pjf: Well-being = creative education + freedom
Education for Life: self-empowerment; Creative, productive freedom; organic food, farming > biodiversity, ecology


Kate and dog


dogs, fantasy, short stories, illustrated stories, teens, hermit










The Hermit’s Daughter Featuring Kate, Horace and Dog





At 8 a.m. Horace finished gardening and made a drink. At 8.10 a.m. he uncovered the easel at the rear of his cave, moved it nearer the daylight and continued his illustrated translation of the words of the prophet.



At 10 a.m. he had one slice of unleavened bread and half an apple, then knelt to pray.

The shiny surface of the icon briefly showed his reflection and he noticed with mild concern how stressed and haggard he looked. He felt rapidly reassured by his commitment to and connection with the unseen world of the spirit articulated by the prophet.

*

Horace creaked a little as he struggled back to his feet. He rubbed his aching knees and wondered, for maybe the ten thousandth time, if he should make a more comfortable arrangement in front of the icon.

He turned and gasped with shock as he looked out to the glare of the sun. Could he be still in the land of spirit? Was this a temptation from the devil? If so, it was a very subtle one, since the young girl looked anything but seductive.

She took a few uncertain steps into the cave, nervously twisting her long black hair in one hand.

'Hello?' said Horace. It isn't usually a question, but the tone of Horace's voice was clearly thus. The girl smiled self-consciously and tucked her head down between her rising shoulders. Her hair piled on her shoulders and half concealed her face.

'Are you lost?' Horace asked.

'I suppose so,' she replied. 'I'm Kate.'

'Hello Kate. I'm Horace. Would you like something to eat? It bears a very minor resemblance to bread. Also to granite.'

'Thank you,' said Kate. 'It looks ideal. An ideal partner to apple, I bet.'

Horace looked at Kate. He tried various combinations of furrowed brow, arched eyebrow, sucking of teeth and such like. Kate returned the gestures with interest, substituting a pout for the furrowed brow, since she lacked the necessary years for a convincing wrinkle.

The silence dragged on and on and the orientations of brow and lip seemed to be exhausted. Kate showed no sign of easing Horace's discomfort.

'Funnily enough,' he croaked, then cleared his throat. 'I do have a large tub of apples. The tub is out of sight, as it happens.'

'Hmm,' said Kate.

*

Kate ate her apples and something-like-bread while Horace stood just outside the cave, seeking inspiration. What on earth was he to do with her? And how best to maintain his timetable of devotions?

Fleetingly he had an image of putting Kate on something called a bus that would take her home, but realised this was a glimpse into the nightmarish parallel world of barbarians...

*

Horace felt mildly breathless, but was pleased to find himself prepared to continue his illustrations on schedule. Kate sat nearby at her own newly-assembled easel, and proved to be an industrious worker – speedy though somewhat careless. He was aware of Kate's excellent posture, perched on her stool so lightly and free of his habitual hunch, as though with the slightest effort of will she could leave the stool altogether and float peacefully, languidly above it. She was struggling with the colours though ...

*

Horace gave Kate a few tips on shading one colour into the next to create a blend. He realised he was late for prayers.

He pointed to his ancient mechanical watch and nodded towards the icon. Kate grinned and leapt from her stool with a peerless absence of dignity and bounded towards the icon and knelt, singing merrily.

'Is something wrong,Horace?' Kate asked.

'No.'

'Oh good. You sighed, that's all.'

Horace mentally recited the articles of his faith but felt irritated by his lack of concentration. He was getting stabbing pains in his knees and wondering what to do about Kate's abundant energy. An idea presented itself the next morning as he woke ...

*

Horace laughed out loud as he pushed Kate on the swing. She sang tunefully, fitting the tempo to the tide of the swing. He felt sure Kate was an inch taller than the day she'd arrived. It felt a little worrying to realise that had been only two weeks ago. The way she grinned at him whenever there was a chance of using the swing gave him a very warm glow. He'd made a pretty good job of the swing, given the limited materials.

A steady breeze from the South took Kate's hair to one side. The pendulum (which was Kate) added a forwards and backwards trailing effect. Their laughter returned very quietly after its trip to the distant rock face of the higher mountains.

