Liffy Dampwell climbed the steps of the office block, wherein resided the central hub of his business empire – a description which conjured images of success behind the otherwise dull reality of his eyes. It was a Thursday, though not necessarily a bad thing, this particular Thursday would soon show itself to have a significant effect upon the rest of his life. Stopping a few paces short of the entrance he sighed heavily at the realisation that, once again, there was a new doorman.
He hated it when this happened. He hated it even more because it happened with relentless frequency. The Management Company who ‘managed’ the building seemed intent on trying out every Security Firm in the phonebook, and a few that weren’t. Sighing again Liffy leaned forwards and peered through the smoke effect of the glass. The doorman, person - he’d once had his political incorrectness severely corrected on that one by a bottle blonde disguised as an ex para - peered back. He looked small, seemingly innocuous, but Liffy had been caught out with that one too many times. The smile on his face suggested that he liked nothing better than frisking anybody who passed his way, with the probable exception of those who looked as if they might enjoy it.
Leaning a little closer Liffy could almost make out the logo on his badge, ‘Ped and Tick Security Co’. Turning this over in his mind, Ped and Tick, Ped an Tick, Pedantic, the Pedantic Security Co. he sighed even deeper. But then he couldn’t put this off all day, he was already late for an appointment with a potential new client. So brandishing his freshly crumpled Mac, ready to explain the origins of any and all stains, he tightened his grip on his little bundle and, tapping his security code into the release mechanism, pushed his way through the revolving doors.
‘Bob!’ the now smiling face barked at him.
Deciding instantly that a confrontation wasn’t going to benefit either of them, Liffy offered a curt nod towards the suddenly exposed teeth and tried to continue across the foyer.
‘Bob!’ a little more emphasis seemed to carry the sound clear past Liffy, planting it squarely between him and the lift, so that he felt obliged to respond.
Turning around he smiled, his nice smile, whilst trying to project his puzzlement through his expression.
‘Bob!’ the face snarled back.
Not completely sure of what to do next Liffy did the first thing that popped into his head. Stepping back towards the doorman, he smiled then bobbed. This seemed to instantly placate the man, his smile spreading even further past his teeth,
‘Bob’ he offered holding out his hand in a gesture of welcome.
‘Liffy,’ Said Liffy, taking the offered hand and shaking it, hurriedly, ‘Liffy Dampwell, Entrepreneur, Researcher and Friend to the Stars.’
Glancing nervously downwards as the doorman stepped closer to him, he could see the Logo on his uniform much more clearly now, Pendant 1C Security Co. Offering a second, somewhat more apologetic smile, he turned to walk away.
‘Sorry Sir, er Liffy, but I need to see your pass.’
Feeling the world collapsing onto his shoulders, Liffy turned his smile back towards the doorman. It was time to put the little man firmly in his place.
‘Liffy Dampwell, Mr. to you, Fifth floor, Third Landing, Office Number 102. I’m sorry but I don’t have my pass with me.’
The doorman’s smile seemed to spread even wider, exposing even more teeth,
‘Then I’ll ave to ask you to sign the visitors’ book, so’s I can issue you with a visitors pass….Mr!’
Liffy looked towards the ceiling, gathered his thoughts, calmed himself, then exploded into the mans teeth,
‘I work hear imbesil, how do you think I got past the security lock if I didn’t know the number and how would I know the number if I didn’t work here!’
The smile never wavered and the eyes didn’t blink. Bob removed a handkerchief from a secret pocket somewhere within his uniform and wiped the spittle off of his nose. Replacing the handkerchief back into its hiding place, he stepped a little closer to Liffy and peered up towards him,
‘It’s possible that you watched someone else and memorised the code.’
‘What!?’ Liffy was suddenly exasperated.
’What’s more the correct pronunciation is imbecile; it has a ‘cile’ at the end not a ‘sil’.’
The teeth seemed to gleam at him now, whilst the heavy forehead sank downwards turning the eyes below it into piercing centres of antagonism. Without waiting for Liffy’s response Bob, gently, took hold of him by the elbow and began to steer him towards the reception desk. Liffy considered punching him; in fact he considered punching, kicking and possibly strangling him. But he was late for his new client and, quite simply, couldn’t afford the hassle so he opted for capitulation and boosting of the pigmy’s ego. Not that the doorman was actually a pigmy, it just helped Liffy to regard him as one. Shaking his arm loose he glared at the Pendant pigmy, he liked the sound to that, before striding in front of him, ensuring that he reached the desk first. Slouching forwards he leaned his bulk towards Holly, the receptionist. She in turn, without really acknowledging his presence, leaned her bosom towards him.
‘Mornin Liffy, forget yer pass agin?’
There came an extended pause whilst she masticated on her hubba bubba in such a manner that all and sundry could determine its colour and texture,
‘Visitors passes are in the box, help yerself darlin an put yer name and pass number in the book.’
The mastication suddenly became more vigorous as she leaned even further forward and leered at him,
‘If yer like, yer can put yer phone number down as well!’
Somewhere a horse began to laugh, well at least it sounded like a horse. Muttering to himself he grabbed a pass out of the box, filled in the register and turned towards the lift.
‘I’m sorry Mr. Dampwell, but you can’t get in that lift on your own.’
The words stung, maybe it was the cynical emphasis placed on the Mr. Dampwell, or maybe just the reminder of Pendant pygmies existence. Silence descended upon the reception area, hitting Liffy first due to his unnatural height, narrowly missing Bob, the Pendant pigmy, and settling nicely across Holly’s pouting lips. Liffy turned slowly around; this wasn’t done for effect, more to protect his suspected groin strain – a product of an earlier adventure. Smiling through clenched teeth he looked down at the Guard,
‘And why not, small person?’
