Dogged

Basil had been a dog groomer going on 20 years. He had started out on human heads but finding them taxing and too talkative he took a short course to up skill. He was inspired after a drunken house party where someone had brought their new Pomeranian and were worried its fluff was getting beyond control.

‘She just keeps getting stuff caught in it’ was the owner’s complaint.

‘Basil’s a hairdresser’ the host told said owner. ‘I bet he could come up with a fresh new do’.

Basil was gathered, along with some clippers and fine scissors. Being buoyed by vodka and sheer idiocy his nerves were non-existence. But, to his credit, the owner was overjoyed with the outcome, despite the dog now looking like one of those weird shrubs your mum likes.

He found it quite different from cutting human hair. The texture, for one, slowed him down a bit. However, Basil was somewhat intrigued by his client who, except for the occasional stealth lick, was very calm and didn’t burden him with its life story.

When he woke up next morning he wondered to himself, as we all sometimes do, ‘Shit did I really do that?’.

Instagram confirmed that he had indeed done that plus #dogsofinstagram #pomeranian #doggrooming had garnered him a considerable increase in followers.

By Monday word had spread. Unfortunately some of that word had reached Basil’s salon, a low class high turn around joint on a certain long shopping strip.

His boss was livid.

‘Basil I’ve been in this industry a long time and have seen A LOT of things. But I’ve never seen something so irresponsible’.

‘I am sorry, it was just a spur of the moment thing’.

‘And what if you had of snipped the dog?’.

‘But I didn’t’.

‘Do you think this is a joke Basil? Because you won’t find OH&S so amusing when you’re out of a job’.

Basil slinked away. His books were full that week and he had been fielding enquiries from dog owners who were impressed with Frou Frou’s new do.

Walking home from work dogs seemed to be everywhere and in differing states of hair. Some were groomed top to toe. Others were more casual.

He got home and had a chat to his mum, who was unusually supportive.

‘Love if that’s what you want to do, you know I’ll always be behind you’ (this wasn’t actually true, she could be pretty lax as a parent).

Basil took this as a sign and, as mentioned, enrolled in a short course where he could study and practice at night. Within no time he had graduated and told his boss he would be retiring from human heads. A farewell party was had, glasses were raised and Basil was on his way. It seemed like yestermaday. But it was 20 years ago.

Basil now commanded his own salon with an exclusive range of clients – AFL and WFL wives, monied gentry, professionals with no time and a lot of money – the usual. No matter what was happening in his private life Basil would put on a cheery face and convince people that working with doggos was all it’s cracked up to be despite the nips and stage mum parents.

And then Toby walked in. A French poodle, Toby had a haughty and entitled attitude, much like our federal politicians.

‘He’s very particular about his fur and we were told you were the man to see. His last groomer unfortunately just committed suicide’ Toby’s mum told Basil.

‘Since then he’s not let anyone go near his fur and now I can’t even walking him for fear of embarrassment’.

‘Well’ Basil said cheerily, ‘Let’s try and put the spring back in his step’.

Basil washed Toby, who made several grunts at him. He was perky whilst trying to be soothing. So far so good.

‘There you go little mate, we’ll have you back on top in no time’.

Basil turned away to reach for the conditioner (it’s vegan, obviously – all of the range at Basil’s salon was). When he turned back Toby was looking straight at him.

‘Look here chap’ Toby said, ‘I’m not used to amateurs but I heard from the King Charles down the road that you know what you’re doing. So have at it and I’ll make it worth your while’.

The bottle of conditioner fell from Basil’s hand and onto the floor where it bounced a few times for dramatic effect. He looked around the salon. Surely this was some kind of prank?

‘Yes, you dimwit, I’m speaking to you’ said Toby. The dog let out a sigh and appeared to roll its eyes.

The next few minutes were taken up with the usual ‘dog starts to speak’ conversation. Toby had learnt English from his old hairdresser but yes it was a secret and no his masters didn’t know of his propensity to speak.

The rest of the appointment went along silently.

As Toby left he winked at Basil, who was wondering if he should up his meds or reduce them. He definitely could do with a Xanax and a lie down either way.

Toby and Basil continued to come together on a regular basis, with Toby bemoaning the stupidity of the human race and how one day he would bring it to its knees.

‘You will be spared for your skills’ he told Basil, who was becoming very uncomfortable.

One day Toby’s mum came in alone.

‘Oh is he sick?’ Basil said hopefully and then regretted thinking so cruelly.

‘Well he’s not fine, but he appears to be physically healthy. I just want to know; have you noticed anything unusual? He’s been avoiding me lately’.

‘Well he does talk quite a bit’.

Toby’s mum laughed.

‘Yes we all think they’re talking to us’.

‘But I mean…’

‘Yes I know what you mean; it’s like they’re human sometimes’.

Basil decided not to take it any further.

‘I’m hoping it’s just psychological and things will get back to normal soon’.

‘I hope so too’.

She went on her way. Basil looked at himself in the mirror. He’d lost quite a bit of weight and had been self-medicating. When not attended to his hair was showing patches of grey. His hands occasionally went into tremor as though they were screaming out ‘STOP’. He picked up the phone and dialed Toby’s mum’s number.

‘Hi, sorry, meant to say; I’m taking a bit of a break from the business to take my mother on holiday. She’s getting on and I thought we should spend some time together before… well you know’.

Toby’s mum expressed the usual empathetic stuff people express when someone’s mum seems vulnerable.

‘I’ll let you know when I’m back’.

He then went through all his upcoming appointments, cancelling each and recommending another groomer. That night as he shut the doors he felt as though Toby-shaped weight had lifted.

Basil went home, booked a flight to a remote island and packed his bags. He was gone by morning.

A few week’s later at stupid o’clock the phone rang in his serviced apartment.

‘Is that Basil Fankanarkle? This is the police’.

The voice sounded empathetic and Basil assumed that Mother may have slipped away.

‘It’s about your salon’.

‘Oh, is everything OK?’.

‘Well sir, I would suggest you sit down’.

Basil sat down.

‘The premises of your building. Well, they’ve been the site of a bombing. I’m afraid there’s nothing left except a message scrawled on the footpath saying ‘Fight the two legged fascists’. We need you to come in and make a statement’.

‘I’m actually in the middle of a much needed break right now’.

