by Susan Anwin
The Debil klub gathered for another Oiskog, the week long spring
ceremony of marriage, fertility and renewal, in the library as usual.
They sat waiting for Tim to pull the names from the jar. It was the
usual drill, until the priest read out the next name.
He didn't seem to have heard, engrossed in poking the iridescent bubble
between his claws, but a subdued wave of murmur swept over the Klub.
Jack was usually not one to cast his name into the jar, so this was
probably a practical joke someone pulled on him. Tim studied the scrap
of paper in his hand. It didn't look like Jack's scrawl either. This
was getting interesting. He pulled another slip from the jar, and
nearly dropped it when he saw the name on it. "Darla...?"
You could almost hear a record scratch.
The Princess paled several shades, then jutted her chin out and nodded
bravely. She seemed small in the center of attention and, in Tim's
opinion never more beautiful. Jack kept playing in blissful ignorance,
his hair a flaming puddle around his head.
"Jack?" Tim asked slightly sharper than necessary.
His brother Hamed poked him in the ribs.
The priest let out a weary sigh. "Will you take the Princess as your
Tim pinched the bridge of his nose, then forced restraint on himself.
"The Princess Darla. She'd already agreed."
Jack's sudden grin was an unpleasant sight to behold. "Ya, sure."
The rest of the Oiskog couldn't compare in awkwardness to that one
pairing. They sat together at the klub dinner, Darla trying to look
dignified, Jack alternating between chuckling to himself and sporting
that irritating smirk of his, the rest of the Klub trying not to stare
"My... my lord... will you dance the Opening Dance with me...?" the
Princess breathed, half her bashful sigh muffled by that famed golden
fall of hair.
Jack was jolted out of another round of smirking. "'My lord', she says,
'my lord'," he guffawed.
"So will you, then?"
"What, me dance? For real?"
"Oh... nevermind," Darla whispered. This was going to be a long week,
she could already tell.
Woke up to the kicks and shoves of Hamed at around noon.
"Brother get up, damnit. It's the first day of your Oiskog, and by the
gods I hope you prepared with something. I won't have you embarrass me
There's brotherly love for you. "Uh, yeah sure I did. Prepare
something, I mean." Of course I haven't, and he probably knows it.
Actually I have no idea how I got home last night. It's all a little
"Just once in your lifetime try to live up to the task, will you?" but
his voice has that resigned, all-hope-is-lost tone to it. He's known me
for too long. He's my twin, although he's as fair as I am black. Only
the red hair is the same.
Actually I have no idea what the task is for day 1.
"Uh, bro...? Do you happen to know what the task is for today?"
He stands, shaking his head. "You can't be serious."
I shrug, giving him a conciliatory grin. It's not working.
"You have to show her your world, should have already left three hours
"Oh. Gotta hurry then, eh?" I scramble out of bed, not bothering to
change clothes from last night or do something with my hair, so it just
stands up in every which way around my head. I find one mirror-bedecked
boot, but not the other. Damit! Slipper on the other foot then.
I stand scratching my arse, considering. I'm actually pretty hungry...
There's a knock on the door. "Jack? You're in Oiskog, remember?" It's
the Rev Tim. I guess he's pretty pissed that of all the people it's me
taking his girl out for a ride.
I take a stack of papers, some dry wood and envelop myself around them,
wash it down with some kerosene as I move to open the door. Tim's jaw
tightens when he sees me. Hamed makes apologetic noises behind me.
"Try to bring her back in one piece, will you?" Loverboy warns me
through clenched teeth. He's all frowns and dark glances since
"Do ma best, Timbo, do ma best."
His face darkens. He hates to be called that.
The others have already left, it's only Darla and crew waiting at the
bottom of the steps, crew shooting me all sorts of nasty looks, like a
couple hours is the end of the world! Darla doesn't look at me. The
atmosphere feels chilly somehow.
I clap my hands, sending a shower of sparks towards the ceiling. "So.
Ready for some fun, y'all?"
Darla's nod is barely visible. I head out the main door, not checking
if they are following.