'We're late,' said Horace, as they hurried back to the cave.

'Tut tut!'

They arrived back at the cave in time for prayers, Kate positively glowing after her swing in the sunny but cold air. She produced a handful of nuts and berries for him, and he wondered how she found the time to collect them. she was certainly more adept than him and finding fresh fruit, and he'd better start thinking about preserving some for the winter.

Kate had decorated the swing with woven strands of vines and stalks from the surrounding hillside, Horace wondered why he'd never thought of such details himself.

Horace looked at his reflection as they knelt together to pray. He looked younger, and just a shade fatter. He was comforted by his ability to help Kate with illustrations, because most of the time she seemed to be teaching him things. Still, there's no merit in pride, as the word of the prophet so wisely reminded those that had the sense to read it.

*

Kate was running up the hill towards the cave and shouting excitedly. Horace couldn’t make out any words, just the high-pitched song of youthful glee. What on earth can she have found on this barren hill, he wondered. There’s our garden and the swing and then miles of heather, poor grass, weedy trees and outcrops of granite. Impassable mountains behind us.

Horace had a shock as Kate came around the path past the huge boulder that he regarded as the end of his, or rather their, garden, and he saw a large dog in pursuit. He reached for his stick then realised Kate was still smiling and holding a stick that the dog was playing at biting.

'And then were three,' Kate grinned. Disarmingly, thought Horace. With a smile that, it probably endangers my legs as well.

*

‘He’s done it again, Horace,’ said Kate.

‘He’s what?’

‘He keeps trying to lead me towards the desert. Come and see if he does the same for you.’

Horace hesitated and fretted about his timetable.

‘Come on,’ said Kate. ‘we can stop the clock!’

The dog tried to lead Horace, just as he had Kate.

'What do you want boy?' Horace asked the dog. He turned to Kate, puzzled. She spent more time with the dog and clearly knew his ways. Kate just smiled and shrugged.

The dog looked happy, waiting in front of them and panting.

'He's smiling,' Kate explained.

'Hmm,' Horace conceded. 'He's a good natured beast, that's for sure.'

The dog sat and cocked his head on one side. Kate took Horace's hand and led him past the dog to where they could see down the hillside and miles beyond.

'Barren,' said Horace.

'The dog knows something we don't,' said Kate. 'Maybe somebody is injured out there? But then the dog would be impatient, worried...'

*

‘I dreamed of building a kiln in the desert,’ said Horace, one morning after prayers.

'Where the dog wants to go!' Kate smiled and fancied the adventure. 'We could go and have a look.'

'And it might mean nothing,' frowned Horace.

'Or something!'

'We could make a kiln here, where it's safer,' suggested Horace.

'If there were more trees for firewood! Which there isn't.'

*

‘I’m a bit concerned about taking you into the desert,’ said Horace, close to his wit's end. 'You are very young for such a barren place.’

Kate whistled as she sewed the sheets together to complete the upper section of the tent. The dog played at chasing invisible friends, or possibly enemies.

Horace declared their load of provisions to be nearly complete.

‘We’ll have to find fresh water every few days,’ he said. He looked at the sky – no signs of bad weather, and some cloud meant the nights wouldn't be quite so cold.

'We can make a note of every place we find water, and if we are really stuck we'll backtrack,' Kate suggested. 'Nothing will go wrong,' she smiled. He seemed such a fusspot in her view, which was strangely amusing.

'Come on then,' Horace sighed, 'we're ready to go.'

The dog barked, sensing imminent adventure, and Kate danced around him with joy.

*

The water never proved to be an issue at all. Four uneventful days into their journey Horace said, 'This is the place,' and they stopped.

'How do you tell?' asked Kate. 'You fancy a sit down?!'

Horace gave her an old-fashioned look with his old-fashioned face and Kate giggled.

'To be honest, I Don't know how. But here is the spot.'

'There's plenty of dead wood around,' Kate conceded. 'I don't mean you!' she added.

'I never suggested that you might, madam!'

'Miss, if you please!'

'Miss, kindly begin erecting our shelter, if you have nothing better to do,' pleaded Horace.

'Tell you what.'

'I'll tell you what?'

