grabbed a paper and read it out:
“The prime minister has revealed a shocking attack orchestrated by a blue-skinned alien today. Tearfully, he told of a water-bombing which took place last Thursday as he was visiting a local neighbourhood. He warns the public to keep away from any blue humanoids that might appear, as he describes them as being “volatile” and “vicious”. The culprit is as yet unidentified, but police would like to contact her.”
The prince grew pale as the colour drained from her face and the shopkeeper shooed them away from his shop.
“Get lost you creepy freaks!” he shouted angrily, fanning them away with his arms. The prince held a bemused expression for quite some time, and the three of them said nothing, aside from Hulk swearing delicately. Kindi held the prince’s hand, and anger slowly bubbled in all of them as if they were a trio of hot springs.
The tiny mushrooms sat crying around a set of pebbles.
“Don’t kiss the leaves.” They chanted in tiny fungal voices, their round heads bobbing and nodding in the shivering breeze.
Toadstool type mushrooms were agents of tiny heartbreaks. They collected mini sorrows and stored them all in the creamy white spots on their heads, until they were full up. After that they’d cry and cry, and form support groups in damp woodland areas. Often they’d be eaten by insects or squirrels, and whatever creature that had eaten them would find itself suddenly oddly sad, having absorbed the collected sorrow of the mushrooms. Many creatures heard rumours and stories of this phenomenon, but few really believed it. Often, creatures heard it in dreams, or when dark coloured moths whispered it in their ears at night, but still it retained its reputation as pure superstition amongst the little creatures of the woods, until they found themselves, individually, sad and softly weeping after eating toadstools for dinner.
Lilly heard the news and rushed out to find the patrollers. She hoped nothing awful had happened to them. They must be in some danger now, she thought. She bounded through the streets and found them sitting on the pavement in a backstreet, fairly lost for words.
“Oh thank God!” Lilly cried, walking towards them and panting.
“I heard the news. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
She collapsed onto the prince’s shoulder after trying to rest her hand there and feeling weak.
“Don’t worry about me.” The prince said sternly. Her ruby eyes glinted and Lilly was sure she remembered something, but she couldn’t think what it could be. Lilly squeezed the prince’s hand, and wondered how brave she really was. The prince’s twinkling eyes stared off into the distance.
On Earth, moons were vaguely known to be spectral entities of some sort. Selections of people believed that the Earth’s moon had feelings or ideas or knowledge inside it, or something like that, which was variously accepted and dismissed amongst the population. Moons were said to be surveyors, watchers of time and space. Some skeptics called it superstitious nonsense, but some believed in the idea vehemently, while others weren’t necessarily sure of their opinion, but thought the idea romantic.
♡▽ Dear diary, ▽♡
The moon is so big in the sky, I bet it could eat the whole planet. The moon could open up its big white jaws and swallow the sky. I hope the moon isn’t feeling too hungry at the moment. It’s so pretty and filled with darkness. I wonder what it feels like to walk across the moon’s dusted surface with bare feet. I wonder if the moon ever feels sad. I hope the moon knows I think about it at night.
That night Lilly found herself in the dream forest once again. She ran through hurriedly, like there was something to find there. The sky was a dark and beautiful blue. It was clear but she couldn’t see much. She pushed through the trees incautiously and passing twigs scratched her face. She quickly reached the little clearing with the big tree stump and slumped onto it like a rag doll. She watched the peaceful moonlight above and played with her hair. A glowing light started to flicker in front of her, startling her. It was the glowing ghost boy. He flickered fully into existence and blinked. His hair was smoothed and his lips were a little too pink for a ghost. She smiled. He was reflecting the moon. And he spoke, for the first time. His speaking was littered with peculiar idioms and he spoke with the softness of a cheek brush (the kind of brush for applying blush). There was something sunny about his voice, and he seemed perpetually excited, but subtly, not feverishly. That wouldn’t have done for a ghost, to be feverishly excited. Not many ghosts are like that for long.
He told lots of elaborate winding stories, bristling and grinning, but when Lilly woke up she struggled to remember them. She supposed that maybe it wasn’t the details of the story that were important, but the details of Ghost himself (she had decided on calling him Ghost in light of his lack of name, and the fact that he was a ghost, because she wasn’t feeling particularly imaginative immediately on waking up).
Hours later, Ghost lingered in her mind as she planted 5000 strawberries into a pie and popped it into the oven. She was not good at pie making but she was very interested in distracting herself from political problems via vast quantities of fruit and sugar. Ghosts, of course, couldn't eat pies, but she thought maybe her ghost friend could skewer pie pieces on his prickly beard hairs as decoration. For a Halloween costume he could be exploded pie. He wasn't the kind of ghost you couldn't touch, so covering him in pie was very feasible, yet possibly disgusting.
The prince’s blood spilled onto white carpet. She had cut herself on the sharp edge of a tin. She turned, completely unresponsive to the cut, and made the blood float upwards in the air until it hovered in front of her eyes She walked around it, turning her head, inspecting the hovering droplets and dancing with them. She would always perform this little ritual. She liked to say goodbye to her blood, to send it off, to play with it. It was a saccharine moment between her and her floating blood. Of course, if she bled heavily, she could, in theory, reroute the blood back into her body. She didn’t realise quite what an incredible defence that was.
The prince was laying low, as she found that not many people were tolerant of those lambasted in the news, especially blue alien girls. This clearly just showed that people in this country were deeply unfashionable, but that wasn't really much consolation. Hulk was teaching her to French plait her hair, and Kindi was giggling watching them, and she was also nibbling on a bag of strawberry laces, which she found extremely delicious. She suggested to the prince that she could wear a disguise, but this soon seemed silly as obviously blue skin is somewhat hard to disguise realistically, and wearing an outlandish costume every day to pretend your skin isn't REALLY blue is quite exhausting, and not for those who aren't desperate for as much attention as possible.
Kindi's skin was beige, but it wasn't a human sort of beige. You couldn't look that human with scales all over you anyway, but she was the beige of a komodo dragon. She was beige like translucent old folks' home wallpaper. She and all the Smonons almost looked floral. They were lightly speckled and a little rock-like. Kindi admired the prince's hair, but she liked her own scaly head just as much. The prince was a watery jewel, and Kindi was a desert mound. Both beautiful, and both every different. Humans could be put somewhere between them. 70% water, but too much rock to stay in rivers for too long. Squishy like water, but like sands building up in a stream.
Hulk was a soft pebble drifting along the shore, lifting little pebbles out to float off to the ocean.
The moons would tell you, if they could, that dumb things happened to you for a reason. It sounded like a cop-out, but moons figured out some very complicated equations to find the exact causality required to make every necessary event happen. That’s why you have to make horrible mistakes and get really stupid, tiny things wrong all the time. That’s why you spill your tea, and are very unhelpful at certain times, and in certain ways. It’s all so you can be someone in the future. Someone with something important in the future. Moons are all about future.
Jimmy and Commander Cool and Splem and Rat had closed the mill for the day after hearing the news, and turned up at Hulk’s place with cookies and anger. Even the cookies tasted somehow angry, and they seemed to fill everyone who ate them with a strong sense of justice. Of course, with nothing to direct that at, it just made them feel restless. Hulk went into overdrive, and had to go off into town to check on the seven to ten year olds and the mums and anyone else who might need him. He found Lilly by the fountain, blinking heavily and carrying many fruits. She wore a woolly hat and looked childlike, the bobble from her hat bobbing up and down in the light rain like a pixie advisor.
She was acting more dreamily than usual lately. Hulk even thought that she looked paler, and more translucent, like water, but that didn’t make any sense, so he shook off the idea. He greeted her happily whilst simultaneously sticking his foot out to trip a passing runner who had just rudely jostled someone. The runner thudded into the ground with a cry, and the person who he had jostled stifled a laugh and shot a pleased glance at Hulk, who nodded in return. Lilly and Hulk moved off from the scene, Lilly gripping her thick jumper with both hands either side, and blowing her cheeks up with air, like many of the seven to ten year old scrabbling past them in the street. It was getting cold, so she had taken to pretending she was a blanket. It was a form of method acting, or method heating, and it seemed to work a little bit. Hulk was seemingly immune to winter, and keenly wore his spandex in heavy rain without wincing or otherwise expressing any obvious discomfort. He was rarely cold at all. The fire in his heart seemed to heat him enough. Lilly was jealous of this, but was at least fond of wearing her woolly hat, and as many jumpers as she could put on at once. That created an odd look, but it felt good.
Rat and Commander Cool were, quite typically, of the mind that they should punish ash hands for his nonsense. Kindi pointed out that, while they would all love to see the man get his comeuppance, it was just slightly naive to think that they could really attack the president without some serious consequences.
“The man’s in control of everyone’s perception here.” She said.
“If we do the slightest thing to get on his nerves, it’s easy for him to make our lives very difficult.”
The people on this watery planet had taken to them quickly, and accepted them, relatively well, but they could just as easily start to hate them, which wouldn’t be ideal or conducive to a successful and fun space journey for the Smonons. Rat and Cool conceded that retaliating against ash hands would not be an easy thing to do, and maybe wouldn’t be a smart thing to do either. Commander Cool was looking very tense, and he apologized to the prince for being unhelpful.
Little birds chirped outdoors as the bravely faced the new winter winds. Sun streamed in through the window in a long trapezium, hitting the prince on the face and lighting it up so it looked like a pale bit of sky. The light refracted from her eye like a scrambled laser, and red patterns danced on the walls as she moved, briefly interrupted with each blink. The dusty air danced unpleasantly into her nose and mouth and she licked her lips.
“Maybe this means I’ve been indoors too long” she wondered.
Her head felt dusty too. She figured she’d go out for a stroll and see if the fresh air didn’t help. She felt increasingly begrudging as people she passed on the street or along mossy paths, or anywhere, frequently shot her that knowing, judging look, like they were trying to drain her with their eyes, or sniggered at her. Sometimes they would shove her, or try to provoke her into some altercation or other, but she was good at ignoring them and walking on, in what she hoped was an intimidating way. Some clearly feared her glistening ruby eyes, ghostly as they took no notice of antagonistic passers by. She squeezed berries between her fingers as she walked, as a calming exercise, and made the juice circle around her fingers - a mini fountain of red. She knew the berries well enough now, and all their different effects, so when a young man reached out to grab her arm as she walked along the path towards thicker woods, she threw her swirling berry juice into his eyes and mouth. He cried out and staggered backwards, the juice stinging his eyes. He stumbled on twigs and foliage on the ground, and fell gently onto his backside. The juice made him weak, and within seconds he was completely asleep. He’d be fine, if confused, when he woke up, and the prince would be long gone. She smirked at his sleeping body, ribs rising and falling like the tide. She felt powerful and full of youthful energy and icy air. The trees watched as the prince hopped over branches and patches of plantlife, filled with bouncing vigour.
Ash hands was regaling his office lackeys with the tale of the time he stole half a mini roll from the hands of a small and defenceless young girl, and each lackey was chuckling into his own cocktail and shuffling his feet like a drunk and slightly nervous dad at a One Direction concert. The ghostly president was having one of his fun meetings. The meetings where everyone laughed at his jokes about immigrants and strange uses for gourds.
The lackeys in dull grey suits laughed nasally at made-up stories about palm trees and Miley Cyrus and Nicolas Cage feeding feta to a hammerhead shark, and complimented each other on their garish ties. Some went in the face after a wine or two, while some remained white as sheets in their inebriation. They looked like pieces of paper who'd found a wardrobe of wrinkly grey suits and started a gang based around collecting paperclips and wring binders and inflated egos inversely proportional to how dull their suits were. Their shirts never seemed to be quite white, but almost-white that makes someone looking at it feel internally musty. The boys in suits rustled under their shirts. They were literally crumpled pieces of paper with sheared hair.
The prince returned home, tired but satisfied. She felt calm anger swirl inside of her and felt the peace of knowing herself, and even knowing this planet, this new and strange planet which she had little real knowledge of, still. She knew it. Like her thoughts of family and her true home, she knew this planet instinctively somewhere inside her, even though there was much she hadn't experienced directly. She still had berry juice swirling around her fingertips, so she found a jar to put it in for the time being, making sure to label it so Hulk didn’t accidentally send himself to sleep.
Rat and Cool had chilled out a bit by now and all the Smonons were having a drink together with Hulk and Lilly in the lounge. The prince joined them, saying nothing of her encounters out during the day. She helped her self to a glass of cherry coke and watched the window as the sky became dark. The moon was big and round in the sky, and shining brightly through the window. She smiled at it, remembering Phobos. Before long, the teenagers were playing spin the bottle. Hulk and Lilly did join in, on the understanding that were not going to be touching anything apart from the good book, Great Footie Moments IV by Gary Lineker. They were a bit embarrassed by the idea and suggested the alternative activity of listening to Radio 4, which would probably have a delightful new play on, or perhaps the shipping forecast. The alien teenagers might’ve been interested if they understood what either of those things were. Cherry coke had affected the Smonons quite strongly, so they were very much pushing the spin the bottle idea. At the first spin, the bottle pointed at Commander Cool and at little Jimmy. Jimmy looked very bashful, but welcomed Commander Cool as he approached, sunglasses cocked, and gently caressed Jimmy’s afero with his own. The other Smonon’s made gasping, whooping, and cheering noises variously. Hulk, Lilly, and the prince weren’t sure what was taking place. As the three of them weren’t mad on cherry coke, they soon made excuses to leave, and went off together to watch a documentary about hedgehogs. The prince had never seen a hedgehog before, so she found it a particularly incredible documentary.
It turned out that some hedgehogologist or other had found a mysterious mutated family of hedgehogs on an expedition of a woodland cavern. This was a source of great intrigue for him and a group of his scientist friends, and most of the documentary was spent examining the ins and out of this strange hedgehog mutation case. They never quite figured out what had caused the mutations in the hedgehog family, but the prince noticed something in the film. At one point they talked about the hedgehogs’ diet and they said it was nothing unusual, just insects, berries, mushrooms, slugs, etc. But they showed some berries from the habitat of these hedgehogs, and the prince knew the shape and size and colour of those berries and their bushes. The prince very much recognised those berries.
Dean Gaffney was out in the chilly breeze, and would’ve been very sour about that fact if he hadn’t prepared a berry mix earlier that made him feel deep warmth resonating from within him. He felt like a wonderful log fire, and relished this feeling even more as he watched people skip past him, hunched over and clutching their scarves and coats, desperate for as much tiny warmth as they could retain, while he stood tall with his neck free to the rushing wind. A few twelve year olds shuffled past, eyeing him with confusion. Dean nodded at them, and they looked away, embarrassed.
He strolled along, and was pleased to find many people recognised him and greeted him with a joyful smile. He was so happy to be famous and adored, and of course, incredibly rich. Everyone thought he was such a cutie. His grinning face was on every new edition bottle of Seguro and everyone loved it.
Lilly was having a very spiritual moment. She was feeling very energetic and had dressed like a mouse in the morning, with two little buns on her head to act like mouse ears, and a drawn on nose and whiskers. She was making a shrine to her own existence on the wall. By the time midday came, she had covered the place in leaves and feathers and confusing, scribbly drawings. There were also some pictures of paintings depicting Greek gods and goddesses, framed by wreaths of ivy and glitter glue.
She wanted to feel special and safe within herself, hence the creation of this gargantuan exercise in self-celebration. She knew she was a lack-lustre protagonist, if even a real protagonist at all. She sat down to admire her work, and feelings of self-doubt began to creep into her mind like slimy tendrils of sadness. Hulk was the tough guy helping everyone out, the Smonons were the cheery group of friends who could offer loyalty and encouragement, and the prince was mysterious, cool, and smart. Lilly didn't know what she was, other than a helpless baby who tried, but never made much of a positive impact on anything. She knew she had to do something, but she didn't know what. She sat, grumpy and confused, in the middle of the floor. Her eyes wandered over the self-celebration she'd made for herself, and she couldn't help but feel lost in all these ideas of who she was.
