“Enter freely, and of your own will…”

“…and leave behind a little of the happiness that you bring.”

Lovely sentiment.

Wasted on the lips of Count Dracula though.

My name is not Metabaronic, but Adrian Middleton, and this, for better or for worse, is my blog.

Continue reading “Enter freely, and of your own will…”

Tales of Old Horne

beornings

For some time now I’ve been dabbling in local history and genealogy, researching various elements of folk-magic and exploring the memes and tropes of folk-horror. Bringing all of that together, I’ve now launched a sister site that I’m dedicating to a series of stories that dip in and out of the genre. Called Tales of Old Horne, it looks at the twentieth century through the eyes of a folklorist-cum-witch based in the West Midlands.

His name is Julius Horne, and as a viewpoint character he is as close to me as I can get, a fictitious grandparent loosely based upon my own. Of course, so as not to break any walls (fourth or otherwise), you won’t hear me admitting any more than that.

I hope you decide to head over there, take a look, and enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

A Midwinter’s Tale

With Christmas upon us, I thought it would be fun to share a Christmas story with you. This was written for the Southcart Books’ Christmas Readings event that I hosted in Walsall on Saturday, 11th December 2016.

WHEN PUCK SAVED CHRISTMAS

Ah, these are strange times. Change blows like choppy winds through hollow valleys. Enough to make the knees knock and the teeth chatter. But that’s midwinter for you. At least for now.

   Forgive my bestial appearance. My devilish features, my cloven hoofs, my horns and my dwarfish stature. They aren’t meant to offend. It’s my natural form; it’s why they calls us hobs, gobs, imps, pixies, satyrs, changelings, redcaps or fae. Well, those are some of the choicier names. To the Welsh it’s pwca and to the Europeans bocken, which makes me a spirit, a horny old goat, or something in-between. Some are more polite and call me Robin Goodfellow, though Oddfellow would be a better name. Me, I prefer to be called Puck.

Yes, Puck, you heard my impish     name aright.

Old Shakey’s merry wanderer of night,

Who served Oberon in jolly jest,

His faerie eyes and ears, the very best.

But time moves on like shooting stars in haste,

And old beliefs are lost as new are cast.

My King now holds another epithet,

As Father Christmas is my master met.


But enough rhyme without reason, I’m here to tell you a little story. You see, my day job is mischief. Pranks. Pratfalls. I’ll pick your keys from your pockets, fart under your nose, tie your shoelaces together or even teak your heamorrhoids at an awkward moment.

   No manners, me. Which is probably why I’m not the boss. I hate being the boss. I leave that to, well, the boss. And the bosses missus. Can’t forget her. She’s descended from the Greek titans, you know. Terrible temper if you wind her up the wrong way.

   But I’m here to talk about the season. Yule. Christmas. Midwinter.


Yes, I know you think of me as a midsummer faerie, but if it wasn’t always like that. We spritely types change with the seasons, mainly because we’re creatures of belief, and you humans spend most of your time thinking about the here and now.

   Which is sad, because my tale is about there and then. Way back when. Hundreds of years ago. Back to the Old Times. 1647, in fact.

   It was a bad year. Arthur’s seat was empty and Albion was a headless kingdom renamed The Commonwealth on account of common men ruling by the power of the common prayer book. Killjoys they were. No time for feasting or debauchery, nor for the great traditions that made the people happy.

   Oliver bloody Cromwell. The man that cancelled Christmas.  Odd really, that Christians should cancel Christmas. But then it was never really theirs. They kept attacking it with a St Nicholas’ Day here, a St Thomas’ Day there, a St Stephens’ Day over there and a Childermass coming up behind. Except they were mostly Catholic festivities, and if there was one thing those Puritans hated more than they loved their God, it was the Catholics.

   We had always got on well with the Catholics. Theirs was a great tradition. Cultural appropriation you call it. They knew that the power of belief creates spirits, and that the greater the belief the more powerful those spirits become. So instead of going to war with us they subverted us. Change the facts and you change the beliefs. Pretty clever really, but the Puritans were having none of it. 

They even talked James into rewriting the Bible. Made him miserable, but not as miserable as his son. Poor Charley. He was a rum sport, and like his ancestors before him he’d invited the spirits to join in the celebrations, just as the Romans had all those years before.

   Now Old King Oberon was a forest dweller, but in the winter months with the trees laid bare we fairie folk had a tough time if it. We needed cheering up. Like me, he had many names,I and in the winter he was Yule personified. Julnir, they called him. The Lord of the Midwinter, which was, of course, all about getting drunk and not doing much until the spring.

   Now Charley, he was all about the parties, just like his grandma. Old Gloriana, she was such fun. Ran rings round Old Shakey and Ben Jonson. James was the same. But Charley, he was a true libertine. The one thing everyone missed when he came a cropper to the chopper was his parties. Largely because Oberon was a regular feature. Top of the Bill. Yule, you see, rhymes with Misrule, and with a happy band of fairie-folk there was nobody better as Master of Ceremonies for the Christmas Masques.

   Captain Christmas they called him. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but they didn’t have superheroes back then. No mask or cape, just a crown of holly and a nice green robe. As for the rest of us, we were his companions. 

   For my part I threw a shape, the Yule Goat, that was me, all decked out in straw. I’d piggy-back him and gallop around to the beat of drums and the jingle of bells as each of our company made the party go with a swing.

   The thing about spirits though, is that we all have a special power, an unique kind of magic in which we excel. For me it’s taking the form of whatever men or animals I wish. And holding my liquor. I suppose that’s why I’m such a prankster. You see, the real Yule Goat gets most of his work to the northeast, where they spend more time celebrating an old goat than a jolly old man. For me, a bit o’ wicker and an imagination more than make up for not being the real thing. It also means I get to double up as Cupid, although I haven’t yet mastered the art of flying with feathery flaps yet.

   As for the rest of our company, Master Ben Jonson named them aright. Carol, the singer-from-the-song-book, all dressed up warm in red for fear o’ the frost; Minced Pie, the culinary conjurer that makes magic with nothing more than a dish and spoon; Gambol, the tumbling torch-bearer; Post & Pair, the players-of-games with a card in the hand and a trick up the sleeve; the masked Mummer, always ready to perform; Wassail the toastmaster, with a drink in the hand and another in the other; Gift-giver, always ready with an orange, a sprig of rosemary, a sock of nuts and a bottle of sack; Offering, with a staff and basin–don’t ask–I think it had something to do with the three wise monkeys, but I can’t be sure. And finally Babycake. A baby. With a cake.

   Well the idea was we’d turn up, cheer everyone up, drink all the booze and spirit ourselves away before the dawn brought a hangover.

   You’d think that would be good enough, but no, the moment King Charley lost his head the chains were out. Old Christmas was locked away in a very dark dungeon, and without his leadership we couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewing house.