Bob smiled patronisingly back,
‘Because, you have got a blue badge, that means you have to be accompanied by a responsible…’
Liffy stepped calmly into the lift. He didn’t bother to look behind him, Holly’s hysterical screams told him that Pendant pygmies’ nose was still staining his teeth a deep, bloody red.
It had not been the action of a well adjusted, mature man. It had been the action of a well-provoked, incensed and exasperated man. He knew that he would, at some point regret it. His knuckles were already throbbing and blushing rapidly and his conscious was trying to evaluate the potential implications of his actions. But, at least for the duration of the ride in the lift, he was going to enjoy the moment.
Holding tight to his little bundle, he took a deep breath as the lift came to a halt and the doors opened onto the Fifth floor.
‘Shit!’ he muttered.
With the exception of the dim glow from the security lighting, the corridor was in darkness.
It may have been late afternoon and a Thursday at that, but it was also summer time. It was possible that some half witted office clown was playing a tedious, office type, prank. But just as likely not. This did not bode well. Liffy’s over imaginative approach to the majority of everyday events would, inevitably, lead him to conclude that any new predicament was created more by design than by accident. Out of the corner of his eye, something he always struggled with due to his eye being round, he could almost make out a shadowy figure struggling with a strange shaped adversary further down the corridor. Realising that he was now framed in the lift doorway, the lift being well illuminated, he stepped quickly into the darkened corridor. This in itself was a little unfortunate, due to his haste he forgot to duck, a definite requirement for someone his size, as such he managed to deposit a reasonable amount of skin and hair on the underside of the door jamb. This, in turn, caused him to duck much more aggressively than normal. Combine this with the fact that he was holding tight to his little bundle and that he very rarely ever did his shoelaces up. Yup, you got it!
Liffy twisted, stumbled and did a sort of disjointed lambada before crashing, full stretch onto the floor. His instant response in these situations, which seemed to prevail upon him with incredible repetition, would be to colour the immediate locale with some of his more ambiguous expletives. On this occasion the package he was carrying had been pressed, somewhat savagely, into his solar plexus, so expunging the air he would otherwise have used for swearing. Curling into a little ball he bravely retched into the carpet, whilst the lift doors happily closed and opened about his extended ankle.
A few seconds later the corridor was flooded with light, offering Liffy a fleeting glimpse of the building caretaker as he picked up his stepladder (strange shaped adversary) and disappeared into the maintenance lift, dropping a couple of dead light bulbs into the rubbish bin as he went.
A pair of, most definitely feminine legs brought their accompanying feet very close to his dribbling nose, cutting short his planned cursing.
‘Ah, Mr. Dampwell I presume. Nope, a little too formal. Tell you what I’ll call you Liffy, just to keep things friendly.’
There was a slight pause whilst the legs folded elegantly downwards, bringing a swish of nylon and a wash of expensive perfume with them.
‘Allow me to introduce myself – Tres Corrolla, Operations Director for OFFAL. We’ve picked up the options on your contract, which makes me your new Boss. I’ve taken an office just down the corridor here so, when you’ve done whatever it is you are doing, then we need to talk.’
A second swish of nylon, a crinkle of cotton, a last whiff of perfume and she was gone.
Cursing and grumbling, somewhat unintelligibly, Liffy extricated himself from the lift and unfolded back into a standing position. Glancing quickly around, just to be sure that no one had witnessed this most recent display of clumsiness, he shrugged his jacket back onto his shoulders, adjusted his rain coat and bundle and followed the pleasantness of scent down the corridor.
Who did she say she was? Somebody from OFFAL? Never heard of em, and what contract, he was an entrepreneur – self employed! Best get this sorted. Shrugging, or at least attempting to shrug, a little more order into his dishevelled appearance he turned these few thoughts over in his, otherwise empty, mind.
‘And another thing,’ he muttered to himself, ‘she sure smells good!’
Stopping half way along the corridor he suddenly realised that she, the woman, and her scent, had disappeared. Finding himself standing outside of his own office he voiced a few more expletives, more for effect than necessity, and then glared around hoping to spot an open door, or any suggestion of where she might have gone.
‘Shit!’ he muttered. He often muttered ‘shit’ when things didn’t go his way. It seemed a good way to express his frustration, anger or most any emotion that was present at the time.
Not to be easily defeated he decided on a search in the hope that this company of hers had had the foresight to advertise their presence by posting a sign outside of their offices. He covered the entire floor twice, and then went round a third time just for the sake of it. All to no avail, well that is if you discount three confrontations with security conscious office staff – a nice way of saying they were nosy - one vaguely sexual encounter with a tea trolley, a proposition from Adolph the toilet cleaner and two more sets of bruises related to the extreme length of his untied shoelaces. By the time he found himself standing back outside his own office door he was a little more than frustrated, his bumps and bruises were beginning to make themselves known and he was over two hours late for the appointment with his new client. Looking down at his watch which smiled back at him, or appeared to, offering the undeniable certainty that he was also going to be considerably late home, he sighed heavily, readjusted his package, pushed open the door and stepped into his office.
‘Ah Liffy, good you’re here – come in and sit down.’
As his own, high backed, office chair span around to offer him a clear view of Tres Corrolla, the resultant surprise, shock even, caused him to completely overreact and threw his normally limited composure into total turmoil. Without thinking he stepped backwards, half turning, with the intention of checking the legend painted on his office door. This was an unfortunate move as, so far, he had not got round to closing the door itself. The upper side of his nose, just below his eye – you know that particularly painful bit – made sudden, severe contact with the edge of the door. Being a solid mahogany door, with a reinforced glass panel, it was considerable more robust than his nose and had absolutely no intentions of missing such an opportunity to inflict some pain. Reacting quite violently, as you would expect, Liffy stepped quickly backwards, cursing considerably for good measure. Unfortunately for him he managed to stand, once again, on his own shoelace which resulted in him affecting a rather poor reverse Fosbury Flop towards his desk. As he landed in a crumpled heap his arms inexplicable flew outwards sending both raincoat and package sailing through the air, the back of his head collided brutally with the corner of his desk and he was killed outright.