‘Ummm, yes, we’re aware of that. We just need to exclude you from our enquiries. I assume the building was insured?’.

‘Well yes of course, I built that business up over 20 years, of course I insured it’.

He drew a quick breath.

‘Wait – you think I was involved?’.

‘As I said sir, we need to exclude you from our enquiries. There’s also the matter of a missing dog, known to your salon’.

Basil was ready to pass out. The officer continued.

‘He was, or hopefully is still, a much valued pet and he went missing about the time of the explosion’.

‘I’m on an island, I haven’t seen him’.

‘So you know which pet we refer to? A French poodle named Toby?’.

‘Yes, of course. But I have nothing to do with his disappearance. I actually closed the salon just after speaking with his mother’.

‘She came in?’.

‘The day I left. She was having issues with Toby and wondered if I had noticed anything strange about him’.

‘And had you?’.

‘Well yes and I tried to tell her but she thought I was joking’.

‘But you weren’t?’.

‘No’.

‘Either way sir, we need you to come into the station and make a statement. If you can book yourself on the next flight out we’ll get this all sorted’.

‘Thank you officer’.

‘Oh and I am sorry to mention, but your mother was also found dead this morning’.

Basil put down the phone.

He thought about his last 20 years at work and how happy they had been, until Toby. Not only was his business gone, but his mum too.

The next morning he walked into the sea, never to be heard from again. A bit like Harold Holt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the hop

Featured

Jacks had been scared of bunnies ever since she was little. For the life of her she could not remember why. But she so wanted to impress her new girlfriend that she was ready to swallow her fears and pretend really REALLY REALLY (teeth gritted) hard to love them. And make it as convincing as poss.

Her friend Tom had provided her with a mantra; ‘It’s just a bunny. Bunnies are harmless’. She would run this through when the bile rose in her throat and the desire for flight became present. They also implemented some ‘casual bunny exposure’, getting Jacks to Google pictures of bunnies, creating flash cards of positive things to describe them. She also downloaded a Japanese game that encouraged her to collect them and maintain their habitat, hoping to kick off a shred of empathy toward their beings.

It had been pretty hard going. The nightmares were frequent, with Jacks being chased across fields by a mob of fluffy cottontails and Amamis, their noses twitching with sheer rage as they wielded pitchforks and tiki torches. Well we told you she was scared of them. So weren’t kidding.

Her disrupted sleep was enough for Kale to notice. Kale was Jacks’ new girlfriend. She was very very very funny, clever and good looking. Jacks felt she had hit the jackpot, in a manner of speaking because obvs women are not objects or prizes for our pleasure etc. Anyways Jacks was pretty happy and Kale seemed likewise. They would spend weekends on the couch watching classic movies like Spiceworld and Labyrinth. There was A LOT of laughing. Sometimes it was irritating in a ‘so sweet I am going to fucking puke’ way. But that’s couples for you. It was nice that they got along so well in a world that always seemed in conflict or some shit.

The only problem was the bunnies. Some people were (rightly) freaked out by dolphins, poor harmless spiders triggered others and many wouldn’t have a bar of snakes. Jacks had seen people physically react to pictures of spiders and snakes on the internets. Clearly that was a bit much. She suspected that some childhood trauma had instigated her fears but it was buried deep down in her subconscious or wherever memories hid. I don’t know, I’m not a fricken psychologist.

Point being that Kale, blissfully unaware of Jacks’ speciesist tendencies, had organised a romantic sexy weekend away at a mother flipping bunny farm. IKR? Quelle horreur.

The bunnies were also free range (obviously to a perimeter) so they’d be wandering in and out of the little cottage Jacks and Kale would call home for the weekend. ‘YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK’ said Jacks’ brain.

‘Are you OK?’ Kale asked ‘You look like your face might explode?’.

‘Gosh sorry’ Jacks tried to recover, ‘Was just thinking about work – it’s been pretty stressful lately’.

‘I know darling, which is why I think a break would be a good idea’.

‘Totes would’ replied Jacks, knowing this break would be anything but. SO being the super anal organised human that she was, Jacks prepared herself. She sought advice, Googled ‘Can bunnies kill. And how?’, she secured a Valium script from her sympathetic GP. Said GP advised Jacks to tell Kale of her fears, honesty being the best policy and all that.

‘But I can’t’.

‘Of course you can’.

‘I don’t think I can. It’s the honeymoon period; she thinks I’m great. Surely it’d be better to wait until we’re in a rut and then lay it on her?’.

‘Look I see your point, but I’d like to go on record as your medical professional that I advise against this. I hope you choose to let her know’.

Jacks wasn’t gunna. She totes wasn’t. Her GP, a clued in being, seemed to sense this.

‘Look even if you ease into this. Go to the Children’s Farm, hang out near the bunny section, watch them being the gentle beings they are. Next week, go back and touch one for 10 seconds. Desensitise yourself’.

‘I’ll think about it’ Jacks replied rather unconvincingly.

As we know she did think about it and discarded her doctor’s advice. She had many excuses for doing so, all of which sounded great in her head but would never stand up to scrutiny outside of it. So she built coping strategies.

Soon the day came when Kale and Jacks hit the road, doing an obligatory stop at a country bakery, grabbing some local cellar door specials and heading up the winding country roads that would lead them to their destination. Jacks grip on the steering wheel had turned her knuckles to white, prompting several concerned comments from Kale.

‘Just still tired from work’ Jacks deflected, I’ll relax once we’re there.

And, seemingly, all at once they were there.

Oh the bunnies. They were everywhere, mounds of furry cloud hopping along, resting, sniffing at everything. Otherwise the hosts and the little cottage were perfect, there was even a view from the bath.

The girls unloaded, with Jacks stealing a moment to scoff a Valium to calm her nerves. In a moment of pre-calm a voice came out of nowhere.

‘Got the jitters have ya?’.

Jacks looked around. There were no humans in the vicinity. She noticed a large, white bunny with brown markings staring at her intently.

‘Yeah ya numbnuts, of course it’s me. Gawd you humans are a bit thick’.

Jacks swallowed hard and fast.

‘What do you want from me?’ was possibly not the best way to start.

‘I don’t want nothing from you. No wait. That’s a lie. There are two things I want’.