The forest and the desert met for an evening to stare coyishly at each other. The forest was afraid it would be snapped in two by the desert’s rough sand, but the sand all together was smooth and airy. Both were excited, and wind rushed across them as they tumbled into the sky together. The forest was cautious, but the desert was reckless and filled with eager blood. They came together quickly and slowly at once. Landscapes of waves. The forest blushed and the desert grinned. The moon watched, glowing.
The moon could tell you a spooky thing about Earth. The moon knows the fundamental law of people. Existing people can be personifications, representations of some sweet element. People are people, but also they are history, repeated and repeated. Like words and trees and buildings, people constructed as repetition. The endless playing out of fate. The moon laughed at people all day, but also respected them and all their peculiarities and trivial problems. The moon looked after them, but had to laugh at them.
The wind howled and the prince knew she had been playing kid games on Earth thus far. There had been too many comments, to her and others, and too much hurt caused. Of course it was hard for native people to see, because it was their system, it was what was there. They had nothing to show them how bad and ridiculous all of these stupid things were. Everything the president said was total nonsense, and people accepted it or ignored it because it was what they had to do. They had no way of knowing anything else. But the prince wasn't from this place. She knew she had power. She could change things. She could escape. She could do anything. The universe was open to her. She was a baby, but a baby who could go anywhere and do anything. The Smonons had brought her here, and had been great friends, but now they seemed so settled on Earth, the prince was her own supreme master. She pondered this and smirked just a little as her possibilities became bigger and bigger in front of her. She sipped fennel tea and tapped her fingers against the table absentmindedly.
Ash hands was sleeping in a delicate slumber, when the water from his toilet started drifting up from the bowl. It travelled across the room and crawled into locks one by one until the house was fully open. In the darkness, two small girls crept on tiny toes towards him. One placed a bag of something on the floor, and gently crushed it under her foot several times. She did this with a series of successive bags, until she had none left, and then liquid began to seep out of them, into the air. All of the liquid bundled together, and slowly approached ash hands’ sleeping face, quivering a little as it travelled. The small girls in darkness watched as the juice drifted little by little into his mouth. Drop by drop. He squirmed slightly in response to the liquid's intrusion, but never awoke. The girls looked at each other, eyes gleaming with determination. One set of eyes shining ruby red and reflecting little red speckles neatly and lightly across the room, and the other a deep, forest green, with a touch of gold in the centre.
The boy spoke again in non-voice riddle. He was a day creature turned night. Strange and unusual in the darkness, but at home in his forest. Insects and birds fluttered and squirmed audibly in the silence of the dream-woods. The boy's legs rested against damp wood and his person seeped into all the consciousness of the dream. He was inside her like a figure of omnipresence. A ghost who fully took up all the space of consciousness he could. He spoke in great fuzz, and nothing meant anything, but everything meant everything. Bigger than imagination and reality in combination, he sat and smiled and fuzzed like an old TV set, or a phone with a waning signal. He was at once the past, the present, and future. Lilly recognised him in a way she had never recognised anything. It was like he was a different world. She felt as if he was in a real world somewhere, holding a piece of paper, and that she was on that piece of paper, somehow. The fuzzy young ghost seemed more peachy and beige and filled with sun the more she dreamt him. Less like a white and glowing ghost, and darker under moonlight and between trees. He was drifting into different forms and it was confusing. There was a smell on him that she couldn’t place. He started speaking in great, sweeping arm gestures and his cheeks were lit like pastries in the sun. Lilly woke and clutched herself as if she could spontaneously fall apart. She kept her eyes shut tight and breathed in that smell she was sure she knew.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle. The two of them did the cha cha slide. The beetle soon fell over, and was forced to stop. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
As ash hands awoke he felt a strange fog in his head. Gripping his skull in his flaky hands, he forced himself upright. His long and fluffy dressing gown with embroidered puppies on the lapel dusted the floor as he walked to his wardrobe. He opened his sprawling wardrobe to pick out one of several grey suits, and caught a glimpse of himself in the full length mirror which faced him as the doors pulled open. He squealed like a pig watching Crimewatch as he saw his face, now a deep blue, spotted with freckles of lighter blue. He pressed at his face with blued hands and contorted in disgust. He was a sapphire monster.
Lilly and the prince chuckled quietly like like little birds whispering at night at the top of the hill. They breathed softly, nervous and relieved at what they had done. The prince had brought a different kind of berry juice for them to celebrate with. She made it hover in the air in front of their faces and they lapped at it like cats. After a few minutes of talking, they started to feel giddy and blissful. They raced each other rolling down the hill, and collapsed, laughing, in a heap at the bottom. They high fived as the early morning dew soaked into their clothes.
Hulk was making eggs for breakfast. He eyed Lilly and the prince suspiciously when they tumbled into the kitchen, looking tired and somewhat dishevelled. Hulk was surprised the prince was even capable of looking dishevelled. Both of them seemed a bit paler than usual. Both were very keen on getting some scrambled egg inside them. Lilly no longer felt so lost as she had two days before. As she threw orange juice voraciously into her mouth, she had a hazy memory of her dreams of late, and smiled just a little bit as her head paddled in the dim forest. She recalled the sensation of mashing the prince's berries into liquid mush. It felt like power. The sensation of solid becoming liquid beneath you. She was sure that feeling was familiar. It was a pleasing sort of visceral, like smelling lavender or stroking leaves. Like plaiting someone else's hair into yours. In the next few days, Lilly had vivid dreams about berries. Ripe and firm and falling great distances from high places. Floating along streams and colliding with rocks. Berries filled her mind and she saw them torn apart again and again. Sometimes she was doing it herself, crushing them with her teeth or her fingers, tasting the juice and watching it stain her skin with sticky pink. She felt almost like a mashed berry herself, torn apart and reconstituted. That was close to her philosophy.
"Remake yourself and be the best person it's possible to be!" She always thought to herself, when she was feeling particularly alive and filled with blood.
The berries had become a strange salvation and a relentless symbol inside her. They haunted her, almost. She didn't feel lost any more, but she felt simple, and determined, and full of floral dreams. The boy from her dreams returned and held thousands of berries in his arms like children. They cooed over them together in the forest, while chirping and chattering filled the space around them. His cheeks were filled with rosy berries, and they fell from his hair and from his trouser pockets. Lilly was filled with joy and fruity sweetness.
The prince gave a mirthful laugh as shocking news footage showed the president bashfully cantering into his office building in an embarrassed attempt to escape the press and hide his newly blue self. The press were extremely confused and alarmed that the president had become a blue person, given that he himself had declared blue skin to be a sign of untrustworthiness and general bad-egg qualities. They realised now, of course, that he must have simply said all of this out of a secret self-hatred and shame for his true self. They weren't sure by what incredible feat he must have covered up his natural skin, but the two newsreaders were intently discussing several fascinating theories, whilst trying gingerly to achieve the correct tone between excitement and moroseness. Hulk spat his coffee across the room in an impressive show of dolphin-like projection, prompting a cheeky grin from the prince. Hulk stared incredulously in return.
"Well," exclaimed the prince, "we must be related!"
Hulk pissed himself.
Shortly after that, Lilly came round to shoot knowing looks at the prince and get in on some terrible jokes and puns on the subject with everyone. They ordered a pizza and invited all the mums round for a nice get-together and all night loud cackling would emanate from Hulk's house as if it was a witches' coven. Hulk didn't mind that idea one bit because he thought witches were way cool and that anyone who thought otherwise was a no-good dweeb. Everyone filled their faces with pizza and laughed until they cried. The prince had a permanent grin on her face.
In the street, people gossiped endlessly about the new blue fate of the president. Many seven to ten year olds had painted themselves blue, with the help of their mums, and some mums who were not their mums. Blue faces bobbed in the cold air, and blue flakes littered the ground from where face paint had quickly fallen off. The prince jogged happily through the streets with the blue-faced people around her. It had snowed heavily that morning, and the lost facepaint had stained the snow a beautiful royal blue. The prince watched children throwing snowballs at each other and marvelled at the beauty of the blue layered on top of everything she could see. The prince scooped up blue snow in her hands and pelted it a nearby child, who swiftly returned the favour. They leapt about, laughing and panting, slipping clumsily in the snow as they tried to hit each other with increasingly flimsy snowballs. Passing children and adults alike joined in and soon the street was a cacophony of snowballs whomping people on the back and slapping them on the cheek.
“So icy stuff comes down from the sky and people throw it at each other and get angry at it because it makes them slip over and is really uncomfortable to touch?” Splem asked, fascinated.
“Yep.” Replied Hulk.
The Smonons were gathered around the dinner table, poking and prodding a sizeable lump of snow that Splem had brought in to examine. Hulk had to try very hard not to laugh.
Ash hands cursed at his office boys and everyone around him as he caught them staring at him, or trying not to. He was having about five hundred meetings today to discuss the situation. Everyone was very concerned. He looked over the day’s front pages angrily, spluttering and fussing and crumpling the paper violently. His trousers wrinkled as if they themselves were angry. In his seventeenth meeting, his advisors and officials expressed great concern for his well being and advised him to take a break. His teeth ground against each other. He knew there was nothing he could say to change their minds. They saw him as unfit now that he was blue. Now that the truth was out, he would have to resign. Dean Gaffney pushed his face into an expression of regret and sympathy, but on the inside he was grinning. If ash hands was out of the picture, he could put himself forward for president. Everyone loved him, after all. He patted his friend sorrowfully on the back as he walked past and left for the snowy world outside.
At the press conference, ash hands stood shakily in front of the six microphones before him and explained to the press that he was having a difficult time.
“It has come to light to you that I have not been what I appeared to be. I apologise for the confusion that has occurred as a result of this, and I’d like to announce that as of today I will no longer be the president.” He coughed, and continued.
“There will be a new election to determine the person who is to replace my position as president next Friday. Once again I am sorry for all-”
Ash hands felt a liquid fog fill his head and chest. His purpose was done. He was no longer all he wished to be. He exhaled with a difficult huff and blinked, feeling an eyelash slip and fall from his lid. Grey dust piled up on the floor. The cameras flashed and flashed. The sounds and lights faded into each other. Magnified voices drifted into one strange buzz. Ash tumbled from the non-presidents face and hands, and out of the arms and legs of his suit. His entire body disintegrated quickly into a large pile of tumbling grey on the floor, with a slight blue tinge. Voices chattered and flashes lit up rapidly as the ashes of ash hands tumbled into a still position. His death ended the press conference abruptly.
"Nah" said Rat.
"Can't see that being true."
He folded the paper in half and sent it hurling across the room. He was always very skeptical. Of everything. Everything was a lie to him. That was how he lead his life. The rest of the Smonons mostly ignored, but sometimes his skeptical nature could come in very handy. He ended up being right about a lot of political issues. But soon enough it became clear that the news must be true. No more ash hands. Everyone was pleased enough, but Hulk wondered aloud who would be taking the now actual ghost's place. They could be in store for a president even more crumbling and grumpy. He pushed his bandana dramatically to a jaunty position and logged on to Reddit in search of informed and reliable opinions on the subject. He spent all day on his computer and the aliens felt a bit uncomfortable, apart from Splem who had started a livejournal account ages back and was well used to pounding out daily diary entries and having intense political arguments in communities dedicated to cute pictures of baby alpacas. The rest of them did their best to ignore Hulk's incessant typing and intermittent derisive grunting. At one point they drowned out the disturbing sounds of his internet use by playing Grimes loudly. Splem had also gained a great sense for Earth music during her time spent on the internet, and had introduced everyone to Grimes, who they vastly appreciated, and would, from now on, always associate with trying to ignore the IRL sounds of online debate.
Dean Gaffney's face was all over the news yet again, glistening from TV screens and front pages like dewy leaves in the rain. It had transpired that he was a candidate for the presidential election, running alongside a caterpillar and a can of value cider. The can of cider was doing well in the popularity polls, garnering great support from workers and many people who were fond of liquids. The can of cider wasn't just a delicious alcoholic drink, but also made thoughtful appeals regarding funds for schools and hospitals, as well as the de-privatisation of the train companies, and it put forward a policy on fluffy jumper handouts for the needy and unfashionable. Dean Gaffney eyed the can of cider with jealous distaste, and vowed to defeat it. Dean had a lot going for him too, of course. There had been a sprawling interview in one of the broadsheets in which they showcased his lovely custom-made staff made from the blood of elves, sealed with an ancient wizard's spell. That was bound to attract voters. Dean wasn't worried. He was too alluring and perfect to worry. He was bound to win.
Lilly was unsure who to vote for. On one hand, the caterpillar was very cute, although it didn’t have much to say, politically, but couldn’t that be trumped by an adorable stripy pattern? Lilly pondered this thoughtfully for a while. She did feel an affinity with insects. On the other hand, the can of cider was very compelling, and seemed both incredibly sincere and mouth-wateringly tasty. Its’ policy promise concerning helping the needy and unfashionable with a supply of beautiful fuzzy jumpers seemed very sweet and exactly the sort of thing you’d want from a president. However, Dean Gaffney didn’t seem too bad either. He looked shiny, like a benevolent dentist. He looked like the sort of person who listens exclusively to songs by Lighthouse Family. She frowned in utter indecision, and ruffled her hair in frustration. She still had time to decide, at least. Secretly, she was still really drawn to the caterpillar.
The prince found that her blue skin was never truly accepted, but she was at least relieved to find a severe lessening of harshness in the judgement from strangers since ash hands' surprising and sudden death. People had after all liked ash hands, so his death had been the source of much unwarranted sympathy, which, whilst disturbing in its own right, at least allowed for something of an easier time for the prince. She felt she could be more mischievous, which, for a young and regal alien teen on a dense and still-strange planet, was very welcome.
Lilly was thinking about Lighthouse Family and how soft and soothing and lovely they were. A pinnacle of 90s lounge-esque music. Their songs were like listening to the world. She scrambled for her diary and wrote a rambling entry on the benefits of a Lighthouse Family influenced lifestyle.
♡▽ Dear diary, ▽♡
Lighthouse Family make me sway like a warm summer leaf in a happy cloud of soft jazz and inspirational self-help websites from 1998. How sweet it must be to feel the benefits of Ocean Drive sifting through your bones on a daily basis and to know that they direct your life like you are a shiny and cool car being being driven by Tunde himself (the great singer of Lighthouse Family) and you feel like you are crawling so happily on a twig towards a big piece of cake an dwow I love LighthoUSe Family!!!!!! x x x I feel so inspired like I am melting into my bed
She was voting caterpillar. Everything compelled her to vote caterpillar. The caterpillar evoked the same feelings as Lighthouse Family did to her, somehow, instinctively. She had tried to reason out her vote, but in the end she had to go with her gut. She fell asleep listening to relaxing Lighthouse Family tunes, and after a little slow motion jumping through her dream forest, she found her tanned ghost friend and they swayed like warm summer leaves through the trees in parallel as the music flowed through the dreamscape as a gentle river, and the dream-sun shone through the branches and onto their glitching, transcendent non-bodies. The boy’s undulating hands grasped at foliage and brought dirt and leaves and berries together in a messy meeting of dirt and life. Both of them gradually slowed in movement until they melted onto the musty ground, a foot apart and clammy in the dirt.
