Admittedly some of that time had been spent in an orderly queue of egg sacks while she’d still been in nymph form, but she’d nevertheless been conscious of waiting for something of the utmost significance. The thing that would ignite her faith in the point of existence. The source of all passion and joy.
That thing was definitely not meant to be snot. She was fairly sure of that. Unfortunately, the Bureaucracy Fairy had wrinkled her upturned nose and frowned down at her furled scrolls before declaring that this was, in fact, exactly her calling.
She was the Snot Fairy.
She’d been handed a crumpled scrap of bin liner, several wooden buckets, one burlap sack, and a gluey looking feather. She’d seen the looks the other fairies gave her, the wide berth she had suddenly gained. Their slender arms were filled with pots of glitter, gauzy lilac wing extensions, baskets of daisies, tubes of luminescent paint.
She slumped away to blend into the smudge of night.
The manual had waxed lyrical about the range of skills she was to deploy. There was the bucket of transparent snot that she had to tip at the very top of the nasal cavities so as to ensure a constant sticky trickle. There was the sack of squishy pink-grey lumps she had to haul down into the darkened passages of the lungs, ready to be cough-retched out the next morning. There was the incessant tickling of feathers followed by the art of maintaining a strong grip to avoid being swept out in the ensuing sneeze-fest. She had to pay careful attention to map out who each human made contact with, so as to plan the next target on her route, and she would spin from respiratory tract to respiratory tract with expert speed and accuracy.
Some nights she would spot one of her compatriots – the real kind, not the glitzy kind – bringing in veruccas or athlete’s foot, or painstakingly gluing stubble to twitching expanses of skin. They would nod to each other, acknowledging a fellow occupant of the bodily trenches. And they might share an eye roll if a flower fairy giggled at them from a nearby vase.
Some nights she was left alone in bedrooms filled with the sound of blocked sinuses. And she’d wonder what exactly it was about her that screamed ‘snot’. Why was she more snot than chicken, or begonia, or book?
And somewhere in her bin-liner draped body, there lit a fire of resistance.
The 33rd High Lord of the Eternal Worshipful
Brotherhood of Cheats was having a really bad decade. With his back pressed
against a dubiously stained wall in a dubiously shadowed alley, he took stock:
limbs intact, all digits present, eyes and ears functioning, lungs and heart a
tad wobbly but getting the job done. Left sandal lost; robe torn; hood still
covering face. And so far, so not followed. Things were looking up.
It had been fine at the beginning. Life had been simple: follow the Five Commandments and reap the benefits of being born with a scrupulously honest face. He went from being the eternally hungry and perpetually grubby 15-year-old Billy Druthers, to the smugly sated and only slightly shabby, Brother William.
The only catch in the whole deal was Commandment Number Five, ‘Thou shalt Cheat Death’… And even there he’d had some roaring good luck: he’d drawn thirty years, a far longer reprieve than that of his brothers. Thirty years peace of mind and exemption from accidental death (brothers still had to be wary of death at the hands of others.)
As the bottom rung of a very creaky ladder, Brother William had only the vaguest interest in the politics of the brotherhood, but even he had begun to worry as High Lord after High Lord toppled from their lofty perch. In the space of two years, the brotherhood raced through High Lord #2 to High Lord #27; they’d barely had time to compose adequate welcome speeches before the next body turned up. Deaths #2 through #10 were all unfortunate results of the Fifth Commandment; the brothers became High Lord just as their time ran out.
The other deaths, however, were of brothers with plenty of time left on their slip. Hale and hearty High Lords started to suffer curious accidents – one was bitten by the rare and highly poisonous Kitten Spider, and another was believed to have smothered himself to death while sleeping (he was succeeded by High Lord #24, his roommate).
In his 15th year in the brotherhood, as the eldest brother, Brother
William became High Lord #33. With his easy-going nature, decided lack of
interest in power or politics, and thanks in part to the awe inspired by his 30
Year Fifth Commandment draw, Brother William was allowed to become the longest
running High Lord in the history of the brotherhood.