‘If you leave me alone I’ll do anything’.

‘And if you don’t we’ll get ya. Deal?’.

‘Deal’.

‘Do you remember when you were a little girl? Had a bunny named Minky’.

‘Yeah, I remember Minky. I loved her’.

‘Then why don’t you love us bunnies now?’.

‘I honestly can’t remember’.

The bunny made a tutting noise and appeared to slap its head with its paw.

‘Seriously’.

‘Yeah. If I could remember what happened then maybe I could figure out why you all terrify me so much’.

‘It’s not us you should be scared of’ the bunny replied.

As their conversation progressed more and more bunnies came to see what was going on. Jacks’ hands were shaking. Where the hell had Kale gone? If she saw what was happening maybe they could go home and never speak of bunnies again. But Kale was in her element on the balcony; unpacked with a glass of wine in one hand, book in the other and a bunny on her lap. The bunny was a deliberate decoy, sent in by the colony so they could have a word with Jacks.

Back on the other side of the house, Jacks was repeating her mantra again and again.

‘If you know why I’m scared, why don’t you tell me?’

‘All in due course. We still have to go through my terms’.

‘Do go on…’.

‘Firstly, we wish you to repent for what has happened to our sister Minky’.

Here Jacks felt a little confused; she was pretty sure Minky had a pretty nice life.

‘Secondly we decree that you never eat another of our kind and leave us on Sunday promptly before check out, never to darken our door again’.

‘That’s three things’.

‘Do we need to add a fourth to deflate your big stupid dumb head?’.

‘No. I agree to your terms’.

‘Great. We’ll be visiting you in your dreams. Until then most of us will keep a safe distance because cripes you smell bad’.

‘Noted’.

The human and the bunnies went their respective ways.

After pouring herself a really biiiiiig glass of wine Jacks joined Kale on the balcony on one of those cool old school double swing seats.

‘What took you so long?’

‘Was just talking with the locals’.

‘Were they friendly’.

‘Ummmm…’ Jacks began. Decoy bunny met her eyes and wouldn’t let go.

‘Yeah they were adorable. So fluffy and soft’ she said, staring straight back at decoy bunny (its birth name was Ralph) with cynicism.

The two (plus Ralph) sat in their chairs without interruption for a while. It had been a long, warm drive and rest was needed. Plus Jacks was out of her fricking mind palace not knowing what would happen that night in her dreams. The wine and Valium eventually did their work though and she started to nod off as the sun went down (and not in a sexy way).

Jacks awoke, still on the swing, but covered in one of those rad crocheted blankets. The sight that awaited her caused Jacks to nearly fall of the swing set.

A committee of bunnies sat patiently before her with the large, white bunny with brown markings, at the head of the group. Her name was Joan, just FYI.

‘So nice of you to finally join us’ Joan said facetiously rubbing her paws against her face.

‘What have you done with Kale?’, Jacks was really concerned. She didn’t trust them one bit. Plus she really really wanted to vomit and have someone rub her back as she did so.

‘Like you, she is in her dreams’ Joan told her. Jacks still seemed unsure.

‘Wow, you humans are really suspicious. And you’re the ones who eat us, pot: kettle much?’.

‘I still want to see her’.

The bunnies led Jacks to the lounge room. Sure enough Kale was passed out on the couch in front of the fire, book draped across her eyes and snoring the snores of the wine encumbered.

‘You guys really know how to have a romantic getaway, don’t yas?’ Joan offered. She would have laughed but being a bunny this was not an option.

‘Whatever, fine. What do you need me to do’.

‘Follow us, we’ll lead the way’.

The way wasn’t actually too far so it was probably an exaggeration to call it thus. The way was actually a few metres beyond the cottage in a building Jacks had and hadn’t seen before. And yes, that is possible.

She knew the building because it was her childhood home. But she didn’t see it when they had booked in.

‘It wasn’t there then ya womble. We’re in your dream, remember?’ Joan told her.

‘You know we may get through this a lot quicker without me running away if you’re not so mean’.

‘I’m in no hurry’ Joan replied.

Jacks felt as though her brain was going to punch its way out of its shell. She remembered her mantra and began saying it out loud which triggered a general murmur from the bunny committee.

‘HOW OFFENSIVE!!!’ many of them were muttering to themselves and each other.

But Jacks wasn’t going to back down on this one. The mantra was the only thing tying her sanity together, albeit very loosely. They continued to move forward amidst the mutters and the mantra, heading towards Jacks’ childhood door.

Jacks had loved this house. And she had loved Minky, who was a present for her third birthday. Minky was fluffy and cute and she pooed in pellets and did that thing with her nose. Her ears were long and soft. Jacks’ attitude to her bunny kidnappers softened a little, but she was also scared.

What was in the house?

How did it relate to her bunny fear?

What if she got stuck in there and couldn’t get out.

‘You’ll be fine’ Joan said, ‘we just want to fix your attitude, which sucks arse. You think you’re scared? Try having a world of giants wanting to kill you and everyone you love, only to put them in a pie or wear them to the theatre, hang their feet in cars for good luck, caging you, painting make up on your face. You’ve got nothing to be scared of you privileged little human shit’.

Whilst Jacks could see her point, she was still wary and felt shivers as they stepped and hopped across the threshold.

The lounge room was off to the left and there sat little Jacks in some kind of frou frou excuse for a frock, even littler Minky on her lap. Jacks was in her element, patting Minky, brushing her soft ears and watching the little twitch, twitch, twitch of her nose. After a while she set Minky on the couch, promising to be back soon with some delicious lettuce.

But, being a child, Jacks got distracted. Time sped up as she was watching her history unfold. It was half an hour later before anyone re-entered the lounge room. It was dad. Jacks let out a sigh. She missed her dad. He was tall and awkward and her mum divorced him because quite simply, they didn’t click. He was a good egg. And then he died.

Dad set down his coffee and, with the morning’s paper under his arm, went to settle into the couch Jacks had left Minky in. She could feel herself screaming out ‘Noooooooo’ but of course Dad couldn’t hear her. She heard a squishing noise, a pop and watched Dad’s bewildered face as he tried to figure out why the couch was so uncomfortable. At that moment little Jacks walked in. A look of horror spread over her face.

