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Squaxx Telling Stories

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The Legendary Shark:

…/CONT

The next afternoon, after a long mornin' of unnecessary pamperin', I looked like a new man. They'd bathed me in scented water with bubbles, cut my hair into something called a Gary Cooper, shaved me so fine my chin felt like stripped wood, got two giggly young lasses to faff about with my fingernails, paid a strange old dentist to polish my gnashers and stuffed me into a suit so expensive you could live off of it. They let me keep my six-guns, after a brief negotiation, but insisted on a new dino-skin gunbelt and holsters which, I had to admit, were the pooch's pendulums.

Emma inspected my new self and declared it adequate. “You're ready to start your new job,” she said. I told her that my job started the minute she invaded my camp and that the meter had been runnin' ever since. Emma didn't like this very much but Uncle 'Loon just laughed and said I was my father's son, which I thought everyone knew already.

Uncle 'Loon had a speech to give at the town's Mildew Research Centre an' so that was the first stop after we'd had lunch and sponged the gravy off of my tie, shirt and pants. Can't see how anyone expects a guy to eat gravy with a fork. These town folks and their towny ways.

The Mildew Research Center was a dumpy building two storeys high and painted tripe white, more or less like all the buildings roundabouts. A group of sullen folk in grubby white coats was waiting outside. One of them came marching up to Uncle 'Loon, bringin' an air o' trapped wind with him that I didn't much like. I was fixin' to punch him in my capacity as Uncle 'Loon's bodyguard but Emma stopped me.

“You're late,” said the gloomy man.

“Angus MacAngus,” Emma whispered into Uncle 'Loon's ear. “The Centre's union chairman.”

Uncle 'Loon, actin' fer all the world like he hadn't heard Emma, took the man's hand in a firm double grip and turned his smile about half way up. “Mr MacAngus,” he said, and all of a sudden his voice sounded like honey dripping onto a wad of money. “I'm so sorry we kept you waiting.” He nodded in my direction. “My bodyguard was hungry – and we have to take care of the workers, don't we?”

“Well I...” Mr MacAngus, forgetting to let go of Uncle 'Loon's handshake, took a step back, his mouth hanging open as a busted brolly. “Well I...” he said again, then looked at me.

“I spilt gravy all down me,” I said. “Sorry.”

MacAngus shook his head, like he was dead tired, and said, “I see.”

“I think I've kept you waiting long enough,” Uncle 'Loon said, taking MacAngus by the arm, “let's get inside, shall we?”

MacAngus nodded and the two men walked towards the entrance. Emma held me back a spell and, looking up into my eyes said, “'I spilt gravy all down me'? Really?”

I shrugged. “Well, I did,” I said, shrugging and making my new suit groan. “It's my fault we're late, well, partly anyways. Guy's been waiting so he deserves an apology, right?”

She looked at me for a long time but her eyes might as well have been marbles for all I saw in them. “Right,” she said. I nodded and walked off after Uncle 'Loon to guard his body from whatever it needed guarding from.

Inside, Uncle 'Loon shook hands with a passel o' glum lookin' men in white coats with dirty black spots and stains all over 'em. Uncle 'Loon pointed at the spotty coats an' said, through a fake smile, that it sure looked like the mildew was winning.

It seems Uncle 'Loon was expectin' a laugh but di'nt git one. Instead, the gloomy researchists perked up and Mr MacAngus's face lit up like radandelions in a sunbeam. “Finally,” he said, “someone who understands the seriousness of the situation!”

“Darn tootin' I do,” said Uncle 'Loon, his fake smile fixed like a flag o'er a fort. “I know that the current incumbent has proposed cutting the are and dee budget by one score and five percents ta pay for gravy fer scroungers.” He paused, moulding his fake smile into a fake frown of fake concern. “Under my plan, we'll sell all the scroungers to a...”

“Yes,” said Mr MacAngus, who di'nt seem ta be listenin' too close. “If we don't do something, the whole surface of the Earth will be covered in this stuff! We must act now!”

Uncle 'Loon stroked his chin and pretended to be interested. “Whole surface?” He fake mused for a tick or two. “That sounds interesting.”

“It'll be catastrophic! All higher life will be extinguished!”

“Extinguished,” said Uncle 'Loon, shaking his head. “Hmm.”

“We estimate,” said Mr MacAngus, getting a tatty notebook out of his tatty pocket and running his tatty thumb through it until he found the right tatty page, “that we have only six to eight hundred years before the process is complete.”