But over the years, as his hair greyed and then abandoned
scalp, strand by strand, it seemed that he was losing his enjoyment of the
He had never had the slightest bit of trouble with the Second Commandment in his younger years; ‘Thou shalt never pay for food, shelter or clothing’, was an easy task for an angel-faced youth with puppy dog eyes. As a middle-aged man with an overly well-known face, the High Lord was now finding it decidedly troublesome.
The Commandment demanded that The Cheats were never to pay for a meal, and the more nefarious the plot to attain food, the more devout the Brother. The early years had seen the High Lord clothed in a well-patched dinner suit, his voice wrapped in earnestly plummy vowels, tied up with crystalline consonants. He would plead entry to the gilded, marble arches of elite restaurants, the maitre d’ would inevitably decline, only to be swept up in a tale of sorrow and disaster (or sometimes a tale of hope and triumph, if the mood took him).
When the maitre d’s of all the best restaurants had grown sick of his tales, he started visiting the second best restaurants, but they too soon grew wary of the man with the rapidly sagging angel face. Gradually, he saw his evening meal turn from stuffed quail a la Contessa, to bangers and mash a la Kevin-what-works-down-the-pub. The doormen and barmen of the lesser establishments were also less inclined to believe his elaborately woven tales and so getting dinner had become a nightly trial.
The other Commandments had grown equally frustrating as time had passed – cheating on a young naïve girl was one thing, but Thou Shalt Cheat on Thy Partners was a damn sight more risky when your only option was your twenty stone, rolling-pin wielding landlady. After being turfed out of three different bedsits, the High Lord had decided to nullify the Third Commandment by avoiding the company of others. This had made his life easier, but hadn’t improved his mood.
Tonight though, it was the Final Commandment that was causing him trouble. The High Lord closed his eyes, quieted the thundering of his pulse and opened his ears to the sounds that filtered into the alley. A cut-off shriek from two dubious alleys along, the clicking sound of a mouse gnawing on rotten wood, footsteps, the sound of knuckles meeting cheekbone – footsteps.
The High Lord held his breath, the owner of the footsteps was making no effort to silence his feet: his heels hit the ground first with a click muffled by the grit that lined the cobbles, the toes twisted as the foot lifted away, a grating sound that punctuated each step.
HELLO BILLY. The voice boomed inside his skull.
FANCY. MEETING. YOU. HERE. There were hesitant pauses
between the words, as though read from a script by someone with no idea of
their meaning. The footsteps splashed into the entrance of the alley.
IT IS TIME FOR OUR GAME. At that, High Lord Billy of the
Eternal Worshipful Brotherhood of Cheats opened both eyes and bladder, and
stared in horror at the robed figure.
“Oh, uh, hello. Is it that time already? I was sure it was
next year – are you certain it isn’t next year?”
The robed figure did not respond, but withdrew a glowing
timer from his robe and set it carefully on the uneven slabs at the High Lord’s
feet. The sand in the top bulb was draining into the bottom half at a somewhat
“Right, right. Well, I get to choose the game, right?”
THE 32ND HIGH LORD CHOSE THE LAST GAME. THIS TIME
I GET TO CHOOSE.
“Ah. So – so what’s it t-to b-be?”
I THINK… YES… I
RATHER THINK I FEEL LIKE A GAME OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS.
The High Lord reared backward, affronted,
“You want to play Rock, Paper, Scissors for my soul?! That’s hardly respectful! What about the almighty
game of Kha-Lan? The reverent game of Shin-sou? What about a bloody game of
THEY TAKE TOO LONG. I’M IN A RUSH.
“You’re in a rush?! I’m
about to die and you’re in a rush?”
The High Lord’s indignant bluster fell away with a huff.
“Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
WAIT… HOLD ON, I NEED TO GET THE WORDS RIGHT… WHERE WAS I… AH,
33RD HIGH LORD OF THE ETERNAL WORSHIPFUL BROTHERHOOD OF CHEATS, ALSO KNOWN AS BILLY, I GREET YOU.
ACCORDING TO THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE FIRST HIGH LORD AND MYSELF,
I CANNOT TOUCH THE BRETHREN EXCEPT BY APPOINTMENT.
