Smashwords Edition, License Notes




НазваниеSmashwords Edition, License Notes
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Praise for Dominic Green’s Smallworld:

...a showcase for Green’s bone-dry satire and deadpan humour...Green’s agile imagination constantly wrong-foots the reader. A delight.

Peter Ingham, The Telegraph

Cowboys and Dinosaurs

published by

Dominic Green

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2008 Dominic Green

Discover other works by Dominic Green at smashwords.com

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents

1. German's Hide Food

2. The Supreme Celestial Planet

3. The Lost Treasure of Cap'n Jim

4. We're All Completely Nutty at the Madhouse

5. We're Always Short of Volunteers for Isandhlwana

6. Your Powers Are Weak, Young Jedi

7. Mmmm, That's Good Java

8. The Hell of Being Chav

9. Marked for Death and Worse

10. The Lizard Lady

11. Long Live Enver Hoxha

12. It's Grim Up North

13. The Word of Dave

14. The Fissure King

15. Black-on-White Violence

16. The Work of an Intelligent, Tool Using Species

17. Would You Like a Ride in my Big Black Car?

18. Heil, Baby, Heil

19. Let's Play Buzkashi

20. Punishment Battalion

21. The Albanian Steamroller

22. Usuthu!

23. The Red Beaver of Courage

24. The Final Confrontation


1. German's Hide Food

The sky was like a wrung-out cloth from the kitchen of an old man too insane to remember to boil it - grey, blotchy, musty, and, this being London, full of unidentifiable stains. It was also weeping dirty water. Surely rainwater was distilled water, not supposed to smell of anything? Maybe he just smelled when he was wet. Maybe that was what he was smelling. Maybe the one extra day he'd thought he could wear these clothes had been one day too long. Maybe thinking this sort of thing one day too late was what was behind his current predicament.

He needed to find shelter fast. Inside three days, specifically. Kim had given him that long and no more. There were five addresses on his list in this street. It was a humiliating step down from a shared house in a nice area where two young people who loved each other very much had been trying to save for a deposit on a mortgage. Gigantic crumbling Victorian edifices crowded out the light. Once, they, too, would have housed happy families of their very own - Steve knew this, being well acquainted with historical fact. He'd seen Mary Poppins after all. Nowadays, every single one would be diced up into micro-flats, each with its own Polish or Somalian micro-colony.

The first two houses were what he'd come to expect - No DWP, Thank You Very Much. The landlady in the second house had looked promising, and also like a scary amalgam of every single member of the World Wrestling Federation, but she'd shaken her head and tutted like the rest. Lose your job, lose your girlfriend, lose your right to sleep anywhere but under a bridge - it was as simple as that.

The third landlady glowered down at him from her upstairs window, her hair in curlers like the ringlets of Medusa, and he knew she could see Jobcentre Plus written on his soul. Didn't the suit and tie he'd worn to work to get fired in yesterday count for anything? See, look, I have a button collar, I can tie a Windsor, I will not do scag and steal stuff.

Maybe he should just lie. Get a room under false pretences and go out to 'work' every morning suited and booted. Maybe he could make Looking For A Job his job, just like Nazi Uncle Norman said. Spend the rest of the day in the library, at the swimming baths, hanging out outside infant schools, or knocking back meths and masturbating in the park -

He'd never been unemployed. It was the worst of all fates, one he had seen reduce the strong man he had known his father to be to jelly.

While he was musing on his future, a cowboy walked past him.

It wasn't just an ordinary citizen wearing a cowboy hat as some sort of bohemian statement. Nor was it anyone on their way to a fancy dress party wearing a chrome plastic badge saying SHERRIFF. It was a man dressed top to toe for a Boot Hill funeral, ready for a hard ride roping dogies and poking and punching cows without provocation. Spurs could be heard clanking as the vaquero walked. He was dressed in black, but not a rhinestone cowboy black - rather, a ghost rider black, a sort of uncoordinated sombreness lacking only a gunbelt around it and a horse underneath it to be one hundred per cent authentic.

The cowboy clattered down a side street Steve had not seen before. Small children were following him yelling uncomplimentary sentiments. The gunfighter bore it with the stolid imperturbability of Yul Brynner being menaced by the considerably less charismatic And Introducing Horst Buchholz. Maybe, like Brynner, the cowpoke was only concerned with mansized targets. Two mansized targets, Polish builders, laughed and pointed at him openly as he walked past. The gunfighter nevertheless carried on walking tall, with surprising dignity, until he walked up the steps of a massive suburban Gothic pile that could have accommodated squadrons of Victorian governesses taking off and landing on its upper surfaces round the clock, accompanied by legions of cheery chimmerneysweeps cavorting in support.