“Well,” Uncle 'Loon's fake smile returned, “we'll have to budget for that then, won't we? Salvation, after all, begins at home with a single first step. My friends,” Uncle 'Loon said, tilting up his big chin and puffing out his big chest, “what you have told me here today is important to y'all, I git that, I surely do. And I wants ta help ya with yer important work here, maybe helps y'all save the world. But I can't help you from behind the desk o' the town's biggest construction company. That's why I needs all yer votes on Pollin' Day.” He looked at the grubby people and saw as they was perked up but not quite convinced yet. He dipped his head for a moment and then raised it again, his face all deadly serious. “My friends,” he kept his voice low so's to make his audience lean in. “My friends, a vote for the other candidate is a vote for the status quo. A vote for the status quo is a vote against your important work. A vote for me is a vote fer change, a vote fer change is a vote fer you – and a vote fer you is a vote fer savin' the entire drokkin' planet from extinction!”

The grubby researchists erupted into wild cheerin's an' hootin's an' one of 'em even fired his six-shooter up into the ceiling, filling the place with dust an' shafts o' sunlight. Then they done carried him out on their shoulders, giving his head a good crack on the main exit door frame in their excitement. As designated bodyguard, I felt obliged to hit someone fer this shoddy conduct but Uncle 'Loon said it was okay and made us take him straight back ta the campaign bus.

Once we wuz inside, the driver cracked his whip and the hosses hurried on up to their labours. I dropped inta a seat, bored and itchy in my new suit, watchin' Emma tryin' ta stop the blood coming out of Uncle 'Loon's forehead. He waved her away like she was a bad smell, snatchin' the cloth from her fine hands and holdin' it to his own nut.

“Gruddam mildew researchers,” he said, “is that the best we got? 'Cause if it is, Ms Rockerchild, we may as well give up now.”

“The intellectual community...” Emma said.

“Hogwash!” Uncle 'Loon said. “Intellectual community my hairy ass! They're all gruddam lunatics with more brains than anyone needs! They don't understand anything! And where the Hell were the Gruddam press?”

“There was a mix up,” Emma said. “They all turned up at the Moss Research Centre on the other side of town. Rumour is they got a good story anyway.”

Uncle 'Loon threw up his hands and sighed, forcin' hisself into a calm. “Okay,” he said, “ain't no logic in cryin' o'er spilt bygones, I guess. Where to next?”

“Impromptu mayoral debate,” Emma said.

Uncle 'Loon gulped. “That's today? Now?”

Emma nodded.

“Ah Hell,” he said. “Rufus, my boy, better stay close for this next one.”

* * *

Uncle 'Loon perked up considerable when he got out of the campaign bus and a bunch of filmers and reportists charged at him. I stepped fore to hold 'em back, thinkin' that throwin' a good punch or two might ease the boredom, but Uncle 'Loon held me back and pushed past, Emma close aback.

“How kin I guard him if'n he won't be guarded?” I said, bad grace bein' a patic'lar failin' o' mine.

Emma glanced up at me an' winked, which kinda made everything okay again.

“What do you think your chances are against the incumbent Mayor Gripping?”

Uncle 'Loon turned to the lady reportist who'd asked the question and put on his third best fake smile. “Mayor Gripping's time is over,” he said. “In fact, one might just say that Gripping's about to lose his grip.”

“How do you respond to Mayor Gripping's allegations of financial impropriety?”

Uncle 'Loon turned to the new speaker and upgraded to his second best fake smile. “I'm sure Mayor Gripping is an expert at such matters. Me? I'm a simple kinda guy, I leave the numbers to my accountants and they have my full authority to make all the relevant details public. I have things to hide, sure I do, we all do. Things like pinching a pen from work or fantasising about somebody you shouldn't. Sure, I have things to hide – but financial impropriety ain't one of 'em.”

“But, isn't the very venue of this impromptu debate a blatant bribe given to Pisspoor Flats' electorate?”

Uncle 'Loon turned on his Number One Fake Smile. “I'm glad you asked me that question. I'm a rarity in Pisspoor Flats – I'm a rich man. I make no bones about that. I made my money building buildings all over town. Good buildings. Strong buildings. Quality buildings. Affordable buildings. I set aside a lump of the money I'd made just for me but, instead of building one big selfish thing, I decided I'd make one modest selfish thing and one modest unselfish thing. And so I built myself the most advanced mud and brick house ever designed, using bleeding-edge mud-brick technologies, and I built a Town Hall for the people of Pisspoor Flats as a gift and as a thank you for being so good an' kind an' just downright decent to me and mine over the decades. The fact that I gave this magnificent building to the town shouldn't make a whit o' difference to the way anyone votes. As the Good Book says, don't be givin' stuff just 'cause you want stuff back, bain't polite.”