Thursday was not going to be a good day for Liffy Dampwell.
‘Do you know,’ said Tres, leaning over the desk top and peering down at him, ‘I just knew something like this was going to happen, it always does.’
Liffy had headache, one of those real humdingers where that irritating little person climbs into your head and hammers out a crude rendition of ‘Popcorn’ on the inside of your skull.
‘Why me – it’s always bloody me!’
Liffy could hear Tres’s voice, but the percussionist in his head seemed to have launched into an extremely aggressive version of ‘Tubular Bells’ and somewhere in the change over from ‘Popcorn’ his hammer had been transformed into a mallet.
‘Now I need to go through the induction process as well as outlining your new Job Description. Shit!’
The mallet had been swapped for a sledgehammer and Liffy was having difficulty trying to get both of his eyes to focus on the same spot at the same time. As the shapely figure of Tres appeared in front of him, he gazed somewhat indirectly in her direction and gurgled ‘Shit’ as an offer of mutual appreciation.
Reaching down and grasping him by the front of his clothing, Tres displayed surprising physical ability by dragging him half upright. Making every reasonable effort to help, Liffy tipped his head slightly forward and puked onto her hands.
‘Oh for Christ’s sake!’
Giving a final heave Tres deposited him into a battered armchair, and then proceeded to wipe her hands, the best she could, on the front of his shirt. Trying to focus at least one of his eyes in her direction, Liffy smiled – which actually only made him look extremely simple – and gurgled ‘Shit’ once again, whilst the final remnants of his dinner continued to dribble over the front of his bottom lip. Despite the incessant hammering inside his head and being totally unaware of his current condition, Liffy decided that now would be a good time to introduce himself. Shuffling forwards onto the front edge of the armchair, he took a deep breath and stood up. At least that was the intention, unfortunately he had assumed, as you do, that his legs would naturally follow the lead made by his upper body. He was wrong. His legs had no intentions of going anywhere, or supporting anything, in fact they were quite comfortable where they were. As a result he managed to pitch himself head first into the carpet at her feet.
‘Christ all bloody…’
He could feel her hands pulling at the clothing either side of his neck, desperately trying to manipulate him back into the seat. With the whole of his weight seemingly determined to keep his face pressed firmly into the carpet, she was obviously struggling, which resulted in her managing to bounce his nose three or four times onto the floor before finally starting to straighten him up. Turning his head slightly sideways, trying to avoid the blood and nasal contents which were trickling into his gaping mouth, he smiled the best he could and offered a helpful ‘Oops!’ and a couple of disjointed giggles.
‘I swear, one of these days I’ll – aah Shit!’
In an attempt to restore him to his sitting / slouching position in the armchair, Tres inadvertently moved her hands so that she could lift and push by levering against the front of his chest. This placed at least one of her hands into the, coagulation of vomit, blood and other unpleasant things, which currently resided there. Detecting her distress and still determined to introduce himself properly, Liffy belched a sickly ‘Shit’ whilst offering his right hand for her to shake. Unfortunately, he was in no position, nor condition, to judge what he was doing. As such he managed to insert his hand directly between her legs, so that when he raised it and spread his fingers, hoping to take hold of her hand, she squealed and punched him in the nose. His immediate response was to fall backwards into the chair, his hands instantly leaping to stem the renewed flow of blood, and other bodily fluids, from his much-abused nose. Again, being ill suited, at this point in time, to govern the movement of any of his limbs, his legs chose this particular moment to curl violently upwards. This, as you’ve almost certainly guessed, planted his knees squarely into Tres’s backside, pitching her forwards with him and ensuring that the mess on the front of his clothing was equally distributed onto hers.
‘Aaah Jesus Shit!’ exclaimed Tres
‘Ooops!’ gurgled Liffy, still trying to focus both eyes together, whilst tainting the air with some uncontrolled flatulence.
‘Christ almighty fella,’ Whilst carefully extricating herself from Liffy’s uncontrollable limbs, and other bodily functions, Tres, somehow managed to use his groin as a leverage point, her knee applying steady, but excruciating pain to his genitals as she managed to push herself away, ‘Where did we find you? You’re a bleeding nightmare!’
Feeling a sudden, compelling need to offer some words and gestures of apology, even though most of his anatomy was currently experiencing varying levels of pain, Liffy began to shuffle forwards once again. When Tres’s high heeled foot slammed, viciously, into the seat cushion, only inches from his already throbbing genitalia, his body decided enough was enough and stopped dead of its own accord.
‘Do not move!’
Those parts of Liffy’s anatomy that had not, as yet, been on the receiving end of any infliction of pain, immediately went into hiding, his face adopted the guise of a scalded puppy and his mouth sagged slightly open.
‘Do not speak!’
Liffy’s mouth closed itself, though his eyes continued to speak volumes.
Tres leaned a little closer towards him, fixing her, pretty scary looking, eyes onto his - almost daring him to move or speak. Liffy did neither, he simply sank further into the uneasy comfort of the armchair whilst inadvertently allowing his bowels to offer a simple, aromatic, gesture of compliance. Tres stepped back, away from the simplicity of his smile and the nausea of his wind. Keeping her eyes fixed firmly onto his, not that that had any effect as he still couldn’t focus; she settled back against the edge of his desk and sighed. For a, surprisingly long, moment she stared down at the stains on the front of her tunic. Then she seemed to pick herself up, lifting her head to smile, well almost a smile, in his direction. After a brief foray around his desktop she managed to find a box of tissues – unfortunately the box had been empty of tissues for sometime and actual doubled as a collection point for used chewing gum, apple cores, nasal contents, etc. Undeterred Tres returned her, nearly still smiling, face back towards him
‘Ok, ok, I can do this,’ swallowing hard she found herself suddenly fighting the urge to vomit, probably induced by Liffy’s continued aromatic disturbances, ‘We, being OFFAL – Office for Fairytales and Legends – have picked up the options on your contract. Unfortunately for us, fortunately for you, we don’t get to choose whom we get – it’s a case of whoever is available first. Your contract was up for renewal, we needed somebody – we got you. So,’ Lunging suddenly forwards and thrusting her hand out, in a gesture of welcome, ‘Welcome aboard Liffy Dampwell!’