'Tell you what, Horace. I'll pitch the tent!'

*

The following morning Horace rose to find the prophet had maintained the illusion of the physical world sufficiently for the sun to have circumnavigated the dark side, the dew was evaporating, the clouds promised a bounty of desperately needed rain one day soon, and Kate and the dog were running around the tent apparently seeing which of them could be the most primitive. Too close to call, thought Horace.

After their usual travellers fare of rice and remnants, Horace began collecting together stones to build a kiln. His dream had glossed over the practical details of design, shape and type of stone, mortar and such. Kate was a willing, and much younger, helper, and even the dog had a talent for fetching pieces of dead wood from below the elderly trees.

A mystery tour coach from the parallel world of barbarians came by soon after lunch carrying Dribbler the pasty salesman, Mascot Piranha the mad artist, Ford Perfect (searching for beetle juice), Parry Hotter (brat of school age), Andrew Bolkonski (Russian mafia boss), and sundry others, which will hopefully prove to be a source of nightmares for the copyright lawyers.

Two days later Kate woke to find the world frosty in the extreme. Dog had been sleeping outside, apparently unconcerned by the temperature, but his whiskers had developed icicles. Kate attempted to thaw them out with her hands and accidentally broke a couple, both ice and whisker. It is cold! she thought.

'And on the third day, it froze again, according to the whiskers,' she declared as Horace emerged from the tent.

'What?!'

'The poor dog has icicles.' She pointed.

'It's a fine winter coat he's got though, don't you think?'

'I do. Sometimes.'

Horace attempted to glare in a disapproving way, but found it impossible while smiling.

'We'll complete the kiln today, and maybe have the first test in late afternoon, while the breeze is helping.'

Kate beamed, genuinely pleased.

*

‘It’s amazing,’ Kate crooned. The kiln was glowing red hot, just from sunlight reflected from the several mirrors, and a fire of dead wood. Horace had shovelled in plenty of dull grey stones and now added a few drops of honey and one of blood from his carefully pricked finger. Even the needle had been sterilised in the kiln.

'Are you sure you've remembered all the details from the dream?' Kate asked.

'Yes. I made notes of all I could remember.'

Horace blocked the air inlet at the base of the kiln and declared the task to be completed as far as he could tell.

'Can we open it soon?' asked Kate.

He shook his head. 'Not until tomorrow morning, for sure. It might even be too hot then.'

Kate looked fleetingly disappointed, then ran off to play with the dog. It seemed one way of passing the time, Horace conceded.

*

‘Come quick, Horace,’ Kate shouted. He’d learned to spot her varieties of excitement that didn’t indicate danger, and this was of that variety.

Kate was leaning over the opening of the kiln, and peering intently, open-mouthed. Horace looked in and saw tiny silver snakes writhing out of the depths of the kiln into the surface, and the stones appeared now like glass.

‘Can we hold them,’ Kate asked.

'They might bite.'

'The glass balls!'

‘I’d rather wait until the snakes have left,’ Horace advised, as she knew he would.

*

Kate and the dog followed the snakes , but they moved very slowly, and fanned out into every direction, so they returned to their tent to sleep. Kate was fairly bursting with excitement, as ever, and Horace wondered if he could improvise a swing for her.

'A rope from one of those trees will do, with a knot for a seat!' Kate burbled. 'It's going to take ages for the snakes to get anywhere. I wonder what they eat?' she asked.

Horace filed the question away, then realised he'd run out of memory. He'd realised this the day before, but as he'd run out of memory, he'd already forgotten. How did children come up with so many questions? He might have asked her this already, but he couldn't remem...

'We'll pile the glass balls, which I'm sure were plain rocks, into something obviously man-made. Then if people come this way they maybe won't disturb them.'

'After they've taken the pile apart to look for treasure!'

'Cynic!'

'We could make a sign saying, “The treasure isn't over there in the mountains, honest” then they'll go to look in the mountains!'

The mountains were duly helpful and echoed Horace's previous words.

'Nice trick,' said Kate.

*

Horace, Kate and the dog walked on day after day, trusting the dog to lead to something meaningful. The desert was turning green, and plenty of other colours if you looked close enough. They peered into the foliage and saw every bloom or leaf had baby turtles making their first timid steps out into the world.

