Because we have only Cathy’s income to live on, and are used to a fair bit more than that, there are 3:30am moments when I Really Ought to Do Something About Money. Of course, if a job exists that would let me take weeks off in the first month to build the workshop and only do days that suit me I’d—but wait! There is! I COULD WRITE A NOVEL THAT WOULD ACTUALLY SELL COPIES!! So I started noodling on the laptop. I mean, if it’s going to be airport fodder I can avoid writing the whole elaborate rotate-13-times-widdershins-on-the-cushion-draft-on-paper-then-input-then-input-again thing, surely. Noodling. Anyway, I discovered two things: noodling always turns into Something. And twothly, I am incapable of writing something that doesn’t interest me, so whatever I write is going to be less airporty than all that. I mean, I like airportly books as much as the next snob, but I have only one in me, surely, and this isn’t it. (Is it?) I have learned from trying this: my writing survives the worst assault I can make on it, driving four hours back and forth from home to new home (building site), actively trying to write relatably yet plotlessly; and that such an “assault” jettisons some serious baggage I’ve accumulated. And I do plot! This move to our new place is all about jettisoning, so here is another break with my private rules.
An extract, from what I’ve been calling Written on the Golden Page: a game of light and darkness. It’s a fantasy! For someone who maintains all fiction is fantasy, this is just being honest. I cannot deny, though, that my favourite authors in the genre as published include Joanna Russ, Christopher Stasheff, Patricia McKillop, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Le Guin, Phillip Pullman, Samuel Delany, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, and Fritz Lieber. Yes of course Tolkein and Lewis, but you may find it interesting—and without reason but time—that I haven’t read much Pratchett or Bradbury. I have, though, read Vincent King, Norton Juster, EE Nesbit, and Richard Cowper. Anyway. Who knows if it will find the cutting room floor?
I do know it’s fun.
The bup did it. They had been avoiding meaningful conversation successfully. They had gotten rooms—though only two, by some misunderstanding they didn’t dare question—and meals and directions to a place near but not too near the Library, unmemorably they hoped. The innkeeper, an individual of very wrinkled face and skin hard not to goggle at because it was as pale as any of them had encountered in person, had hardly looked up, so exhausted were they from the evening’s festivities.Written on the Golden Page, Paul Voermans 2022. Reproduce this as long as you tell me.
Colly ruined all of this by cuteness.
Colly was a variegated bup. Khaki and deep green blotches like leaf shadow, with a coral pink and ivory speckling on their belly. Everybody looked at Colly and nobody at the westerners. As it happened, there was a huge bunch of bups at the hotel, who did not appear to belong to anybody but came and went with people, hoping for scraps or play.
Colly met them as a long-lost pal. They went straight to wrestling and growling, frills raised then falling again when mouthed or swiped with a (potentially) razor sharp paw. In Colly’s eyes, the downcast look of months of travel without complaint, leading and tracking good-naturedly but wearing as much as it had the humans, evaporated. They romped on the hardwood courtyard at the centre of the inn, where below aquatic mammals that only lived here in the east and which Dwey said were “careens” splashed and rolled hoping for scraps of the bup scraps. The water chucked and wooshed and careens peeped and slapped flat fingers on the pylons to whatever tune they were singing in their mournful language. It was a kind of permanent carnival. The bups raced as a pack from one side to the courtyard to the other, drumming loudly as they galloped. Plants filled the space and the animals bumped heavily into them, shaking leaves and autumn blossoms to the grey boards.
After they had established their status within the pack (happily at the bottom) Colly charmed a huge bone from a kitchen hand by skidding to halt at the feet of a woman on a break.
“Colly,” they said. Their only word besides swearing.
She grinned and scritched Colly, who began to purr loudly, a western trait not unknown here but rare and highly prized. This delighted the hand, who went in and came out with something plainly meant for a soup.
“Shh Colly!” the hand told them, dropping it at their feet.
Colly looked at the hand in disbelief, then down at the bone. They licked it experimentally as if to test that it was not something else just resembling a bone. They clamped onto it with a needle-tooth grip nobody could break.
Which was just a challenge to the other bups. When they raced past first one bup, then another peeled off and on their return from whatever game was going on a few more smelled and then saw Colly’s prize. Soon all of them surrounded Colly. They, too, could not believe what had happened. Colly was growling and gnawing, heedless. The other bups crept up on her, bellies to the boards and frills and spines flat to their backs.
They stopped. Colly crunched and slurped. There was plenty of meat on it, eucalyptus fragrant, probably the massive thigh of a drop bear. The pack shuffled forward. One or two began to whine. When finally Colly glanced up, thirteen drooling faces oggled their gift. There came a loud whine.
Colly was quick, fit from her long trek. The bone was easily as big as their head but they lifted it and galloped across the garden of pots and hanging flowers and ferns to the far side, crashing and zigzagging.
With a collective howl, the bups set off in pursuit. There was no good exit from the courtyard except by steps that led down to the water where it was occasionally necessary to receive glee shells and nautilus via submarine troa. After a half circle, knocking down chairs and tripping the linen boy, and another cross of the courtyard, Colly made a beeline to the steps, which she made in twos and threes for the water, where she propped.
The rest of the bups spilled over and around her, into the drink. Yelps and splashes burbles, more splashing.
Bups can swim but only after a fashion. Almost half of the thirteen were in real danger of drowning, if not saved by the careens, who slipped over rolling green swell and reached under them with tail and, steadying with hands, flipped them back up the seps into the courtyard where the shocked bups flopped and flapped about, too stunned to do anything but weep and pant. Watching the fiasco, Colly dropped their bone to say her word, feeling quite safe. She did not count on the careens, who were as omnivorous as bups. One slipped it from below Colly’s snout and dived. The rest followed and soon the bups were looking at one another as if they suspected that the treat was not gone but hidden by one of their own kind. They were yelping softly, even as they licked their wet feathers.
Every person at the inn was now in the courtyard.