The side of the house bore a faded ancient black-and-white advertisement, barely visible over the brick. The six foot high letters read:

GERMAN'S HIDE FOOD

"I expect they do", said Steve to himself. Beneath this enormous first line, the rest of the sign read:

LEATHER FOOD FOR HORSE TACK AND GARMENTS

A converted factory, then.

A foundation stone on the side of the building read: 1879. Inset into the wall beside it, a miniature brick and wrought-iron archway had been built around a stone set into the wall. Beneath the stone, a faded blue plaque read:

THIS IS THE SOLE REMNANT OF THE STONE OF ST. NEOT, SAID TO HAVE FALLEN FROM THE SKY IN MEDIAEVAL TIMES. IT IS SAID THAT, IF A PERSON TRUE IN HEART TOUCHES IT, THEY WILL BECOME ABLE TO BREATHE UNDERWATER. THE STONE HAS BEEN SET BEHIND BARS AFTER NUMEROUS DEATHS BY DROWNING. IT IS ALSO SAID THAT THE STONE IS MADE OF NO MINERAL KNOWN ON EARTH.

The stone looked like basalt.

The front door had a row of doorbells, none of which read HICKOK, EARP, or CASSIDY. One of them, however, read: VACANT! PLEASE CALL 0208 992992

Steve’s heart leapt.

"You interested in living here?" said a voice at his shoulder.

He turned, startled. The other man had approached with the stealth of a mugger (though not, luckily, the size or knife of one). He was dressed in exactly the same clothes as Steve, indicating that he neither did scag nor stole stuff.

"I'm the landlord", said the other man. "Do you have a criminal record?"

"Do speeding tickets count?"

"Not unless you were speeding through the front room of your previous address", said the landlord, licking his lips and looking up at the building's many windows nervously.

Steve shook his head.

"We're wearing exactly the same clothes", he remarked. "Hey, what do you think are the odds of that?"

The landlord looked down at Steve's shirt and tie and gave a little terrified yelp.

"You can move in on Monday!" he said, before scurrying away down the steps towards a parked Porsche and bolting into it like a mouse into a hole. He kept looking back over his shoulder as he wrestled with his seatbelt, wheel lock and gearstick, as though frantically worried that Steve might run after him before he could get his vehicle out onto the open road.

Eventually, he stopped trying to change gear with the window winder and regained control of his car. The engine roared into life; the car purred out of the line of nose-to-bumper London parking and disappeared round the corner at the end of the street.

Steve turned to the row of doorbells. One of them was enticingly labelled:

QUARXXX

Steve reached out and pressed the plastic.

***

"Ran into the Evil Owner, did you? Stay long, did he?"

Steve, making polite conversation with a man wearing a bright primary-coloured jumpsuit and an openly displayed laser weapon, followed up the cramped wrought iron staircase.

"No. He seemed in a hurry to be somewhere else."

"He doesn't like it here. He's scared of the Lizard Lady."

"Lizard Lady?"

"There's no shame in it. We're all scared of the Lizard Lady. Did he say when you could move in?"

"Uh, I didn't say I was moving in."

"Once there's a vacancy, he hangs around outside waiting for prospective tenants. We reckon he saves on advertising that way." Jumpsuit Man slapped a door off which vanilla paint was peeling. "That'll be your room. Mr. Santoshi moved out of it last week. It's usually only another day or so before a new one arrives."

"New one", repeated Steve. "I'm Steve", he offered.

"I'm Gonoroid", said Jumpsuit Man. He peered at Steve as if at a snapshot of his own past life. "I used to be Steve. I changed it by deed poll." Gonoroid stopped at what looked like a door-sized riveted slab of solid aluminium, on which was stencilled AIRLOCK THREE. "I couldn't get it just the way it was in the series, the real ones were hexagonal."

"Real ones", echoed Steve, as Gonoroid / Steve tapped a clear coloured plastic keypad next to the door. The door opened of its own accord, belching out cold wisps of white vapour.

"Dry ice", grinned Gonoroid. "The icy wastes of space. Pretty neat, huh?"

The room beyond the door seemed only the size of a broom cupboard.

"Get in", urged Gonoroid. "It's perfectly safe", he added hastily.