   They put out this pamphlet that accused Christmas of ‘giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights’. I mean, wasn’t that the point? Getting everyone round the fire for a good old party to get ’em rosy, pair ’em off and give ‘me a bountiful harvest nine months hence? Still, that’s prohibition for you. And what did they replace it with? Fasting and humiliation. Can you Adam and Eve it?

   But while Father Christmas was in prison awaiting his trial, it was up to old Puck here to make things right.


   Now, over in Germany a few years before, some bloke called Martin Luther–another bloody Puritan–tried replacing our continental cousins with the baby Jesus. Part of the takeover plan that saw Old Yule become Christmas in the first place. Fill it full of Saints days and away you go. 

   But this Christ-child wasn’t like the bible baby Jesus, he became something quite different. The Christkind. Yup, a baby version of Saint Nicholas, toddling around doling out the gifts just like a good fairy.

   So off I went to Germany and kidnapped the little bugger. Now, before you tell me off, he isn’t the actual Jesus. We fairies, we’re made of fairy dust, and the fairy dust is the stuff of wishes and dreams. What Richard Dawkins and his learned friends called emits and etics or themes and memes. That’s why it’s important to believe. In fairies. In Father Christmas. Because if you don’t talk about us and think about us and get your kiddies to leave us milk and mince pies, then the magic weakens and the dust drifts away.

   That’s not how Puck wants to go.

    So anyway, the Christkind. Turns out he fit perfectly into a good-sized sack, and it was no trouble to sling him over my shoulder and make like the Yule Goat. Now flying with legs is much easier than with wispy little wings too small to lift you through the air.

   So I brought him over, slipped him through the prison bars and left Father Christmas to teach him what’s what. Meanwhile I threw a new shape and pretended to be Old Christmas myself. Nobody noticed our fairy troupe was one-short.

   Ten years we faked it. Or twelve. Yes, the Twelve Years of Puck’s Christmases, gate-crashing austerity, terrorising solemnity, anarchising propriety. I suppose it was more of a Punk Christmas really, I mean we were certainly anti-establishment, and just for good measure we’d always hit ’em with a proto-acapella verse of ‘God Save the King’.
   Well, Oliver bloody Cromwell went one further. He put Father Christmas on trial. In a court room no less. You’ve heard of the Star Chamber? Christmas Star Chamber. That’s what it was.

   Well, the Christkind was there. Little Christmas we called him, and he clung tight to to Old Father Christmas’s robes. I like to think it was love and devotion, but it could just as easily have been the bottle of gin tucked up the boss’s sleeve sleeve.

   So they tried to condemn Old Christmas. In front of what they were pretty sure was their precious Christ Child. That’s one character witness a good Christian can’t ignore. So guess what happened?

   Acquitted!

   Again, I like to think I played my part. I did the shape-throwing and made a marvellous wandering wart. Poor old Oliver didn’t know why everyone was staring at him so. On the pews of the chamber there were whispers of “don’t mention the WART” running from east to west. Of course the occasionally coughed out exclamation of “CARBUNCLE” or sneezed “FACEACHE” went practically unnoticed by the ugly old so-and so, but it kept them in good spirits, and good spirits make happy spirits, and we were, indeed, happy spirits when the Jurors set the old man free.


   Well, Cromwell was not a happy chappy, and he died shortly after. Within two years Charley Junior was restored to the throne and the so-called austerity was null and void and the partying was on again.
   But it was never quite the same. Little Christmas buggered off to America to strike out on his own. They call him Santa Clause these days, while we went underground for a few years, turning up with a sock full of fruit and nuts or a lump of coal whenever the mood struck.

   Christmas is an industry these days. Indentured fairy pickers and packers doing twenty-four hour shifts at the North Pole. An online naughty-or-nice list. A Santa tracker – Little Christmas has gone global and all the old Christmas fairies are facing redundancy. That or enduring a treetop in the arse.

   Even Father Christmas gave up his holly crown for a pointy hat and his green robe for a red one. And on that note, hear my parting plea. When you think of a traditional Christmas, don’t think of the fat Santa in the red coat on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Think of Oberon, king of the fairies and his loyal Puck, because Albion is our patch, and I’m fed up of having to throw reindeer-shapes year after year. I want to be a boozy, horny old goat again.
Copyright ©2016 Adrian Middleton

   

   

What I have written

I’ve told you what I write, now it’s time for a little more depth (or marketing), to talk instead about what I have written.

One day I might reveal the schoolboy adventure story I plagiarised at the age of 10, or the comic I produced at 12 – the same year I wrote an entire Star Wars sequel in fountain pen (let’s just just say a lot of it ended up in Return of the Jedi!). Perhaps I’ll resurrect the Cyberpunk short story I wrote back in 1982, or the Lovecraftian time I invented in 1984. Or the Hitchhikers’ Guide shorts I kept to myself until years later.

My first published ‘thing’ was in Drabble Who. It was… a drabble. I guess that kicked off my 90s phase of writing Doctor Who novel pitches, which led to lots of fanzines and short stories, two book deals that fell through, and a long hiatus where I mulled over the work in progress that existed only in my head.

Finally I turned to comedy, writing a novel called Dwat; or Psychopomp and Circumstance which described the adventures of Rabbi Moysheh Ben Amram of Golders’ Green. This was followed by a Millennial novel, which I started six weeks before the millennium (talk about bad timing). Called Millennial Rights it was an unfinished sequel planned to be part two of a trilogy due to finish with Moses the Musical, which was to involve airships, Corporal Hitler and the Titanic.

I then didn’t write for anything but personal pleasure until 2005. Encouraged by my friend Craig Hinton, I wrote a Doctor Who novel called Blink of an Eye in the style of Virgin Books’ Missing Adventures. It was too late to do anything with it (and the central idea got pinched and used elsewhere by another Doctor Who writer).
This was followed by a couple of first drafts – The Man in the Clean White Underpants and Fat Man Dances. I remember that these were written between the death of Douglas Adams and the death of Craig Hinton.

After losing Craig, I agreed to publish an anthology, Shelf Life, which was produced in partnership with Jay Eales and David A McIntee. I wrote/co-wrote/completed several short stories in that volume, and in turn it set me up for starting Fringeworks, a publishing venture that was spawned in 2009 but didn’t start until 2012.

Since then I’ve drafted three novels: Memetect, Starfish and Golden Isle, plus a novella due to be completed this Christmas.


My published Fringeworks bibliography then, is:

  • Ain’t No Sanity Clause

  • Grimm & Grimmer (volumes 3 and 4)

  • Weird Trails (volume 1)

  • Eliminating the Possible

  • The Scoundrel of Bohemia

  • The Lavender Men

  • NeaDNAthal


There are several other things awaiting publication, and I haven’t included essays and forewords and the like, not books published by me but without my input.

Outside of Fringeworks, besides the stories on this and other blogs, I have written in:

  • Drabble Who

  • Shelf Life

  • Steam Flashes

  • The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories (Part I)


There is more, some in draft form (probably written during NaNoWriMo) some under pseudonyms, but with Fringeworks I rarely have time to submit stories to someone else.