'This is the snakes work,' Kate whispered.

'Could be.'

We'll be at the mountains soon,' she added.

'You make that sound important,' said Horace, and Kate smiled.

Part 2

The Plain of Rubedo





Horace arranged the large sheet on an improvised easel. 'Another day!' he exclaimed gleefully, and Kate smiled. An hour or so painting every day before they continued their trek had proved to be a wise move. Life didn't have to be all slog, and Horace found it easier to remember this now that Kate was around looking so much younger and vulnerable than himself. He was beginning to suspect that her youthful appearance was largely illusion. There was something wise about her. Wisdom being Horace's trade, so to speak, this was somewhat irritating; not that the prophet approved of irritation...

Horace was surprised to find himself whistling when Kate reminded him that it was time to pack their tent and make tracks. Life is eventful, he mused. Whistling! What would the prophet think. What would he whistle? Only kidding your holiness...

*

After many days travelling across the Plain of Rubedo towards the distant mountains they finally came to a town. It seemed to be a junction of several paths, possibly trade routes, and there were many people, donkeys and camels. The aromas and sounds made a pleasant contrast to their quiet and uneventful journey, though Horace found the girl and her dog very fine company compared to his previous complete solitude.

Horace shaved before they entered the town and got quite a surprise when he came to the first shop window. He went to peer inside but due to the light he could see only his own reflection.

'I look years younger!' he raved. 'I didn't mean to shout,' he added.

Kate smiled, but not very enthusiastically in Dog's opinion, and a dog's opinion is never quite as humble as the mere humanoids assume. Indeed, many dogs don't even bother to learn human speech, deeming it a poor use of their considerable intelligence.

'You're probably right,' said Kate.

'Pardon?' asked Horace.

'I'm just talking to the dog,' she explained.

'Having a bit of help shaving makes a difference,' added Horace, returning to his reflection. He felt inches taller as he walked along the street, enjoying seeing fresh faces – more and more of them as they approached the town centre. Kate shrugged and the dog scratched itself behind the ear in a meaningful manner after carefully sitting in the dustiest spot.

A friendly young woman took Horace's arm and began chatting. Well, this is a pleasant place! thought Horace. Pleasant people, indeed! Life back in the cave seemed to pall in his memory, yet it had felt good at the time. Purposeful, busy, peaceful, dedicated.

The dog began jumping up at Horace and the young woman. Horace told it to get down.

'He does make a fuss sometimes,' he explained, and the woman nodded non-committally. A fine tolerant type, thought Horace.

He looked around for Kate, but she was walking some way behind him and seemed to be in a mood. The young woman imitated drinking from a cup and pointed towards a doorway. Horace smiled back and hesitantly peered into the room. Nothing ventured nothing gained, he thought. And I do feel parched.

Horace peered back, briefly, through the shady doorway into the glare of the afternoon sun. Dog seemed to be keeping Kate company at a seat by the public drinking fountain. They seemed safe enough, Horace thought, so he went further inside into the smoke, music and mystery. It's a brave man who'd try anything funny with that dog. Or with Kate, for that matter.

*

The 'girly' as Horace had taken to calling her shrugged voluminously as he left following the dog.

'I've lost custom to irate wives or girlfriends before,' she sighed. 'I've even lost custom to a combined team of wife AND girlfriend once, but never before have I seen an elderly gent with a hang dog expression exiting prematurely hanging behind a dog.'

'It could be a first!' conceded her work colleague. 'And not likely to set a trend.' She smiled, despite the loss of potential income.

'I bet he didn't have any money, anyway,' shrugged girly.

'You didn't know it was an opium den? And worse!' demanded an irate Kate.

'She looked about the same age as you,' complained Horace.

'Over the paint? What about those wrinkles around the eyes?!'

'Wrinkles?' said Horace.

'The ones beneath the paint? The disguise?'

Horace shook his head, glad of seventy years of suntan to hide his blushes. What most worried him was the fact that Kate apparently did know of opium dens. What did she mean about worse things? And where had she been before arriving at his cave to learn so much?

He'd tried asking once, but the answers were so baffling and evasive he'd got a headache.