The caterpillar, unsurprisingly, didn’t do so well when it came to the vote. Many people were flat out disgusted by bugs, while others were put off by the caterpillar’s utter lack of policy. There were some who charmed by its’ cute patterning and the sweet way it moved across, and ate a leaf, but there weren’t enough of these people to make a huge impact on the election’s outcome. The can of cider did very well. People all across the country were enthralled and impressed with the can’s golden glow, as well its’ undeniably sensible policy promises. The announced winner and new president, however, was Dean Gaffney. He bowed luridly, taking the opportunity to flip his hair sensually at the audience. The press sighed in unison, and some swooned, as they snapped five thousand and seventy six photos of their new president and his beautiful teeth. Dean grinned like an excited horse. He thanked his voters and promised everyone in the country would soon be eating Twixes and wearing swanky lab coats.
Soon after the election of Dean Gaffney, it transpired that everyone would not be eating Twixes and wearing swanky lab coats any time soon after all. During the following week, president Dean outlawed Italo disco, various dance moves, and feeding biscuits to cats. Lilly was deeply disappointed. Italo disco was her favourite. The caterpillar never would have outlawed Italo disco. She folded her arms grumpily after an hour of searching for Belgian disco synth. It was risky, but technically not Italo disco, so she was only skirting the line of illegality. It just wasn’t quite the same though. She shed a tear for her blissful memories of Giorgio Moroder.
Those weren’t the only thing president Dean outlawed though. Soon it was illegal to eat chocolate and to use an umbrella. Almost everyone became much more wet and grumpy. It was terrible. When the prince and the Smonons had discovered chocolate, they had fully tried their best to replace their legs with chocolate legs. This was a terrible idea, and Hulk eventually managed to stop them via several bribes of metre length chocolate bars, but they were pretty ruthless about it. The group were appalled that such a thing could have happened, and so were most people that they spoke to about it, but some seemed convinced that the shiny new president must simply be looking out for everyone’s health. The teens were not convinced. Splem looked for chocolate recipes online, egged on by the others. Lilly almost killed a man after not having had chocolate for seven days. Hulk tried to calm her down with breathing exercises but stopped after she started to rapidly exhale steam, which condensed upon him disgustingly and scarily. Without chocolate, Lilly became tense and solid like a rock filled with rage and sapped of dopamine. Hulk sensed it would be wise to be very cautious and understanding. He also felt jittery and rock-like, but he was well used to coping with unexpected stress and disappointment by punching things and having circular debates about oppression online. Just that morning he had slammed someone harshly with tough words and a font to burn the eyes out of their sockets in response to their assertion that critical race theory was “dumb baby nonsense”. Hulk didn’t take that sort of flagrant ignorance lightly, and had used lots of sassy response images taken from medieval paintings. Lilly exorcised most of her intense angst via delicate paintings and taking time to carefully reconfigure her thoughts and surroundings with pleasant textures and sweet colours, but coping with the lack of chocolate was proving to be quite a struggle. As Hulk and Lilly and all the alien teens roamed the streets that day, they noticed that there was a mumbling sound occupying the air. Almost everyone was mourning the loss of chocolate, aside from fringe groups who appeared at the worst times, when you turned corners and when you weren’t expecting annoying chocolate-haters to pop up in your face. Quite a lot of those people were ruthlessly punched in the face, due to high-running emotions. No one was feeling very courteous to those who tried to justify the lack of chocolate that everyone was suffering through, so those people got painfully attacked. That still didn’t stop them, however, and they lingered across town like stale vomit, much to everyone’s displeasure.
Dean Gaffney was cackling to himself in his office and scoffing a deliciously illegal and massive chocolate bar with an evil grin the size of Salford. All day he had marvelled at the way people were quietly suffering in the face of the chocolate ban. They were so upset and mad, but hardly any of them felt okay about saying much about it. They all moaned to their closest friends but largely accepted it as the status quo. People believed quickly and easily that the ban was for their benefit, but it wasn’t. Dean was just doing whatever he wanted as a social experiment. A test of people’s ability to accept unpleasant stuff. And the answer was that that ability was kinda strong. He was wearing people down like an old pair of jeans and they were metaphorically spilling out in strands to cover vast sections of exposed leg flesh, instead of buying new jeans. Or something.
On Venus, there was a meal every day just for eating chocolate. Typical of the fancy Venusians, who cared deeply about enjoyment as an important thing to concentrate on in daily life and in general. Traditionally, sometime after brunch, they would pour melted chocolate into a mini goblet, lay some solid chocolate on a saucer next to it, give a sweet and small toast to the importance and beauty of enjoying the heck out of yourself, and then promptly stuff their face with all of the chocolate, hopefully not getting it all over themselves in the process. This was something that could be done in solitary or as a group meal. Both had their benefits and were very pleasant. The Venusians would have been appalled to learn of Dean Gaffney’s terrible introduction of laws, and would have most likely killed him swiftly with a comically oversized axe, whilst crumping, and blasting grime tunes loudly through his bursting body as it fell unceremoniously to the floor.
Lilly had fashioned a weapon out of an old hairclip embossed with a terrible drawing of a long forgotten teen sensation with a now embarrassing haircut, as she had been feeling increasingly violent as time went on. She kept it in a quickly removable heart-shaped case, just to be as twee as possible, and placed this in her pocket for safe-keeping, hoping she wouldn’t have to stab someone with it, but knowing at least that if she did, she would get to chuckle at the old teen heartthrob again. That would be a bonus.
Hulk was sharpening his kitchen knives whilst Rat and Jimmy sat at the dining table exploring a packet of strangely flavoured jelly beans with a mixture of disgust and pleasure. The prince and the other Smonons were watching day-time TV, some of them softly weeping at the realness of what they were seeing. They had never seen television so intense before, so it was a bit much.
The moons were not exactly responsible for things, so it was foolish to blame them for any pain or suffering. They were working to strict schedules and deadlines and they had to file loads of reports all the time. Sometimes it was overwhelming for little moons new to the training, but they got the hang of it soon enough. Sometimes you can feel terrible for seemingly no reason at all, but any moon would tell you that means you’ve got something to figure out. A puzzle to solve to understand yourself and progress to the next level of you. Some people aren’t good at puzzles, though, and some people just get stuck on a level. The moons try to put you in the right place but sometimes you have to take the wheel yourself to get somewhere. This is often the stage at which people get angry at moons (if they are aware of the moons’ work, that is). It was unfortunate that it couldn’t be explained, or that people couldn’t have been better guided, but that wasn’t the fault of the moons. They are beautiful and caring night guardians and they do their best every day and night. Big ones and small ones and medium ones all the same, floating serenely in the sky like massive buoyant guardian angels with cute craters.
Lilly had always admired the moon and stared up at it now, gleaming in the night and trickling glow light in through the bedroom window to dance upon her sheets. She kneeled on the bed with her elbows resting on the cold windowsill and watched the still moon, full of love. She found that looking up at the moon helped to dissipate her chocolateless anguish some, and she was extremely grateful for that. After staring up at it for a while, she grew tired and curled up in her blankets to go to sleep, the moonlight resting like a puddle across her arm and back. She slowly drifted into glowing dream.
The dream boy hummed like a radiator or other electrical appliance and Lil watched his arms and legs and face extend and shrink under rippling moonlight as if he was constantly entering and exiting a pool. She had become used to the various contortions of his body along with the rest of the dreamscape, including herself. At first it had seemed spooky, but now it just seemed natural. His fingers widened and narrowed as if he was manipulating a sliding control on a character creator bar in a game. He pulled a crumpled wad of paper and began reading a document Lilly soon recognised as her age old philosophical dissertation on plastic bags.
“We think of plastic bags as ugly environmental hazards,” he read, in a floaty but sincere voice, “and whilst that is an important concern, I’d also like to point to the perhaps strange idea of them as artefacts of beauty.”
He smiled as he continued.
“Everything can be ugly because we made it, and it can cause harm in the world, but a plastic bag can be as much an expression of humanity as any purposeful object. A plastic bag can, of course, billow in the wind, romantically and prettily. A plastic bag can also carry your favourite things, or just your shopping. They can be a reminder of a certain thing or an expression of someone’s existence in much the same way as any item. I think it is important to remember that many things deemed precious can be categorised in the same way as a plastic bag. Sentimentality can come to be applied to anything, so it’s clear that plastic bags have the potential to become sentimental, and that is an example of only one type of beauty.”
He stopped reading, and smiled simply at the paper. He sounded like milk spilling out from a jar. He sounded like a sinking stone. He was beautiful, Lilly thought. A bright, peachy, human moss in the air. He let the paper fall from his hands. Instinctively, Lilly reached for them, but they disintegrated into waves of light as she touched where they had been a second ago. She touched the boy’s hand with three fingertips as she grasped for the now-gone paper, and he was warm. It was like dipping her fingers into a cup of still-warm tea. Then she realised she was so cold. She tried to curl bendy tree branches around her to warm her, hopping up and down gently and letting her teeth chatter as she scrambled for warmth. The boy reached around her with warm pillow arms and body, mumbling milk. She shuddered involuntarily as the visceral sense from feeling the texture of his clothes and his arm and the small hairs on his arm was too much for a dream. Too much, too real, too great. Teen blood buzzed through her dream body like a confused bee and she almost, almost remembered something. Flashes of moonlight and dew drops and intersecting goosebumps appeared and disappeared before they could be processed. Flashes of hot, turning planets, of soaked capes, and crowns of leaves. All sense seemed to have dissipated and Lilly closed her eyes and saw nothing. A soaring feeling lingered.
“Who’s this boy?”
The prince squinted at a small painting on the table. It was made in dry, thick brush strokes, and showed a spooky-looking boy full of milky shades of white, surrounded by dark earthy greens and browns. His skin was soft peach and his dark hair sloped across his face and outwards in floaty curves. There were lots of paintings depicting this character among the pink and blue paintings of cute children or tiny people with flowers all around them.
“Ah,” Said Lilly, dreamily, “he’s from my dream.”
The prince lifted her eyebrows.
“He’s always there. Almost every dream I have now.”
Lily dusted the table absentmindedly with a cloth while she thought. She furrowed her brow and twisted her neck slightly in the way that an inquisitive child will often do.
“They’re strange, the dreams, they just… they just feel…”
She tailed off and stood there unmoving for a moment.
“Well, they feel very real.” She concluded, stuck for words to adequately convey the senses of her dreams.
“Hmm.” Said the prince, taking advantage of the opportunity to use her favourite communicative non-word sound.
The prince didn’t know what to think of this revelation, and so decided to leave the subject alone for now. She complained for a while about the new president, frustrated that they had got rid of one awful president only to pave the way for an even worse one.
“I guess the same trick wouldn’t work again.” Said Lilly.
“That’s a shame.” Said the prince.
People were mostly fine with blue skin now, when they saw it. They still made weird and misinformed comments of an exotifying nature frequently, but at least there was less eyebrow-raising and smirking on a daily basis now.
In the solitary part of the woods, somewhere on the edge of town, Dean Gaffney liked to visit the bushes alone to think and reflect. Mostly he used this time to think about how great he was, and to think up dastardly ideas. He was feeling incredibly proud and smug about having finally reached his ultimate goal of becoming the country’s leader. Everything up to this point had rested on building and maintaining his admirable reputation, but now that he was the president, it didn’t matter much what people thought of him. He could do almost anything. He could regulate the public in exactly the ways he wanted. The entire country now existed only to please him. He relished the thought, and remembered fondly the sting of hitting those brambles that day, so long ago. The brambles that would come to utterly change his life, and the lives of every single person across the country.
“Gaffer” as some friends had called him, had been a great fruit enthusiast ever since he found those strange berries in the woods. He started going back often to find more, and soon found there were berries with different effects, each more fascinating than the last. He found berries which made him write for days, which he used gleefully to rush through his homework. The first time, he ended up writing ten surplus essays about bats. As a result, he came to have a slight grudge against bats as he was mistaken for a bat enthusiast and received bat-themed presents every Christmas and birthday for three years. The berries often had strange and unusual consequences like that, but every time it was worth it. He still had his collection of bat figurines, buried in a box somewhere.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and asked if there was a plug socket nearby which it could use to plug in its hairdryer.
“Don’t be silly.” Said the beetle, fully aware that the bird had no hairdryer, and moreover, no hair to dry. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
In the centre of the tattered ruins the king stood, looking forlornly at the intricate staff and cumbersome painting that made up his daughter’s shrine. Venusians often kept shrines for their children. Special places they could visit to think about them and express their care and love and worry about their far away babies. On an altar below the painting, and behind the staff, stood a simple crown. Three golden points, the highest in the middle, with a beautiful ruby at the centre, the same colour as the prince and her parents’ eyes. The king’s eyes became wet with tears as he looked at the crown sitting there, awaiting her return. The king and queen wore more ornate crowns, but they shared a nostalgia for the crown awaiting the prince, as they remembered returning home themselves to find the same crown waiting for them, long ago when they themselves were lithe and jumpy young creatures.
The prince had gotten a job in the local newsagent and could be seen early in the morning, hopping through frosty gardens, delivering terrible newspapers to people with faulty letterboxes and confusing garden paths. She was good at leaping over unexpected dogs and appeasing people who felt they’d gotten up too early to feel remotely human or act remotely nice, which were both important skills in paper delivery. As well as this, she also stacked shelves with packets of crisps and the like, and took great personal pride in affixing jazzy special offer notices to items. The shopkeeper was a mirthful sort who was glad to have such a jolly and buoyant figure around, lest he collapse under his own mirth whilst selling a hollow non-chocolate egg to a customer.
The moons of mars were having a long talk. Both of them missed and worried about the prince. Phobos thought of itself as like a godparent of the prince. It had taken care of her for seventeen years and understandably felt plenty of responsibility towards the safety of the young prince. Deimos reassured Phobos.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine.” It said
“She is a prince! And a smart one at that.”
Phobos smiled weakly, sure Deimos was right, but worried nevertheless. It was odd not having the prince around, running around and catching bugs in the craters and caverns. It was tough to let go of a baby who’d been on your back for so long, eating and playing and growing fast. Deimos directed a soothing gaze at Phobos, and together the moons drifted, as usual.
Dean “gaffer tape” Gaffney was busy stapling dolls heads together and cackling whilst anime played in the background. As the metal pierced the dolls’ squishy heads he mused on his power. A small, rat-like man rushed in through the office door and apologetically placed a series of painfully colourful alcopops on the desk one by one. Dean grinned at the petite bottles with long necks embossed with fruity promises, and flicked the man’s arm as thanks. He squealed a little and rushed off. Dean popped the lid off the first bottle, a gruesome bright green offering claiming to channel the taste of tree sap and eggs. The liquid glugged lazily as he poured it into his throat in one, staining his tongue and esophagus the colour of a pre-teen swamp. He licked his lips and hummed. Not bad. The next drink contained a liquid the red of postboxes and London buses on a bright and possibly bloody day. This one was the flavour of fire and carbon. Dean Gaffney drank this one a little slower. It was delectable.
Hulk’s stagnant peacefulness had risen out of him completely, a ghost floating off to a hippie commune somewhere to wear kaftans and roll around. He was filled with an almost comical rage and had taken up wrestling to weaponise and use that rage. Since he had been a spandex-wearer for a while now, he easily looked the part already. His first few matches were easily won, mostly because they were against tiny boys in large white shorts, who bounced joyfully around the ring until Hulk poked them in the toe and they had to lie down for two and a half days and listen to lounge music. Hulk took to wrestling incredibly well and developed a very effective strategy involving scaring competitors away with his new and evolving facial hair, which stretched and bended like a Russian gymnast stretching on a taffy puller. The prince watched all of his fights eagerly and loved it when he touched a pale young man with skin like snow very lightly on the chest with the softest part of his arm, causing the man to weep profusely for forty six minutes. That was true power. The prince was impressed and faintly jealous. She took photos of Hulk’s fights with an old flip phone from the year 2005.
