This is a little bit like that, except that I don't have any financial incentive whatsoever, and this particular free sample might addle your brains a bit: I've decided to share with you the newly-penned 12th chapter of a rather odd short story which I've been writing on and off since mid-November (provisionally entitled A Salesman Beneath), just because I feel like it.
I have no idea how much sense this might make to you reading it in isolation, and I'm equally unsure how much sense it might make even in the context of the previous 11 chapters, but here goes anyway...
A few minutes later, Pone found himself being handed one end of a long length of flexible piping, whose other end was attached to the top of the stove. Meebrick and Nodroz each had one too.
“What’s this for?” he asked.
“To breathe,” said Nodroz, sounding terribly matter-of-fact.
“What, the stove’s exhaust fumes? Aren’t they usually poisonous?”
“It’s a connective stove,” Nodroz said, with a withering stare as if it should have been plain and obvious.
“Oh, I see: so they’re connective exhaust fumes!” Pone drawled. “But of course. That makes me feel so much better about gassing myself to death, if I can do it connectively.”
“Was that sarcasm?” asked Meebrick.
“Take an educated guess,” snapped Pone.
Nodroz gave them both an even witheringer glare, and stuck the end of his own pipe in his mouth. There followed several minutes of pointedly heavy breathing, as the old man sucked the stove fumes deep inside his system, clearly eager to demonstrate that it would have no ill effects. After the first few breaths, Meebrick chowed down on his pipe, and started tentatively puffing. Neither of them shrivelled up or went purple or turned into a guinea pig, so eventually Pone decided to risk it.
The result was terribly disappointing: the fumes smelled and tasted of absolutely nothing whatsoever. In fact, the gases coming off the stove were cool and fresh and impossibly clear, like what you would expect to be breathing on the top of a huge mountain in the middle of a vast unspoilt wilderness. Pone gave himself another headache on top of the one he already had, trying to work out how it was possible for exhaust fumes to smell so un-exhaust-like. But it didn’t last long, due to the healthful influence of the fumes.
“Are you yet satisfied with your breathing?” asked Nodroz.
Pone nodded very reluctantly, and clung to the railing for dear life as his host turned back to face the wall of bold red jelly overlapping the prow of the boat.
“Come then,” Nodroz mumbled through a mouthful of breathing tube, “Let us go henceforth into the core of Wobble!” He raised his arms in a dramatic gesture, and as if in response the inert front-left engine glimmered back into life. Then he intoned a loud and forceful “HUMNNN!” and flung his arms forwards to signal the intended direction of movement – and the Contradictorium slowly but surely started to push its way deeper into the gelatinous micro-planet.
“By the way,” Pone queried, “why does this asteroid or planet or whatever it is have such a dumb-sounding name?”
“It’s made of jelly, and jelly wobbles,” remarked Nodroz with his usual, irksome serenity, “so they called it ‘Wobble’.”
Pone groaned inwardly beneath the burdensome weight of this new knowledge.
“Bish ishho exhitig!” Meebrick giggled through his breathing tube. And as if that wasn’t undignified enough, he clapped his hands like a little child.
A moment later, Pone found the jelly approaching just inches from his nose.
“What is it with me and jelly lately?” Pone wondered. His hair was still full of blobs of goo from his recent encounter with the invertebrate shoal. But the blobs were soon lost to sight as they amalgamated into the greater mass of the micro-planet Wobble.
The stuff was more yielding than he might have expected, and once it had got itself on the move the Contradictorium seemed to have little trouble forging a path through it. The jelly flowed back into place behind the boat, leaving only a negligible wake of tiny bubbles to show where they had been. Pone became profoundly grateful for the stove hose.
The journey into Wobble seemed to go on for quite a long time, and there weren’t any landmarks on the inside. Pone started to despair of ever escaping. He attempted to distract his suffering brain with thoughts of financial outlays, profit margins, sales commissions and tax bands, and when that failed he turned his thoughts to his paternal aunt and her frankly terrifying collection of tea-cosies. She had thousands upon thousands of them, and was always after more. The surest way of making her happy was to give her another one, and the next surest was to give her a teapot to put inside one so she could display it properly.
Many centuries passed, and what with the lack of landmarks and the impossibly clear air he was breathing, Pone started to feel that he was drifting outside of the space-time continuum altogether. He started to doubt the existence of the outside world, and to wonder if maybe this surreal jelly was all there was, and all there ever had been.
Those centuries were actually two and three-quarter hours.
And then he was rudely pulled back to reality by the sound of Meebrick squealing a few feet away, muffled a bit (but nowhere near enough, Pone thought) by the surrounding semi-solid dessert.