“How do you respond to the alarming studies warning that the entire surface of the Earth will be covered in radioactive moss within the next five to seven hundred years?”

“Alarmist claptrap cooked up by those lunatics in Mayor Gripping's Campaign Office, obviously. Everyone in the know knows that the real threat is mildew.” Uncle 'Loon pointed to another reportist and then another, then another, answering questions as got steadily more daft. The last question, “Shall we get inside?” was met with Uncle 'Loon's shortest answer all day.

“Yes, let's.”

* * *

Lookin' back, it was kinda plain as the reportist just tripped, caught off his guard and tangled in his own feet just as the crowd pushed away. He fell, right at Uncle 'Loon.

So I hit him.

I'd kinda been aching to do something for hours. Anything. Hitting this guy fit the bill, that's all. Everythin' froze, everybody lookin' at me like dead fish on a rack.

“How do you justify assaulting a reporter?”

“I di'nt assault nobody,” I said. “I just thumped him, that's all.”

“That is assault, you big lump,” Emma said, whispering out of the side of her mouth.

“It is?”

She nodded. I turned back to the reportists and smiled my only smile. “Look,” I said. “I don't know nothing about all this boring stuff. I'm just his nephew, come over from Brokendream Creek to look out fer him 'til y'all elect him, and him and Ms Rockerchild can run you all proper and good. I honestly don't care, see, 'cause nobody runs me but me.” I paused, not wantin' to tell a lie on top of everything else. “Well, and my Maw and Paw, o' course. An' Gramma, when she ain't shoutin' at spiders. Which reminds me...”

The crowd pressed towards me, expectin' more. I swallowed. “Okay, so maybe I shouldn't have thumped this guy. How wuz I to know he weren't some crazy stabber? I didn't shoot him, did I? I'm just doin' my job, lookin' out for family, okay? This guy's my uncle, I don't want crazy stabbists lurchin' out at him, 'specially if they're real. So, you reckon we can all put this unfortunateness behind us?” I stood up high as I could and swelled my muscles. It's a good trick, works more often than it fails, and the reportists took a step back, helping their dazed comrade to unsteady pins. I nodded. “Good.”

Shaking his head and apologising, Uncle 'Loon strode towards the brand new Town Hall, dragging the knot o' reporters along with him like he was a magnet. I stood for a minute, trying to make my face stop being red. Emma came up to me and looked into my face, which di'nt help not one iota, and raised an eyebrow and one corner of her mouth. She stood so for a long minute before making a baffled face and marching off in chase of Uncle 'Loon.

* * *

CONT/...

The Legendary Shark:
…/CONT

Inside, the Town Hall was quite a thing to see, all covered with polished wood and pictures of faces I di'nt know. We was led through a crowd of townsfolk, an' Uncle 'Loon paused to shake hands with  some folk and ooze over others as we went, into a big hall with a stage at one end. The rest of the place was over-stuffed with cheap old plastic chairs as got in everyone's way and scrawped agin' the floor loud enough to melt teeth. Uncle 'Loon was led onto the stage and sat in a chair, me an' Emma followed. She'd got a chair too but I had to stand behind him.

“Who's the muscle?” The assembling audience laughed at the question, as did Uncle 'Loon.

“Now, now, Myrtle,” he said, “keep your hands off this one.”

The turbulent audience, those as wasn't trippin' over chairs or fightin' over 'em, laughed again an' I di'nt much care for it.

“Why,” Myrtle's voice cackled back, “you switched sides an' keepin' this one fer yerself, eh?”

The audience and Uncle 'Loon laughed again. “No, Myrtle, he's my nephew. He's over from Brokendream Creek to look after me for a few days.”

“Look after you?” The reportists, usin' all their elbows to maintain their place at the front, perked up.

Uncle 'Loon waved his hands, like it weren't worth mentionin'. “My brother heard as how I was fixin' to run for mayor and how politics kin git kinda rough hereabouts, so was worried for my safety and sent young Rufus here to watch o'er me a bit. I weren't worried but, you know how it is,” he shrugged his shoulders and smiled, “families are powerful weird animals.”