Still suffering from severe mental confusion, the mother of all headaches, and considerable aches and pains in most areas of his anatomy, Liffy leaned carefully forwards, stretched towards her hand and broke wind with some significant force.
‘Oh for Christ’s s....’
Liffy gurgled apologetically and fell back into the chair,
’Look,’said Tres, waving her hand in front of her face, I’m going to go and change, clean up, whatever. Why don’t you sit back, relax and wait till I get back – ok?’
‘Ok.’ dribbled Liffy, sinking even further into the chair and drifting into sleep.
When he next opened his eyes, this time both of them together, he found himself still slouched in the armchair in his own office. For a moment he imagined he must have fallen asleep and that past events had been nothing but a simple dream. Moving was the mistake, if he’d stayed as he was he’d have been fine, instead he naturally assumed that standing wouldn’t be a problem. The pain in his scrotum, accompanying pains in his stomach and legs, closely followed by the grandmother of all headaches, quickly re-emphasised the reality of recent events. At least his eyes were now focusing and his mind was relatively clear, not difficult considering the amount of space normally available inside his head. Whilst the creaking and cracking of his clothing caused him to look down at himself, the resultant vision of stains and dampness, coupled with the abhorrent aroma which seemed to linger around his nether regions, a further confirmation of the reality of the past. Giving up on the idea of standing, he contented himself with sitting a little more upright and groaning relatively loudly in accompaniment to the resultant aches and pains.
‘So you’re back with us then?’ said Tres, somewhat cheerfully.
‘Oh, you – you still here?’ replied Liffy with as little conviction as he could manage.
Looking across the desk at her, seemingly cheerful smile, Liffy was instantly struck by the realisation that she looked exactly as he remembered her, with the exception of a few stains on her clothing and different coloured hair. Not that he had had much chance to study her when they first met, but he was pretty sure she had been blonde and her suit had been the same colour blue.
‘See you’ve changed then?’ he offered, cynically.
‘Only my hair.’ She countered without losing her smile.
Shifting his weight around in the chair he leaned forwards in an attempt to dominate the situation. Quickly realising that this only increased the pervading aroma from around his groins he opted to just cross his legs instead, then tried to match her stare for stare. She didn’t seem to mind, but he felt suddenly much more uncomfortable.
‘Look, just tell me what you want, or what I’ve done – whatever, then leave me alone – please.’
‘Ah Liffy,’ his wife often adopted such a condescending tone when she knew she had him beaten, ‘if I could, I would, but I can’t.’
She smiled, again. One of those smiles that tended to occupy most of the face, behind which was always the confidence of total mastery of any given situation. She placed her forearms onto the desktop and slowly, but somehow more menacingly than he could ever have achieved, leaned her upper body forwards. Exercising his natural ability to spot defeat long before it slapped him in the face, Liffy instinctively shrank backwards. Somewhere deep within him a little warning bell was desperately trying to gain his attention, for some inexplicable reason he chose to ignore it. Call it macho pride, the need to know, stiff upper lip, whatever – in reality its called setting yourself up for a fall.
‘You see, in most instances, when a person dies, that’s it, life extinct, terminated, dead. Cold, I know, but then that’s life – or not, if you see what I mean.’
Tres paused for breath and smiled again. This time the smile was short, fast and pretty factual. Liffy didn’t feel like smiling, he felt like vomiting – again – but Tres carried on talking regardless, so he settled for a short aromatic puff, as an indication of his discomfort.
‘Liffy, you’ll have to forgive me, this is not what I’m good at. Normally somebody in your current position has been processed by the FfIRM, before relocation to a Department like ours. Still, you’re here now and we’ve just got to live with it, or not as..the….case ….may, Liffy – Liffy! You don’t seem too happy? Is there a problem?’
‘Excuse me?’ offered Liffy, desperately trying to retain the, now, minimal contents of his stomach. ‘Your telling me, no, let me get this straight, this is a joke, a wind up, my wife paid you to give me a heart attack or something. Yeh, that’s it, you come in here, all serious like, tell me I’ve died and gone to heaven – ish, my old ticker over reacts, then you come clean and tell me its all a joke, right?’
Tres’s eyes seemed to be wearing that expression his mother used to wear when offering him empty reassurances. Like the time when she sent him off to school in his sister’s dress because the iron had gone cold and tried to reassure him that nobody would take much notice. Ordinarily he wouldn’t have minded, after all his Father always wore the dresses at home, said it made him feel more dominant, but this particular dress was pink and clashed with his socks.
‘Liffy,’ Tres had brought her expression closer and was now leaning against his desktop,‘This is not a joke or a wind up. I have never met your wife and had no intentions of inducing a heart attack. I am just as much of a victim in this as you are. My job is to hand out assignments, I determine which particular faction within OFFAL you are best suited for and assign you as I see fit. I do not normally have to cover the induction side of things, as such am probably not explaining things quite as well as I could do – so lets start again.’
She took a deep breath, some of which was obviously tainted with Liffy’s aromatic gestures, but she was determined and showed little reaction.