“What’s wrong with the blighter now?” Pone asked himself.
He turned to look, and saw that Meebrick was pointing and staring straight ahead.
Ahead of the ship, deep inside the jelly, he could faintly see the outlines of some sort of transparent structure. There were rooms, and doorways, and what looked like stairs – and he even thought he could glimpse a pot plant or two.
Minutes later, the boat glooped its way out of the wall of a large room inside the jelly, and drifted to a stop in the middle of the floor.
The space was filled with all sorts of scientific equipment – microscopes, telescopes, orreries, burners, test tubes and flasks, rulers and tape measures and callipers, vices and tweezers, and books upon books upon books. It was hard to tell whether everything in the room really was made of copper and bronze, or if it just looked that way because of the red jelly which comprised the walls, floor and ceiling surrounding them. And Pone had been right – in another room at the top of a short, broad staircase, he could see a real, live pot plant. He wondered (with good reason) whether it had a funny name and whether it was going to be rude to him.
And in the middle of it all, not looking remotely pleased about having visitors, stood a very small girl in a long pink dressing gown, with a glowing magenta ponytail and a ferocious scowl. And a monocle, which didn’t really go with the rest of her look.
Meebrick gave an enthusiastic greeting, but sadly forgot to remove the breathing pipe from his mouth first, so it didn’t come out very well. He was glared at like something the cat dragged in. But being Meebrick the misnomer, he wasn’t much bothered by this and just kept on grinning and waving.
“GRANDMOTHER!” bellowed the little girl.
“I am so sorry to intrude,” began Nodroz the Third, “but might I take this opportunity to introduce…”
“GRANDMOTHER! I need you in here RIGHT NOW!”
There was one of those difficult silences.
And then a couple of minutes later, a tiny, hunched old lady oozed out of the ceiling and dropped onto the gelatinous floor just in front of the Contradictorium.
“How many times must I tell you, Grandmother – USE THE STAIRS!” shrieked the little girl.
“Sorry, dearie,” croaked Grandmother. “I did remember, but I’d already sunk my legs into the floor and it was too late.” She looked around, and realised how close she had been to impaling herself on the prow of the visiting boat. “Ooh, my word!” she chirped. “We’ve got some company!”
Meebrick grinned and waved again, and Grandmother waved back.
“I’ll go and put the kettle on,” she said.
“Thank you, Grandmother,” said the little girl.
Grandmother recovered her cane from where it had stuck in the jelly floor next to her, and wobbled off towards the kitchen.
The little girl glared at the intruders again.
“So who are you, and what are you doing in my laboratory?”
“I am Nodroz the Third,” began Nodroz the Third. Pone rolled his eyes again – he was getting tired of hearing him introduce himself. Nodroz pointed to the plant pot up front, “this is my faithful vegetable companion Yaseez, this…” he pointed at Pone, but then Pone decided to interrupt.
“My name is Pone Crustley,” announced Pone Crustley, “and if anyone tells you I’m called Woshling…” he paused for a second to give Nodroz a warning with one eyebrow, “… they’re telling you lies.”
“You look more like a Woshling to me,” announced the little girl. Pone slumped back against the stove and lost interest in the conversation, while she pointed at Meebrick and demanded to know who he was, and got the usual “it’s a real delight to see you!” greeting (thank goodness he’d taken his breathing tube out now).
“We are seeking to decipher the secrets of Wobble,” intoned Nodroz. “Humnnn.”
“Don’t you swear at me!” snapped the little girl.
“Basically,” chirruped Meebrick, “we don’t have a clue what we’re looking for, if anything, and we’re going for a road trip inside this jelly asteroid thing just for the fun of it. And then we spotted your place – can I just say, I absolutely love what you’ve done with the decor – so we thought we’d drop in and say hi!”
“I see… very well, then. Fortunately you haven’t collided with any of my extremely important scientific equipment. I am Professor-Emeritus Poppy Darlingsby,” announced the small girl. She adjusted her monocle and squinted at Meebrick. He gave a good-natured squint back.
“Um… what are you researching?” Pone asked, as he felt her gaze move over to him.
“Never mind that yet,” said the Professor.
Another very long silence.
This time, it was broken by the sound of shuffling feet and clinking chinaware.
“Here’s the tea!” chimed Grandmother from somewhere nearby.
“Excellent,” said the Professor. She started heading for the short staircase. “If you would all please follow me to the living room?”
I don't plan on posting the whole story on my blog, but if you want to read more then I'm sure I could arrange to send you the back issues and keep you up to date with new chapters as and when they get written =]
(Random aside: for those who read Fort Paradox, we're still waiting for some questions for the new Weekly FAQ feature! Come on, ask questions, darn it!)
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