The prince had studied 2005 in depth one night on the internet and had been pleased and impressed to discover lots of strange historical facts, many of them involving portable phones. She had spent six hours learning about different types and models of flip phones and had then impulsively bought three of them from an online auction site. She bought them all from the same person, a mysterious user known only as “doghugger12”. She had been carrying her favourite of the three around with her ever since, and took great pleasure in recording moments with the phone’s grainy inbuilt camera.
Hulk’s fights evoked a great nostalgia and homesickness in the Smonons, as it reminded them of the Smon tradition of uncle fights. Uncle fights were events that happened on the national day of uncle fighting, where uncles would dress themselves in strange fabrics and colours, and limply attack each other, with the winner generally getting a bucket of grog and something more comfortable, but also more garish, to wear. It was a celebration of family, and a celebration of silliness, and grog. The more embarrassing your uncle was at uncle fights, the better. Commander Cool remembered the time a few years ago when his uncle had knocked scales of his opponent which ended up landing in a marshmallow factory, and floating in a tank of pink sugar. The factory workers had been surprised to find that the resulting marshmallow batch had a delicious rustic flavour. That had been a fantastic uncle fight. The incident had appeared across the national news and everything. Commander Cool had been impressed with his uncle, and had appreciated him more from then on. Remembering this made him yearn for his home planet, and the others all had comparable tales. They sat together in silent uncle-appreciation, solemnly missing their home planet and their families and friends.
Later that night Kindi was the first to voice their collective homesickness.
“Watching that fight made me so sad.” She said, stirring instant mash in a pan.
“The first year my brother was an uncle, he was still quite young.” She continued, staring at the mash as it folded and mixed.
“He ended up going up against the biggest Smon I’ve ever seen. They guy had arms like tree trunks! And we all thought he was gonna get smashed up into little pieces, y’know, but then he just, kinda, flitted around - all bee like - and this huge guy just went down, no contest!”
Kindi smiled cheekily at the instant mash.
“It was so unexpected. My mum and dad cheered so loud next to me that my face almost broke.”
The others nodded in sympathy.
“I really miss home.” Said Kindi, looking at everyone. She knew they all did too.
Deep down Dean Gaffney still resented the girl who had pushed him into the brambles that day. He had always felt that the world owed him something. He never seemed able to make friends or enjoy himself or be happy for very long. Whatever he tried just didn’t seem to work. He felt very excluded by others. No one seemed to him to be making an effort to include him, so he got frustrated and acted obnoxiously for attention. It was everyone else’s fault that they didn’t take the time to get to know him and to learn about all the cool things he cared about. His parents were always busy working and having arguments about whether to buy full fat or semi skimmed milk, so he was usually staying with his grandparents, who gave him lots of presents and left him alone to do what he wanted, but they didn’t really understand him and all the deep angst whirling around inside him. This angst would only grow as Dean grew older. His teen years were filled with unmatched angst as he tried to attribute his lack of companionship, happiness, and various types of fulfillment, all the while believing deep inside that the reasons for this were embedded in everybody else, not him. He was a simple and normal boy who couldn’t catch a break. He resented everyone around him, and grew up with that resentment shaping his shuffling dedication to trying to meet his needs without other people. Luckily for him, his by then very-much-regulated acquisition of a great supply of berries (and the replenishment thereof) would assist him massively in this task.
As the winter grew colder and harsher, Lilly spent more and more time roaming the woods, drawn to the trees because of her dreams. It was a little eerie being in the woods awake, with no warping details and no glowing, seeping sky. It wasn’t like being inside her dreams, but it was comforting, and the closest she could get to her dreams without being in them. She remembered exploring the same woodland area many times as a child, and whilst growing up. She remembered watching the sun filter through the branches at many different heights. She remembered rain tumbling from the leaves above her, raindrops landing hard and cold on the top of her head and on her neck, the worst place to feel a raindrop. She remembered the leaves flaking off in autumn to make great big piles of kickable fun on the ground. Remembering falling on a monumental pile of crunchy leaves as a very small person, Lilly touched the nearest tree trunk with the tip of her nose and stood silently for a moment with her eyes closed. The dream was almost real, and the real was almost a dream.
President Dean Gaffney kept a black and white photo of old ash hands on his desk. They had had fun together, before the ghostly man’s sudden death, and were almost real friends, but really their relationship had been too political to have much stock. Dean took comfort in the thought that ash hands probably would have encouraged this sort of taking advantage of the situation. And besides, the legitimacy of Dean’s friendships hardly mattered anymore, since he could buy any friendship he wanted. He’d always thought that people who claimed “money doesn’t buy happiness” were simplifying the correlation between money and happiness to an insufferable degree. He scratched an itch in his thigh and pondered the possibility of making that phrase illegal.
A few minutes later, Dean was informed by a colleague that a man had been very publicly arrested earlier when his kitten had been discovered by a policeman, licking a biscuit. The man, Dean’s colleague said, was currently in custody.
The man whose kitten had licked a biscuit was a Mr David Fahrenheit. His wife and four year old son were sobbing loudly in the police station, much to the embarrassment of the officer at the front desk, who pretended they weren’t there. After some time, the two of them were ushered into the holding cell corridor, to the cell where Mr Fahrenheit sat with tears and snot streaming down his face. Hearing their footsteps, he turned round, and when he saw who was there he leapt to his feet and clutched at the bars.
“Oh Angela, Sheridan!” He cried tearfully.
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t know the biscuit was there, I promise you, I didn’t see it.”
He sniffed, his eyes welling up again.
“I know, love.” Mrs Fahrenheit said, quietly, softly stroking her husband’s wet face.
“Oh dad!” Cried little Sheridan, concerned and relieved to see his father. An officer unlocked the cell and escorted the now quietly weeping family outside. Mrs Fahrenheit had arranged Mr Fahrenheit’s bail payment. The kitten had been put into the care of a cat-sitter for the time being. Sheridan folded his arms grumpily at this news, muttering “not fair” into his jumper. Mr and Mrs Fahrenheit held each other tightly, each trying not to cry, but absolutely failing. Mrs Fahrenheit had had to sell her favourite pair of bedazzled booty shorts to pay for her husband’s bail. An undeniable tragedy.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle and offered the beetle a bite of the pizza slice it was holding its beak. The plucked tiny pieces of cheese off with its mouth. The bird found this quite endearing, itself ripping huge pieces off the slice and swallowing them whole. The beetle was incredulous at the bird’s devouring ability. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
The Smonons gathered into their patched-up rocket, now carrying a surplus of unwanted beach sand, and started configuring their controls, storage, and journey path. Hulk, Lilly, and the prince watched them rushing around, full of illegal home brew hot chocolate from that morning’s breakfast, and tried to help as best they could. It had seemed sudden, their decision to depart, but it had been a long time coming. It was especially odd and bittersweet for the prince to say goodbye to the group, as without them she never would have ended up on Earth. When she said that, Kindi had stopped stacked packets of crisps to tell her it wasn’t true.
“You’re life’s a mystery, little prince.” She said.
“You could’ve gotten here. You could have gotten anywhere, somehow. That’s in your blood, isn’t it?”
Kindi and the prince’s eyes shone as they looked at each other intensely. The prince took her hand firmly, but tenderly.
“I’ll see you again, Kindi.”
Kindi smiled and didn’t cry, even though a large part of her wanted to create a personal river of tears on the ground.
As Lilly dreamt she re-watched the Smonons as they rose from the forest ground, flying on their own, up and up into the sky until they disappeared. She saw an easel before her, sitting in a muddy puddle and surrounded by paints and brushes. She painted each Smonon in bright colours, savouring every part of them. When she had painted all five of them, she left the brushes in the jar of dirty water and stared serenely at the painting. It began to burn slowly at the edges. She watched, still and silent, as the flames ate the painting. When only ash was left she stayed unmoving until she felt forest boy’s chin rest on her shoulder.
“Ah.” She said, the noise escaping from her lips like a bubble.
Hulk posed posed melodramatically for a series of flip phone photos taken by the prince at home in the kitchen. Her passion for photography had developed quickly, and she tried to take as many pictures as she could when she was working in the shop and doing her paper round. Customers found it unnerving, so she had to tone down her near constant snapping, but whenever she had the opportunity, she’d have her phone out and pointed at something.
Hulk was puckering and stretching like an excitable fish with someone to impress. He enjoyed being the prince’s photographic subject, bending and flexing his muscles and twiddling his moustache. Lilly sat at the table, watching the spectacle of the two them, and was glad to have friends. The television in the next room was blaring news items at them, because they loved to depress themselves as much as possible whenever they could. A newsreader was talking about a man who had been caught feeding biscuits to his kitten in public. It was clear by the newsreader’s tone that she did not approve. She said the kitten was now being looked after in a new, biscuitless home.
Dean had realised, at some point during the berry-fueled research he took on in his youth, that he needed to test the berries’ effects on other people and animals. As it turned, they almost always had the same effect across all tested species. He had purchased a kitten purely for testing purposes, and as a result the kitten lead the most interesting life of any cat in the neighbourhood. Gaining super strength, falling in love with a mouse, growing strawberry lace whiskers, you name it and the cat had done it. Imaginatively named “Paws”, the cat was viewed as an eccentric by all the other cats around town. As Paws had grown up with all sorts of mysterious powers and feeling and happenings, rotating and intensifying all the time, she had become familiar with strangeness at a very young age and had thoroughly embraced it as part of her way of life. She didn’t exactly have much choice in the matter. As soon as other cats laid eyes on her, they could sense the unusualness within her, like an odd smell.
Paws never minded too much. She was liked well enough, after initial meetings. Cats might be a little wary of her, but when they got to know her they tended to appreciate the colour she brought to their lives. Sometimes they just wanted to eat their tuna chunks in peace, and rolled their eyes as she appeared, but mostly they were accepting. Paws was a good spirited cat, and pretty much would go off and shoot lasers from her eyes at stuff, or whatever she could do that week, whenever she felt excluded or harshly judged by others. She was resilient and aloof, and very fluffy.
Dean usually found berries’ effects were more or less the same when he tested them on both himself and his cat, and it was no different with one particular set of berries that at first seemed to do nothing at all. Some berries ostensibly did nothing, so Dean was somewhat disappointed, but well used to it at that point, when the lack of reaction manifested itself in both him and his cat. Or so he thought, until Paws swished past, her tail dancing in the air like a hairy kite, and said, in a plummy, purring voice, “Where’s that food? Where’s that tasty, tasty food?”
Dean rocketed off his chair spectacularly, and came close to banging his head on the ceiling. He picked himself up and turned to look at his cat, who had leapt across the room at the clattering noise and sudden movement and now stood wide-eyed in terror near the door.
“AH! UH! SCARY! THAT WAS VERY SCARY!” Said Paws, in a very jittery and alarmed voice.
“You’re talking.” Said Dean, crouching down to look at her.
“What?” Replied Paws, confused.
“I’m talking?” She continued.
“You’re talking! Why are you talking? Where’s that food?”
Her head darted left as she remembered her prerogative.
“Is it that way?”
Dean stared open mouthed at the cat.
“Paws,” he cried, “we’re talking to each other!”
Paws redirected her gaze towards him.
“We ate these berries, and I thought they weren’t doing anything, but we can understand each other. The berries made us understand each other!”
“Okay,” said Paws, “can you show me the food?”
Her eyes lit up with hope as she was sure Dean would direct her to the food and that then she could eat all the food.
“Sure.” Said Dean, a little exasperated. He walked to the cupboard, with Paws following at his heel, pulled out a pouch of cat food, and emptied it into her food bowl. Paws started to purr like a tractor rolling over hills and fields.
“Lovely, lovely, lovely,” she cried, “oh, I don’t mind talking to you!”
Splem’s mother was busily fastening fruits similar to raspberries to the door frame as a cute and sweet-smelling decoration when she heard a familiar three raps at the door. She froze, instantly recognising the sound. She rushed to the door and opened it to find her daughter standing there, wearing a dented helmet and looking taller and tougher than she’d remembered.
“Splem!” She cried, wrapping her arms around her tall daughter and squeezing tight. She made a lot of noise and cheered and wept.
“Oh my God, Splem, where the heck have you been all this time?! I’ve been so worried!”
She buried her face in Splem’s shoulder blade and the two held each other tight.
“I missed you, mum.” Said Splem, with twinkling eyes.
In Rat, Jimmy, Kindi, and Commander Cool’s houses, similar stories played out, and the scaly teens clutched their scaly parents like cuddly toys after a horror movie, promising never to leave unannounced again. The parents cried and their children cried, happy to be back home, and happy to have learnt appreciation, amongst so many other things, on their journey.
It soon became apparent to Dean that cats were more than they seemed. They had secrets and plots and gangs. They were, quite frankly, dangerous, if they got their own way. He watched them huddle together and squint at him, and listened in sneakily on their conversations. He could understand very cat, but only one cat, his own, could understand him. He made an agreement with Paws to keep their communicative abilities to themselves. Paws agreed to this because she knew from experience how uncomfortable some of her strange temporary abilities could make the other cats. Dean heard a lot of things cats had no idea he was hearing. He heard a lot of derisive insults as he stood near to groups of cats chatting.
“Ugh look at that pasty guy. He won’t give us any milk.”
“Probably wants to stroke us. Loser.”
“Yeah you just go ahead and look, you’ll never have whiskers like mine.”
“People are so annoying, they never wanna tell you where all the food is. Like hello, I’m hungry.”
“...they’re all like ‘no, don’t claw my curtains!’ well excuse me for having scratching needs!”
Dean was aware that he was hearing lots of perspectives and thoughts that most people had no idea were going through cats’ heads. It was interesting enough hearing all of this insightful cat babble, but one day he discovered an incredible piece of information. He was sitting in the garden of a nearby neighbour whilst three cats had a quiet conversation on the grass next to him. One cat was big and grey, with a fat face, one was a small ginger tabby, and the other was a black and white speckled cat who could stretch for miles. They were muttering something about biscuits.
Mr and Mrs Fahrenheit had no idea why such a ridiculous law even existed in the first place, but the point Mr Fahrenheit tried to reiterate was that he didn’t feed the kitten the biscuit in the first place. It was simply an accident that little Kevin had discovered the biscuit there on the ground in the park. Mr Fahrenheit could hardly have known there was going to be a biscuit there. Mrs Fahrenheit was very supportive, and didn’t doubt that her husband was telling the truth. Unfortunately, not everyone else was so understanding. Debates about the incident seemed to be taking place on every channel, weighing up the possible reasons for and causes of such a crime, and running through the likely sentence he would receive on conviction, which was assumed inevitable. Even the presenters on the shopping channels were making glib references to it, shaking their plastic hair in condescending judgement. Mr Fahrenheit tried not to think about it, but he was terrified of what would happen come the time for his trial. What was in his future now? How could he leave his young son, Sheridan behind? What would happen to their poor kitten now?
Dean had been surprised and amused to learn the odd things cats talked about. He hadn’t expected to hear them discussing post-modernism, but he had, on numerous occasions, usually peppered with intermittent opines on fish meat and the endless yearning for fish meat. Truly the most shocking thing to discover, however, had been the relationship between cats and biscuits. It was said that a power rested deep inside every feline, and could be brought out by biscuits. Cats apparently had great trouble getting their paws on enough biscuits to sufficiently release and transform that power, but they firmly believed it was there.
Of course, Dean didn’t believe this religious biscuit nonsense, and shrugged it off as eccentric cat superstition, but just to test it out, he fed Paws some biscuits, crushed up and sprinkled over her wet food, and ten minutes later he saw the unmistakable glint of murderous desire in her eyes as she chanted nonsense in a sing song voice. That was how he obtained the massive scar on his right bum cheek. If he had fed her any more biscuits than he had, he would have probably been unable to escape death. From then on he eyed Paws with great suspicion, and he would never feed a cat a biscuit ever again.