‘DAD, MINKY!!!!’ she screamed. The look of horror was then shared, spread over parent and child. Her dad stood up slowly, holding out one hand to keep Jacks at bay. But she was too quick.

Minky was a mess. An eye had popped out and blood was oozing from her. Dream Jacks started screaming. Real Jacks started screaming.

‘You killed our sister’ Joan said, pointing a paw at her.

The dream characters faded and Jacks fell to the floor, sobbing.

‘I’m so sorry. I should have looked after her’.

The committee of bunnies looked very sad.

A grey bunny with an officious manner shuffled to the front. It would not look Jacks in the eye.

‘You seem remorseful, yes, but how can we tell you are sincere?’.

‘I’ll do anything, give you anything to convince you, what do you want?’.

‘We need you to tell Kale of Minky’s murder’ officious bunny said very solemnly.

‘If you do not do so by midnight tonight we will haunt you for the rest of your days’.

‘I promise, I’ll do it as soon as we wake up’.

The bunny committee started to get harder to focus on. Eventually their image dissipated as Jacks eyes forced themselves open.

‘There you are, crusty face’ Kale greeted her.

‘Hurry up, breakfast is almost done’.

Kale lent in to kiss Jacks, screwed up her face and headed back into the kitchen.

‘And please, for the love of chips please brush your teeth’.

Jacks did as she was told.

Settling down at the table Jacks looked at her newish beloved.

‘There’s something I need to tell you’ she began.

Kale looked nervous, swallowing down on a noice piece of rye.

‘It’s not about us. It’s about me. Something that happened in my childhood. Something I need to tell you’.

And she did.

Jacks and Kale never ate a bunny again. They were eventually married (with Joan’s permission) at the cottage, surrounded by both human and bunny friends.

It was a lovely wedding.

 

Hank and Babs do an adventure

The wind had whipped itself up into a frenzy; howling down empty city streets and knocking stuff over like a teenager who was just really really angry with everything, man. Occasionally the howls would wake up the sensitive of hearing. And, of course, dogs.

Hank and Babs were stacked snuggly in their kennel, but awake. They’d tried to rouse the humans to let them inside; the noise was really not fun.

‘I don’t think they can hear us Babs. We’re stuck here until the short one wakes up’.

Babs let out a whine. She was generally, as is in keeping with her species, upbeat and optimistic. But her fluffy, silky ears were over it. Plus, as a puppy (albeit a GIANT one), she was still getting used to the fact that life was not always going to dish out luxuries like time on the couch.

The wind, not having done enough with waking up beings and upsetting bins, decided to up the ante on its rampage and blow a little bit harder and stronger to prove its might.

Hank and Babs’ back gate started to rattle and, having not being replaced since the  ’90s, it gave little resistance. A slight lift under its bottom and then a strong blast pulled the gate from its moorings. Of course it did, how else do you think the dogs are going to go on an adventure? Seriously.

Hank sniffed the air.

‘Something is different’ he told his sister.

They untangled themselves and exited the safety of their cosy bed. Upon seeing the open gate Hank drew a sharp breath which, because of his adorable pushed in nose, came out as a snort.

Babs let out an amused ‘WOOF’. She dropped to the ground, her head on her paws, and stared longingly beyond the gate.

‘Barbara, we can’t. The humans will be sad. They will miss us. Plus we don’t have long until breakfast. Food is your favourite thing; remember?’.

‘Cummmooon, we don’t have to go far. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE? I’ll let you have the ball’.

‘Ahhhhh, the impetuousness of youth’ nodded Hank; ‘the ball you say? For how long?’.

‘Til next breakfast’ Babs offered.

‘Deal’. They didn’t shake on it and stuff because, well, dogs.

Tentatively they made their way towards the open gate, sticking their heads out warily.

‘No cats?’ asked Babs.

‘I think the coast is clear. Let’s go before that big Persian from next door wakes up and tries to kill us’.

‘Good idea’.

They trotted along the alleyway… Well. They would have, but as dogs they had to smell everything. Other than being allowed off leash at the dog park and on the farm they’d never been allowed to explore much without the humans yelling at them to not eat poo or roll in dead bird carci. The alleyway presented a plethora of tastes and smells and they could explore them unfettered. Until…

Hank had been spending a long time in one spot, sniffing his butt off when he raised his head and let his olfactory nerves drink in the morning air.

‘I know this smell’ he told Babs.

They were finally near the end of the alley, which veered off into a main street.

‘This is where they take us on the chains’. He meant leads. He can be a bit overdramatic sometimes. He is French and all.

Babs bounced up and down, then got distracted by her tail and spun to catch it.

When she eventually came up for air she said ‘I LOVE THE CHAINS! LET’S GO WHERE THE CHAINS TAKE US!’.

‘You’re such a weirdo. But fine. We’ll go to where the chains take us and then back to bed. Do you promise to be a good girl?’.

Babs began bouncing again.

‘I DO, I DO!’ she confirmed.

Destination in check they headed for what was, unbeknownst to them, called ‘the park’.

Their propensity for sniffing and peeing on everything slowed them down somewhat. They were also hissed at through a window by a Devon rex named Iggy, which terrified Babs, hiding her march larger frame behind Hank’s reassuring small but stocky figure. But finally they made it.

If they weren’t canines they would have seen the sun rising over the city in golds and pinks, bathing everything in no filter-worthy light. What they did see were the birds. Without warning Babs ran at high speed toward a rather large magpie, making it rise up sharply into the air and away from the shenanigans of dogs.

Babs went after another, and then another, and then another. All this time Hank had been rolling around, having a grass bath, his furry little face in rapture. Until a soft but forceful paw landed on his chest.

‘I’m hungry Hank’ was Babs’ lament; ‘And I miss the ball’.

Both let out a big sigh. Babs dropped to the ground, resting her chin on Hanks’ back. There was always food for them at home, delivered on time with nummy crunchiness. And the ball was just where they left it, covered in dirt in the flower bed. Memories. Sadface.

Back at the house the humans were waking up to a scene that caused their hearts to break. Where were their babies? A plan of action was engaged; call work and delay, each parent to be assigned a direction along the alleyway, head to the park and if that wasn’t fruitful then the animal hospital (please no) and the pounds for a microchip check of their current prisoners. The park was the only place the dogs really knew how to get to on foot. Thankfully they couldn’t drive. Hank would be a terror on the road, running down his least favourite humans; men in uniforms and short men, men with a moustache, men with beards, mostly men who weren’t his dads. That third wave feminism has a lot to answer for. Not.