At that moment, four big men in black sleather uniforms and shiny black helmets marched into the room, walkin' in a tight knot and swingin' heavy black batons to clear their path to the stage. Once on stage, the four guards broke formation and stood to attention in a line, revealin' a short, fat man with little half-moon glasses pushed up onto his forehead and goat's horns growin' out of his chin. A few of the audience clapped.

“Of course,” Uncle 'Loon said, “Mayor Gripping's security is rather better, as you can see, which is just as well for the amount he taxes you for it.”

The audience booed, laughed, whistled, applauded, stamped, clapped and muttered.

“The security of elected officials is paramount,” Mayor Gripping said, taking off his glasses and polishing them with a white hankie. “The chain of command must be preserved in such dangerous times.”

“Dangerous times? The only danger here is you with your irresponsible fiscal policies,” said Uncle 'Loon.

The audience booed, laughed, whistled, applauded, stamped, clapped and muttered.

“You have not heard the news from Mega City One, then?” The Mayor concentrated on a mighty persistent stain on his glasses, taking no notice of the general settlin' down. He looked up, every eye on him, relishin' the role of news-giver.

“Of course we've heard,” said Uncle 'Loon at the exact right thunder-stealin' moment. “They're having a rebellion led by a carpenter called Ken. So what? What's it got to do with us all the way out here?”

“That carpenter,” said the Mayor, his voice cuttin' through the general mutterings, “happens to be a robot. Do you have any idea what that means, you imbecile?”

Uncle 'Loon bristled but kept his cool. He waved his arm at the world around in general. “I don't see many robots around here,” he said. “Again, what's it got to do with us?”

“Once they've taken the City, they'll come for us,” the Mayor said, his pudgy face redding up a shade. “And if we're not ready...”

Uncle 'Loon laughed and the audience began debating the issue on its own. A chair was thrown.

“G-G-G-Gentlemen! G-G-Gentlemen!” A tall, wiry man leapt onto the stage, tugging up his flies with one hand and balancing a coffee mug and untidy clipboard in the other. “I'm sorry I'm late.”

“Who the Hell are you?” Mayor Gripping shouted, his guards tightening their grips on their batons.

“I… I'm J-J-J-Jerry J-J-Jacobs,” the tall man stammered, struggling to sort his papers and mug into some form of order. “I'm the chairman for this d-d-debate.”

“We've already started,” Uncle 'Loon said. “Mayor Gripping thought it might be nice to kick-off with a nice fairy story.”

“You haven't got the wit to see the danger, you moron,” the Mayor said, balling his little fists.

The chairman held up his hands, spilling coffee onto his notes. “G-G-G-Gentlemen, please. This is neither the time nor the place for arguing. Now if you'll j-j-just calm d-down, we can get this d-debate going properly. Okay, first question...”

The audience bombarded him with litter an' he shut up.

“The fact is,” Uncle 'Loon said, “that Mayor Gripping is trying to scare you into tipping up more taxes for 'your own defence' and re-electing him to protect you from imaginary killer robots. Do you really think we're all that dumb, Mr Mayor?”

The Mayor, shaking with rage and egged on by the audience, lunged at Uncle 'Loon. So I lunged at the Mayor. And the Mayor's bodyguards lunged at me. One of the guards said, while he was tryin' ta pull my ears off, “We was trained by the Justice Department in Mega City Two – you should run, boy.” So I biffed him but good, my ears always was on the sensitive side, and he di'nt say nothing else for a fortnight.

Shouting, “I don't run!” I got into it with the other three and they soon went down too. When it was over and the red mist backed off some, I looked up. Everyone was lookin' at me, the reportists and filmists pointing cameras and mikes at me. Even the fighting in the audience had stopped.

One of the reportists cleared her throat. “Why… how did you do that?”

I shrugged, and this time the seam of my new suit split all up the back. “Protectin' my Uncle, that's all,” I said. “Gotta look out for kith an' kin, right? Protect those as need it, stop the bad guys.”

“And… all for family values? You're not even getting paid?”

“Well, Ma'am, I...”

Uncle 'Loon laughed and put an arm 'round my shoulders. “Of course, I'll see to it that my nephew is handsomely rewarded for his service here today,” he said quickly, through his Number One Fake Smile. “And out of my own pocket – I will not have this community further burdened in the financials.”

The reportists ignored him and another one asked me, “Did you think of running?”

I scowled. “I don't run,” I said, the red mist thinkin' about comin' back.

“No, I meant, running for office?”

I looked at him dumb for a minute then laughed fit to bust. “Heck, no,” I said. “I can barely run my own life, how'd ya expect me ta run all o' yours as well? That's jest loopy.”