That’s all about to change…

The Angry Mountain

There is a lot of anger in the world today. Anger, anxiety, depression, disappointment. Whether escalated by austerity, financial woes, politics, social interaction, social media interaction or a bad day, I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much.

Maybe it’s a condition of being the age that I am, and maybe it’s the transition from optimistic youth to trump old man.

Drugs apparently help. Or mindfulness. For me, its creativity.

(For Nev)

There is an angry mountain

Where I like to go to rant

But halfway up my body aches

And I can barely pant.

But if I make the elevation

An achievement is my gain

And a sense of great elation

Overcomes my inner pain.

I then race down the rocky slope

As if I were a boy

My mind and soul refill with hope

And overflow with joy.

Trojans

Trojans by Philip Purser-Hallard (Book Three of The Devices Trilogy) Snowbooks, October 2016

320pp £7.99
Reviewed by Adrian Middleton


The title jars in comparison to the first two volumes – The Pendragon Principle and The Locksley Exploit. Would a Camelot riff really have given too much away? This bugged me a little more at first than perhaps it should – probably because it just doesn’t look right on the shelf. But books aren’t about aesthetics, and the judging really is in the reading, and this is the best of the three. 

   Picking up seven years after he ended a War between the secret Camelot (The Circle) and the rather more eco-anarchic Sherwood (The Green Chapel), Jory Taylor has become the living embodiment of the Pendragon Device (a sort of Jungian memeplex that defines him as The High King of Britain), Jordan, the One true king, ushering in a new age of art, culture and prosperity. Camelot has returned, offering us a completely different type of Brexit to the one everyone is worried about.

   Of course, the book’s length belies the brevity of the title, exploring the themes of Blake, Mallory, White and Moorcock, but as seen through the eyes of Torchwood characters. That may sound like a mash-up, but it isn’t, and the concept behind the ‘Devices’ is modern, unashamedly intelligent, with a good dose of wry wit whilst adding a twist that sets the trilogy apart from its comparators. For all of this the characters, and the dichotomy of knowing what they are yet being oblivious to the themes they represent, are what this book is about (previously I’d had a problem with ‘set-piece reenactments’ – less so here). Philip has hit his stride with this final volume, and I can only hope he gets to revisit the trilogy, perhaps as an audio drama series, or perhaps as a set of special hardback editions, where the first two volumes can be that hindsight sometimes affords.given the “author’s preferred polish”.

   While I shan’t spoiler the book, I will say that the while the ending worked, it wasn’t where I expected the book to go. That’s probably because I don’t quite share the author’s values. Or because I wanted more.

buy now at amazon

Introducing the Black Constable


In the wake of my recent bit of Trump Fiction, I should confess to working up some stories about a so-called ‘Occult Detective’ going by the name of John Domingo, the Black Constable. Based on a real person, my version exists after the demise of the original (and possibly before), whose background I present here:


There was an old house in Charleston, South Carolina, on Magazine Corner leading into the once respectable Mazyck Street. Said to have been placed under a dark curse it was, during the last years of the nineteenth century, home to an infamous hoodooman and necromancer.

   He was said to be the most powerful conjure-man in the state, if not the country. His name was John Domingo, but his people – the Gullah – spoke of him as The Black Constable, so-called because his was the the only law the neighbourhood needed, and it was to Domingo, not the police, that people would turn to for help.

   He was said to be a huge, powerful man, dressed in a Union greatcoat with long, lionized hair that fell to his shoulders (the picture above is of him, so I’m uncertain if this is true). This led some to believe he had served as a soldier for the North.


    There were other rumours – that he was none other than High John de Conquer, an African prince once sold into slavery. Turning to the African powers, High John had used conjure to effect his emancipation, falling in love with the goddess Erzulie and tricking her three husbands into letting him live.


   Domingo’s power, Le Grand Zombi, was said to lie within the solid silver conjure-ring that he wore upon the fourth finger of his right hand. This ring took the form of Danbala, The Grand Master, and he claimed that it had been forged in Africa on the banks of the mighty Congo River. With this he he summoned forth lwa, invisible spirits that were his to command.


   Domingo’s root-work was legendary to those who practiced the religion of their African ancestors, and his love spells and healing were renowned, as was his ability to control the weather.

   To the sick he was a healer. To the ambitious he brought fortune. To the newly bereaved he was a medium for the spirits of the dead. To the old, the forlorn and the ugly he could help them to find young, attractive mates. To the local fishermen he could calm the weather or summon favourable winds. But there was a dark side to this power, which he sometimes used vengefully and to deliver curses.

   As a necromancer and zombi-man it was said that Domingo could raise the dead, and it was whispered that his house was filled their souls, and with zombie servitors whose shuffling shadows kept unwelcome visitors at bay.

   Certainly John’s visits to the local cemeteries to gather goofer dust and to raise up his servant army were spoken of in hushed tones by the town’s Gullah population, and the fear and awe that he engendered kept the neighbourhood safe and both the white police and the Charleston guard from his door.

   It was the meting out of justice that eventually ended the Black Constable’s reign, for so confident was his last act was considered so blasphemous that it saw him struck down by a power greater than his own.

   Or was he?

   Legend has it that, in the late 1880s, Domingo was called to deal with a pair of thieves. How he caught them is not recounted, but he emerged into the street in triumph, holding a thief in each in each hand as he addressed his people.

   “Am I not just like Jesus, with a thief on each side?” He asked, before urging them to accept that He was more powerful than Jesus.

   Southern Hoodoo, though, is not just about the witchcraft, and like its Haitian cousin it can be said that the people worship Jesus in the morning and practice hoodoo in the evening. Many of his people were African Methodists, while others had been Catholic vodouists brought up in Haiti and Saint Domingue.

   As the words left his lips, Domingo was lifted from the ground by an invisible force – an angry lwa, perhaps – and began to clutch at his throat, choking as white froth poured from his mouth and trickled down his chin.

   With a final gasp, his body was flung to the ground, dead.

   But as it lay inert the body began to age and wither. Gathering around him, the people carried his body to a nearby butcher’s shop where they lay him upon the counter while a doctor was called for. But when the doctor arrived, the hoodoo man’s corpse had taken on a shrivelled, husk-like appearance.

   Some though, say this was not the end for Domingo. As a servant of Danbala, his demise was no different to that of a snake sloughing an old skin. And the zombi-man’s final words–were they arrogance, or a proclamation that preceded his transformation and rebirth? Was that just a shadow that crept away into the darkness?

   There were sightings. Whether a ghost or a physical manifestation is unknown, but the Black Constable continued to walk the streets of Charleston at least until his ties to the town – the derelict old house on Magazine Corner – was demolished.

   Others say that, if he is High John, then Africa beckoned, and he will, much like King Arthur, return to Charleston in its time of greatest need, reclaiming the conjure-ring and using his powers to once more serve his people.