Mr Fahrenheit was sad to have to tell his fluffy haired young son that their kitten would not be coming back. Fortunately, he was only sentenced to six months community service. He was told to expect jail time, but luckily the judge had taken pity on his family. Mr Fahrenheit was so relieved to not have to be away from his son and wife, but knowing they wouldn’t get their kitten back was a blow. Sheridan had permanently folded arms for a week and started listening to Cradle of Filth. The crayon drawings of sad kitten he drew over the coming weeks would end up winning an award at the local church’s fete.
Coincidentally, the prince would end up attending this fete and photographing the child’s drawings. She was touched by them. She could sense the feelings of loss buried within them. She was inspired at that moment to start a blog.
After the result of Mr Fahrenheit’s trial was publicised, everyone become wary of their cats’ actions, and kept biscuits on the highest shelf available, or in the highest cupboard. No-one was going to take any chances, and this way they would be able to eat all of the biscuits themselves, which was a bonus. Cats across the city looked almost as if they had taken on permanent expressions of suspicion. They seemed to be constantly wearing accusatory glares.
Dean Gaffney passed suspicious cats, and every time he did so he looked them in the eyes, knowingly. Cats can be oblivious at times, but they cottoned on to this behaviour well enough, and news soon spread throughout the cat community of this strange man who knew about the biscuits. The cat elders were angry, and determined. Dean didn’t realise it, but taking away the last of the biscuits that had been available to cats had only spurred them on. The cats were incensed.
Old Venusian legends told of a faraway planet, peaceful and lush with thick and gorgeous greenery, and filled with intricate and confusing technologies for mundane and often almost useless purposes. The legends said that this planet was lovingly ruled by small, fluffy creatures, who were at once both utterly adorable cutie-pies, and ruthless killers. These creatures was said to be fierce defenders of peace and justice, and loved by all across the land. The legends were told at Venusian parties, popular amongst newly-returned teenagers and boozy middle-aged types. They told ghost stories and myths and legends, as well as reading out terrible fan fiction to each other, which was usually agreed upon as the most spooky part of any evening.
It didn’t take too long for the general public to more or less forget about Gaffney’s food restrictions. They were used to having strange laws dictated to them by now, having suffered under a long line of pasty presidents swathed in gold rings and ill-fitting but expensive suits. They replaced their chocolates with sweet pear puddings and porridge and insidious crisp snacking. Lots of people, bizarrely, also remained oblivious to the increasing numbers of angsty-looking cats roaming the place in small groups and mewling cutely in dirty alleyways and on windowsills. People were all too used to cats hanging around and took no notice, but those that did pick up on the cat increase were more than a little perturbed.
Hulk noticed a trio of cats had been regularly convening in his garden of late. He watched them through the window and smiled sweetly. He couldn’t resist their tiny fluffy paws of cuddliness. He crept out to the garden, and snuck closer to them, admiring their tails. He was still a good distance away when the three of them noticed him.
“Of course,” he thought, nodding to himself, “what was I thinking, trying to sneak up on cats?” He shook his head in mock shame as the three cats squinted at him. He held his hands out towards them, lowered himself to a crouch, and shuffled forward slowly. The cats backed off a little as he approached, and as they did so he slowed down a little more until his hand reached the nearest cat and he could calm them by stroking their butts off.
When Lilly and the prince returned from some light patrolling, their bandanas mopped with rain after a wet day, they found Hulk in the living room with three purring cats laying on top of him.
“Who are you new friends?” Asked Lilly, as she and the prince peered at the contented cats.
“Lovely aren’t they?” He replied, through a large grin.
“They’ve been gossiping in the garden for days! I saw them today and… well, I couldn’t very well leave them to get soaked in the rain, could I?”
The prince touched noses with the little ginger cat. They seemed to like each other already. Hulk chuckled at this endearing scene.
Before long, the cat trio became an accepted fixture of the house of Hulk Hogan, along with Coldplay, Russian roulette, and extreme Marxism. The prince found that she felt an affinity with cats, so she was glad the three of them were here to stay for the time being. She was granted the pleasure of naming them, and with great glee, named the ginger one “Jeremy”, the grey one “Elise”, and the black and white one “Thunderstorm 3000”, or “Stormy” for short. The cats became close companions to the prince, and to Hulk and Lilly too. The prince would bring home papers every day and the cats would read it over her shoulder and trample over it when she was done with it. Lilly would make paintings on the floor with them, on top of the prince’s old newspaper, the cats using their paws as painting tools. Hulk would have gentle wrestling practice sessions with them, which they sometimes took a bit too seriously, resulting in the occasional tiny scratch on Hulk. He didn’t mind though. He looked after them as if they were his own children, and they clearly thanked him for it.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle, wearing a tiny woolly hat, and carrying an even tinier woolly hat in its beak. The bird placed the hat on the beetle’s head. The beetle murmured cheerily in approval and thanks. The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Jeremy, Stormy, and Elise were happy to have stumbled into a new adoptive home, but they were still feeling interminably grumpy at the lack of biscuits available. The people around them seemed mostly oblivious to this, so they resigned themselves to feeling grumpy for now, and took their grump out on various available cat toys and pieces of furniture, the latter much to Hulk’s inconvenience. Over the weekend, he bought them more toys, and a scratching post, and even a matching cavalier outfit each. He had tried to talk himself out of it in the pound shop, but he just couldn’t resist the mini curly wigs.
♡▽ Dear diary, ▽♡
The kitty cats are frolicking outdoors this afternoon as it’s dry and not too super cold. They’re very sweet and tickly. I love ‘em. Hope they wanna cuddle me. I played Gary Numan songs earlier and they really seemed to like them. It got them moving.
The dream started up as usual. A soft wind blew through her hair, and he was there again, like liquid silver in front of her. She stepped forward, and again, and again, and as she came closer and closer he grew more and more peachy as if the sun was rising only on his skin. Leaves floated around her feet as she moved. She felt an urgency that seemed alien to this well rehearsed dream. She reached the sunrise boy and grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Who are you?!” She cried, shaking him firmly and causing him to oscillate like a wobble board.
He looked at her silently, with glittering eyes and waving hair. She asked again but her words sounded wobbly and dull. She asked a third time but her words melted. She kept asking and asking, but each time the words were more and more distorted. They sounded like bubbles rising. She slumped to the ground, her knees in the air and her hands on the soil, and stared at his legs. He crouched down with her.
“You’ll know me.” He said, in a voice with absolute clarity, like a coin clattering in a tinderbox.
“You’ll know me.”
Lilly sat in the dirt, unmoving. She didn’t know whether she felt comforted or threatened. She didn’t what had brought about this sense of urgency and feeling. She didn’t know anything beyond fuzzy confusion. The peach boy told her to look around at all the flowers, but there were no flowers. She looked around slowly, following his gestures, and as she looked where he was pointing, flowers sprang from the ground, jumping up like puppies. As the flowers appeared and appeared and appeared, the fuzzy confusion lifted away from her and was replaced by serene wonder in the face of all the spontaneous plantlife.
The dark wing moths passed secrets insidiously, hearing them under shadow and spreading them as far as their wings could take them. It was said that dark wing moths were ancient ghosts of people and animals from long, long ago, driven by the endless desire to keep talking. They were said to be the remnants of social desire, perpetuating false communities in their semi-conscious state. They were tiny fossils of lost voice.
Lilly and the ghost boy lay in the flowers, thick across every part of the forest floor. If she turned her head, flowers pressed against her nose and eyes. They were even starting to grow across her arms and legs, winding lazily over them. The boy’s hair and finger spaces were full of flowers of different colours and sizes. Flowers grew through his clothes, some climbing high in the air. The forest was filled with smells as the flowers climbed the trees and a sea of petals rose in soaring waves over every visible surface. Lilly tried not to breathe too deeply incase she inadvertently inhaled flowers.
Jeremy the cat had taken to perching on the prince’s soldier, like a fluffy and menacing parrot, with fangs. Hulk was secretly jealous, but didn’t say anything. The prince didn’t look out of place with a cat sitting on her shoulder. The look seemed natural to her, somehow. Children certainly enjoyed the novelty, and would stare in awe as she walked past with Jeremy. Children gathered behind her, following her and her enchanting, yet ferocious, cat. Many of them would aspire to have such a lifestyle for years, and some well into adulthood. She was quite the striking figure without the cat, but with Jeremy added it reached ridiculous proportions.
One child in particular, Jemima Evergreen, a six year old with dark skin and darker hair who always dressed in shades of green, had a project due at school. The project was a mini autobiography, made up of five or so pages of simple paragraphs and crayon doodles. Instead of writing about herself, Jemima Evergreen wrote about the prince and her cat, and would end up finding inspiration in her mini autobiography for the entirety of her life, as her parents made sure she kept it.
Boys and girls had always teased Lilly mercilessly for her dedication to her one-eyed cat, Morris. Morris was a super grump. He looked like a cat grandpa and his apparent meanness made kids uncomfortable. His whiskers seemed to go on for far too long, and Morris was in the habit of unceremoniously scraping people with them as he slinked past. This lead to a lot of squealing. Children did not want Morris around them, and since Lilly more or less always had Morris with her, they didn’t want Lilly around them either. The simplest way to achieve this was to present her with some light bullying. Lilly was quite huffy herself, and wouldn’t take a moment of derision from those as tiny and restless as her. As a result, she was rarely friends with other children, but often fostered fulfilling cat friendships, as cats generally got on alright with Morris. He was a crotchety soul, but for smaller, younger cats, he was a soft-centred old uncle type. He was loathe to run about with the young cats, wrestling and mock-hunting, but he was a good listener and a kind-hearted cat. He had plenty of advice to give, some of it good, some of it not so good. It seemed the younger cats liked him well enough to forgive him for the not so good advice. He was family to other cats, and he was family to Lilly. She wouldn’t give him up for any dumb kids games.
What Lilly didn’t know was that when Morris was a young lad, he had been through a million scrapes and adventures. He was a hero among felines. He was actually quite famous, and thus had garnered a lot of respect throughout the cat community. When cats saw him for the first time, they already knew him well. Morris had lost a great love of his, as well as his eye, in a ruthless war across the kingdom. He had been a warrior, forced to fight. That had been long ago. He was really an exceptionally old cat. He had survived the final battle, only just, and had traveled through time to reach the future, after having realised that everything he had had was gone. Once in the future, he found himself somewhere to be safe, and mourned. His country, his health, the love of his life, and so much more were all lost. Adjusting to the time period had been no harder than everything else he had to deal with. He just lived, and did what he could. He switched to automatic, eating and resting and being numb. It was years later that Lilly had found him, and thought he needed somewhere better to live. Morris was truly grateful for that. He was amazed that he had lived for all this time, after all his tragedy and suffering. He still thought about the cat he had loved more than anything every day without fail, but having a person to take care of him as he became an elderly tom was an undeniable blessing, and in the face of all his experiences, Morris was okay. His previously vibrant orange fur had dulled over the years, but inside him his vibrancy and vitality remained until his death came when Lilly was eleven years old. She was sad to see him go, such a true friend, but she herself had noticed his suffering, although he had hidden it well, and was pleased to at least see him finally at peace.
A baby crawled into a moat and fresh dew bounced across its springy skin as it brushed past moist grass, sludge coating its arms and legs. The baby knew lots of things subconsciously that had already seeped into its brain in the short time it had been alive. It was 1986, so the baby was wearing shoulder pads and cycling shorts, and getting them absolutely filthy in the moat. The baby’s mother was a bit too enthralled by nature to watch her baby crawling away into royal mud. The moat lay around castle ruins from a few thousand years ago. The ruins were small and barely intact. Winterberries shook in the nearby breeze as the baby squished and splashed water and mud underneath it. The baby was having a lovely time, gurgling and giggling as it crawled leisurely through the moat. The baby didn’t really know what ancient ruins were yet, but appreciated them as much as a baby reasonably could.
Jeremy, Elise, and Stormy were sitting on the small circular rug Hulk kept in front of the television, and discussing family history.
“My father was a hunter.” Elise told the other two, proudly.
“He brought mice home, and to the local community. They really relied on him.”
She pawed the rug.
“My dad was a thief and I barely ever saw him.” Said Stormy.
“He was no one to be proud of. My mum was pretty cool though. Always really into history and stuff. I always thought she knew everything. She was a bit finickity sometimes, a bit of a worrier, but she was smart.”
Jeremy eyed the two of them inquisitively, stretching himself out across the floor.
“I never knew my dad.” He said, rubbing a paw against his face.
“My mum said he was a lap cat though, slinked about the neighbourhood and had all the houses in the street feed him. She told me this great story about him getting into a fight with a dog. I heard that story almost every night…”
Jeremy looked off into the distance, either remembering something or being distracted by a fly. It was hard to tell which.
“Well,” said Elise, “I always got told stories of the great kingdom of cats when I was little.”
Jeremy’s attention returned to the conversation as she said this, and he listened intently as she continued.
“All these stories of ancient castles and string crowns and peace across the land. I can hardly believe it. I mean, we’re small, you know? I can’t imagine ruling like that.”
“Yeah.” Agreed Stormy.
“It sounds so unbelievable. But then there was that cat…”
“You know,” interrupted Jeremy, “my grandpa would always tell me I was descended from one of the old cat princes. Said I had the same fur and the same determined look. I never knew whether he was really being serious or not. I suppose a lot of us would be by now.”
The three of them thought curiously of the fabled ancient monarchy, before lapping up some delicious strawberry milk.
The prince heard the calling of the moon louder and louder as the days passed. She knew she would have to leave Earth not too far in the future, but it wasn’t time just yet. She felt a pull from the blue planet. She knew she had to stay. She felt it in her bones. She wondered idly if she was the only alien on the planet, coming to the conclusion that there must be some other extra terrestrials around somewhere, given that no one was making much of a fuss over her presence generally. Grey clouds hung in the sky overhead, reflective of the public mood. Sadness slipped across the streets with the rain and the prince felt a drifting feeling inside her. There had been more and more derogatory documentaries and news segments buzzing around like flies since Dean had been president, and tax rises were introduced periodically to fund extra jewels for his toilet seat. Lots of things were happening and everyone was filled with misery like horrible sadness doughnuts. Even Gary Numan couldn’t cheer people up. Everyone had lost their sense of worth as they were no longer allowed to easily access biscuits or draw cartoons of popular cats. Everything was costlier and greyer. The prince stood out in bright colours amongst the dreary palettes of people around her.
Lilly found the paint seeping out of all her paintings and merging together as an unpleasant sludge. Strange things had been happening recently, as if objects themselves were becoming restless and sentient. Things were moving and reacting as people moved and reacted less, growing numb and disaffected. Lilly watched as the beautiful blue hues of a beachy painting of hers slowly crawled away from the paper and out of the window to an undulating r’n’b beat. She was frustrated that her work was reasserting itself outside of her control, and threw the paper violently towards the floor, which was a foolish waste of energy as the paper floated softly to the ground despite the violent force of the act. The sting of anger and confusion worked its way through her body and she felt that endless tiredness creep across her. She could do nothing now but sleep. And in her sleep the boy came again to lift her into the trees and the dirt and the air. By now he was a comfort as well as a fuzzy mystery, and she felt she knew him like she knew the smell of her own hair. He was a part of her, she guessed, a dream manifestation of something within her. Always there in white with glowing eyes. They sat high up in the trees, surrounded by thick branches. She began to weep thick, salty tears until they made a river far below them. She wept because she missed the flowers and she wept because the paint ran and she didn’t know what to do. The boy spoke warm leaves and she knew he was part of every tree. He was every tree. She touched the bark of the branch she sat on, feeling the ridges and grooves of it.