His beloved dads gave him food and always let him sit on the couch. OK so maybe that last bit isn’t strictly true, but if he pulled a cute enough Hank face he could gain couch access. And with a face like his it wasn’t difficult. Unless of course you were a dog hater with a lump of LNP approved coal for a heart.

Hank was dreaming of the couch as he lay in the park, with poor darling Babs softly crying. She stopped abruptly and poked her brother. He chose to ignore her.

‘HANK, I think I heard something! Wake up!’.

Their names came to them on the morning breeze (the wind had conveniently gone to bed); The Humans!

Jumping up quickly they perused the perimeter of the park. THERE WAS DAD 1! AND LOOK – ALSO DAD 2! Hank and Babs were overjoyed. Because food obviously. They bounded toward their loving parents like a goofy pair of goofballs. Tears were shed (bloody emotional humans), licks generously given, leads attached and the dogs on their way home back to be in the dog house. Like, literally not figuratively. Or so they thought.

The gate wasn’t secured properly yet so the dogs got to spend the day inside with their dads, who had taken a ‘work from home’ day to wait for a maintenance human.

And even though the gate was eventually properly secured, that night Hanks and Babs had a long and comfy sleep on the couch, where they dreamt of their day and adventures yet to come.

 

 

Where the couch led me

I remember feeling warm and drowsy, but I don’t remember falling asleep. When I woke up, a thread of drool was making its way like a fresh snail’s path down the side of my face. No one else was about. My phone said three.

It also told me several people had texted blurry commonalities such as ‘Where did you go?’, ‘Get lucky aye?’ etc. As if. I slowly peeled myself off the couch. Everything hurt. It had been doing that a lot lately.

My surroundings were vaguely familiar to me. I seemed to be in a shop front. With the lights on it would be light and airy, with accents of bright colours. ‘Brunswick’ I thought. It was too late for the tram and, with my pay gone on bills, there wasn’t any chance of an Uber. I considered my lack of prospects in the toilet, where I discovered something weird: My hair, despite being slept on, was absolutely immaculate as though freshly done. Like a minute ago. Of course. I’d been kidnapped by alien hairdressers. From Brunswick. Obviously.

I finished peeing but just as I flushed there was a noise that made me sit back down sharply. Was it robbers? Would they kill me in order to take the poor unsuspecting business owner’s takings? More importantly had I somehow let them in? I tried hard not to breathe, holding on to the sanctity of a locked toilet door. Even robbers would have some honour about that, surely?

Three knocks proved me wrong. They weren’t sharp, it sounded more like someone tapping at the door with squishy play doh or whatever.

‘We mean no harm’ whatever it was gurgled behind the door.

‘Look, I’m OK in here. I’m not, like, armed I just seem to have gotten, umm, locked in? I’ll leave as soon as I can’.

‘We mean no harm’ the gurgler repeated. It seemed to be sliding something in the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. With a quick ‘pop’ an eye was suddenly waving in front of my face on a long stalk. It looked strangely familiar.

Summoning all my courage I grabbed a bottle of Aesop hand wash (for defence you understand). ‘I’m coming out’, I said to the eye, ‘Could you please step away from the door so you don’t get caught?’. With another pop the eye was gone and after a flash of light the door opened.

It revealed my friend Renae. I thought.

‘Hey dude, we couldn’t find you’.

I looked around, expecting something to fly up and bash the side of my head, rendering me unconscious so they could take me away to a planet whose general intelligence, being and demeanor was far superior to that of humans. It wouldn’t take much.

‘Are you alright?’.

Having assessed the perimeter (or whatever) and finding it secure I felt it would be OK to open my mouth.

‘Did you see the eye things?’.

‘The eye things? Like the Margaret Keanes in the laundry?”.

‘No. They were eyes. On stalks. I think they were aliens’.

‘Don’t be stupid dude; old man rum’s been playing tricks on you. Come on, get your shit together, I’ve got a bed to get to. Time to piss off’. Always so assured Renae, not like the timid yet scary alien I’d just witnessed (I think?).

‘Sorry, I shall get my idiot self home somehow’.

‘Yeah do’.

‘Can I borrow $10 for a cab?’.

‘Why do you never have any money? Will you piss off so I can get to sleep?’.

‘Sorry. I promise’.

I sheepishly took her ten squid and made my way out. If there had been people around earlier, as I assumed there may have been, you could never tell; it was clean as. I really missed the couch – it was comfy and cosy, but she was right; I needed to get home to my own bed. There was a ways to walk before a cab that would take me home for $10 would appear. Avoiding the park and my possible rape/murder, the main drag would get me home slower but more alive. The sky seemed to be promising it would not piss down on me so I set off, actually thinking I might give the walk home a go and return the cash in the morning. After walking for about five seconds I decided that home was a long ways away. There were dots in front of my eyes and walking with them wouldn’t be a great idea. So I sat down at the nearby tram stop to rejig my plan. If I got down to the hospital there’d be a cab rank that would assist in reaching my goal of being home and safely ashamed of myself in comfortable jammies. An Uber would be quicker; stupid lack of bank funds. The plan was now thus: Secure a Coke from the 7/11 across the road for sustenance, walk down to hospital, get cab (hopefully the $8 left over from the Coke would be enough) and get home. Kinda like the plan in Shaun of the Dead, it seemed simple enough but of course would be more successful. Also, I really needed caffeine to facilitate standing without quavering.

Coke secured and consumed, the dots in front of my eyes seemed to be dissipating. Caffeine is my hero.

Off I set, determined and stuff. On the first block of my quest an old woman passed me. It seemed irresponsible that anyone had let her be out this early and also pretty ageist for me to think she couldn’t. She stopped and called my name. No really. I was obvs pretty freaked out and stopped in my tracks without turning around.

‘What you seek is at the end of your path’ she told me.

‘Yeah tops logic, thanks’, I replied again not turning around.

Further along the track a pony had been tethered to a pedestrian bench.

‘Your burden will be less if you take my back’ it said. Because obviously it was one of those talking horses.