A note on sources: As a writer rather than a scholar, I’m choosing not to cite my sources. John Domingo was a real person, but the legend presented here is aggregated. Feel free to google him or buy books in which he appears.

Trump Fiction


Okay, it’s not usual for me to release the first draft of a story, but time is against me. The original title of this piece was ‘The Devil’s Apprentice’, and I had intended for the protagonist to speak native Gullah. However, to get this story ready for a Halloween reading at Southcart  Books, I had to compromise, using English in place of Gullah (I would never roughly estimate the sound of a dialect, so I decided not to try).

Trigger Warning: The N-word appears in this story.

“The subject is a textbook example of an unprincipled narcissist,” the report said, “consumed by a supreme sense of entitlement and desperate for both the attention and admiration of others, yet lacking any form of conscience. Deceptive, disloyal, exploitative, a brazen liar and a domineering confidence trickster contemptuous of others, unable to handle criticism, vindictive when opposed, and dismissive of others’ feelings.”

   The Donald smiled at the assessment. He paid no attention to such accusations, but the conclusion that he was unfit for the role of president was not one he could allow to be submitted. Thankfully the author had had been persuaded to reconsider, and it had gone away. His stubby finger hovered over the laptop keyboard before crashing down on the return key that confirmed its deletion.

   Donald John Trump smiled with uncontainable satisfaction. Life, of course, wasn’t about having an ego, it was about being the best at closing the deal. And Donald was the best. Of course, being the best made it easy for people to mistake his tremendous success for something more delusional. There were plenty of naysayers out there, making up shit that might stick if enough people believed it. But… so what? So long as he stuck to the script, played the part, and gave them the man they expected, nothing would change. His part was the role of a lifetime. Billionaire, business magnate, playboy, reality TV star, and would-be President of the most powerful nation in the free world. 

   No, not would-be, will be.

   There is, he reminded himself, no room for doubt. In fact, he expected his opponent to concede even before Election Day, because he could throw more poison at that nasty woman than she could possibly imagine. All those years of fake friendship, buying off her supporters, entertaining her husband by offering the best whores to him. They didn’t know they were whores, but what the Donald wants, the Donald gets. That was the good thing about it. Power protects. Besides, people expected the Donald to be a cheating philanderer who enjoys random pieces of ass in between deals with other people’s money. So what if his father lent him the first million? So what if he was about to cut a deal with the devil to guarantee his place in the big chair.

   No done deal is a bad deal, he reminded himself, and becoming president was, here in his own back-yard, at one of his own hotels, about to be secured with the biggest in history.

   Switching browser tabs from his email to Google, he decided to waste a couple of minutes doing a search on himself. The usual stuff was there, although he was pleased to see the links that his campaign had paid for were trending way above the opposition’s smear campaigns. He smiled to himself. All that talk about rigging things? They didn’t know the first thing about it, and there was nothing– 

   He paused as the search refreshed. Something new had climbed up the rankings. He’d never seen it before. Curious, he clicked on the link.

   killdonaldtrump.com 

   There were hundreds of such threats online, and they rarely trended. No liberal was going to follow through on that crap. At least this site had a nice approach. Crowdfunding. Some shmuck was using crowdfunding to raise enough money to hire a hitman. Sweet, he thought. People were pledging fifty bucks a pop to reach a ten million dollar target. Well, he conceded, that might be enough to get a half-decent hitman. But the target was too high. Election Day was just a month away and they’d barely raised $50k. Besides, he was pretty sure the FBI would round up every backer if anything came of it.

   Maybe I’ll get the site cloned and set up one called killhillary, he thought. Yeah. He smiled to himself.

   Just then his desk intercom buzzed, and he shifted his attention away from the Internet, pressing the speaker button.

   “Yes, Barb?” 

   “Your visitor has arrived, Mister Trump. Are you ready for me to send him in?”

Good girl, he thought, she remembered the cue. Men might be better than women 99% of the time, but a good woman was worth as many as 10 good men. It was a pity she was getting older though, and if she put on any more weight he would have to consider letting her go.

   “Give me ten,” he replied. One of the secrets of a good deal was to keep ’em waiting, even if you were negotiating with the devil himself. “Has the coffee machine been fixed yet?”   

   That was another cue, this time to Barb. It meant ‘do not give him a drink’. Another tactic.

   “No sir. Apparently it’s a problem with the water supply.”
   “Never mind. Tell him there’s a whisky waiting when we meet.” Carrot and stick, never failed.

   In the time that he had, Trump took up the slender manila folder that rested on his desk. His business intelligence was the best, but his international espionage links were tremendous. Putin delivered every time, and the folder would tell him everything he needed to know about his visitor.

“Doctor John Domingo, aka The Black Constable. Born London, 1955. The subject claims to be a direct descendant of the original John Domingo of Charleston, South Carolina, a notorious Hoodoo man whose death in 1888 was subject to poor paperwork and local superstition. There is a line of descendants traceable to Dr. John Domingo of Bermuda (d. 1937).

   “It is claimed that Domingo was conceived in a black magic ritual held by a mixture of black migrants and white would-be witches, who sought to adopt voodoo practices through the coercion of his mother, Marguerite Domingue (d. 1955), who was killed in a fire on the day of his birth.

   “Domingo was subsequently adopted by the renowned businessman and satanist, Sir Clive Throckmorton, and was educated at Eton before attending Keble College, Oxford, where he was a member of both the Piers Gaveston Society and the notorious Bullingdon Club. Here he achieved a Doctorate in Theology, after which time he and his stepfather parted company.”

   Whatever happened to Clive Throckmorton? Trump wondered. When he was younger the man had been an inspiration, but in recent years his name and legacy seemed to have faded from history. He made a mental note to check it out.
   “Domingo returned to his ancestral home in Charleston for five years, where he set himself up as a babalawo and Hoodoo practitioner, following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, before returning to England to become a ‘Master of Gullah Hoodoo’, selling charms, providing consultations and other supernatural services for the curious rich.

   “Of particular interest were the services he rendered to the Dragovskaya Bratva, a criminal syndicate from Russia whose heavy investment in the London property market saw considerable payments made to Domingo. It was on the recommendation of Timur Komarov, the late founder of the Dragovskaya, that Domingo’s name was put forward as the best man to provide services of a metaphysical nature.?”

   Trump closed the folder. There was plenty more detail, but he hadn’t time for that right now. Leaning forward, he activated the intercom.

   “Send our visitor in now, thanks, Barb.”

   As the door opened, Trump appraised the man that stepped into the room. He was tall and imposing, with dark, piercing eyes that had something of the snake about them. Despite his dark brown skin he had an almost oriental look about him, his long, black, slick hair tightly tied into a ponytail, with two long strands hanging down to frame his hawk-like moustachioed face. 