“Thank you tree.”
She lay on the branch and didn’t cry any more. The tree shuffled gently and she had a tiny thought, the thought that she was a baby, crawling along in mud and shallow water.
Prince Morris was the last cat prince. The king, Morris’ father, had been killed not five hours previously, on the sixth day of Mouserest, 1320 LE (Left Etrarch). Morris knew, on hearing the news of his father’s passing, that there was little chance left. Penelope, his clawmate, the best cat in the world, had left the day before, to join the fighting force. He had begged her not to, but she had been insistent.
“Morris,” she had said, “our future could mean nothing already.” Her eyes twinkled with fear.
“They’ll kill us either way.”
Morris looked at the ground, morosely. He knew there was no other option, but how could he stand by and watch the cat he loved storm into a battleground? He would have to fight himself, soon enough, after all, so he let her go. When he had to leave himself he was ready, filled with anger, destructive rage. His father had been an incredible cat, with a rich ginger coat and a ruthless sense of humour and loyalty to his people. He wouldn’t have gone down easily.
The relatively small group of bipeds who were forcing cats out of rule were so much more vicious and cunning than anticipated. They had wiped out village after village to get to the monarchy. Their victory would change cat lives more profoundly than they could reasonably imagine. Morris battled well, but was no match for the humans. As a prince, he knew of in-development technologies, and he raced to the city university to find the prototype time device, a machine for time travel. It was unfinished and experimental, but given the situation, the prince risked it.
He woke slowly, foggy and tired from the ordeal he’d suffered. The time device itself was nowhere to be found, but he knew it had worked when he realised the ruined stone structure he sat in front was in fact his father’s castle, destroyed and ancient. Seeing this was too much, and Morris stumbled away, finding himself in the moat. He tried to cool himself with the water, and as he was doing so, he noticed a human baby sitting opposite him, on the other side of the moat, covered in mud and gurgling delicately. Morris stared at the baby. The baby stared at Morris. Morris had no thoughts as shock overtook him and he looked without expression at the baby. Before long the baby’s mother noticed it had crawled off into the muddy water and came towards to make a concerned fuss. Morris backed away in fear, but the human didn’t seem to take any notice of him. It was 1986.
Morris had assumed Penelope must have died in battle, but she had survived for some time afterwards, witnessing the transfer of power, and discovering at that most convenient of times that she was pregnant.
Jeremy told Elise and Stormy about how instrumental biscuits had been so long ago in the past. This was one of the stories he’d been told in childhood, about the ancient cat kingdom, and one he’d always found fascinating. Every cat remembered well the first time they tasted a biscuit, and felt that surge of confidence rush through them. It was like nothing else in the world. Elise and Stormy agreed, and told of their first taste of biscuit with a veneer of warm nostalgia.
Cats had never appeared in one of Lilly's dreams before and to see so many of the suddenly, wading through the forest and catching snow on their tails, was strange. Lilly and the boy who was every tree held hands as the cats of all sizes streamed through every gap and path in sight. Lilly felt scared, but didn't know why, since she liked cats lots. But she held hands with all the trees and the boy and felt less scared. His hand felt like pine needles but it was somehow comforting, holding his pine needle hand. Touching the trees all at once and feeling the cold bleed through her skin, through every layer of her. She bit her lip, which she knew didn't look good or feel good. It was just a habit of nervousness. A thing she had also never done in a dream, because in dreams her face hardly moved. In dreams her brain was in front of her face, mostly. The boy looked her in the eye and his golden eyes were now cat's eyes, gleaming brightly through the forest. All Lilly could see was his new cat eyes and all the fur falling and swirling around in the air. The boy behaved in an increasingly cat like way until Lilly woke up with a start, coughing and spluttering cat hairs caught in her mouth. As the spluttering subsided she noticed Hulk's cats pawing her bedside cupboard, and then she remembered: there were biscuits in there.
The next few dreams she had were filled with cats again, roaming the forest with berry juice dripping from their fangs. She watched calmly as the red juice built up until half the forest was a deep red reservoir. Cats swam through the juice and lapped at it. Lilly and the boy sank into it like stones and drank it. The juice was delicious, like cinnamon and honey, with a little aftertaste of copper. They lapped at it like the ate all around them, and let it soak into their clothes and bodies. The trees started to take on a red tinge, and as the two of them drank, and the cats drank, words started to echo through the forest. Lilly realised the cats were talking. She listened to them as in big voices and small voices alike, they talked about food and mice and history. The voices blended into each other. There were so many cats. The boy took a cat in his arms, with black and white fur and big green eyes. It was soft as baby skin and spoke, looking up at the boy's pretty nose.
"When I was little we were always trying to eat sweets and sneak out human food." Said the cat.
"It was a game. See how many pieces of cake you could get, whatever. And then one day I found some chocolate digestives in the cupboard. That was it. The first time I tried them. And in the half an hour after that I wrote a symphony. It was amazing."
The cat leapt out of the boy's arms, satisfied with its tale and distracted by a fly. The boy watched the cat run off, and he scooped up some berry juice in his hands. Lilly watched closely as he turned his hands outwards and saw crumbs falling out of them, were berry juice had been. She scrunched up her face and opened her mouth to speak.
"What the he-"
She woke up.
After that dream, Lilly had an unshakeable sense of purpose and energy. The only problem was that she had no solid purpose, so the sense of purpose became translated into an insufferable restlessness. A selection of hairs in her head grew white, but this remained unnoticed. Every time she saw a cat, she tried to look into its mind, which most cats just found kinda scary. She was consumed with thoughts about the cats and the berries and the trees and the boy.
She caught the prince out in the day and as they saw each other something clicked inside. Something locked together inside Lilly's brain.
"Hey!" She cried, as the prince skipped over to her.
"Listen, do you remember all those berries?"
The prince had been using berries on occasion still, for fun and to help her with things like reading up on international warfare and pseudoscientific theories (there was a certain sort of berry which enhanced the informational absorbance levels in the brain), but not too often.
"Of course." She replied, curious as to Lilly's obvious urgency.
"Well, this is difficult to explain, maybe," said Lilly, "but I keep having these feelings, like I'm being directed towards something. The boy in my dreams, the one I told you about, it's like he's a symbol, like he's everything inside me, a little arrow, I don't know. But I just feel as if I need to do something."
The prince nodded. She told Lilly she had similar feelings. Senses that were just there, without clear reason. Things she was simply pulled towards.
"I need to do something with berries, I think." Lilly explained.
"If you can bring all of them to my house, maybe I can figure it out. We'll have space there."
"Okay." Said the prince.
"I'm sure I can help."
The two nodded at each other, and the prince skipped away.
The prince herself now felt imbued with that purposeful feeling too. She jogged home to Hulk's house with her own sense of urgency.
The sky shone bright and light blue as the ultimate goddess of light and joy flitted through the air like a bumblebee, her hair sitting in a loose bun on top of her head to make for easy flying, with a few leaves for decoration. It was strange being a goddess, she thought. Being a goddess was just kind of free and cool and she got to fly about in the air, but also she had to be really careful because as a goddess it was too easy for her to ruin things. It made her very anxious, which is not something people would think about gods or goddesses. She flew over the clouds and watched amazing things down below, but she couldn’t directly interfere. She had powers of influence and could instill creatures with happiness and passion and brightness, but she couldn’t go down there and tell someone off or anything like that, which was frustrating because often that seemed like the perfect solution. So the anxious goddess did her best, floating and flying around and making people and animals feel nice and hoping they’d use their positive feelings in a helpful way, before going home to rest in the hidden city of deities in the clouds.
People and other animals down on Earth didn’t really know about the gods and goddesses, and they liked it that way. It was easier and nicer to their jobs without people thinking strange things about them and scrutinising them, especially for the more nervous gods and goddesses. People would hardly understand that gods and goddesses are just really normal and like sandwiches and daytime telly as much as any mortal.
The prince brought all her berries round to Lil’s house in a sack and they poured them out into bowls and jars in the kitchen, perching on stools together and wondering what exactly they were doing. They sat still and silent for a minute or two, until the prince had an idea.
“Let’s just eat them all.” She said, grinning.
“All of the different ones. We’re supposed to eat berries, right?”
The prince glanced at Lilly for confirmation. It seemed right enough.
“Right.” Lilly replied, nodding like small children do when they’ve made a decision.
So the two of them started eating all of the berries, one by one. There were thousands of berries, so it took time, and the taste of berry juice became boring and unpleasant after a while, but they carried on, acquiring numerous accumalative effects as they did so. The prince had to be careful not to knock anything off the table with her newly huge hands, and Lilly found that her hair was changing colour rapidly, like a strobe light.
Eventually, they had eaten every last berry. It was dark out, and their insides gurgled in response to the sudden intake of berries. The prince could now only see the colour blue, and Lilly could only speak in rhyme. They were unsure of what to do now. They decided to go to bed and meet up in the morning to talk about what they should do next. The prince left, marvelling at all the blue things around her.
Lilly wished she knew why she had co-eaten all of those berries. She liked to plan things and know what she was doing, usually. Organisation was a great source of comfort for her, and its total absence in this case was somewhat unsettling. She fell asleep quickly in the darkness as if pulled into her dream.
Moths with black wings of darkness clustered around Lilly’s head, and a sound like muttering came quietly from them. They said lots of strange things like “the golden hand beats moon blood” and “his scissors are on the mantelpiece.” None of them made much sense. Lilly waded through the moths gathering in large groups around her, and looked for the boy amongst the trees. It was very dark in the forest this time, and she could only see the moths and dark shadows everywhere. The boy was nowhere. She walked and walked, trying to find him, and after a while she started running, but she had no luck in finding him. She ran and ran and ran for hours, moths circling her all the way, whispering these strange things. Endless strange things. She ran still, and the moths were saying “feed them” again and again. She ran until she woke up.
On waking, Lilly was so tired. She wondered if any of the berries had somehow caused her to be unable to find the boy in the forest, and to be so tired, but she didn’t think so really. She was sure somehow that it wasn’t that at all. It was still dark, even though it wasn’t that early. It was that darkest part of winter. Lilly drank two cups of milk like a thirsty animal and gasped. That made her feel a bit more alive and awake.
Soon the prince arrived, no longer seeing blue, and they sat together in the kitchen again. She had brought Jeremy with her, who clung to her shoulder for a while before curiosity overtook him and he leapt to the floor to have a wander around the place. The two young protagonists felt kinda mysterious and weird due to all the combined berry effects they were experiencing. Lilly shook like a leaf in a microwave. Jeremy sniffed around under the table.
"Hmm, no food under here." Said a small voice.
Lilly and the prince looked at each other, and slowly lowered their heads to look underneath the table.
"Veeeery disappointing." Said Jeremy, causing Lilly to hit her head painfully against the table. She sat back and rubbed her head.
"The cat spoke." She said, slowly and quietly.
"Yeah." Said the prince, a little less shellshocked.
Jeremy jumped up onto her lap, and then onto the table.
"How can you hear me?" He cried, head flitting back and forth between the two of them.
"We ate stuff that makes us understand you." Explained the prince.
The stinted dialogue between cat and alien royalty gave Lilly a headache, or at least she thought it did, but it was hard to tell after her collision. She thought of all the cats that had been in her dream.
"Okay," she said, "we're supposed to talk to cats. What now?"
Jeremy's look of confusion intensified.
A boy fell into his own pee at the train station and could only laugh at himself for being full of liquids and also covered in liquids. It was 1989 and he was pulsating weirdly. The station was dark but light glinted softly on the benches and signs. He got to his feet and staggered to the wall. There was a river nearby and it was warm, so he decided to go there to wash the urine off him. He was in no rush for the train anyway. He made his way to the river and sat in it like a drunk toad. Stones and bits of plant life floating past and he watched them with a sweet contentedness as the river washed away his embarrassing accident.
Up above him, nestled between leaves in branches in a tall tree, sat the goddess of nature and joy and light, directing the refraction of moonlight through the water. She made the light dance in pockets and cute sections across the water. The boy felt connected with nature and watched the light and the water for a long time. The goddess of nature and joy and light liked her job.
Dean Gaffney kept opening cupboards to find cats tumbling out of them unexpectedly. It was getting to be a nuisance. They kept getting hairs on his priceless Versace bumbag, and he was not happy with that at all. Why were all these cats in his cupboards? His neighbours stifled laughter whenever they saw him dumping mewling cats out into his garden. He was a bit perturbed. He presumed they were just after some biscuits. Some cats must have clocked to his responsibility for the biscuit ban. It didn't matter, he thought, they couldn't do anything. He pushed a cat out of the kitchen window, closed the window, and helped himself to a relaxing bottle of make-nails-self-trimming juice.
In fifteen minutes or less, Lilly and the prince had been caught up on the major points of cat history, and the thing about biscuits. The prince had fetched Elise and Stormy, and the two humanoids had questioned the three cats like inquisitive toddlers. The two of them had been fascinated to learn of the ancient ruling of the planet by cats, and the peaceful haven which supposedly existed during the time of the cat monarchy, although Lilly couldn't quite believe it. The idea that humans, then a small species, had slain the cats and taken their land, and that no-one knew about it? That was too much. The prince, however, had no cause to question it. The compass inside her told her it was right. The compass inside her told her to feed cats biscuits. And Lilly agreed.
Lilly and the prince soon learned that the magical and weird berries that had been discovered and utilised by Dean Gaffney, and experimented with by themselves, had come about as a result of scientific experiments in the ancient cat kingdom. Jeremy told them that the ancient kingdom had been rich in technological advancements, including enhancement drugs, and even the almost-production of working time machines. Lilly felt like she needed to lie down for a long time. The prince, on the other hand, felt energy surging through her.
“They had TIME MACHINES?!” Cried Hulk, as Lilly and the prince relayed their new wealth of cat information to him.
“Not quite, I think.” Said Lilly.
“They were getting there.”
Hulk sat down on the floor, amongst the three excited cats, his moustache incredulous and his eyes like faint, confused lightbulbs. The prince comforted him by offering him a plate of pink wafers. This seemed to ease his mind.
“They had time machines…” He muttered, spitting tiny pieces of pink wafer onto the carpet.
“We took the country from cats.”
More tiny pieces of pink wafer landed on the carpet. The cats expressed some concern for Hulk. The prince told them he was alright. Elise nudged him sympathetically with her head. The prince put on some soft late 90s Christina Aguilera jams in the hope that they would ease Hulk’s mind. They did.
The next day Lilly, Hulk, and the prince bought as many biscuits as they could, trying their best to be inconspicuous, whilst Jeremy, Elise, and Stormy did their best to gather as many cats as they could and put them in Hulk’s house. A while later everyone reconvened nervously in the kitchen. Cats were everywhere. On chairs, on top of the fridge, on top of the toaster. Stormy told the meowing cats to be quiet as the prince began to address them.
“Hello cats.” She said.
“Thank you all for coming. What we are about to do could be very dangerous, for all of us.”
The cats stared into her eyes, confused that she was talking to them, but also just pretty nonchalant about it.
“We’re not sure what it’s going to achieve, but we feel we have to do this.” She continued.
“So here you go, everyone.”
She emptied bags and bags of biscuits onto the floor. Biscuits piled up on the carpet and the cats started to realise the enormity of what was happening. Some of them at the front gingerly stepped towards the biscuits, looking back and forth from them to the prince, as if asking if she was really giving them biscuits. After a little bit of this shyness, the cats dove onto the biscuit pile madly, and consumed the biscuits with a ravenous fervour which was frightening to watch. Lilly, Hulk, and the prince peered at the horde of cats as they gnashed at the pile. Cats started to increase in size before them as they ate, snarling and mewing. Their eyes grew dark and determined and their hair stood on end. Their tails lengthened, as did their fangs and claws. They grew rapidly powered up.