‘The FfIRM, (Foundation for Indigenous Reptiles, Mammals for those who don’t know.) employs us all. In the beginning, excuse the phraseology; we are assigned to the Generic Organism Department, GOD for short. If all goes to plan we do our time, pay our dues, whatever, and carry on blissfully unaware of what goes on in the upper echelons of the FfIRM. With me so far?’
Liffy nodded, everything she had said so far had gone clean over his head, but then, what the hell she still smelt good.
’Good. In the early days everything went just as the FfIRM had planned it. They created the earth, stocked it with a few micro organisms, devised a few landscapes, threw in some water, advertised it as the ‘Ultimate Rural Retreat’ sat back and waited for the local developers to put in their bids for theme parks and condo’s etc. Problem was evolution, mainly because they knew nothing about it, so that when everything here started to evolve they didn’t know what to do about it. So they got their heads together and debated the issue, then they debated it a bit more, then a bit more. Before they knew where they were the earth was well stocked with abundant life forms and things were getting decidedly out of hand. By the time they got a grip on the situation Cleopatra was playing with snakes and the Romans were sorting things for themselves. Things weren’t looking too good, the FfIRM could see their investment going down the pan and needed to find a way to recover the situation. Well, to cut a long story short, they brought in one of these high fliers, you know the type, talks about everything but knows about nothing. He turned the place into an Adventure Playground for the rich, famous and down right devious. For a disgustingly high investment they get to own the place, for as long as they can afford and get to act out their fantasies, like creating whole new cultures, devising and playing wargames, revolutions, etc. Overnight the earth became the most expensive, but most highly prized, board game in the universe. Since then its had a variation of owners, investors, we call em periods of history, epoch’s. Eras, etc. Well for the last few thousands of years its been run by generations of the same family, though still owned by the FfIRM.’
‘Er, excuse me’ said Liffy, trying to sound interested ‘but what’s all this got to do with me?’
‘I was just coming to that bit’ said Tres, a little curtly he thought.
‘This new lot weren’t happy with just sitting back and watching their fantasies being played out for them, they wanted to get more involved. So they started coming down here, sort of getting hands on, if you see what I mean. Only thing was they weren’t too subtle at the start and their sudden appearances and interference’s tended to have disastrous effects. So they had to devise a way to disguise them so that, should any of us catch a glimpse of them, it could be easily explained. So they set themselves up as God’s, Deities, call em what you will. This was even better from their point of view, see now they could send the kids down here for their vacations and could easily pass them off as Priests, Shamans, Pharaoh’s, Son of God, etc. Well, this was all great for quite some time, and proved very popular with the kids. Everything was ticketyboo, until, disaster!’
The last was emphasised with such vehemence, causing Liffy to sit back even further into his seat.
’One of the kids, down here on a sort of semester, got a little carried away with himself and managed to whip up quite a following, for a while. Well one thing led to another and before anybody realised what was happening somebody had got a little fed up of his interfering, jumped him and nailed him to a couple of bits of wood – probably football hooligans or something similar. Not a good thing really, I mean, not the best ways to end a semester is it. So the family had a bit of a get together and introduced a few changes – they restricted the amount of Deities, Gods which could be used as disguises and started to promote such things as sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy. This way they could still get involved, but more at ground level, if you see what I mean.
Unfortunately, as we now know, this was only successful for a short period of time. Evolution was such that those of us down here, were getting more and more suspicious of those we, believed, to be up there. Pretty soon the inevitable backlash came and we had such things as the Spanish inquisition, persecution of the witches and a general mistrust of anything associated with such things. Well for a while it just wasn’t safe for any of them to come down here, in some cases that just added to the thrill, but again something had to be done. So they came up with the idea of Legends and Fairytales, whereby they could exercise their own fantasies, without any direct involvement, but could still influence the differing cultures and populations developing down here. To ensure that this new initiative got off the ground and became successful, they took the radical step of creating a Department purely to manage and develop it. Hence the creation of OFFAL, Office for Fairytales and Legends, we’re the interface between them and us, don’t you see? Our job is to ensure that enough people have enough of a belief so that, in the event that one of them is spotted by one of us, the incident is controlled and mass panic does not ensue. See. Clever in it?’
Tres smiled another one of those beaming smiles – Liffy didn’t smile back.
’No. Its not clever, it’s ridiculous, you’re off your bleeding ‘ead and I’m sat here listening to you.’ Pushing himself off of the chair Liffy stood carefully upright and made slowly for the door, every step creating thunderous applause inside his head. ‘And what’s even dafter is that you expect me to believe all this…. Holy Shit!’
Keeping his head facing towards Tres for most of his conversation he had turned, at the last, just as he had opened the door to step through it. Problem was there was nowhere to step into. All he could see was the cavernous silence of a deep, dark hole.
‘Oops!’ said Tres, obviously trying to inject a tinge of humour into a rapidly degenerating situation. ‘Forgot to warn you about that bit, we’re erm, well we’re, basically we’re in limbo until you decide what you want to do.’
She giggled and tried to look slightly bashful. This was never going to be successful, especially not with Liffy; the insistent aches in his scrotum and nose were proof enough that she was anything but bashful. Desperately trying to stop his legs from trembling whilst successfully controlling a renewed urge to vomit he expedited a quick surge of flatulence as he stepped slowly away from the edge of the void.
‘What I want to do.’ he was trying to sound severe and menacing, with little, if any effect. ‘What I want to do, I.’ Stepping close towards Tres, in such a manner that a few, much more girlie type girls might have found menacing, ‘I want to go home.’ The last sounded more like an injured schoolboy complaining to the teacher. ‘I want my office back, in fact I want the bloody building back that my office is supposed to be in an, an, and I want my life back. It’s only been missing for a few hours but I miss it already, can’t you do something to help me?’