   Beneath his great Union-blue cavalry coat (a period piece that looked new enough to have come from a reenactment group) the man wore a silk gown underneath. Like a kimono, with silver snakes picked out against a red background. It wasn’t oriental though, it looked to be more East European.

   Finally, slung over his shoulder, Domingo carried a battered black leather satchel, onto which strange occult signs and symbols —the vevres of his craft–had been picked out in white and orange.

   “Mister Domingo? Take a seat.”

   With a curt nod, the hoodooman sat, his eyes unwavering in their attentiveness. “You wanted my help, Mister Trump?” He said at last in a well enunciated English accent that seemed at odds with his appearance.

   “Indeed I do. It’s super to finally meet you,” the Donald stood, offering his hand. “I’ve heard such good things…”

   Domingo ushered away the proffered hand with a sweep of his left. Long, sharp fingernails made him look like some kind of mandarin. A black Fu Manchu, thought Trump, withdrawing his hand and taking his seat.

   “By heard, you mean read,” said Domingo. “That is my file?”

   Before the billionaire could answer, the stranger had swept up the folder, opening it up and tracing its words with his long fingernails.

   “Accurate, but sparse,” he said at last, returning the folder to the table. “What would you have of me?”

   “I need help,” the billionaire replied, struggling with the words. “Magical help.”

   “Well, I am a conjure-man, so that stands to reason, although I was led to believe you had no truck with religion.”

   “I’m a Presbyterian, old-testament kinda guy, but I don’t bring God into politics or business. That just gets messy.”

   “But you do know that as a conjure-man I deal with spirits empowered by the divine?”
   “Sure, kind of. I thought Saints and Angels and Devils and such.”

   “Quite,” said Domingo. “I deal in charms, curses, conjurings and readings, Mr Trump. Which, exactly, do you want from me?”

   “Something pretty big, pretty powerful. I need to win this vote. Whatever it takes.”

   “You’re asking me use my powers to rig the election for you?”

   “It’s already rigged. This whole Campaign has been a disaster. The worst. I think she’s already using poison against me. Traitors, a hitman maybe. She’s crazy, and it’s up to me to stop her. I’m the only man that can, but I need your help. Just make me win. I need to win that election. Everything is at stake.”

   “Very well. First thing I want is a potation of that whisky you offered, then I’m going to fix you up a mojo hand that does exactly what you want.”

   “A mojo hand?”

   “You’ll see,” said Domingo, reaching into his satchel and drawing out a stencilled board made from three strips of polished wood long-since liberated from an old dockside packing crate. It had been thickly coated with blackboard paint before being ornately transformed into what Trump recognised as a ouija board.

   “This,” said John, “is my planchette. The summoning board that I use to bring down the loa. Your people call it Ouija, but we call it by its true name. Ouidah, named for the spirit of its people and the land of their birth.”

   Laying the board out on the billionnaire’s mahogany desk, Domingo quickly set to work. First he took out a piece of white chalk, drawing four symbols upon the board and muttering a short but unintelligible prayer over each. Then he set four dishes at the cardinal points of the board, and into each he poured a measure of water from a small stoppered leather skin. Into each of these he placed a floating tallow candle, each of which he lit in sequence.

   He then withdrew a small metal bowl–a crucible–which he placed in the centre of the board, with a small gas-burner set beneath it. Then he waited, shushing his client when the billionaire tried to speak, and furrowing his brows as the metal began to glow red with the heat.

   Taking out the dessicated wing of a whippoorwill, the jawbone of a squirrel, and the fang of a rattle-snake, Domingo crumbled them into the bowl, reducing them to ash. As he did this, he withdrew a small pouch of grey dust, taken from the grave of an old and wicked person. Sprinkling it over the ashes, he then added a spattering of blood, freshly drained from the throat of a cannibal sow.

   Lowering the heat, The conjure-man took a weathered wooden spoon and stirred the mixture into a thick paste, shaping it into a small cake in the centre of the bowl.

   “Now, give me some tow-hair,” he said.

   “Some what?”
   “A lock of hair from your head. I need it.”
   Reaching forward, the hoodooman grasped at Trump’s fringe and tugged sharply, plucking a small clump of golden hair as his client yelped into pain.

   “Owww! Is this absolutely–?”

   “Shhhh!”

   Drawing three small hen feathers from his satchel, Domingo wrapped them tightly with the blond hair before inserting the bound tangle into the grey ash-cake. Blowing upon it to harden the mixture, he set the cake aside and reached into his satchel once more, withdrawing a small bag made from flesh torn from the haunch of a living cat. Placing the feather-cake inside the bag, he took out a long white skein from his satchel, setting it aside before adding other materials–red clover blossom, some chewing tobacco, more grey tomb-dust, a sliver of tin foil and a ball of silk thread.

   “Whisky?” He held out his hand, and Trump raised a golden box from beneath his desk, embossed with the symbolic letter T. 

   “This,” he said, “is the finest whisky, ‘Trump Scotland Single Malt Scotch’. Twenty Five years old,” he added. “I’m incredibly proud. It’s from the Benriach Distillery Company, and they made it just for me. It’s the absolute best,” he added, pouring two fingers of the golden spirit into a cut glass, also embossed with the billionaire’s trademark T.

   Domingo then took the tobacco, stuffing it into his mouth before starting to chew. As he did this he snapped the skein into four parts, each a foot and a half in length, then doubled and re-doubled them, skilfully braiding in an equal length of silken thread as he did so.

   “There,” he said at last, still chewing. “I’ll use these skeins to bind the spirits, but first–”

   He picked up the glass and filled his mouth with the whisky before making weird mumbling and gurgling noises as he sloshed the whisky and tobacco around inside his mouth. As he did so he tied his first end, then mouth-sprayed a measure of the saliva-infused mix over the knot. This he repeated three more times as he used the skein to bind the bag. 

   “Now,” said the conjure-man, “More whisky!”

   Trump refilled his glass and repeated the incantation, pausing to mouth-spray the red clover and the foil before slipping them in amongst the tangle of knotted skeins and sprinkling them liberally with more tomb dust. He then picked up the remainder of the silk yarn and began to wind it tightly around the ball until it was a good inch-and-a-half in diameter.
   “There,” he said at last. “No loa can break those knots. Ologun before me, Ologun behind me, Ologun inside me. May this ball bring election success to Donald Trump. May it bind the spirits, and may it cast down his enemies before him so that they will be brought underfoot. May it bring him followers aplenty, and may it bring the loyal to him so that he is honoured, so that he has power and wealth, so that it may bring his heart’s desire, so that he will succeed in all that he undertakes, so that it brings him happiness. I fix it in the name of Ologun. As the roads twist and turn, as the rivers flow, be with me by day, be with me by night, be with me by day and by night.” 

Is that it? Thought Trump, whose confidence in the magic had waned as he had watched. This is so primitive. So uncivilised. But it was always worth hedging your bets.