‘You have got to be fucking kidding me’ I replied.

‘Really not’ the horse said.

So, fuck it, take the horse’s back I did, resting my head on its soft horse neck (briefly as it then started running and I wanted to vom).

‘HEY, THAT’S NOT THE RIGHT WAY, I live over there’.

‘This is the way you require’ the horse replied not hoarsley. Sorry.

It took me to the entrance of the cemetery. Bloody goth horse.

‘Why here?’.

‘You will see. Head toward the Elvis grotto’.

‘I’ve never been there before’.

The horse shook its head at me. ‘Here is a map’ it said as it lifted up its horse leg thing where said map was attached.

‘Yeah thanks’.

‘Our time together is done’ it said turning around, doing a stream of horse poos and frolicking off.

I had forgot to ask its name. So rude.

Anyways, I headed toward the grotto, not sure if the map was actually the right way around, hoping it was, mainly hoping for death as tiredness was dripping from every pore.

Thankfully there was a bench across from the grotto. There seems rarely to be benches in cemeteries. It’s possibly rude to want to sit down when everyone around you has no choice but to lay prone.

I had just sat down and was thinking of swinging my feet up when the dots came back, giving me vision measles. ‘Fuck these dots’ was my logical utterance.

They grew denser, completely blocking out my sight as though I’d been to mardi gras and glitter bombed in the eyes. Pretty yes, also painful.

It was clearly at this time that I heard footsteps. Renae’s voice came out of the air. ‘I see you made it’.

‘Ummm, yeah. What’s going on?’.

‘Can I have my money back?’.

‘Sure, it’s in my bag in the Totoro purse, but I spent two bucks on Coke’.

‘Ta’.

‘Hey Renae – what the fuck is going on? Why can’t I see?’.

‘The little dots are micro thingies. They are readjusting certain aspects of your make up so we can take you on board’.

‘On board? This isn’t one of those stupid surprise cruises where you kidnap someone without telling them you’ve booked them on a holiday yeah?’. I had read about this new phenomenon on Broadsheet.

‘Come on dude, as if I’d be so tasteless. No, our ship has no slot machines, no children and is for space, not the ocean’.

‘Well that sounds pretty good. Are there cats?’. I missed my baby.

‘She’s already on board and waiting for you in your quarters’.

‘I get quarters? Sweeeet’.

‘We’ve been looking for you a while. A human who truly feels alien to the rest of your people. There were a lot to choose from (pretty much everyone) but we decided on you because we like you’.

‘Awwww thanks. But why didn’t you tell me all this just before’.

She sighed. ‘You were kinda shitting me so I wanted to make you work for it’.

I nodded, ‘Fair call’.

‘You seem to be taking this well’.

‘Oh. Should I be worried? Asking more questions? Are you going to kill me?’.

‘No it’s fine. We’ll keep you with us and study some emotional responses, that kind of thing’.

‘What about food and stuff? Can I order into a machine and get whatever I want like Captain Picard?’.

‘Sure can. There’s even a program for replicating favourite dishes from places you’ve been to before. That’s how we all got into burritos, when we did a pot luck’.

‘Sounds amazing. But what will happen here?’.

‘Well, you’ve got your cat and we’ve recreated your room in your quarters, which can also be adjusted. If you need any of your friends their details have been programmed into our data banks to generate holograms of them and if there’s aspects of their personalities that you don’t like then you can mute them, we have a remote for things like that’.

‘And I don’t have to come back to Earth?’.

‘Gawd no, why would you? Unless you wanted to. And, again – why would you? We’re not sure it’ll be around much longer anyway, and if it is it’ll look quite like a George Miller film’.

‘Yeah it’s pretty fucked at the moment’.

‘You’re telling us. We almost pulled out of the mission when Trump got elected’.

‘Understandable’.

‘So are you ready? I can’t actually take you up unless you consent. The microbes have entered the T&Cs into your brain – just think about them and they’ll come up’.

I did. My brain read the document and had very few red flags, which were swiftly addressed. The form was pretty straight forward; No, I did not eat other humans, Yes, I was fine with dairy, no I did not want my head inflated, Yes I was sure I was OK to fly, defs not pregnant. Before Renae zapped me up to the ship I had one last question; ‘Where have you guys been hiding all this time?’.

‘Well we decided to integrate ourselves into your world by hiding in plain sight, actually got the idea from your culture – movies, TV, novels etc. Like American Gods, Doctor Who and stuff; using human physical presentation. We don’t really like approaching your lot, they’re a bit scary. One never knows how they’re going to react and they can be volatile’.

‘I hear ya’ were my last words on the planet formerly known as Earth.

Nope. Just Nope.

Zoe was feeling weirdly invigorated by her impending blind date. Those she told looked at her strangely, like the top of her head had popped off and her brain was exposed, all mouldy, squishy and nakey.

‘Fuck ’em’ she thought.

Zoe hadn’t been on a proper date date in some time. She had only dumped her ex a few months back and was now ready to, as they somewhat garishly say, mingle.

She had met Joseph on the Facebooks. He was pretty funny, he did interesting stuff and she had it on good authority that he wasn’t a dolphin serial killer. He wasn’t too hard on the old peepers either. So she was pretty happy when he dropped her a PM asking her out on a date.

‘What do you have in mind?’ Zoe asked.

‘Let me surprise you, I like to make a great first impression’. Yeah OK, so that was a little wanky but Zoe thought ‘what the heck’, he seemed pretty rad otherwise.

Numbers were exchanged, a meeting place decided upon. They’d both seen each other’s images on Facebook but decided, rather cheesily many thought, to identify each other with a red carnation attached to their persons.

They met at a riverside bar and spent an hour bonding over their love of cats and Japanese beers. He smelt like fresh apples. They were both cycling nerds too; it was all a bit pathetically sweet.

Zoe felt safe and a little floaty. Joseph (‘call me Jo’) said that they would walk to a location where she would then be blindfolded. The safe, floaty feeling dissipated. ‘I know how that sounds, really do. Please trust me, I swear you’ll be safe, everyone knows we’re out together but there is a cool surprise coming up and it won’t be the same if you walk into it eyes open’.

‘Well I’d feel more comfortable if I could just cover my eyes with my hands’.

‘You promise not to peek?’.