Some folk are loitering out on the verandah. "Ohh, there is the happy
groom," Peter exclaims. Only surly looks from the others. "I bet you
can't make her gift you a strand of her hair by the end of the day."
He wants to make a bet; not a good idea. I'm not one to resist a
"So, what if I win?"
Peter laughs. "Not gonna happen, not in a thousand years."
"Yeah, but what if I do?"
He considers. "I'll clean the Jaxibus for you."
Haha, now that is going to be a bitch. "Hold my beer," I say
and saunter down the stairs.
I get the car ready, a Trabant I got from one of the worlds I travelled
in. It looks as if swine had been at it; I can see the ground through
the holes on the floor. For that matter Hamed says sometimes I look
like I was half chewed by pigs, so birds of a feather. I swipe most of
the junk off the seats and air it out a bit. The missus really can't
complain, me being all gentlemanly and stuff.
The Jaxibus is standing a bit further in among the trees, painted with
swirling patterns and neon colors, bedecked with garlands of silk
flowers, ribbons, Christmas lights and shiny knickknacks. A curtain of
glittering threads hangs above the windshield and the side windows. A
similar curtain runs around the bottom, nearly sweeping the ground.
Inside is the same whirlwind of colors, images and shapes. All the
chairs have a different hue cover with a different pattern on it. All
of that was a necessary precaution in case it's owner came looking for
it. I haven't cleaned her since I got her; can't wait to see Peter get
down to work on the old biddy. Must warn him to leave the decoes alone.
The missus' eyes go round when she sees the vehicle.
"Jack, do you have the license to drive this... thing?" Loverboy asks.
I nod eagerly. "I don't go around driving without a license." This
priest and his questions!
Missus gets in, trying to come in contact with as little of the seat as
The iron gates open, with a wall of fire stretching between them.
Barely hearing the squeak from the passenger seat I step on the gas.
Show her my world, they said. Alrighty then.
I let go of the wheel and laugh as we cross over to a fiery plain under
low hanging, polluted clouds. Darla screams. Poisonous soot drizzles
from the sky and flashes of lightning whip the tortured ground. We zip
across the scorched landscape, kicking up a spray of sharp gravel,
sometimes barely missing the glowing fissures in the ground. Weird
shapes and lights move above the clouds and we'd better keep a low
profile lest they notice us, but the fire is raging in my veins so I
don't give a fig about precaution and speed on heedless, hooting
happily, startling critters crouched in the cracks and hollows of the
rocks. We jump over some of the smaller crevices, jolting heavily on
the other side. I'm surprised the clunker takes it so well, by rights
it should have fallen apart at the first jump. Judging from the noises
it makes it shouldn't be too long now.
The terrain changes abruptly and we are driving in a tunnel of
darkness. It is getting gradually lighter as we approach a shimmering,
waving horizontal lake at the back wall and passing through it end up
on a stormy sea.
My merry mood is blown away instantly. I hate the caprices of
this place sometimes. I floor the gas, hoping we'd cross this phase
that much sooner. It never works, but it doesn't hurt to try.
We race between sinking vessels, collapsing in on themselves.
"Jack," Darla breaths, "what are those things?"
Black marks crisscross the planks; where water touches them they seem
to melt, whole sections of them detach with a froth fizzing at the
edges, eating itself into the material. Caskets and chests shower into
the water. Just then we notice white threads spread on the water
surface, sticking to the wood like gooey spiderweb threads.
"My sympathies to those planks," I murmur as I chase the Trabi up and
down the crest of waves.
"Not the people?"
"People?" She is right; there are people running up and down the deck,
holding on to whatever they can, screaming in despair, fully aware of
the horrible doom that awaits them in the water.
There are some... things in the sea, big opaline creatures like
giant jellyfish expanding and contracting themselves, pulling those
threads for hundreds of meters behind them. The people who jumped or
fell into the water tangle in the threads. They twitch for a short
while then became still, blood bursting forth from every cavity, skin
melting and blackening, their outlines dissolving. Darla turns away and
hides her face in her hands.
"Yeah. Probably not the best time to take a bath."
We are both relieved when the scenery changes again.