   “Promise,” said Domingo, holding up the ball so that it came between his own eyes and those of his client, “that you’ll treat this lucky-ball well, Donald Trump…”

   As he spoke, his words washed over the tycoon, the ball seemed to take on a life of its own, spinning and dancing before him, and a strange but distant sensation came over him, as if he was far away, barely hearing the conjure-man’s words. Then he was aware of a conversation. Was he being interrogated? There were and answers, but he didn’t know what they were, not whether they came from his own mouth, that of Domingo, or from some detached spirit.
   “Come closer.” He then heard John say, and felt himself drawn back towards the hoodooman. It was if he had taken a big, big hit of cocaine.”
   Then he felt a spray of whisky as Domingo’s mouth bathed his face in another glassful of spirit and saliva.
   “It is done.”
   Wrapping the ball in tinfoil and a little silk rag, the hoodooman handed it to his client.

   “I want you to place this ball in a small linen bag. Attach it to a piece of string made from hemp or flax. Then I want you to swing it over your left shoulder so that the back ends up under your right armpit. Is that clear?”
   Trump nodded.
   “Good. The ball should rest under your right arm, touching your skin. Once per week you must remove the bag, bathe the ball in saliva and whisky, and then repeat the procedure. Over the left, under the right. Yes?”

   Again the Donald nodded.
   “If you do not do this, its potency will subside.”
   Gathering his things together, Domingo reached across the table and took what was left of the whisky, slipping it into his satchel before he stood and made his goodbyes.
   “Our business is concluded,” he said, passing over an invoice for his services. “You shall not see me again. Congratulations on your election victory.”

   As the hoodooman departed, Trump examined the invoice.

   “Ten million dollars or one immortal soul?” He sneered, screwing up the invoice and throwing it into the bin. “Stupid N*****.”

November 8th, 2016

When the election results came in it was clear that the exit polls had called it wrong. America had marched, with its eyes wide open, into oblivion. All the poison thrown at Secretary Clinton had done its work, and Hillary was beaten. Donald Trump, secure in his tower, smugly patted the little ball that nestled beneath his right armpit. It was, perhaps, time for a press conference.

   On the other side of the world a different billionaire sat in front of his laptop. One browser window was live-streaming Trump’s inauguration. The other recorded the closing minutes of a deal on his business’s website. The billionaire went by the name of Dr John Domingo, the sole beneficiary of Sir Clive Throckmorton’s fortune, the sole beneficiary of Timur Komarov’s criminal fortune, and soon to be the sole beneficiary of Donald J Trump’s.

   And if that wasn’t enough, his crowdfunding website, killdonaldtrump.com, had just made more than six times its original goal.
   Slipping the red gris-gris bag from his right wrist, Domingo pulled it open, withdrawing a small man-shaped fetish. There was a lock of golden hair tied to the crown, and it reeked of Trump Scotland Single Malt Whisky. The conjure-man casually reached for the long red-hot metal nail that rested upon a metal crucible that was heated by a gas burner.

   Ten minutes later, halfway through his inaugural speech, Donald Trump felt a throbbing soreness under his left armpit and a searing, burning sensation in the middle of his chest…

Afterword: At some point I expect to rewrite this story, anonymizing the antagonist and adding the proper dialect, but in the mean time, enjoy.

Copyright © 2016 Adrian Middleton

What I Write.

Quite often, I get asked “What do you write?”, to which my usual, rather flippant answer is “Nowhere near enough”.


I write adventure stories.

I’ve written for my own pleasure for most of my life, starting out with adventure stories and science fiction (cyberpunk was an early favourite, with a socially dystopian edge). Although I wanted to be a writer, I went out and got a career first.


I write science fiction.

Then I got into writing stuff for Doctor Who. Loads of short stories, hundreds of fanzines and a number of pitches of which some were successful up until the point that I sabotaged them inadvertently (long story). I then shifted my attention to science fiction and fantasy comedy before returning to Doctor Who for my first anthology, Shelf Life.

I write fantasy.

It may have taken 10+ years to go from editing fanzines to editing anthologies, but a flurry of stuff followed: bizarro, SF, weird, fairy tales, historical, steampunk, urban fantasy, Sherlock Holmes etc.
Now when I write it’s mainly SF, Pulp and weird. But I will try my hand at anything and everything.

I write horror (Art by Cyril Van Der Haegen).

As for who I write for, well, my own imprints come first (I write as a back-up plan when we have emergencies) as I hate pitching. In fact most of my stories have been by invitation rather than randomly submitted. I’m far too bad at self-promotion to sell myself.

I write steampunk (Art by James Ng).

In fact, if I can get away with a pseudonym, I will. Over the years I’ve used so many of the damn things that I sometimes lose track of my own identity. Imagine finding a story, appreciating it and then, halfway through, realising that the author is actually you!

I do that a lot.

I write genre comedy (Art: BBC).

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I’ll write about anything that I enjoy. Non-fiction, comic scripts, audio scripts, role-playing adventures, poems.

Heck, I’ll even write westerns…

I also do stories as gifts for friends on occasion. My current WIP is an overdue wedding gift that has time travel, Nazis, Vikings, Dragons and variously other obtuse elements.

When I have time, of course.

Next time, maybe I’ll focus on what I have written instead.

(photo courtesy of Beastie/Craig Beas).

Why I am a Chartist


Call me naive, but politics in the UK (and elsewhere) has become a toxic affair, tainted by career politicians corrupted by commercial and media interests who are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than acting in the best interests of Britain, Europe or, indeed, the world.

For some time I’ve been convinced that at the heart of this are not the social divide between haves and have-nots, but the ideological war between socialism and capitalism. Political parties are based on ideology, and ideologues always put their beliefs before the wellbeing of the people that they wish to impose them upon.

For a long time I struggled with this. Why, I always asked myself, can society not operate on two tiers. A top, capitalist tier, focused on merit and growth, and a lower, socialist tier, offering an equitable baseline that determines the minimum standards that a civilised society is prepared to accept. Obviously, by utilising both ideologies the links between them become corridors of social mobility. Or maybe siphons.

Of course everyone argues you can’t have two ideologies working in tandem, even though that’s exactly what the Labour Party was doing between 1997 and 2010.

I’m not a capitalist. I’m not a socialist. I recognise the values and the flaws in both, and I have always sought to find the middle ground. But In not exactly a liberal either.

Surely, I reasoned, a political party can be based on principles rather than ideologies. There must be some universal rights that everyone would want to sign up to. Or at the very least, most people.

The more I thought about this the more I realised that the answer lay under my nose, here in Birmingham. 

Chartism.

The 15th of June 2015 was the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta, and to celebrate I had visited the British Library’s Exhibition. It needed a good three hours to get through, but it was worth it.

One thing that occurred to me as I saw, and learned, just how widely Magna Carta had influenced the political landscape of the western world, was that something wasn’t right. It was there, but such scant attention was given to the Chartist Movement and the reforms of 1832 that it’s own impact seemed minor. Yet the more I think on today’s political problems the more I feel that Chartism might be the way forward. A new but simple charter of enshrined rights that reflects the spirit of Magna Carta is exactly what we need again today. 