At last Tres seemed to soften, her eyes took on a slightly doe like appeal, her lips spread into more of a smile and her hands turned softly towards him,
‘Liffy, Liffy, when are you going to accept this. I know it’s hard, I understand you need a little time to adjust, we all do at first.’ This was good, understanding, caring a slight hint of compassion, ‘Problem is, you’re dead, or might as well be, Defunct, Extinct and Decaying to be more exact. So shut up and shape up. You’re either with us or your not, your choice.’
Seeing the sudden discomfort her words had caused, Tres stepped a little closer to him,
‘Look I don’t mean to be hard, but that’s how it is – so you’re either in or out. What’s more I’m on the town tonight and need to get ready…so?’
Liffy sighed, Thursday’s had never been the best day’s of the week, but this one.
‘Can’t see as I’ve got much of a choice….’
Barely giving him chance to finish speaking, Tres had grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him over to the desk, pulled him round, stuck a biro in his left hand – funny he’d always been right handed but it felt good – shoved a contract under his nose and pointed to a cross she’d already made on it.
‘Yippee bloody do, sign here…thank you, and here, well done and welcome aboard…you won’t be sorry!’
Before he had chance to gather his, considerably scattered wits, she’d collected up the papers he’d signed, retrieved her biro and was on her way through the door.
‘Evade will be with you shortly, an Old Meltonian by birthright he’s about the best FOOL we’ve got. Good luck!’
Then the door was shut, the sound still echoing within the fragile environment of his thoughts, the draft it had caused still ruffling a few of his old newspapers as he stood, for a moment, in the middle of his office, totally gob smacked. A little while later it finally dawned on him that Tres had left via the same door he had tried to go through. Taking a deep breath he moved slowly across the dirty carpet until he was standing less than an arm’s reach away from it. There he stopped. In the last few hours he had taken a considerable battering, emotionally, physically and mentally, understandably he was a little cautious. After all the last time he had opened this, particular door, the bottom had fallen out of his world, almost literally, closely followed by the world almost falling out of his bottom. He felt physically and nervously exhausted; the army was using the inside of his head as a firing range and his limbs hung very heavy from his body.
Moving slowly, carefully, he stretched his left arm out towards the door – again this seemed strange, ordinarily he would have favoured his right. Shrugging this off he allowed his fingers to curl, damply, around the door handle. Sweat sprang out along his hairline, even more of it trickled down his back and his armpits resembled a fenland bog. He ran his tongue over the sudden dryness of his lips and blinked his eyes to clear the prickling moisture. Letting go of the handle he rubbed his hands down the sides of his trousers then, producing a dirty hanky from the ubiquitous depths of his pockets, he proceeded to mop his fevered brow.
It was at this point that he remembered his little package. Sudden panic! Stepping quickly away from the door he began to scour the office. His raincoat still hung where it landed, draped over a faded picture of Tattoo Terry – ex boxer and P-artist supreme, one of Liffy’s closest ex school friends. But the package was nowhere to be seen. Ignoring the aches and pains he dropped onto his hands and knees and proceeded to crawl round the floor like a manic dog searching for a prized bone. Then he saw it, nestled in the dusty darkness at the back of the footwell under his desk. Grabbing hold of it with both hands, he banged his head against the underside of his desk as he struggled to get back to his feet.
‘Shit.’ Rubbing the back of his head, he twisted slightly to locate his chair before dropping onto it.
The banging inside his head, despite the latest collision with his desk, seemed to have settled into a partial rhythm of a few sharp raps – silence – a few more raps – a longer period of silence – and so on. Placing the package on the desk in front of him, he leaned back in his chair, touched his finger tips together beneath his chin, sighed and smiled all at the same time.
Few slightly louder sharp raps – silence – a few more raps – longer silence.
Fixing his gaze onto the little round package he allowed himself a few minutes to calm down. Despite all else that had happened today, losing this would have been a disaster.
Few even louder raps – silence – a few more raps – longer silence
After all he’d spent weeks developing this, all his spare time had gone into, in one way or another. Researching, trying different formulas, feeding it, and talking to other experts. Now, at last,
Bloody loud raps – no silence – somebody banging on the door.
‘Shit’ jumping suddenly out of his chair, there’s somebody at the door. Almost running round his desk, heart beating fast, slight stumble over the ruck’s in the carpet. If there was someone at the door, then there was something behind the door – if there was something behind the door then, perhaps, this had all been a bad dream.
‘Thank Christ – pulling at the handle – for that – opening the door – Hi, Liffy Dampwell pleased to.’
‘I know who you awe!’
A neat, medium sized man, looking pretty fit and carrying a briefcase that looked more like a school satchel, pushed his way past and strode into the room. Stopping in front of the desk, keeping his back to Liffy, he smoothed the creases out of his light cotton slacks, pulled his shirt sleeves neatly into place, repositioned his tie, then span suddenly around offering a toothy grin,
‘Hewwo, sowwy, about that, swightwy iwwitating when you know somebody’s in, but they don’t answew the doow.’
Coughing slightly to clear his throat, he took a single, measured step forwards and stabbed his hand outwards straight from the shoulder,
‘Evade Dribble, pweased to meet you too.’
Liffy’s world was rapidly crumbling, but he took the offered hand and shook it somewhat half-heartedly. Stepping away from the grinning figure, wondering if smiling and grinning was a trademark of these strange people, he sank back into the armchair and dropped his head into his hands. Then sighed very heavily.
Evade suddenly appeared, crouching, in front of him.
‘Oh don’t be such a pawty poopew, twust me, this can be loads of fun if you want it to be. Just welax and enjoy youwself.’
‘Bog off!’ said Liffy
‘Mmm, youw having a wittwe twouble with this, awen’t you.’ Evade sounded concerned.
‘Are you real!’ exclaimed Liffy, ‘Of course I’m having bloody trouble with this, I’ve just found out that I’ve died and gone to loony land, who wouldn’t have bloody trouble with this!’