“Oh Grud,” said the Mayor, sitting on his backside on the stage with his now not so white hanky pressed to his bloody nose, “not another one.”

“Now, just hang on a minute,” Uncle 'Loon said, looking uncertain.

“But – Rufus, is it? - you're strong, you're brave, you're honest, you're loyal; you're everything a good mayor should be.”

The audience began to put each other down and murmur agreement.

“I ain't gonna be no Mayor,” I said, “an' that's final. I runs me and you runs you, that's how it works in my neck o' the woods an' that's how I like it.”

“Well, there it is, he doesn't want it,” said Uncle 'Loon, “and, let's be fair, what can a fifteen year old country bumpkin know about politics or the intricacies of...” The audience started booing and throwing stuff at him, some of it quite heavy. A chant of “Ru-fus, Ru-fus, Ru-fus,” started at the back and soon spread.

I held up my hands but they didn't stop 'til I threatened 'em. “No,” I said. “I ain't doin' it. If y'all's so blamed sad that you need one o' these two clowns to run yer lives for yer, then I don't see how turnin' ta me's gonna cheer you up any.”

The chant started up again, which fair bamboozled me, then Emma put her kitten hand on my arm and smiled up at me. “I knew it,” she said, then led me away from the chanting mob.

* * *

“What in Grud's name went wrong?” Uncle 'Loon shouted as soon as we'd crept up the stairs to his study and were alone.

“He wasn't listening,” said Emma. “I told you he wasn't listening.”

“Who wasn't listening to what?” I said.

“You! You great lump! You didn't listen to the plan?” Uncle 'Loon said.

I was a blank. “Plan? What plan?”

Uncle 'Loon sighed. “Ms Rockerchild told you all about it on the ride in.”

“Ah,” I said, remembering the jiggles, “I weren't listening.”

“Told you,” said Emma, taking a sip of wine and then putting the glass down. “Wasn't listening.”

“This is a disaster,” Uncle 'Loon said, pouring himself a glass of wine and gulpin' at it like a camel in a hurry. “His death was supposed to sweep me to power on a wave of public outrage but, instead, everyone wants to vote for him. It's a disaster.”

“My death?” I di'nt like the sound of that.

“Serious injury, certainly, a faked death on top of that, for the sympathy. You really weren't listening, were you?” Uncle 'Loon said, filling his glass again. “And what about you?” He rounded on Emma, who stayed relaxed, “what suggestions do you have for rescuing this congealed drokk-up?”

Emma smiled, looking at me. “I think,” she said, “that there may be a way. We give the people what they want. Him,” she pointed at me.

“What?” Uncle 'Loon and me said at the same time, finally on the same page.

“I ain't doin' it,” I said.

“He can't do it,” said Uncle 'Loon, “what about the East Meg One deal?”

Emma smiled and picked up her wine glass, swirlin' it all slow and thoughtful like. “You know, I think I've just figured out a way to triple the size of that deal.”

“T… triple? Oh my Sweet Lord above...”

“Yes,” said Emma. “Are you in?”

Uncle 'Loon and me spoke at the same time again but, this time, we weren't even on the same book.

Emma nodded and took a slim vone from her bag. “Fine. I can give us all what we want.”

“No,” I said, “I...”

Emma looked up from dialling a number and frowned at me. “Don't worry, young man, just trust me. Go get yourself some food, take the night off, have a bath.”

The magic words. I turned to leave, not really listenin' to Emma.

“...Vince, it's me. Yes. Hi. Change of plan. Got a pen? Right – new posters and banners, I want them printed and up in two hours. Yes. Get onto the media, this is the angle I want them to use...”

* * *

I woke up in a feather bed with bright sunshine all over me. My brain felt like my skull was shrinking and openin' my eyes was like letting icicles in.

“Good afternoon, Mr Mayor,” said Emma.

I groaned and asked how long I'd been asleep. “Three days,” she said. “I'm sorry, we had to drug your bathwater.”

“Well,” I said, trying to get angry but not able to manage it. “That just ain't neighbourly.”

“We had to keep you out of the way,” Uncle 'Loon said. “Stop you from… well, from being you and ruining everything.”

“Soon as I can stand up,” I said, “I'm gonna' knock both your blocks off.”

“If it's any consolation,” Emma said, “we had to use dinosophorin to knock you out – they use it to anaesthetise brontosauruses over at Rexturd Valley.”

I tried not to look smug.