We are driving through some kind of stone hall, looks like the great
hall of a medieval fortress. A circle of people scatter in every
direction, as we barge in. Intricate patterns are drawn on the floor
and on the ceiling. Something is floating in the air between them; it
looks like a grid, woven of a glowing red thread of light. It flutters
in the air independently of the night breeze coming in through the
windows. It seems the folk was just about evoke some underworld
monstrosity, when we crashed the party. Could be it was me, although I
have my doubts judging from the looks on their faces.
As we get near, the grid blurs and some stuff begins to poke through,
some kind of tentacles the color of raw flesh squirming in meaty
sheaves. It is dotted with red bulges filled with gore; they burst on
the Trabi's windshield.
"Sorry guys," I holler out to the people, screaming in outrage.
Darla makes gagging sounds next to me. "Jack, that's disgusting!"
She has a point; it also makes it rather hard to see outside. It
doesn't smell the best either. I turn on the wipers, but if anything
they just spread out the goo even more.
Switch; we are driving across the sky. The windshield is thankfully
clean. There's a city below us, the chimneys belch colorful smoke to
the sky that swells into a constantly changing cloud. It forms letters
as we pass; 'Happy 15,237th anniversary!'
Back on the scorched terrain, I whistle. "What a ride, eh?"
There's no reply from the passenger seat. I think about checking on the
missus, when a leviathan rises from a crack straight ahead and I floor
the brake. I watch in awe as that marvelous beast lumbers away.
"Now, that is somethin'." Still no answer and I finally get to look at
Darla. She is lying in the seat unconscious (I hope), her hair spilled
down on her shoulder and on the back of the seat. Now is my chance!
True, she is not offering it willingly, strictly speaking, but she is
not protesting either, is she? It's just a wee strand of hair, she
won't even notice. Now I gotta be careful not to set her on fire – all
that flammable keratin around. We should have doused her in fire
retardant beforehand, but it's too late now. I'd love to see the
Jaxibus clean for once.
Gotta be real careful, lower my body temp... all that concentration
might get me to burst in flames...
"Shit! Shit, shit, shit, fuck!" See, that's the problem with
having razorblades for nails. Ok, so I might have cut off a lil'
more than just a wee strand of hair. Well, maybe she won't notice.
Chances are she will, though. It's just hair anyway, grows back in no
Now I notice the rest she is left with is peacefully smouldering. Fuck!
I look around, but there is nothing at hand for the purpose, so I pull
her skirt on her head patting, trying to put out the flames. She comes
round noisily. I jam the hair into the glove compartment before she has
time to untangle herself from the skirt.
"Jack, what are you doing?" I swear I never heard her screech
like that. I sit there marveling that she is able to emit such noises.
I try to look innocent which is no easy feat with my mug. "Me? Nothing.
There came this flaming, uh... pterodactyl and it attacked us, so I had
to put out the flames."
"Attacked me but not you?"
"Could tell you were the foreigner, the sly bastard."
"I don't see a scorch mark on the car," she snaps.
"Went for the flesh, not the plastic," I shrug my shoulder. "Sorry."
She turns away, smooths down her skirt, trying to look at least half
decent. I don't know what's all the hassle about, with so many
underskirts on I haven't seen any of the nasty bits.
She reaches up, feeling around for her hair, probably wondering why her
head feels suddenly so light. Oh boy, here we go.
"My hair... what happened to my hair?"
Before waiting for my reply she bursts into tears. All that water
leaking from her head gets me all philosophical. If you hurled one of
these water-people at me with enough force, would they burst like a
water balloon? Could they burst like a water balloon? It's not a happy
thought, so I abandon it.
"Relax, it'll grow back before you know it."
"Do you have any idea how long that takes?" she snaps at me between two
"Until then I can lend you some of mine...?"
To that she replies only with a disgusted glance. I guess she's not one
for red hair.
The shock of the Debils couldn't be bigger.
"Where is your hair?" Darla's ladies gasp.
"Jack says a flaming pterodactyl came and stole it," she replies on a
"Um, that's so not what I said... " but apparently noone's
interested in my version of the events.