‘Weww, I can undewstand youw position, and can appweciate how confusing it must be – but hey, what the heww, I’m dead too. Just welax and go with the fwow.’
‘I’m sorry?’ said Liffy.
‘Don’t be’ said Evade totally misinterpreting his intent, ‘It’s not youw fauwt, I died wong befowe I met you.’
Both fell silent for a while, Liffy with his head in his hands, Evade crouching in front of him, fawning like a distressed parent.
‘I used to go dancing a wot. Country stywe. Kaywie’s, Mowwis Dancing, aww that sowt of thing. Gweat fun, wuvved it. One day, on my way to a mowwis meeting I stopped in at this wittwe pub, fow a quick pint an pie. As you do. Tuwned out to be the the local Hewws Angews hang out and they just happened to be having a convention of some sowt.’
Lifting his head Liffy looked at Evade, the poignancy of his voice and sadness in his eyes, difficult to ignore.
‘They took exception to your Morris costume, started picking on you, things got out of hand and you were beaten to death!’ Liffy could imagine the scene. ‘God that must have been awful.’
‘Oh no, no. They wewe genuinewy interested, wanted to join the twoupe, come dancing as they say. I went outside to get some cawds fwom the caw, got hit by a wunaway twuck, killed outwight, nevew even saw it coming.’
‘Shit.’ Said Liffy
‘No wowwies.’ Said Evade. ‘Best thing that evew happened – now the wowwd, as they say, is my oystew!’
He stood up and stretched his legs, placed both hands firmly onto his hips and tried to fix Liffy with a knowing stare.
’We’ve aww been thewe you know. Seen it, done it, as they say, I know it’s a bit of a shock, and you wewe unwucky having Twes do youw induction, not hew stwong point – peopwe. But you’we hewe now and we have wowk to do, so come on, snap out of it – up and at ‘em cowboy!’
‘Bog off.’ Said Liffy trying to sound sincere.
‘Sowwy?’ offered Evade.
‘Don’t be, it’s not your fault, apparently I died before I even met you!’ a cheap shot but Liffy couldn’t resist it. ‘What’s more if I’m dead, then what’s the point, why should I want to help you lot?’ the last was offered more as a challenge than a question. Either way Evade was unruffled by its intent,
‘Ooooh Shit.’ He offered as he backed away and began to make his way around the desk. ‘Twes didn’t expwain youw options pwopewly, did she?’ He didn’t wait for an answer, which was just as well because Liffy had chosen to ignore him, intending to remain in his armchair for the rest of eternity. Sulking was not a new concept to him, it was something he was actually very good at. Well now he had good reason and plenty of time to do it in. ‘Teww me, and this is impowtant, when Twes towd you you had died, what exactwy did she say?’
Silence. Liffy was good at this, he’d had years of practice – he could sulk for England, so his wife often told him.
‘You see, Wiffy – may I caww you Wiffy, good – you see there is a subtwe difference between died and dead. Not to the ordinawy man in the stweet, but you awe no longew an ordinawy man.’
He was shuffling through the mess of papers on top of Liffy’s desk. Liffy turned his head slightly, hoping to enhance the level of disdain he sought to project. Again this was a tool he’d often used, with great effect, in the past – an excellent means of promoting a good sulk.
‘You see, when you’we dead, you’we Defunct, Extinct and Decaying which weally is a diffewent kettwe of fish. I’m suwpwised Twes didn’t expwain this bettew –’
‘She did.’ Said Liffy followed swiftly by a ‘Shit!’ when he realised he’d let his sulk slip, be it ever so briefly. Silently admonishing himself he set his lips out into a perfect pout and endeavoured to maintain this pose for as long as necessary. Evade carried on, seemingly oblivious to Liffy’s indifference.
‘Oh good,’ said Evade, ‘saves me having to expwain it again. Twes can be a wittwe ovewbeawing at times, you know, fowcefuw.’
Liffy struggled to prevent his head nodding in agreement, his eyes centring on the purplish blue stain that had spread over the bridge of his nose. Lifting his hand he, carefully, touched his fingers onto the boney bit between the yes, squinting a little at the resultant pain. Curiosity roused he proceeded to explore a little further. Once the initial pain of contact was over he found himself able to prod and poke with relative comfort, his eyes watered a little and he cursed once or twice but he was reasonably sure nothing was broken. Just to be sure, and seizing the opportunity, he inserted his little finger into his nostril and poked around a little more. Instantly the blood and with it various other unidentifiable commodities, began to surge down his nose and onto his hand. Offering a quick ‘Shit’ to any one who was interested, he quickly searched his pockets as best he could with his free hand, looking for a hanky, tissue chamois leather, anything.
‘Ah! Found it.’ Exclaimed Evade, completely oblivious to Liffy’s current predicament.
Dropping into the chair behind Liffy’s desk, Evade wrapped his legs tightly around each other and buried his head behind the contract that Tres had caused Liffy to sign. Liffy, meanwhile, had opted to use a corner of his shirttails to combat the insistent flow of substance from his nose. This was not proving to be as successful as he had hoped. Being a prolific bleeder, at least that’s what his parents had always called him, his normal nosebleeds could fill a teacup – this one had the makings of a casserole dish.
‘Oh deaw oh deaw.’ Muttered Evade, slowly shaking his head as he read Liffy’s contract. ‘Twes did a pwetty good job on you by the wooks.’
Liffy had now progressed. In an effort to stop the blood staining the whole of his shirt red, he opted to replace it with one of his socks. Pretty radical I agree, but then his reasoning was that, when he finally got round to putting it back on, the stains would be less noticeable.
‘Did you wead this befowe you signed it?’ asked Evade without looking past the paper.