‘You’ll just have to trust me on that one’ she replied.

That settled, they headed away from the city centre. ‘Call me Jo’ led her down flights of stairs, through creaky gates and into somewhere cold and damp. All the while he reassured Zoe that she was safe and was going to really love the surprise, which only made her more nervous.

Zoe wasn’t sure whether to feel safer or more scared when she heard other voices. Many were laughing but it was kinda freaky to hear that and not see why.

Finally Jo said ‘We’re here Zoe. Shields down’.

As Zoe lifted her hands from her eyes she realised that her feeling of doom was pertinent. They were in a tunnel. Possibly an abandoned railway one. On the wall was a makeshift screen. Everyone in the room, except Zoe and Jo, were dressed as clowns. The vomit started to rise in Zoe’s throat as she recognised her worst-case scenario.

‘We’re here to see IT, isn’t it a hoot?’ ‘Call me Jo said.

‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Zoe replied.

‘Why, what’s wrong?’.

Zoe’s voice had risen along with a feeling of being trapped and about to die.

‘I FUCKING HATE CLOWNS’ she said.

The room fell silent. A clown who had been setting up the projector approached Zoe and Jo.

‘Look, we understand that not all people are OK with our lifestyle’ it said softly, sounding a little hurt. ‘We just want to bring some joy into peoples’ lives’.

Zoe looked at it in the eye. She could feel fear and disgust rising in her throat. She knew she couldn’t hold it back any more. The vomit came rising up through her esophagus, in a ferocious arc out of her mouth. It hit the clown on the face. But she wasn’t done. She turned to Call Me Jo and, aiming at his feet, destroyed the limited edition Converse that he had told her were his pride and joy.

By this time everyone was staring.

Zoe wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said in a steady voice ‘I’m going home. People know who I’m with so if any of you try anything you’ll regret the shit out of it. Now how do I get out of this shithole?’.

The projector clown, now dripping in bile and carrots pointed to the stairs they had just come down.

Zoe walked, head held high, up each one, as fast as she could go without letting her fear make her look like a coward. Once she was out she got her bearings, ordered an Uber and ran toward St Kilda Road. The driver gave a bit of a sniff as she got in. No five star rating for Zoe tonight.

On the ride back she went on Facebook to delete Jo and was confronted by images of a girl vomiting all over a cowering clown.

‘I guess that’s one way to confront your fears’ she said to herself.

 

The Zoo

I was going through a tunnel as the news came in. Someone had broken into the Zoo and let out the more dangerous animals: snakes, tigers, bears, oh my. It had been reported that the persons who did it then popped on the 55, yelling ‘Allah is great’ out the windows. They always report that. It’s very rarely true. Humans – not the sharpest.

Upon exiting said tunnel, everyone’s phones were pinging. Mine was the exception. No one cared. But, at least I could check Facebook, and that’s how I saw the news. The zoo is a couple of hundreds of metres from my house, which I was presently headed away from. I love the Zoo. Every few years they’ll come up with a new idea on how to make the animals’ lives more comfortable in a world where they have less and less land to hang out in. Anyways, I digress.

I was on my way to a TV studio to watch some political satire being filmed. Now I wondered – would they let us in? Would they need some time to rewrite a segment? Basically I wondered what the shit would happen and how I would get home considering everyone in my train carriage was now freaking the shit out even though we were A) on the wrong side of the river and B) on a train. Thankfully my pal Coconut was at the station waiting for me. Anticipating her first question I uttered ‘No it wasn’t me. I’m no vigilante vegetarian. But thank you for thinking I could’. For years I’d been wondering what would happen if the animals broke lose (discounting the whole fact that it would be pretty bad – they would get hurt, the zookeepers would be upset etc.) and staged a revolution. Now it was happening. Kinda.

‘Do you reckon they’ll still let us in?’ Coconut asked.

‘Yeah, I don’t know. Mayyyybe?’ I replied.

‘I guess we can just turn up and see’ she offered.

‘Totes, let’s go’.

Outside of the studio… Well, when I say outside I mainly mean the grass out the front… was covered in people. The station’s gate was closed and a few armed guards stood there. ‘Holy shitballs’ said Coconut. And I concurred. Obviously they weren’t letting anyone in. The proverbial crowd had gathered. Apparently the PM was actually inside and been doing an interview for a current affairs program as the zoo drama unfolded. Now they were shielding him. Not sure whether he was being shielded from us or the tigers and lions now roaming the streets, but it looked an expensive venture. I really wanted to yell out ‘Throw him to the lions’ but being arrested for sedition isn’t really my thing; he wasn’t worth it for a start.

It was now that the ‘Should wes?’ began. Could be fucked if I knew what we should do. The trains might be calm due to the predictable nature of humans freaking out. Or they could be delayed with everyone trying to get south, where we were, at once. I just really wanted to go home myself, crack open a beer and watch was going on in my jammies with the cat. There had to be a live stream surely? It was soon revealed to me that this was the same thinking Coconut had, but replacing beer for wine and cat for partner. Question was – could we get back over the river? We agreed to give it a shot. Traffic would clearly be mental so we decided to stick with good old PT.

The train station was the opposite of how I left it; empty and strangely eerie. I guess that happens when there’s just concrete, bright lights and wind. We were the only ones on the platform. A heavily auto-tuned voice cut the silence; ‘Due to delays on the Sandringham line, the 5.40 train to Sandringham will now arrive at 6.20. We apologise for the delay, thank you for travelling with Metro’. Fine, we weren’t headed to Sandringham. It seemed too easy when, with a roar and a rush, an empty train city-bound pulled up next to us. The state government had recently automated the service, replacing the human drivers with robots. It meant transport could run 24-7 and that human emotions weren’t involved, lest someone walk in front of the vehicle and traumatise the driver. Sure it was efficient, if not a little gross. The first people to take advantage of what the government called ‘trauma free accidents’ was a group of laid off train drivers, who stood en mass in front of a peak hour train in order to prove the inhumanity of it all. They were entirely right – many had lost everything, but now they were dead. They had proved their point though.