The cats in their super state, filled with power and passion, all impressive and looming and fierce. Cats thanked the prince in large voices. The prince felt like a brilliant agent.
“How else can I help?” She said.
“What are you going to do?” She said.
“You’re all so beautiful.” She said.
Hulk played some jazz and danced with some of the impressive, large, fearsome cats in excitement and celebration. The non-cats felt very rebellious and excited. The cats were excited, but seemed sombre and very in control. Very calm and collected.
“We are going to destroy.” Said Jeremy, huge and fiery.
Lilly looked at him and saw a glint in his eyes that she recognised, a glint she hadn’t seen for years.
His whiskers were long and sharp, and his fur was thick like Christmas jumpers for large men. He snarled and turned to address the cats.
“Siblings!” He cried.
“We have been granted our abilities properly, and now we have to use them. We’re going to change things for cat kind! We’re going to fight, just like our ancestors did!”
The cats agreed, quietly, but forcefully. There was a sinister atmosphere around them. Their eyes were filled with death. As jazz filled the room, the quiet of the collective of cats gave off an unmistakable air of the cold and calculated determination of warriors.
In the sweet night, lavender and cinnamon danced through the air and Lilly’s forest was still dark. The deep, wary night surrounded her. But the boy was there again, leaning against a tree, an upright river flowing past his head. He had new freckles, and Lilly knew at once that they were made of blood. She touched his eyelids, lay two fingers on each. She didn’t know why she did this. The bloody freckles slipped from his face and into her body, straight through the skin. She let her arms fall to her sides and the boy’s eyes opened. They flashed from cat’s eyes, the yellow shine of Jeremy’s eyes, to the gleaming jewel red of the prince’s, and then they were two moons in his eyes. Craters and shadows and that unique, watching glow. They lingered as moons before the gold poured back into them, and they were again the eyes she had seen in so many dreams.
“I feel I’m dying.” She said to the eyes.
“I know.” The eyes said.
And she was inside the eyes, standing on wispy sands, dunes all around her. The desert. She ran, kicking up sand, each footstep leaving a growing baby sprout behind. She ran and ran and ran, and then suddenly she was back in the forest again. She looked into the boy’s eyes and saw tiny little bits of green speckled across his irises.
“You’ve always been dying.” Said the boy.
“You’ve always been dead.”
Lilly watched her breath dance in the cold air. She was dressed in five different pairs of patterned black tights, and two dark, loose jumpers. The prince made a few bucketfuls of water follow them. The cats had quickly devised a formation, and Hulk was acting as look out, behind the group. The darkest clothing he could find were cycling shorts and an old t-shirt with a print of a wolf howling majestically at the moon. They would do. Lilly had though the wolf t-shirt quite stylish.
The cats were good at hiding, slinking through bushes, even in their enhanced state, they were practised and accomplished predators who knew how to effect silence. Dean Gaffney would be sleeping now, after gaining a new high score on that game where you shoot people dressed in rags and camouflage and ladies’ bras, or something. He’d be sleeping peacefully on his presidential bed, made from the adulation of magazine readers and covered in diamante shame.
“Sleep sound” thought the prince, with the grin of a naughty child on her face.
Dean was awoken by a sharp claw as Jeremy drew his paw sharply across his nose. He tried to scream but found he was muffled by fluffy tails. There were cats all around him. Huge cats.
“Big cats are holding the president hostage in his home.” Said the news reporter, secretly well chuffed she was getting to host a BREAKING NEWS development. The newsreader enunciated elaborately and forcefully as she tried to seem extremely serious but at the same time, cool. Her eyebrows were swift and neat, and effected feelings of concern. She envisaged her escalating career, and it flashed before her eyes like a boring newsroom slideshow.
The streets were buzzing with talk of the hostage situation. They were confused. Why was there so much meowing? Why was there so much demand for cat food and fish and toy mice? What was happening? People ran around panic buying weird fruits and practical underwear.
Dean Gaffney muffled through the stripey socks in his mouth. They were stylish socks, but Dean didn’t notice that very much. He was too busy trying to will cats off his Tupac Shakur themed toilet. Claws and teeth were at his neck at all times. Jeremy had taken up position as the leader of the group of large and ferocious cats. He meowed fervently at Dean, with the prince translating for him.
“Meow meow mew mew mawwww”
“We are here, gross human freak, to take back our liberty.”
“Mehh mia mew mrowl”
“We’ll take this whole country back from you”
“You disgusting loser”
“Meow miaow miii mrroooro”
“The king is back fucker!”
The cats yowled righteously and scratched the heck out of Dean’s furniture. Beads of sweat fell ungraciously from Dean’s foreheads forehead. He thought about his favourite actor, Keanu Reeves, to give him strength in the face of these terrifying cats. Nothing had ever been more reassuring to him.
Soon, the police had arrived, and were stationed around Dean’s house with their police cars and megaphones and pink nail polish (they were very fashionable police). The cats didn’t even flinch, and in a few minutes, every policeman was dead, scratched into tiny slivers. Elise slinked back into the house, her mouth dripping with police blood. Dean Gaffney squealed softly when he saw her, terrified.
Office boys and grumpy politicians sat in their respective houses, listening to opera and moaning about pedestrianisation to their partners, or whatever, when each of them was faced with a murderous, looming cat, with mad hatred in its eyes. Most of them tried desperately and pathetically to defend themselves with the nearest grabbable object, but few cats were phased by wielded remote controls or “best dad” mugs. Doom approached these people in fluffy, fearless bodies.
Months later, the cats were cautiously rebuilding their old kingdom. Dean Gaffney was a shop worker. He was okay as long as he still had his dinosaur earrings. Cats were everywhere, proud and happy. The spirits of the nation were lifted. Everyone was busy happily scoffing chocolate and biscuits. Everything seemed more peaceful and nice, and everyone felt more relaxed and worthwhile after light exposure to cat philosophies. After a lifetime of human paradigms, the cat approach to life was bliss. As a celebratory measure, every citizen of the new cat kingdom received a robotic dog and a pot plant in the post. At that, they needed no other convincing that the cats were the ideal government.
Lilly carried small cats everywhere she went. She had become a kitten sitter, and had discovered it was a natural skill for her to look after little baby cats. Hulk found new lease of life as a teacher, teaching cats martial arts, self defence, history, and claw hygiene. The prince remained working at the newsagent, but felt the pang of home calling her strengthen to a roar inside her. Venus was calling her to the crown in swirling whispers. She felt taller and stronger and full, like an enormous fruit, swelling with juice.
Tumbling across branches and leaves with clumsy legs, the young death omen traipsed through the forest, humming serenely to himself. He had the appearance of a seven year old boy, peachy but a little pale, with messy hair and dirty hands. He wore grey and blue. His eyes looked through the trees and saw every living creature, even the tiniest ones. He had been death and life, and he had big and small. He had been many things. Planets and stars. Pieces of sand. He had been as hard as a stone and as soft as a sponge. He spoke to the insects sweetly and they were unaware of his status. They felt pleasure sit warmly inside them from the nice conversations with the boy, and then they slipped away from life.
The prince began to rise at inopportune moments, floating above the ground, balloonish and filled with static energy. The pull to home had transformed itself into a physical consequence. The prince knew she had to leave the Earth, and her body was starting to make it happen on its own.
Numerous kittens curled up in front of the fire and the vast plate of hollow chocolate eggs with assemblable toys inside them. Lilly lay next to them, fitting almost perfectly within the space of Hulk’s little circular rug, curled up just like the kittens, and enjoying the warmth with them. She had been sleepy lately. An all-the-time, decreased-awareness sort of sleepy. She recognised that sleepiness from both childhood, and times of distress. There was a certain comfort within the sleepiness, as if sleepiness itself was a watchful parent holding hot chocolate and a blanket.
The prince with no name rose jetlike into the sky, maneuvering with liquid ease. She was born for it. Venusians needed no external system to transport them home. The technology was built into their own bodies. She sped across rooftops, pointing her toes at fixtures below, and circling ceiling points. She was envigorated, zooming around intuitively, marvelling at her own strangeness. The voices of her parents echoed in her head, saying nothing she could grasp any understanding of. She could barely control her movements any more, only feeling the pull upwards. As she rose into clouds she tried to focus on a willed goodbye, a concentration of thought, as icy crystals began to form on her face.
Hulk and Lilly were confused to find the prince missing, and looked for her in lots of places, because they knew how much she liked to wander. Eventually, though, they figured maybe she’d gone home. There was always a little glimmer of mystery to the prince, something wondrous and strange. It was too weird to be suddenly without her again. At least the two old friends had a wealth of cats to preoccupy them. They could hardly feel lonely, although finding hairs in their mouths was a bit tiresome.
Lilly was still shocked how quickly and easily the cats had viciously asserted their claim to rule. It had been such a swift action, it seemed like a destiny of sorts. There was no cat king or queen as of yet, but a governmental body had quickly been organised, with Elise acting as temporary head of state, and Jeremy as a sort of home secretary.
The floating prince raced through the re-entry shute, a strange protruding flume just for Venusian children on their return. It looked constructed, like something you’d see in a swimming pool, but it had naturally formed on the planet’s surface - an evolved tool. The prince skidded into the soft blue sponge and moss at the planetary end of the shute with a soft thud. She lay on the gentle turquoise ground like an upturned turtle and looked out at the sweet orange sky. She felt like she’d fallen into a box of sweets. Everything was dreamy in colour, like the caverns of her birth in terms of blues and greens and reds, but paler and gentler. A soft and homely version. Little bugs she recognised flitted past and landed on her fingers. Old friends. A warmth rose in her chest, the same as if she’d spilled not-too-hot tea all over herself, but less drippy.
A series of shutes lay out in front of her in parallel lines, all with soft areas in front of them to catch the incoming children. A rocky desk stood at the far end of this corridor of return shutes and a tall man with sapphire skin and a light, clear bodysuit stood behind it. He looked like a soft man who enjoyed pottery and birdwatching. The prince erected herself, remembering her legs were developed and usable, and approached the pottery man. He spoke exactly how one would expect looking at him. His voice was fuzzy and kind, like the most docile dad combined with a blanket. He was employed to explain basic things to the returning Venusian children, and to the questions. His voice was as reassuring as a voice could possibly be.
Venusians defined childhood simply - you were a child until you returned to Venus. Once you were there, you received an adulthood talisman and were sent off to meet your family. Given the unavoidable bodily return, there were few cases of Venusians failing to return home for excessively long stretches of time.
The fuzzy-voiced man told the prince she was an adult now. He gave her her adulthood talisman, as he had done with many others that day, but he saw the distinctive red glow in her eyes, and the sparkling salmon-coloured water which framed her body, and he knew who she was.
“Welcome home, young prince.” He said.
“We are glad to see you home safe.”
He smiled with stars in his eyes, a true smile, and directed her towards a different path to the one all the other Venusian new-adults had taken. The prince thanked him, clutching the talisman in her slightly shaky hands, playing with the shining chain around her neck, glimmering golden in the light. Gold, but a soft gold, a secret gold, a not-always gold which came out of the dark when it was needed. Gold was a colour of secret and creation, of pure power, innocence, and time. The talisman had an invisibility about it. It was simple and round, with a small stone in the centre of it, the colour of green-blue sea. Colours of life. The prince felt comforted by it. She felt a sentimentality bigger than her.
She approached a tall, pointy arch in the blue stone, a pathway with a cave like entrance. The arch had a decorativeness about it, winding chains with a prestigious feel. As she passed through underneath it, she felt the dust rise, as if awakening. She felt a shudder run through the passage as she walked slowly, admiring every translucent crevice. The passage was long and winding, but every inch of it was beautiful.
The queen carried the little crown in its clear box of solid water, to the altar at the head of the hall. She was so happy. In a few minutes, she and her king would meet their prince, and the prince would be given her crown in front of thousands of people. The deep, round hall below her started to fill up with people. All have them had more or less had some sparkly sweet wine and some cake and sweets. Most people on Venus by now already knew of the prince’s return, via their machines and travel glows (water arranged into durable spheres containing words, and sent via kinetics to a recipient). Excited and slightly drunk people of all ages and variations filtered into the hall until it was bustling. The queen smiled out at the them, and the king soon joined her, both of them in the glowing pink of martian moon water.
The prince heard a noise which sounded like a crowd of buzzing, chattering voices, and it neared as she carried on down the passageway. She felt like a jar as the buzzing filled her up. The stone got lighter and lighter as she walked on, and soon she found the opening, another tall arch, this time of pastel blue, although the deep, royal blue was still present in speckles across it. She peered out through the arch and saw a wide, tall hall, with a stage-like protrusion jutting over it, which she now stood on. Across from her as she emerged stood a pretty, but simple, altar. On it she saw something bright and gold. Two older people who matched her in colour and looks stood either side of this alter. They stared at her, smiling, as she walked into the hall, and liquid began to fall freely from their eyes, fast as it ran down clear skin, getting stuck in crevices of the face. The two wore pointed, exquisite crowns, with small jewels inside them, across the bands. Their tears fell with sweet splashing sounds to the floor. The prince embraced her mother and father. She could tell at once that they were big fans of combine harvesters, just like her. She kissed them enthusiastically on their glowing cheeks, sticking herself inadvertently to their faces with tears. The crowd below whooped and cheered and guzzled cider happily. The prince was given her ruby crown. Everyone got down to contemporary Venusian funk-jazz fusion. The prince was excited to learn about her home planet, and thrilled to discover that cut-off denim vests were incredibly popular on Venus, along with Bargain Hunt and net art.
Lilly and Hulk had taken (and adjusted) some very strange photos in a purikura booth together with two kittens and a large piece of celery. Hulk felt as tough as always, but more softened. More normal. More like his old self. He even wore tweed jackets with elbow patches again sometimes. Lilly, similarly, felt very fluffy and relaxed a lot of the time. It seemed the reinstatement of cats in government had had an amazing effect on everyone’s well being. Most people seemed markedly chirpy and uplifted. Lilly felt as if clear water were running through her like a ghost through walls. She felt clean and happy.
Cats had truly spread joy around, but there was a strangeness lurking within all of this joy. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just a sort of tenseness, sitting behind other things, waiting. She thought about it and it was just mystery. She thought about the boy in her dreams and had a feeling like there was just something not quite there. That mysterious feeling like when you’ve found a new place, walked down a road you’ve never walked down before, and you can see everything in front of you - you’re discovering it, but before you do it’s there, just there right in front of you and you haven’t experienced it but you can see it, you can sense it, all of your awareness knows it’s there. The feeling she had was just like that. As if she was just on the cusp of discovery and exploration. Something was there. The road was in front of her, but she didn’t know how to walk onto it, how to actually bring herself to being on the road. The boy, the road, the desert, the world. He was like a strange symbol, an omen, but there was a person there. A real, writhing consciousness. She knew that for sure, as well as she knew she was made up of blood and flesh.
Lilly poured herself into a locket that she had kept in a desk for several years. A little silver circle housing a familiar smell, emanating from some far away time, some past reality. It smelled like damp pine needles and musty earth. She filled the thing with a small piece of textured paper and made hurried scribble marks, records of that moments, that exact combination of neurological responses. She felt a preciseness which was rare, a clarity of experience seldom experienced. It felt something like getting quickly out of a bath, or peeling off a great big piece of wallpaper. She lay down on her bed, clutching this tiny item, impulsively imbued with significance, and looking up at the ceiling in silent sureness. As she lay, cats covering her feet and stomach by using those body parts as rest points, she drifted into that familiar murky ocean of pleasant sleep.
A tiny bird landed on the ground next to a little beetle.
“I love you so much” said the bird.