‘Ugh?’ replied Liffy, going for the world record for stuffing a sock into one nostril.
‘This contwact, did you wead it?’ said Evade sounding a little frustrated.
Liffy had, by now, managed to cram a good half of his sock into his nostril. This in turn, despite the obvious distension had the added effect of renewing the throbbing associated with the bruising and had restarted the band playing inside his head.
‘No, I did’t boody ead it!’ he tried to sound irritated. He certainly felt extremely irritated. Unfortunately with one nostril half full of sock, the other one as a result considerably compressed, his adenoidal tone did little to carry the effect he had intended. ‘I didn’t ead it, I didn’t even boody ook at it, I just boody signed it! Now bog off and eave be adone.’
Evade lowered the paper enough to be able to peer over the top of it. For a few, silent, moments he simply sat and considered the apparition before him. Then, causing his eyebrows to lift slightly, he returned his attention to the contract.
‘You weawwy shouwd wead these things befowe you sign them, especiawy whewe Twes is concerned, stiww wooks wike she did hew bit, even if you can’t wemembew what you agweed to.’ Evade sighed, one of those long, fait accompli sighs.
‘Lidden,’ said Liffy, teasing at the sock, ‘ord I demembe id ow nide dhe smeld, an beid tode side ere.’
‘Sowwy,’ said Evade ‘I’m not suwe I undewstood what you just said?’
Liffy gave him one of those looks which suggested he might be having a laugh, whilst he slowly extricated the sodden sock from his nostril. Waiting a moment he touched the back of his finger against the bottom of his nose. Checked for the presence of fresh blood, smiled knowingly, then leaned forward to replace the sock onto his foot.
‘I said, all I remember is how nice she smelled and being told to sign here.’
He grimaced slightly as his toes came into contact with the rapidly thickening blood. Then, job done, he slipped his shoe back on, ignored the laces and straightened back up in the chair, looking directly across at Evade as he spoke.
‘So how come she got the top job and not you then?’
‘She got hewe fiwst, simpwe as that – it’s just the way things awe awound hewe.’ Evade spoke flatly with little emotion. ‘We’we aww hewe because we aww have something in common. We wewe killed suddenwy and ouwight, no wawning, nothing. At the same times OFFAW had a vacancy and hewe we all awe.’
Liffy looked down his nose, well over the now rapidly swelling lump and then down his nose, ‘So Tres is dead too?’
‘Sowt of yes.’ Said Evade ’I’m suwe she won’t mind me saying – she used to be a pwoduction managew in a pewfume factowy. Doing hew wounds, checking on the nightshift one night, she got into a bit of a confwontation of some sowt with one of the fowemen. He fancied hew, ow something, anyway he twied it on, she need him in the –
‘I can imagine!’ interrupted Liffy, shuffling forwards holding a protective hand over his scrotum.
- they stwuggled, she feww, banged hew head and landed in a vat of pewfume. Dwowned befowe they got to hew. Twagic but hey, at least she smewws nice.’
‘Tragic,’ echoed Liffy. ‘Mind you, like you say, explains why she smells nice. So we’re all dead then?’
‘Not quite.’ Offered Evade
‘Sorry?’ questioned Liffy.
‘Don’t be.’ Said Evade, indifferent to how repetitive it was starting to sound. ‘As I said, thewe is a diffewence between died and dead.’
Sensing a change in the atmosphere, noting that Liffy now perched a little more relaxed on the edge of the armchair, Evade moved back round to the front of the desk and propped himself against it.
‘Dead is Defunct, Extinct and Decaying – Died is what you do befowe youw dead.’
Liffy opened his mouth to speak but, for a change, no words came out. Instead he managed to produce a half groan, half whining sound something similar to how you’d expect a drunken bee to sound.
Evade carried on with his explanation, seemingly unconcerned with Liffy’s apparent distress.
‘We’we in a sowt of wimbo. We move awound in the wowld of the wiving, even though we’ve died. Bit like ghosts with substance, if you like. Diffewence is, wewe still weaw, wawking tawking, bweathing, bweeding – offered a nervous smile at Liffy’s nose – peopwe can see us and touch us. What they can’t do is wecognise us fow who we wewe. Exciting isn’t it?’
‘Not quite how I would have described it, but, hey don’t let that stop you.’ Liffy smiled one of his cynical smiles.
‘That’s about it weawwy, the west becomes obvious as you go awong.’ Stated Evade opening his hands with almost passive indifference.
‘But, what are we supposed to actually do?’ asked Liffy.
‘Twes explained about the FfIWM?’ asked Evade and Liffy nodded. ‘And she expwained about how they use wegends etc. to disguise theiw comings and goings?’ Liffy nodded again ‘Did she get as faw as tewwing you about the Witches?’
Liffy shook his head, cautiously. ‘Witches are weaw, weww as weaw as we awe anyway. Twouble is they awe committed to diswupting the smooth wunning of the FfIWM and exposing them at evewy oppowtunity. We, on the othew hand, awe committed to stopping them. Simpwe, weawwy.’ He smiled one of those endearing smiles.
Liffy groaned, nothing else, this time it was a genuine groan. He placed his head into both hands and groaned again. He looked up at Evade, Evade smiled back at him, he lowered his head and groaned even louder.
‘Ok,’ he sat upright and stared directly at Evade. ‘You’ve been around these people for a while?’ Evade nodded. ‘How do I get out of this?’
Evade sank inwards and tried to smile. Liffy just knew he wasn’t going to like what was coming next. Evade waved the contract under his nose.
‘Not onwy did you sign to accept the job – you did so unconditionawy’ he tried to look sincere. ‘Twes done you up wike a kippew matey.’
‘No way out?’ Liffy implored.
‘No way out.’ Evade was implicit.
‘Shit!’ offered Liffy
‘I tend to agwee.’ Sighed Evade.