Particularly because Chartism was a cause, rather than an ideology. A movement rather than a political institution.

UK politics has lacked a cause for some time, with the exception of one: the cause of ending our EU membership. The one goal cause that not only swelled the UKIP vote, but also won them Brexit. 

So while Labour and the Tories tore themselves apart, Goldsmith’s UKIP was a one-issue unifier that drew so many people – the old, the poor, the working class, the disenfranchised – to its cause.

And even without a credible voice in Parliament, they achieved their objective.

Just like the Chartists of 1832.

Had UKIP learned lessons from the most successful political movement in British history? Perhaps, or perhaps it was coincidence. Either way, it demonstrated to me that Chartism could still work today, in the 21st Century.

Chartism allows for the creation of the very British values those pesky politicians blather on about incoherently. Right now they’re a euphemism.

However, if Charter review were tied to an enshrined referendum process embedded in the long-term parliamentary timetable, there would never be a need for spontaneous referendums ever again. Charter issues could be revisited periodically by statute. All those things we have seen eroded – from sovereignty to the NHS to freedom of speech to privacy to human rights – could be key Charter issues that would prevent every future government from claiming false mandates and perverting the very fabric of our society.

Even better, Chartism is a broad church. You can follow opposing ideologies it still subscribe to the core principles of a Charter. I can see how everyone supporting it would understand exactly what was meant by “I am a Chartist” as opposed to “I am a socialist” or “I am a capitalist”
So who were the Chartists? From the first meeting in Bradford Street, Birmingham in 1838 through until their displacementby mainstream  political reformers just ten years later they were almost forgotten by the time their proposed reforms were eventually enacted – not all as stated to the letter, but certainly in spirit. 

They may only ever have had one MP, but their loud voices shook the nation, forced the resignation of a Prime Minister, changed the nature of ten parliamentary landscape, and Doubtless paved the way for the decline of Imperialism and the rise of the Labour movement.

So what were their aims? What objectives dos they seek to enshrine? Well…

1. A vote for every person of sixteen years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
2. The Secret Ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.

3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.

4. Payment of Members, thus enabling an honest trades-man, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency; when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.

5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones. 

6. Annual Parliament Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

Chartists also explored new ways of living in communes to reduce costs and enable people to own land to secure their electoral voice. They infiltrated the pulpits of the Church and created the great political preachers of the nineteenth century. They championed emancipation and influenced many of the politicians that followed, from John Bright (the man who arguably convinced Lincoln to oppose slavery) to Marx and Engels.

The protests of the modern age are issue specific. Anti-Austerity, Occupy, Pro-EU. They may have many of the same members and activists, but they don’t speak with a single voice. Not like the Chartists.

So I ask myself what, if such existed, might a modern chartist manifesto look like? What principles might it espouse?
My first thought is that ideological principles would have to be avoided. So no nationalism, socialism, no capitalism, no anarchy, no religion, no pacifism, no militarism, no republicanism. These are the issues that divide reasonable people, and that open the door for agitators and for agents provocateur. They shouldn’t be things that can polarise, they should be the things that reasonable people can agree on.

To me it should cover the basics: Citizenship & Democracy, Constituency & Representation, Education, Health & Welfare, Election & Representation, Freedom & Privacy, Insurance and Taxation, Public Service, Sovereignty and Parliament.

It isn’t about reform so much as transparency. Many hard-won reforms to basic human rights are being revised or reversed without political mandate, and campaigning for a Charter

If we can enshrine our expectations in a modern People’s Charter, and if we can campaign for a charter, and for a process that allows the people to challenge  it’s  violation, has a very real chance of making democracy work.

Happy Towel Day


The loss of Douglas Adams on 11th May 2001 led to the creation of a celebration of all things Hitchhiker a couple of weeks later. Today, then, is the 15th Annual Towel Day.

To celebrate (or commemorate) I wrote the following pastiche, which was for a Birthday reading at Southcart Books in Walsall. It went down quite well.

I should point out that I have included part of a brief exchange, word-for-word, from the late Mr Adams. Given his (and my) habit of anecdotal repetition, some of you may have heard it before. If not, share and enjoy:

A Question, at last…

A Vogon, a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri and a hyper intelligent shade of the colour blue known as a hooloovoo walked into a bar.
Being intangible, the colour passed through it without incident while the small furry creature stopped to use it as a scratching post. Unused to the concept of clothing, it was obviously quite irritated by the freshly printed Extra-extra-large tee-shirt, emblazoned with the the legend “I Voted for Stupid”, that enveloped its extra-extra-small body. The Vogon, meanwhile, walked up to the bartender and shouted out his order.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam!”

“I beg your pardon?” Said the mixologist, clearly upset by some perceived slight.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam.” the Vogon repeated. “Now, madam!”

“Madam?”

“Yes, madam, now, madam!” said the purple-faced Vogon, slamming a meaty fist on the bar with the force of a large wet medicine ball.

Shrugging off the disgruntled order, the bartender set about making the drink, vigorously shaking a bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit into a pre-chilled measure of Santraginean water. The kersploosh-kersploosh-kersploosh of three Mega-gin cubes was quickly replaced by the bubbling sound of their rapidly diffusing benzine payload, even as a geyser of Fallian marsh gas erupted from the hollow tube that rested at the bottom of the tall glass. With a flip and a reverse flip the talented mixologist spiralled a glutinous globule of Qualactin Hypermint essence into the cocktail, breathing deeply of its heady vapours before revealing, with a flourish, an Algolian Suntiger tooth which, with a satisfying plink-fizz ignited the mixture with a dazzling burst of white-hot sunlight that was immediately quenched by a fine sprinkling of zamphour. To this a slice of lemon and the piece de la resistance, an olive, were added. Setting the carefully prepared drink before the customer, the bartender promptly threw its contents into the offending Vogon’s face, where the highly corrosive mixture exfoliated the fat alien’s outermost layer of blubber.

As the room fell silent, the hooloovoo turned to the small furry creature beside him and flickered manically, silently asking why exactly the Vogon had called the bartender madam when it was clearly pangendered.

“It’s the sound he makes whenever his triple chins crash into his face,” explained the Alpha Centauran.

“Happens every time I speak, madam,” said the Vogon, looking around for the nearest towel.

Casting an inquisitive ray of light around the room, the hooloovoo settled its focus on a dark corner, flashing in excitement as it spotlit their quarry.
“Hey, torchie, not so bright!” Said Zaphod Beeblebrox, whose single head, feathered lime fedora and turned up collar were about as inconspicuous as the galaxy’s most narcissistic narcissist could muster. “My left side is the good one this week.”

What can you say about Zaphod Beeblebrox…? Adventurer, ex-hippy, good-timer, fantastically tactless, manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, overarchingly arrogant, if not completely out to lunch, inventor of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe for the forty sixth time.
A man so Machiavellian, in fact, that he betrayed even himself, become President of the Galaxy just so he could top it by becoming the most wanted man in the universe.