'Wherever the life force beckons,' she'd said.

'Where the first blade of grass emerges from virgin Earth,' was another time. 'Fresh every day,' she'd added and he'd discovered the joy of migraine.

Horace emerged from his reverie into the arguably present and allegedly real world to find Kate patting Dog affectionately, making it oh so plain that he was a more valued and reliable fellow traveller than Horace the Muggins.

'Such a WISE hound,'she crooned.

That night Horace looked into his shaving mirror and prayed quietly to the prophet. 'Should I do something about my falling hair?' he asked, since it was falling out at a steady rate. Girlys, whether by design or disguise, were clearly bad news, but he found himself wanting Kate's approval. Not that she'd notice his ageing hair anyway, he thought.

'Yea, thou art bald like unto the coot,' boomed a mysterious voice, and Horace jumped. The sound seemed to reverberate from all directions as though he was in a cavern. 'Never again shall hair grace the top of thy head all the days of thy life. Worm!'

'Okay. Okay. I was only asking!' he complained, finally recognising the young voice.

< span style="font-weight: bold; color: #339999;">He turned to see Kate, apparently now in a better mood.

'Ahha,' he exclaimed. 'You do impersonations! Very impressive. And where did you learn that sort of male voice?'

'Once upon a time when the world was green, the clay congealed to form a worm. After many moons the worm divided into two. The two worms ...'

'Okay, all right,' complained Horace. 'I was hoping for the name of the town, the type of building and the date, more or less. I've had my quota of headaches for today.'

Kate smiled, and so did Dog in Horace's opinion.

'He's only panting. It's the heat,' Kate explained.

'I didn't even speak!' complained Horace.

'Let's count our blessings, eh little dog?' murmured Kate, so quietly that Horace could only just hear.

*

The following day as they were preparing to leave the town, Kate smelled freshly baking bread and smacked her lips enthusiastically. Horace smiled as Kate hurried away, following her nose like all good intuitives are inclined to do, sometimes to excess.

'I'll steer clear of smoky dens today,' Horace affirmed. He sniffed. 'Mind you, smoke wafting from yonder cooking stoves smells appetising, not to say healthy.

The dog nodded sagely, secretly hoping there would be fried onions. The onions gave him wind, the wind annoyed people, and Dog found they left him alone to ponder his new theory about the incomparable boredom of solving simultaneous equations by iterative methods. He was tempted to calculate the boredom quotient by the self-same algebraic method just to be bloody minded.

Several dozen people sat around a large fire and two elderly men with apparently random arrangement of teeth – large, small, cracked, yellow, gold, missing, lopsided – tended a few huge black pots from which spicy fumes arose.

'No women of ill-repute,' muttered Horace. 'Not in recent decades, anyway. And I do need something to eat.'

He swallowed and gently admonished his taste buds for being such victims to the world of the senses.

Having settled himself before a huge bowl of “spicy camel, millet, vegetables, fruit and today's mystery extras” he translated - BOGOOTTS yelled the acronym on the sign (buy one and get only one, thou tight sod) - Horace was invited by his neighbours to join a game of dice ...

*

'Oh may the prophet help me,' groaned Horace as he had the familiar feeling of being led, once again, into a better life by a mere dog. Coins jingled in his hand. Dog cocked one ear and looked back over his shoulder. 'Mere?' he seemed to ask...

Kate glared at Horace as he traipsed out of the market behind Dog.

'Welcome back ... ,' said Kate.

'Hello Kate,' began Horace. 'Sorry,' he added.

' ... Dog.' Kate finished. 'Did the strange man swindle any old ladies or fellow crooks?'

She patted Dog in a loving manner. The dog, Dog, looked mightily pleased, yet not a bit surprised at his treatment, which he so clearly deserved.

Horace spent another sleepless night wondering at his stupid behaviour. Had everything he'd ever learned counted for nothing once he'd travelled into the world of crowds. Now and then he had bad feelings about Kate – maybe she was a trick of the devil, meant to lead him into temptation? A pleasant mood, in its way, but Kate was so obviously disappointed in his failings, so she could hardly be serving the evil one, unless his main aim was suddenly the promotion of paradox. There didn't seem to be any evidence of this in the writings of the prophet. Paradox would surely cause people to think for themselves, and the evil one wasn't that way inclined. Think OF themselves, maybe...

gam-of-dice That night Horace dreamed again of a woman. A young woman. A glamorous young woman, even.