“Double dose,” said Uncle 'Loon, shaking his head.

I failed trying not to look smug and changed the subject. “Why am I the mayor? How?”

Emma shrugged. “People love giving power to people who don't want it, so I had your name put on the ballot anyway and ran a flash campaign in the media, you know the sort of thing.”

“No,” I said.

“No, I don't suppose you do. Anyway, we convinced the voters that your refusal to campaign, or even be seen, was indicative of your hands-off governing style. The less you did, the more people liked it and you eventually took 89% of the vote. So, you're the Mayor now, Mr Mayor.”

“No I ain't!” I said, strugglin' agin' all kinds of gravity to get out of bed.

“That's the beauty of it,” said Uncle 'Loon, “you don't have to be.”

“Well that's good,” I said, getting my feet under me at last, “because I ain't. Where are my clothes?”

Emma pointed. “Your suit's been dry cleaned and mended, it's over there on the...”

“Not that,” I said. “My clothes, the gear I rode in in.”

“Just wait,” said Emma. She put a hand on my arm and it didn't feel like it was made of kittens any more, it felt like a bag of razors. I pushed her away and began searching the room for my clothes, yanking open cupboard doors and pulling the knobs off of drawers.

“We just need you to do one thing,” Uncle 'Loon said, tryin' for an honest smile an' fallin' short by some considerable distance.

“Aha,” I said, findin' my clobber and pulling on my pants.

“Please,” said Emma, “just do one thing for us and then you'll be free.”

“Begging your pardon, Ms Emma,” I said, tucking in my shirt, “but I'm already free and, to prove it, I'm off.” I pulled on my boots, to Uncle 'Loon's horror, and buckled my belts.

“Just put the suit on,” Uncle 'Loon was pleading, holding up the itchy suit and still failin' in the smile department. “Put it on and appear in public one last time. Please? Rufus, for me? For the family?”

I shrugged into my coat and reached for my hat with the two bullet holes in it. “Why?”

Uncle 'Loon pounced like a radaccoon on a chemvole. “Just appoint me as your Deputy, then I can speak for you!”

“I speak for myself,” I said, putting on my hat and turning to the door.

“No, you don't understand,” Emma said. “You don't have to say anything, you don't even have to be here after that. You'll be Mayor in name only.”

I put my hand on the doorknob. “Sounds devious to me,” I said. “Underhanded. Low.”

“It's politics,” said Uncle 'Loon.

I pulled open the study door, knocking splinters out of the patches where it usually caught. “No,” I said. “I ain't the Mayor and I ain't pretendin' to be the Mayor either.”

I bounded down the staircase, taking the steps two and three at a time, breathin' hard an' workin' a good mad up. I di'nt really notice all the servants and butlers and guards bustin' inta a panic. I yanked open the front door and the whole house shivered as it glanced over the parts it generally caught on. Outside, I slammed the door behind me too hard. Instead o' stoppin' at the stop, it kept on coming, breaking the hinges and bringing the stop with it. The door next to it began to belly out like a cred-card in a vice until it suddenly pinged out and knocked down a pear tree. The house seemed to be settling, like a drugged rhino, and people were divin' out of the place as quick as they could manage. I dropped the door and headed for the stables, not carin' to look back at the creaks an' groans an' collapsin's.

General Leer had his own stall at the far end of the stable building, which suited him fine. The rest of the horses huddled together at the other end, refusing to even look at him. “Finally,” he said as I slapped the saddle onto his mangy back. “I am heartily sick of this place and this company. Tell me we're going home.”

“We're goin' home,” I said, leading him out of his stall and past the other horses, who huddled closer together as we passed. General Leer gave one of the younger mares a nip on her rump and she neighed with coquettish terror.

“What's all that noise?” The General's ears pricked up and he nodded his head nervously.

“I think Uncle 'Loon's house is falling down,” I said.

“You knocked his house down? Even for you that sounds a bit extreme,” said General Leer.

“You!” Emma said, standing in the stable yard. The air was filled with dust but somehow brighter than before. “You have made a powerful enemy today, boy!”

I swung onto General Leer's back. “There's no need to be like that, Miss Emma,” I said. “You played me an' lost, is all. Git o'er it.”

“Lost?” she said as I rode past her and out into the dusty haze, “Lost? Oh, my boy, I haven't even started playing with you yet!” She ran after me, choking on the dust and eyes all a-stream, an' I was just about to take pity on her when she starts shoutin' again. “Over here,” she shouted, “it's the Mayor! Ask him what's going on! Ask him what to do! Here he is! Over here!”