“I feel the same” said the beetle, tilting its head.
The bird looked lovingly at the sky.
Lilly sat in the cloud floating above the forest. Her head felt thick like cup-a-soup. The cloud was icy and pointy and huge. Lilly felt no cold. She felt exactly the right temperature, the optimum comfort. She looked below her and saw the boy she knew, curled around the top of a tree, cat-like and serene. She reached down, her arm pale as moon-white, and the cloud stretched with her, taking her to his curled form. She scooped him up like a baby and placed him next to her on the cloud, now small and soft - transformed into candy floss clouds, wisping air instead of prickly ice.
“I am death.” He said, eyes bright, teeth pointed.”
“I am the angel, the god, the messenger, and the ocean of death, sleep, and decay.”
Light danced between them. Little fairies of light, conjured from their eyes.
“I am the moments before death.” He said.
“I am the moments after birth. I am death, thus I am also life. I am budding plants and spilled blood. I am the end and the beginning. I am everything at once.”
Lilly kissed him on the eyebrow and thought about doughnuts with apple fillings for a moment.
“Me too.” She said, her chin resting against his forehead.
“I’m every transition. I’m igneous rock cooling fast. I’m sedimentary rock flowing with the river. I’m metamorphic rock… morphing.”
Her body started to soften and curl lightly like the cloud.
“I’m nervousness and future. I’m nature. I’m eating your children. I’m like you.”
She knew what he was now. She knew what they both were.
The goddess of nature and the omen of death curled their littlest fingers together, their hair wild in the air, their bodies swathed in translucent sheets of looping fabric. Foliage sat atop their heads, sweet little crowns of twig and leaf. Together they were adventure and sneaky secrets and too much time doing one thing. They were all.
Lilly melted into a thousand fleshy words and stars and smells. She was the forest heart, deep inside time and space and intersecting universes. She felt all time surge through her like a river of hot tea and chocolate and sweet copper blood. She was the trees and the insects and the dim light. She melted again into a translucent picture of her person-body, and there the ghost boy was, translucent too in front of her, the sweeping desert sands and the rushing wind. He was the bird flitting from branch to branch, and the clothes fresh from a tumble dryer. They sank into each other, warm flesh and pulsing blood intermingling in great clouds. They held each other in their tough arms and tough neck spaces, and the universe was born again, smiling and mewling like a kitten as chemicals spilled out in every direction.
Hulk remembered something, like an old friend, some kind of forgotten nostalgia. It sat at the back of his brain, stirring his thoughts, and he found it comforting and encouraging, regardless of not being able to pinpoint what exactly it was. It was something that propped him up and spurred him on to live fully and passionately in the face of his experiences. His losses and his triumphs. He tickled three kittens at once, perfectly illustrating the level of dexterity his fingers had developed for this very purpose, as the comforting nostalgic feeling sank to the background of his consciousness. Sitting in front of the fire, surrounded by ten kittens, he felt full and beautiful.
Jeremy was doing a stellar job as cat president, showing all the confidence, understanding, and unrivalled dance moves of his royal ancestors. He was casually appreciated by members of the public, but not adored and revered for posing in golden underpants in befuddling newspaper lifestyle features. Like every other cat, he ate plastic whenever possible, particularly relishing the taste of doll feet. He was a strong leader and cared deeply for the needs of the reformed UFK (United Feline Kingdom), like the need of fresh fish and places to scratch, for example. Several scratching posts for cats and humans and anyone else who wanted to use them were set up across the country.
The public made popular now-unbranded berry juice and the berries that made it, and the understanding of the effects of all of these strange berries was made much more regulated. Mashed up berries became respected as natural artefacts, and Dean Gaffney’s control of them was relinquished. Berries were used in medicinal and recreational capacities, as well as just, like, in pies.
The prince became a revered figure on her home planet, introduced Slayer to Venusian young adults, and had oil paintings made of her once a week. She would see the Smonons again. Those rebellious teens started an art collective together and made sculptures of their dad’s heads in egg yolk. 2078 years later, oil paintings of the prince adorned the halls and courts across the planet, and almost everyone had a copy of her funk rock fusion album, which was considered a classic masterpiece.
The prince's crown shimmered in the moonlight and she stared over the patio at the sun sinking through the clouds. Her people were important to her, and she found she had a strong connection with every person and every small insect buzzing across the crystalline walls. She wrote winding stories to tell to citizens almost at random. She thought entertaining people was very important, as was traditional on Venus. Joy was the predominant force that drove citizens' lives. She chewed the end of her pen as she thought of Smon. She had lots of duties to attend to, but some day she knew she wanted to visit Smon, and find those scaly old friends of hers.
The little bird and beetle who lived in Lilly’s garden remained there, flitting and talking and exchanging small tokens of affection. There were creatures just like them everywhere, blushing and shuffling just the same, all small fragments and versions of sky prince and princess, world patterns stretching planetwide, objects and creatures reincarnations of the omen of death and life, separate and together at the same time in one body or several in a confusing loop of logic. They lived their lives unknowingly as symbols and representations and vessels of the intertwining spirits of existence.
LETTER FROM THE CLOUDY GODDESS OF ANXIOUS PASSION, TOAST CRUMBS, AND OTHER THINGS
TO HERSELF, TO NO-ONE, AND TO EVERYONE
I’ve written a thousand different letters with a thousand different pens. I’ve written them on grassy mounds and at wet bus stops. I’ve written letters on paper in pink scented gel pen, carved into wood with a compass, and in blood on frosted ground. There are many letters left in me, and many I’ll never write at all. I know a lot about writing letters, and a lot about not writing them. I’ve written letters to every tadpole, every sperm cell, and every water slide. Tadpoles always seem to like hearing about the top 40 UK singles chart. They lap up descriptions of music video details like hot soup after a long day. Sperm cells tend to be more interested in stocks and shares, and the taste of different sorts of wine. Water slides have only ever responded well to my tales of domestic bliss and the forms in which it manifests. I very much like writing letters to water slides.
I wish I wasn’t alone, like the dew bugs, the leafy sprouts, and the rainy babies. I’m flake, a good fungus, ready. Wishing the kisses never stopped. Little kisses from the underworld. Dark and pretty and filled with sweet copper sting. A taste never leaving. The old smell, old clothes, old wallpaper. Things the same but so different. Everything all the same at the same time.
I’ve died loads. Death is like having a cigarette. It’s small and dumb, but it’s everywhere inside you, and once you get used to it you can barely taste it any more. When it’s been a while you can get nostalgic, but it’s not normal nostalgia. It’s dumb. Everything’s dumb. In its own way.
I'm the floating breeze. I'm blood pouring into the river. I'm stale sweat and fresh bread. I'm not dead or alive, just there in the air and everywhere. I'm dying and being born at the same time and it feels very uncomfortable but also sort of wonderful. I want to rip things apart until nothing exists any more. Everything is only a fragment of me and I am only a fragment of everything. I'm dead and horrible. I'm sick. I'm thick, lumpy vomit, but I'm soft silk too. I'm the smell of love and the stench of hate. I'm the petal and the leaf and the stem and you've pulled me from the ground and ripped me apart a thousand times.
Everything wants to tear me into pieces, but I am full. I am everything, torn apart and thrust together. Nothing can dissect me. I am simply there. I am a horrible bad person but I am also the best and most exciting person in the world. I am beautiful and adventurous. I am disgusting and hateful. I am sickness and health and disatisfaction. I am dread and hope and that mild form of self-disappointment which chooses to creep around as a shadow. I am dim light in graveyards and persevering poison ivy.
I never knew you could find pieces of yourself in puddles and boxes and in the flesh of others. When I was born, not that I remember such a thing, I was myself. Solid, I thought. Just one full painting. But sometime later I discovered I was scattered, like I'd been broken into pieces before I even existed. So I looked for all the fragments of myself. I wanted, naturally, to find them all, and to slot myself back together, and for a long time I tried to find every piece. I tried to find every splinter of me, but I was like glass. See-through, and tiny. Search for microscopic splinters of glass and you'll only find them when they cut into your feet. I found plenty splinters of myself that way.
I realised, after that, that it never ended. I could never find every lost part of myself. I could never sew myself together, and even if I could, I couldn't make it the same as if the breaks had never existed. No, I had to accept the truth: that I would never be whole. Instead I had to know inside me that there were parts of me everywhere. In every thing and every person. In every day and night, and every place. I would still look for them instinctively, but some of them were never going to be seen. Some of them were always behind me. Shadows in the dark. I had to embrace my fragmentary nature.
The grass was a part of me. A tickly little imp, running and cackling in summer sun, hiding in blanket forts, stealing jumpers and cutting holes in them. I found the grass sipping rum from a shampoo bottle, underneath trees and soggy benches. A sort of woodland sneak. Colours spilled from him like torrential rain, pale and sweet and sugary. I tasted them and they were filled with cinnamon and space dust, delicious and beautiful. They had a stinging, raw aftertaste, but they were impossible to refuse. I could only stop drinking them when they were gone, but when they were gone I felt better. Then the sky fell on me, trapping me, and I was filled with sickness. The aftertaste stayed, even after I drank all rain. I lay down for all of time until I’d drank every rain drop that had ever fallen, yet the aftertaste of those sweet, disgusting colours remained.
I tried to pull them out of myself with string, but there was nothing to catch with a loop. I knew, truly, that there was no way to remove the colours from myself. They had always been part of me, I just hadn’t seen them, I hadn’t known them. The taste of them was just a part of me, just like the grass was, just like summer sun was, and just like the shampoo bottle rum was. The horrible taste sank through me like menstrual blood in bath water, still there in all it’s unpleasantness, but diluted across my being. I found it jutting out of beautiful, serene waters, and smooth chocolate. It could be hard to remember all the time that every part of yourself lurked in the shadows of every other. I was always a master of forgetfulness.
I was wrapped up in winter tights, perching on trapezium fencing, picking fluff from between two fingers, when I saw everything at once for the first time. Or was it the last? All fades into all. A tiny crow sat pecking at the low sky in front of me. Its feathers had that sheen like petrol, and its eyes shot gold flecks across the dusty gravel ground. The crow had a voice like liquid silver and it told me it was watching me. Until then I had always been the watcher, but the crow held me in its eyes. I modded at it and it flew away. I would see the crow many times, in different forms. My love, my fear, sometimes in feathers, always in gold.
I found old photographs hidden in locked chests and burned them into new trees, filling the young grooves in bark with wet memory. I pushed myself into the thread-thick gaps in wood and rock, filling them with sleep and theory.
Place the skulls on the mantelpiece and let them burn soft n slow in the heat of endless death. Bleed into clear water to find direction. Kiss enemies to understand what waits inside friends. Cover yourself in colour, but favour comfort above it. Weep into rivers to feed them as well as yourself. Make fuss whirl around you like a sandstorm, and gather like dunes.
And the sparkling skies are real and bigger than you could ever imagine. But the cracks in your bedroom walls are just as big, and they shine with their own stories like the ones stored across the sky. The forest is home, as much as stolen dressing gowns and blankets that smell like demons. Go find home, stuck in dappled wall and cracked skin, home on roller-skates and on the breeze. Home sweeps fast and kicks up dust like a brush for the floor, but you can catch it in your pupils and watch it in the mirror. Home knows you if you know home. Look in warm necks and ankle creases.
He told me I breathed in the wrong fumes. He slot me together in different formations until I felt clicks along my spine and feathers across my cheek. He pecked my nose until I took it off. I cut my hair into pieces and buried them. From ten grew sunflowers and mushrooms and I fed them chips and chocolate, because that's what I had in my pocket. They all grew strong, and when they were big enough, they climbed out of the ground and re-attached themselves to my head.
I took them to parties where no one knew me and the crow sat in the corner, a child made of steel or wood or flesh. He watched me from fire, he poured me juice drinks, he told me off. The flower hair was indecisive. The sunflowers wanted to listen to hip hop, but the mushrooms wanted folk songs about mountains and lavender. I made them compromise with post-70s disco. The sunflowers wilted a little. I put my head in the fire and the flowers and mushrooms burned away. My hair grew back bigger and longer and I stretched it around every party guest.
The crow stepped out the fire and was a person, or person-shaped. He looked like water vapour and he stepped into the exact bit of space I occupied at that moment. I stood there with droplets on my face. I let them fall and soak into me.
The water vapour bird was everything at once and I looked into the fire, and the condensation in front of me, and I saw everything at once. It hurt like fire-filled splinters were appearing in my chest. It stung that warm sinking pain and dread, that wet stone holding still inside me, but at the same time I felt hot tears roll out of my eyes, pulsating air in my head, and that hot, tingling buzz in my cheeks. That joy, that bliss, like whiskey and tea and tears, thick but light on my skin. Feeling everything was almost like feeling nothing, but so much. I gnashed my broken teeth until blood spat out of me, and dizzy spirals knocked me out.
The crow, the water, and me, myself, were a club all together and the crow, who I'd begun to think of as a future me, told me something about words. He said you have to push words together and pull them apart like pieces of stringy mozzarella cheese.
He said "don't think about words as if they're words, different from other objects."
He said that things were only things and words were just things, things you made easy. He said you don't have to think. Words don't have to be think words. Sometimes are just feel words and they just drip and pour from you like the water. Like earwax or urine, he said. You can sneeze them out or pull them out like thread. You can unpick them from clothes and pull them out like hairs.
The crow was confusing, but so was everything. I went to visit an earlier self. I said nothing, I just handed her a basket and left. The basket was filled with small drawings and notebooks. Scribbles and stains. She would try to flip through the pages of drawings carefully, until she ripped some accidentally. After that, she would stop trying to be careful. Destruction would become less of a concern, and more a thing that happened of its own accord.
I crept, tiny in winter jumper and toddler socks, towards the most colourful and plastic supermarket aisles. I was small and messy, like a homemade cupcake, and I saw everything in bright light. I wore oversized clothes in dark colours and ran my fingers across everything. I wanted to touch everything, to know how it all felt under my skin, pink and patchy. I laughed loud and slow at the bigger plastics. I sat on the floor and a similarly lit hospital scene flashed up in my mind. The floor fleet the same as the hospital, and the same, somehow, to some large flowers I had once sat on. The floor fell away and I felt dirt and sky all around me, sticky and harsh.
Alone in the forest with the howling of bees and the buzzing of wolves, I read the words I found imprinted on leaves.
“give me more” “keys to bad things” “boys hate paper” “curl yourself into a tight coil” “snow is a symbol of defiance” “cut your hair and clothes any way you feel like at any moment” “fear orchards” “you can’t objectify denim” “sleep” “frost will form on your body hair”
The scriptures of the forest were written like veins on leaves. They were hard to see unless you knew what you were looking for. If you gave a leaf a little kiss it usually made the scripture easier to see. The warmth of your lips was a respectful request, and the heat opened up the little vein-like words. Otherwise, you could read them, but only with the right sort of eyes. Eyes with a strong, warm glow, or a pin prick precision in vision.
The ghost boy of glowing, milky dreams would whisper gentle, strange things into my ears. Dark, slipping words, trundling into the forest. There was a familiarity about them, I knew it, but I couldn’t recognise it, not fully, not for a while.
I sat sprawled on a flower bed, the flowers each bigger than myself. I sat inside one, bum on pollen, surrounded by a fortress of closed pink petals. A little boy was there, shining through the translucent petal membrane. Not smiling, not frowning, with his fingers in his mouth. The demon of youth standing beside me. He pushed his fingers against the petal that made a wall between us, my flower fort, and I could see the outline of him glowing all in white, like a ghost. I touched each finger lightly through the petal membrane with my cold baby nose and I knew, somehow, that we were both smiling at our intertwined birth and death, and the concurrent events of everything inbetween.