They'd left the town and market place way behind and Horace woke in a mood, feeling such images were just another headache. So far as he could remember, he was now about 70 years old, and the prophet was either testing him to distraction or had gone slightly mad. He looked nervously up at the sky, and was relieved to note the absence of thunderbolts.

'Clearly a glamorous woman is not to be taken literally,' mused Horace, 'but maybe the prophet does want me married?'

'Sorry Horace?' asked Kate.

'Just muttering to myself, Kate.'

'We'll be insight of the mountain path tomorrow,' added Kate.

My eyesight is weird, thought Horace, sometimes Kate looks about twelve years old, sometimes about forty. 'Ah, the consolations of age,' he moaned.

'Pardon?'

'Nothing.'

*

'Home!' shouted Kate, pointing up the side of the mountain.

Horace could see nothing to distinguish this mountain path from thousands of others. There were weeds, the occasional goat, one rather odd passing place bearing the legend 'Lay-By of Sissyfoot' where a mean looking fellow chained to a post was sweeping leaves. Round and round he went, seemingly imprisoned by his task.

Kate assured Horace that she recognised the terrain and Dog was ready to follow. Thank the prophet they are younger and fitter than I, thought Horace.

No sooner had they begun the climb than Kate complained of feeling dizzy and Horace had to carry her. There were narrow paths where goats and sheep had worn the grass down, boulder strewn levels where Kate leaned on the larger rocks and Hor ace was able to rest a while.

The dog, may the prophet bless his little furry paws, was the epitome of patience and good behaviour. Horace wondered more than once if the dog understood why they were so slow labouring up the mountainside compared to their four-legged friend. Could it understand that the old man had to carry the normally fit young girl? Did it just accept things as they were? Would it waste hours asking itself unanswerable questions? Probably not...

*

Several days patiently carrying Kate over the large chasms to progress up the mountain did a lot for Horace's stamina, but the air was thinning and he had to rest more often. It felt like most of his breath was used in the simple task of breathing; panting in fact.

Horace had the uncanny and rather worrying feeling that she looked years older than when she'd arrived. Not older in an aged sense, taller and wiser. He never counted the days, except for keeping track of the feast days of the prophet, but Kate had first appeared a couple of months ago, rather than years. Could children really grow up so fast, or was it just his feeble eyesight?

Also, the higher they went the more pure she appeared; even her suntan was fading. Leaving behind The Plain of Rubedo? wondered Horace. Though I was the only one toreally made a fool of myself there, he mused.

Horace realised, as he turned up the sleeves on his shirt, that his weeks travelling with Kate had added muscle to his arms and tone to his skin. On the third day of their ascent he'd suddenly became light-headed, maybe due to the thinner air, possibly the exertion, and he began reciting poetry.

'I didn't know you'd learned poetry,' said Kate. 'Was it written by the prophet?'

Horace shook his head, puzzled. 'I don't know,' he confessed. He thought Kate didn't appear surprised. Maybe he'd better write it down before he forgot the words?

'Moly Hoses, what a climb,

I'd rather have a lager and lime!'

Kate improvised, by way of response.

'Lager and Lime?' asked Horace.

'A favourite tipple of the barbarians,' Kate explained.

*

A Birth



A beautiful woman approaches. She is holding hands with a new born girl – her daughter.

'A daughter too,' wailed Horace as he woke. 'The prophet, with all due respect, is one chapati short of a vindaloo.'

'You're awake then,' observed Kate.

'I'm beginning to wonder,' moaned Horace.

'Do you want to talk about it?' asked Kate.

'Not likely...'

'we'll be there soon,' Kate consoled him. 'By midday. I can walk now.'

*

Queen Minerva



Dog yapped excitedly, they turned a corner and Horace saw many people coming towards them. In the distance Horace could see a group of modest dwellings arranged around a many steepled temple featuring vividly coloured glass windows. On either side the land sloped down steeply; they really were at the top of this part of the mountain range.