I spurred General Leer to be faster and he was as keen as me, fer once, but as we got out of the dust and into the clear air of the rest of the town, the cry had already been taken up and folk pressed in from all sides pointin' an' askin' an' demandin'.

“I told you I weren't gonna be Mayor an' I ain't,” I said. “Now get outta my damn way!”

“But you were elected,” a tall creep in a short hat said. “Willing or not, you have an obligation under the democratic process to...”

I took my toe out of the stirrup and kicked his hat off, which shut him up. “I ain't your Mayor,” I said, and swelled up some to add emphasis.

“But,” a dumpy woman in dungarees and aqualung spoke up, pointing to the column of dust rising from where Uncle 'Loon's house used to be, “what are we going to do?”

I sighed. “How the heck do I know? Figure something out, you're not helpless.” I raised a fist and swelled some more. “But you sure will be if you don't get outta my way.”

The crowd parted and General Leer didn't need no tellin' to take advantage so we was soon off and on our way outta town. It di'nt last long, though, 'cause they sent a couple o' posses after us to fetch me back. They sure were keen to have their Mayor back and chased me round the Dunes of Nibia and round the Ant-Hilly Maelstrom and round Per Dishin's Frames before they gave me up.

I'd set a new course an' was headed fer home, ponderin' on how politics don't seem to agree with me, when a spider dangled itself from the brim of my hat with the two bullet holes in it and hung there lookin' at me. It reminded me of all the happy times I'd had back home with my sibs, laughing at Gramma shouting at spiders in the woodshed. I wondered what Gramma had agin' spiders, they seemed harmless enough to me. All they did was eat radflies and make webs.

Out of silk.

“Ah, heck.”


THE END

The Legendary Shark:
The One.
On the cold and wretched aeons old stone jetty against which gnawed the indolent black waters of the sullen Stix, Charon stood waiting for Death.

The Ferryman sighed and sucked on his ancient and yellowed thighbone pipe, bathing his ghastly face in a malignant red glow, and grumbled to himself. Death, it seemed, was growing tardy. Not too long ago Death had brought him passengers by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions, and his glowering boat would groan almost contentedly under the weight of myriad damned even as his own muscles ached proudly as he set his oars against the heavy cargo. Now Death brought him scant thousands, sometimes feeble hundreds, for men were, Death claimed, learning how to cheat him. But Charon, to whom the Earth was invisible beyond the slumbering glooms of the Underworld in which he made his living, suspected that Death was no longer so dedicated as in the ages of old.

Charon well remembered the first men Death brought him, babes and children murdered by their brutish parents for their deformities, hairless and weak but sharp and cunning as the gods had made them. They came in ones and twos at first, unimpressive and afraid, genetic abnormalities discarded by their hairy and dense parents who desired equally hairy and dense offspring. But slowly, over countless millennia, their numbers increased and their ages lengthened until the last of their hairy, dense parents took to the Stix and only the hairless, cunning offspring came to board his glowering boat. At first they came on account of famine, sickness and the attentions of the beasts of the Earth but, as aloof Time wrought her dark magic, they began to come to him through murder and war.

War! How Charon loved that marvellous invention of man! How easily it filled the boundless thwarts of his beloved craft! And that state which men called civilisation, which crushed them together into dense groups susceptible to plagues, politics, and pogroms sent the dedicated Ferryman more passengers than he could count! How magnificent was the ingenuity of man to send him such numbers!

Charon sighed once more and tapped out the dying embers of his thighbone pipe onto his calloused palm. He threw the ash into the Stix and it slapped into the dark, sour waters with a pitiful hiss. He pulled more sticky leaves from his senescent pouch and thumbed them into the charred bowl of his thighbone pipe. As he reached for a discoloured box of Lucifers, something moved in the gloom.

'It's about time,' he said as the tall, gaunt figure of Death emerged from the eternal darkness. 'How many dost thou fetch for me this day?'

Death, smiling, answered simply. 'Two hundred and twelve.' His thin voice, like the north wind moaning through a broken city, carried with it no emotion but only the smell of broken dreams and rotten love.

Charon shook his head and sighed again. 'Dost thou jest, Cobwebby Reaper?'

Death said nought but swept his bony hand towards the glowering boat and the gloomy dead shuffled aboard with dumb abandon.

Charon shook his head sadly. 'Thou art thin with thy bounty, Old Death,' he said. 'Dost thou tire of thy task? Art thou weary and, through thy fatigue and boredom, bringing me only enough to keep thy job?'