Tim is pale with rage. "That's the one thing I asked you to do," he
hisses, "to bring her back in one piece."
"That I did," I get all defensive, "I mean, all limbs are attached and
Peter's face lengthens, as I present him the hair when I catch him
alone. Darla burst out of the car slightly smoking when we got back, so
I had time to retrieve the golden tresses from the glove compartment.
"I win," I tell him just to drive the point home, "have fun with the
"Tomorrow you'll visit her world," Hamed reminds me in the
evening. "Try to get your shit together just this one time?"
Gods, you'd think you could expect just a crumb of loyalty from your
own twin? The only brother you left alive?
I slept in again, although I swear I even put the alarm on,
it's just that I slammed it down and kept on sleeping. Well, I was out
till late doing... fuck knows what (there was a lot of booze involved,
that's the only thing I'm sure of), so what do these people expect?
Anyway, constantly hounded by my dear brother I manage to scrape myself
out of bed and put on a semi-civilized look, which by the nature of my
default looks is no small feat.
They wait in the hall, all of them rather morose, not at all in the
spirit of Oiskog methinks. Darla hid her closely cropped hair under a
bonnet (I think that boyish look is rather cute, an interesting change,
but I know better than to air that opinion), her eyes narrow as she
sees me. Guess I still don't look civilized enough for her, but the
gods know I tried my best.
So there we sit in the Kensington palace, me next to Darla, all her
high-bred kin around the table if you can call it that, it's more a
landing strip for a commercial plane.
"So, how is the Oiskog going so far?" Daddy dearest tries to break the
"Oh, it's lovely," the missus tries to be her usual chirpy self, but it
sounds a little fake with her sitting with that bonnet on.
"My angel, why don't you take that bonnet off?" Mommy asks.
Darla can't help shooting me a look. "Um... it's uh... the trend this
Me, I'm too busy trying to look civilized to add anything constructive
to the conversation. I know the more I focus on not combusting
spontaneously the more an accident is prone to happen and the knowledge
that nothing is fireproofed here is not helping any. If I could just
form a fireball to play with, to distract my attention would make it
easier, but of course it's a no go here. The silverware melts like wax
in my left hand. I put it down quickly and inconspicuously, I hope.
"So, Jack." It's Daddy again, "what exactly do you do in life?"
"Heh, not much. I mean, look at me. Not many employers would take me
The awkward silence is broken by the arrival of the first dish. And
what do they bring for appetizers? Soup. Soup, for fuck's sake! I make
an annoyed little move and half the table is ablaze in front of me. The
dignified guests scatter with a panicked scream. That's just my luck.
Aeons out of my plane and I still don't have this thing under control.
What would my old man say? Probably nothing; he's too insane for any
kind of fatherly admonition.
Next thing I know servants are coming running, with water jugs in hand.
Very bad idea. I'm seriously triggered.
After that wing of the Kensington palace burned down, understandably
Darla broke off the Oiskog.
When we get back, the Rev just stands, his face a weird shade of grey.
Hamed gapes like a landed carp. Kay (one of the missus' many adoring
doormats) marches up to me, his outstretched, accusing finger trembling
ever so slightly. "You... you..."
"Yeah, me. Wasn't my fault though. If those servants..."
"You... cut off the Princess' hair for a bet!"
Oh, that. "What? Who says so?"
As it turns out, it was one of the people loitering on the verandah
with Peter on day 1. Gotta find the bastard and make him pay for
snitching on me. As for now Darla stands, her eyes round and white in
her sooty face as she turns to me. "You what?"
Erm... well, yeah. That's how my Oiskog ended after only two days. But
at least the Jaxibus is clean?
© 2017 Susan Anwin
Bio: Susan was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Her
flash-fiction Talk of Armadale trees was featured in the anthology My
Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012, and her
short stories Fog-People, Eddie's lousy Saturday, You'll die as fish,
People of the Green Cloud, Dragonfly-man, Daddy is Driving the Car,
Soul for Sale, Dark Sister and The Man Who Broke Time were published by
Aphelion in 2016 and 2017. She's been featured on the cover of Aphelion
in March and July 2017.
Website: Susan Anwin
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