As we got on the train my phone started going off. Someone, besides Coconut, did actually care. It was my big sister. She had a big arsed car and was not afraid to traverse whatever madness facing us in the city to come get Coconut and me after which she would deliver us to the relative safety of our homes. Apparently the CBD had shut down buuuut if we got off at Richmond she could meet us there. That she was also carrying a slab of beer in the boot made it a viable option. We didn’t talk on the way in; checking news online and from anyone we knew who might be affected. Everyone seemed fine, although parts of Parkville (the next suburb over from me) had been evacuated to a big, apparently lion secure hall at the uni by the police. I wondered how my nephew Hank was dealing with it all. I hoped, as a small child, he thought it was a big adventure rather than being scared by the Police and emergency service workers (he had a thing about humans in uniforms – they freaked him out). He lived very close to the Zoo.

I wondered if I should feel more scared, myself, rather than excited. What if the cat had got out and taken on one of the larger felines? I wouldn’t put it past her. Seeing my sister calmed me the fuck back down. She’s one of those very competent, determined people where the only thing that really bothers her is other people who are shit. And even then she keeps those feelings under control unless at the pub where we can all bitch freely about the state of all of the things. Either way she was the only member of my family, besides my favourite uncle, who calmed me with her presence.

We got in the car and headed north, checking online to see what was happening. After giving me a beer (best sis ever) my sister chided me for my bad timing; ‘Surely you coulda picked another day to cross the river ya dick?’.

‘I just wanted to spend time with you. And here we are’. She LOLd.

The streets were, like the train stations, bereft of people going north. The lanes headed south looked like a disaster. We knew from the internets that people had been warned against travel north-west. But as a big city even after a couple of hours, our friends from the Zoo would hardly have made it that far. If I’d been in a nice, cosy environment where people fed and watered me and was then unleashed into humanity I’d find somewhere to hide and sleep it out until my friendly zoo keepers found me again. Humans? No thanks.

Weirdly it was now coming out that those who did unleash the animals were an animal rights group. I was suspicious of this – being a friend to our furry (and non etc.) creatures I would never put an animal in the face of danger. And for most animals that danger came from humans. Although I did know some pretty militant activist type people and, having gone to a meeting or two, had decided such (or any really) groups were really not for me. They seemed cultish and weird. So maybe it wasn’t such a strange idea. At least it was more original than someone blaming our much set upon Muslim community.

We were travelling pretty steadily but surely through back streets to avoid any police barricades. Were they out there? Facebook totes said so. I really wanted to be home, to be with my feline loved one and get an early night, hoping the other animals didn’t break through my apartment’s flimsy glass (well not flimsy so much as not up to zoo standard) and eat my cat as I slept. They probs wouldn’t eat me since I mostly consist of vegetable matter. OBVIOUSLY.

It took us about two hours to get to Coconut’s. Her partner had been monitoring our progress via text and let us know things their way were pretty quiet. She got out and ran up the stairs, probs most relieved to see her loo again. I totally had to pee too but was pushing it back up so we could get to mine soon as. Thankfully it only took us another half hour, by which time I was fit to burst. I let my sister use the facilities and went in the mop bucket myself. Needs must dude.

My feline overlord was pleased to see me because I represented food. And probs ‘cause she really really loves me deep down inside yeah? Anyways.

It kinda hit me how warm it was. The sun wouldn’t be going down for a while so I was hoping that maybe if one of the lions tigers, or dear gawd my favourite, the snow leopard made it into the court yard I could observe them in their unnatural habitat. Sure, like I said, probably should’ve been more scared. But I wasn’t. I was curious and a little excited. Or, as my sister so lovingly put it ‘a dickhead’. Well this dickhead was going to put her jammies on. Having lent some to my sister we decided to pour some of the beer into a jug and pretend we were down at my local. But with the telly and fans on you understand.

We were well into our second jug when there was a foghorn-like sound. I was thinking I must be kinda drunk as most days you can hear the train horns so that’s probs what it was. But no. Next came a human voice. ‘People of the North as you know, there has been an incident in your vicinity. We ask that you not panic but please remain indoors, with windows shut. We suggest not cooking at this time, until your area has been secured. Water and food will be delivered should the crisis extend beyond this evening’. Tops. Like if I wasn’t feeling like I’d been living in Orwell’s 1984 (thanks federal government), I certainly did now.

My sister and I rolled our eyes at one another. We had food and water. So long as the electricery held out we were pretty damned comfortable… which made me think of the people who wouldn’t be. ‘They’ll look after them, it’ll be fine’ my sister offered, sounding more like she was trying to convince herself than anyone else.

As happens during an ‘incident’ all the TV stations were taken over by news crews offering ‘live’ coverage. We all knew what that meant – repetition and repetition and repetition for hours with no new content. I wished that they’d just go back to their regularly scheduled programs and just use the rolling banners to update us. My sister had dropped off to sleep and was drooling when new news finally came through. They were on their way to herding the animals back to the zoo. Many were traumatised (see: humans) but the powers that be were leaving it up to vets to decide their fate after a nice sedative to the butt area. They had also identified a suspect. A former member of the Conservative Conservatives party, Lowden Puckmore had lost his seat after a scandal in which he had been using racist terms to refer to certain members of the public. In a strange turn of events his electorate, who had voted him in on the promise of some scarily nationalistic platforms, were not down with this. A few, being interviewed on the telly, referred to Mr Puckmore as ‘Un-Australian’ and things of that nature. Puckmore in turn had some kind of mental break and decided he would be able to destroy all those ‘Melbourne leftie, chai latte sipping, single malt drinking, Guardian Reading, Green voting wankers’ by releasing dangerous animals into our city’s (see: my) federal electorate. Obviously his reasoning was totally piss weak and his plan was shithouse. We can say that and laugh as it seemed no one was eaten or even maimed. Seriously; what a tool. But, he had managed to stop the city by rendering it vulnerable. Which is a pretty shit thing to do. Anyways, all this was still in the ‘allegedly’ stage. We were told not to speculate as it might prejudice peoples’ rights to a fair trial and due process, ya know, that stuff which protects us all. I just went along hoping it was him ’cause he sucked.

That done, and with the day’s events finally hitting us we decided to watch some soothing SpongeBob, referring back to the internets for any updates.

When dawn came, the animals were miraculously safely back in their cages whilst Puckmore had been placed in his. We would see what the investigation revealed in due course. In the mean time it had already been a heady week and it was only Tuesday. As they say, things could only be up from there. Or something.