TODAY I COME TO YOU TO KEEP OUR APPOINTMENT.
IF YOU WIN, YOU WILL BE GRANTED ANOTHER 15 YEARS OF LIFE. IF
YOU LOSE, YOU FORFEIT THE RIGHT TO YOUR SOUL.
The robed figure paused and then held out a skeletal hand,
bones so white they seemed to glow in the dimness of the alley, fingers curled
into a fist.
2nd Commandment: Thou shalt never pay for food,
shelter or clothing
3rd Commandment: Thou shalt never trust a brother
4th Commandment: Thou shalt Cheat on Thy Partners
5th Commandment: Thou shalt Cheat Death
 The Kitten Spider is covered in grey striped fur. It tucks its legs underneath its hairy abdomen and mewls like a cat until another creature approaches, whereupon it sinks two inch deadly fangs into its target.
He’s stood at the end of an aisle with a backpack the size of a 1990s television hanging loosely from his shoulders. He’s getting repeated glances from those nearby, presumably because their teeth are rattling from the sound of the bass vibrating from his incongruently tiny earphones. Or possibly because he sniffs every three minutes, with a lengthy snarfing sound that makes it seem entirely possible that the entire carriage might disappear into the damp recesses of his nostrils. It’s possibly due to his cold (or allergy, or drug habit).
He’s doused himself in enough aftershave that nail varnish on the hands near him is starting to bubble and peel. A spark could result in conflagration, tearing through the wavering field of scent that surrounds him like a boxy Christmas pudding.
He’s got both hands out to grip a span of three hand holds, butt swaying back and forth with every crash from his thudding accompaniment. His backpack has been ramming repeatedly into the man behind him, who has apologetically slid closer and closer to the seat in front whilst attempting not to thrust his own crotch into someone’s face. His gymnastics have not been enough to save him from those hip thrusts.
Maybe backpack guy’s got rubbish sight. It would explain the blank way he ran his eyes over the woman next to him who’s been trying to reach a hand hold but has been forced to stretch on tiptoe because he’s still holding on to the grip in front of her. She’s too polite to say anything, she just keeps on stumbling backward and forward while he keeps right on looking through her.
He finally gets a seat, much to the relief of the guy behind him and the woman next to him. As their frowns fade to relief, backpack guy plants his bag on the floor and promptly flings his thighs out to the sides. His elbows follow suit.
*This is basically one long piece about vomiting, probably not a great accompaniment for food… (Unless that floats your boat).
Ah Cathay Pacific. Forever wedded to vomit in my mind. It was a very unhappy union.
I was on a long haul flight from China to London and had been cramping merrily for hours. Ibuprofen wasn’t making a dent, despite inadvisable dosages.
My main mistake was choosing to eat airplane food in a belated attempt to line my stomach.
My gorge rose with no warning. Gargantuan and whale like, it buckled my face in a wild bid for freedom. I attempted to keep all orifices closed but was scuppered by my nose, which released a high speed spray of tiny pasta bows – all over the business man next to me.
His suit was wrapped in a lap blanket (he’d clearly done something right in a former life), but he didn’t seem particularly comforted. He reached to prod me, caught sight of my bulging cheeks, and wisely opted to call the air hostess instead.
At this point, the flood gates opened.
A stream of hostesses approached me in masks and gloves with dozens of tiny Cathay Pacific wet wipes, the scent of which promptly launched another volley of vomit.
I assume they thought I was carrying some virulent disease that could land them all in quarantine, so I appreciate that they were willing to come close enough to drop the wet wipes off.
Interminable hours later, I arrived in London on wobbly legs and in a nose-hair dissolving cloud of scent (though I had been wearing a mustard and brown striped jumper, which turns out to be the best vomit camouflage gear you could ask for). I was left very much alone on the coach back to Oxford, free to concentrate on willing my stomach contents to stay put.
My parents picked me up (they were even willing to make physical contact, which is a sign of true love), and watched me with worried faces as I wove toward the car.
I arrived at the boot, and promptly booted over the back wheel – much to the shock of various tourists who clearly hadn’t spent much time in a university town before.