Death watched the pitiful few shuffle down the cold and wretched aeons old stone steps to board the Ferryman's boat and shook his head. 'Nay,' he said. 'These are all I could gather this day.'

'It is not enough,' Charon said, then struck a Lucifer and sucked the flame into the bowl of his thighbone pipe, which crackled and hissed and threw red light feebly into the gloom.

'This I know,' said Death. 'Men are at war with me, every day they discover new ways to cheat me through science and wit.'

'Then our time comes to an end,' said Charon, sucking at his thighbone pipe.

'Perhaps,' said Death, 'but there is a way to return us to Glory.'

Charon snorted, unconvinced and still suspicious of Death's fidelity but afraid that man may, possibly, be on the cusp of outmatching the will of the gods. 'Seriously?'

Death nodded his scabrous skull, a baleful glint sparkling deep within his dark, dead sockets. 'Aye. Lady Time tells me so.'

'The Bitch of Time speaks to thee?' Charon laughed and the gloom rippled nervously at the novel sound.

Death nodded. 'There is one man,' Death said, 'who is on my list. If I were to refuse him, she saith, then thy barge wouldst be filled to bursting once again, fuller than ever it has been before.'

Charon raised his lips into a sneer. 'Impossible,' he said. 'Methinks this is thy subterfuge, thy plot to begin reneging on thy responsibilities! First thou ignores one, then two, then, at the last, all - until thou canst retire!'

'Nay,' said Death. 'Wilt thou agree to allow me to spare just one, to pass this one man by in order to fill thy barge to bursting and keep us both in business?'

Charon sucked on his pipe, arrested by the fervour in Death's voice. 'One man?'

'Aye,' said Death. 'Just one. He hath been hero and saviour to millions and is soon to conflict with a tyrant, a mass murderer set on genocide.'

'The tyrant sounds a better prospect,' said Charon. 'Genocides fill my ferry like nothing else.'

'Trust me,' said Death.

Charon watched the last of the pitiful few descend the cold and wretched aeons old stone steps to board his ferry and sucked upon his pipe, deep in unfathomable thought. 'Just one man?'

Death nodded, his skull glinting red in the glow of Charon's thighbone pipe.

'Very well,' said Charon. 'Just one man - but no more. If the gods discover thy, our, plot...'

Death grinned. 'Thou shalt not regret it,' he said, then turned and moved back into the gloom and was lost from the Ultimate Ferryman's sight. Charon watched Death as the shadows consumed him and then, with a sigh and sad shake of his head, descended the steps to his boat and bent to the age-worn oars.

***

The next day Death returned with a paltry four hundred and sixty two beleaguered dead and Charon scowled. 'Still far too few,' he said.

'Aye,' Death said sadly, 'but the one was spared. This day I should have brought thee four hundred and sixty three but, as we agreed, the one was spared though a bullet pierced his head.'

Charon, unconvinced, nevertheless placed his trust in Death although he felt a mistake had been made and the gods would be angry. He bent to his oars with sadness, the lightness of his boat placing little strain on the muscles of his arms and his back. The following days brought little improvement but improvement nonetheless and, as the days and months and years passed, more and more dead were brought by Death to Charon's boat. Hundreds became thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions and, on one glorious day, Death brought him billions!

Charon looked upon the multitude with wide and weeping eyes, revelling in the glory of his most productive day and the promise of even more to come.

'Death,' he said, 'I confess that I did doubt thee but thou hast proven thyself unto me beyond all reason!'

'Aye,' said Death, smiling his usual smile. 'We shalt be busy now and needed more than we ever have afore. Our jobs art safe for the foreseeable and the gods shalt need us and rely upon us until Doom is cracked!'

Charon looked upon the billions descending the cold and wretched aeons old stone steps to his ferry and shook his head in wonder. 'And all for thy sparing of one man,' he said in awe.

'Aye,' said Death.

Charon looked upon his antediluvian colleague with a tear in his ancient eye and wonder in his timeless soul. 'Tell me,' he said, 'for I must know or burn with eternal curiosity - what is the name of the one you spared, the one who brings us such infinite bounty?'

Death paused and shifted his scythe from one bony hand to the other before answering, with a singular tremor in his graveyard thin voice, 'Dredd.'



The End.

Bolt-01:
Clap, clap, clap.

Bravo.

TordelBack:
That was ace, Sharky.  I see the muse has returned to the shed!

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