Not wishing to cause offence, Steve entered the closet. Gonoroid entered it beside him, squashed in nipple-to-nipple. The door closed of its own accord. The lights went off. A Seventies red LED began counting down fierily in the dark.

"Had to cut that out of an old digital watch", said Gonoroid. "Cost a thousand pounds."

There was a WHOOSH of air from hidden jets, and a sexy female voice announced "Pressure Equalized."

"That's from The Original Syndicated Series", said Gonoroid. "Known as TOSS to insiders. In Indefatigable: Invincible's Children, the airlock was voiced by Chrissie Hynde. Little-known fact."

Comprehension began to dawn. "Space Cruiser Invincible. You've based your entire life on a Seventies TV serial?"

"Easy, brother. As Chief Science Officer Mbutu said to Captain Paladino in TOSS 1, It Seems Painfully Illogical At First, But Then You Get To Quite Like It."

The wall facing Steve became a door and opened, a mere minute after the first had shut. Steve looked into the space that was revealed, his face bathed in a soft coloured light from twenty different constantly changing points of origin.

"Oh my word", he said.

***

"It must have taken forever", said Steve.

"Best part of fifteen years", said Gonoroid, swollen with pride.

All about Steve, meaningless banks of coloured lights flashed and twinkled. Along one wall, a lucite diagram of the Star Cruiser Invincible, lit from behind, showed All Systems to be Nominal.

"I remember they used to say that", said Steve. "All Systems Nominal. At the end of every episode."

"Not every episode", warned Gonoroid with an upraised finger. "TOSS episodes 7, 9, and 13 had Paladino saying 'Onward, into the wild black yonder', 'Mankind's iron will, penetrating the horrid outer darkness', and 'I think I'll have that chocolate eclair after all, Miss Birmingham' respectively." He flipped down a panel saying MOOD PILLS. "Shall I pop the kettle on?"

"Tea, white, with one", said Steve disjointedly. "What do you do when you're not doing...this?"

"This takes up most of my free time", admitted Gonoroid. "I used to have a car, but the police told me it wasn't safe to be on the road, what with the thrusters and the sonic lasers and the heatshield..."

"Heatshield", repeated Steve.

"For re-entry", explained Gonoroid.

"Sonic lasers", said Steve.

"Sound can travel in space, actually", said Gonoroid with the shining eyes of a fanatic. Steve judged it prudent not to continue this line of objection.

"Did they work?" he said lamely.

Gonoroid looked at him with the frank disgust of a Nazi appraising a mental defective. "Of course not! It was a Nissan Micra, not a bloody interstellar warship."

"What do you do when you're, erm, working?"

"I teach violin, flute and saxophone to Grade Eight level", said Gonoroid. It was so bizarre it had to be true.

"Do they mind you, uh, wearing the uniform?"

"The kids love coming round here. They think the whole Invincible thing is really cool. They think I'm really cool."

Steve reserved the opinion that a large amount of wishful thinking was being applied here, and instead said:

"What's the deal with that whole Humans Being Able to Breed With Aliens thing?"

Gonoroid drew a deep, ominous breath.

"Well", he said, "it wasn't explained satisfactorily in The Original Syndicated Series, but since then a more or less canonical explanation has been built up in fan fiction -"

***

He felt dirty when he left, without the good feeling that normally accompanied feeling dirty. The same Polish builders were in the street outside, shifting large mysterious bundles of house ingredients. They ignored him. He was not wearing a cowboy outfit.

His stuff had been neatly packed in the hallway in the old house. It had been made perfectly clear that it would move several metres sideways into the street come Friday, and Kim was a woman who delivered on her promises, unless they involved oral sex or sitting all the way through war movies.

"I'm well shot of her", he set to himself. Inside himself, however, a horrid unruly inner core of sentiment and illogic throbbed like a romantic carcinoma.

He was allowed to sleep at home tonight, for the penultimate time. On the sofa, but in the same house at least.

He resolved to find somewhere else to sleep, someone else to sleep with. Even though it was Wednesday night, and even though spending money right now was the stupid thing to do, he knew a club had to be open somewhere.

He knew he'd be the saddest man in the place, the man who walked in on his own and started trying to cop off at random. He also knew he'd end up walking back to his lonely sofa at two in the morning after a night of resounding failure.

He shrugged deeper into his suit jacket, and turned his feet toward the Highgate tube.

***

"You failed to answer question 23c,
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