My parents, ever the heroes, actually let me inside the car rather than strapping me to the top, and got me back to safety and a shower at record speed.
I still find Cathay Pacific wet wipes lurking amongst my things. A small plasticky reminder of this proud occasion.
I was carrying out the arcane and unusual hobby of pulling on my pants – knickers, not trousers – on Thursday, when one of my sacroiliac joints gave a forbidding clunk.
Possibly a(nother) sign from the Universe, this one telling me not to wear pants? (On previous occasions I’ve been putting on trousers, reaching for things, drying my feet, playing catch, or plugging something in, so I guess those are all out too.)
I’m now marooned on my mattress like an upturned turtle (or like a beached walrus as my mother flatteringly suggests). Walking is currently a spine-drenching shriek-inducing slow drag. My neighbours must be thinking I’m having quite the time of it, given the gasps, moans, swearing and thunks I’ve been making when trying to get to the loo. At least alternate reality me is enjoying herself.
Notes for Future Self
Keep the loo roll holder topped up (or else no loo paper for you).
Move all necessities to lower cupboards (but not too low). Or raise the entire floor of the flat. Or get taller.
Stock more painkiller packs by your bed, ditto emergency food for stomach lining. Don’t eat emergency food in non-emergencies, idiot.
Keep antiperspirant next to your bed. For the love of all the gods.
Those fan remotes you thought were stupid? Turns out, not so stupid. Dig those out.
Take the rubbish out whenever possible so it doesn’t fester for days when you can’t move. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for flies.
Rig charger cables to loop over the top of the bed so you don’t spend fifteen minutes wriggling millimetre by millimetre to reach them.
Keep instant edible things in the flat that aren’t just raw tomatoes and celery.
Get a bottom buddy. [NB. Not what it sounds like] [NB2. Not much better than what it sounds like].
In order to preserve your innocence, Gentle Reader, we’ll add in a 1950s style bathing dress that goes down to the knee, and a balaclava.
I’m bothering to shave my legs for the first time in two weeks, due to their upcoming starring role in A Dress. This is the first attention that my legs have gotten beyond a cursory scrub (I hasten to reassure you, Dear Reader, that I did in fact continue wash during these two weeks), so I’m going through the routine of soak-scrutinise-soap-shave.
I’m not a particularly strong competitor in the hirsute leagues, so two weeks is about enough to make my (very pale) legs look a bit grubby. On closer inspection, I notice a tenacious bit of dirt that doesn’t seem to be follicular in nature.
I splash water. No effect.
I scrub. No effect.
I tug with nails, and voila, success.
Unfortunately, said dirt is wriggling.
Slightly more luckily, I don’t give into my first instinct, which is to dunk my hand in the bath water to wash it off. Instead, the leg dirt is deposited on the side for closer inspection.
A google and a sinking suspicion later, it is confirmed.
It was a tick.
People with a fear of arachnids should really be saving all their animosity for ticks. They’re literally man-eating spiders that burrow their heads into flesh – if they existed on a larger scale, they would be terrorising cinema-goers. I feel like the humble house spider should be appropriately recognised for its decision not to suck out your blood through your skin, or give you a bacterial infection that can be debilitating for life.
The tick might have been a message from the universe telling me to shave my legs more often. In which case, you should have sent that tick along in Winter, mister, that’s when the real growing season takes place.
The universe may instead, of course, be telling me that I should spend the entirety of summer in a wetsuit that covers me from ankle to mid-neck to wrist. I will take this under advisement.
I would also like the universe to note that ‘carrier ticks’ are not going to catch on as a means of communication. My preferred means of contact are by post (pigeon or snail), email or hallucinatory dreamscape.
There is a faint possibility that ticks are an alien species attempting some sort of mind meld with the human race via their blood streams. In this case, I would again ask them to note that I am contactable via email, post, and am entirely abductable if they would like a chat.
I’m happy to note that I didn’t contract Lyme Disease – it’s important to keep an eye out when you’re in a part of the world with ticks. NHS guidance on Lyme Disease and ticks can be found here.