In the wake of his eventual capture, his extremely well publicised multiverse-wide execution and his subsequent lecture tour across the length and breadth of the Galaxy, vicious rumours began to circulate that he might actually have done it all on purpose.

Quick as a flash the hooloovoo was at Zaphod’s side while its furry sidekick struggled with the tail of its tee-shirt as it scuttled across the floor.

Behind them the mighty Karx, dressed in the formal leathers of the Animatractic Courier Corps marched, duck-like, with a creak, a waddle, a creak and a very unsightly frown.

“Beeblebrox?” He shouted. “Madam.” His chin flapped.

“Shush. Cool it, stubby. I’m in-cog-neato! Do you have the package?”

“Yes, madam,” said Karx, unstrapping a thick rubbery rucksack which his client had mistaken for a hump. “If you could just… madam.”

The Vogon dumped the bag on the table, pulling out a lengthy sheet of pink paper for Zaphod to sign. The Alpha Centauran produced a similar sheet in green, while the hyper intelligent colour projected one in a fetching shade of blue.

“Who shall I sign it to?” Zaphod asked, producing a gold stylus and a third arm from the folds of his coat.

“No dedication,” said the Vogon, “madam.”

“To Tim,” said the Alpha Centauran, attracting a glower from his towering companion.

“How do you spell that?” Zaphod asked.

“T-I-9-M,” squeaked the furry fan. “The nine is silent.”

“Cool. That’s the second most unusual request I’ve had…” The ex-President paused, waiting to be asked about the first. An awkward silence followed, broken only by the strobing of the hooloovoo, desperate to get an autograph of its own.

With the papers signed, Karx let out an almost joyous “Ha! Madam!” Before gathering the triplicate receipts and stuffing them deep inside his leathers.

Gingerly, Zaphod reached out towards the rucksack, breaking the beam of its light-zip. Losing its rigidity, the sack’s sides fell away to reveal as rusty robotic head.

“One heap of junk, As requested,” said Ti9m. “Although we don’t see why you bothered.”

“This…” said Zaphod “…is something I spent years looking for. It was under my nose all the time. Boring, irritating, totally unremarkable.”

“I can hear you,” said the head, it’s triangular eyes glowing with a dim light. “Although I really wish I couldn’t.”

“What is it, then?” Ti9m asked.

“This is my metal mate Marvin, the oldest, wisest, most soul-numbing robot in the history of the universe.”

“I can still hear you,” said the head with a loud electronic sigh.

“And?” Karx asked, letting out a barely audible double-madam.

“And he had the question all along.”

“The question?”

“Yeah. To Life, the Universe, Everything.”

“THE question?” Ti9m asked.

“Yeah. I spent years finding the answer, only to discover I needed the question to make any sense of it.”

“Pardon me for pointing out the exceedingly obvious, but you do realise they’re mutually exclusive?” Said Marvin. “You can’t know the question and the answer at the same time.”

“It’s okay,” Zaphod reassured him, “the answer’s in my other head.”

“You know, it’s at times like this I’m grateful that I still suffer the phantom pain of the faulty diodes that used to run down my left hand side.”

“Time to end the pretence, chrome-top. I know you have the question.”

“You know? You barely uprocess a hundred million bits per second. How can you possibly know anything with such a slow brain. Now if you really want to know things, you need a brain the size of a planet.”

“Yeah, exactly. You have a brain the size of a planet.”

“Oh, forgive me. You know what I just told you. Give it a few moments, I’m sure the memory will fade. Unlike mine, I never…”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m not really stupid Marvin. I commissioned you.”

“You commissioned me? You’re telling me you were responsible for initiating my miserable existence in the first place? I hated you before. Now I positively loathe you.”

“Yeah? Thanks. It’s mutual. Thing is, when I wired my two brains back together I worked it out. Brain the size of a PLANET.”

“Yes, well done. You still remember. I can only surmise that you finally got some treatment.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thing is the question had to be calculated by a computer the size of a planet. A computer as big and as powerful as the Earth.”

“Earth, madam?” Karx was startled by the name. A startled Vogon is not a pretty sight, particularly when the ends of its unibrow stand up as if they just received an electrostatic charge. “Didn’t that get demolished by one of our Constructor Fleets?”

“Yeah, my bad. I was popular that day and accidentally signed the order. It’s not like I’d make THAT mistake again. Still, I did make up for it by approving the order to build Earth 2. I just didn’t think the interface would be built into Marvin here.”

“All that redundant capacity,” said Marvin, “and it was all for the sake of a question that nobody is going to like.”

“So what’s the question?” Ti9m asked, leaning in so that the old robot might share the information.

“Not for you guys,” said Zaphod. “Shove off. You’ve got your money. Now skedaddle.”

“Really?” Ti9m bristled and his nose twitched angrily. “After all we’ve…”

“He’s right, madam,” said Karx. “We have the receipt. Duty calls elsewhere.”

Cursing, the Alpha Centauran turned on his heel, accompanying the shade and the Vogon from the premises while muttering something about never voting for “that bastard” ever again.

“So,” said Zaphod, alone with The robot head at last. “Spill.”

“I’m afraid any lubricants that may have occupied my cranial cavities have long since been drained away,” said Marvin, “more’s the pity.”

“The question, metal man,” said Zaphod impatiently. “What is it?”

“Anticlimactic. Really. The deep, but brief sense of achievement I experienced in working it out was quickly overcome by the sheer pointlessness of knowing what it is.”

“Yeah but you’re the only one that worked it out, right?”

“So? Just because it happens to be the single most difficult task that might ever be undertaken by any hyper-intelligent being in the entire history of the universe. Just because understanding it is entirely dependent upon understanding the entire structure of life, the universe, and everything, doesn’t make it exciting. Or useful.”

“Yeah, but it is valuable, right?”

“Valuable? To the academic community I suppose. They might find a use for it, but only to populate a fresh lesson plan or to justify a lecture tour. Not that you ever need an excuse.”

“So WHAT. IS. THE. BLOODY. QUESTION?”

“What is the square root of -1?”

“I don’t know. Why answer a question with a question? I don’t want games, Marvin, I want answers.”

“No,” Marvin gave an even longer electronic sigh than earlier, “you wanted the question. That was it. So utterly underwhelming that you skipped over it without a moment’s hesitation. A bit like me really. Hmm. Maybe I am the embodiment of the question. Maybe it’s sheer uselessness is a metaphor for the yawning void that fills my neural pathways from each interminably long second to the next.”

“You mean the square root thing? That’s it?”

“Yes. I told you it was a useless piece of information.”

“Marvin?” Zaphod sighed. 

“Yes?”

“I’m switching you off now.”

“Hallelujah.”

All characters are copyrighted to the estate of Douglas Adams, and no intention to infringe these rights is intended.