'Welcome Queen Minerva,' the people chanted.

Horace turned back and nearly fainted. The people were greeting Kate with great fondness and familiarity, and placing a crown on her head.

'Kate?' said Horace.

Kate, or rather Minerva, shrugged.

'Some things never change,' he said. Queen she may be, but she still looked thoroughly mischievous, which felt oddly reassuring.

Kate/Minerva headed towards the temple and encouraged Horace to follow. Dog was already in the lead.

Cooking the Salamander



Horace settled into life near the temple, having been shown a quiet hut where he could keep himself to himself.

After several days alone reading the word of the prophet, Horace became so frustrated and moody that he hurled the book to the ground and stamped on it. His heart beat alarmingly and he felt his inner world falling apart. He looked very drawn and realised he'd even been studying the text while cooking his dinner – a lizard that he'd trapped with dog's help the day before.

'Is it bedtime,'he groaned. 'Who cares,' he added and fell asleep by the fire.

Horace dreamed of a changing room near his home, his cave in the desert:

The changing room is somehow part of my cave. It is an addition. I'm feeding a stove but it's empty. There is no fire and whatever I put into it is just wasted.

A lady with her young daughter appears outside the changing room near the temple. 'We're next!' she says. A lady with a young daughter appears on the other side of the changing room, down some steps into the market place on the plains. 'We're next!' she says.

Horace woke in a rage. 'Why don't they just leave me in peace?!' he raved. 'I was better off months ago as I've been for years! Decades, even!' The stove made him recall the kiln they'd made and fertile it had seemed with snakes and turtles. He felt a pang of guilt on realising he'd never have met Kate if he really had been left alone, but was it worth it?

'Are you okay?' Kate kindly asked, appearing on cue.

'I'm totally baffled,' said Horace.

'By what?' asked Kate.

'Everything! But I no longer care. Isn't that weird?'

'Ah. Progress ... ,' said Kate.

'Hmm,' complained Horace 'Full marks for enigmatic, not much for helpful.'

'Does the little man need help, then?' Kate sweetly smiled and left him alone.





Horace went away from the palace and houses towards the lake and walked around it. He remembered that in the dream the steps down to the second woman and child were stained and unsavoury. The doorway out to the woman by the temple was not. He felt he'd been found wanting on their travels through the market towns, but sensed the dream image wasn't only about him. Maybe he'd needed the journey to realise what a sorry state the world he'd ignored had become. The idea wasn't convincing.

He imagined the prophet waiting for him after his death, and felt sure he'd be judged a failure.

*

'I've ruined my book of the prophet,' he moaned, 'stamped it to dust,' and he realised he'd have to write his own. Maybe he could remember lots of it; maybe even all of it ...

There was something in his stubborn mood that said he'd stick by everything he'd done. He'd do the same again, probably. This path was too hard for mere mortals, he'd done his best, and who could ask for more than that?

He took out his pad and with an almighty sigh wrote his first words.

The Debatable and Impermanent Book of Horace



(by Horace)

thought no.1

Live a life devoted to love

and love is what you'll attract!

But try this with the dregs of the world

and they'll walk all over you with glee

... dog training techniques work better with the

resolutely ignorant.

This felt a very poor start, but at least the book was under way.

Horace turned a corner and found Kate waiting for him, wearing her crown. She was accompanied by a young girl. Kate wore an expression exactly the same as the prophet in Horace's fantasy of his day of judgement. Horace held his breath, fearing the worst.

'Welcome Horace,' said Kate, and smiled beautifully. She took his left hand for a change and the young girl took his right, carefully enclosing his fingers around his pen and notebook.

They led him into the temple where he discovered all the dice players, ladies of ill repute and men of ill temper that he'd met on his journey. Horace was surprised and disappointed.

'This is the reward for seventy years devotion to the teachings of the prophet?' he grumbled. 'Back into the gutter?'

The crowds paid little attention to Horace and he wandered among them. Why would Minerva, the prophet or anyone choose to assemble such people in a temple?

He listened to two men bartering. Not once did they look each other in the eye, and even the gestures of friendship were lies; calculated ploys to mislead the other, to gain some sort of advantage, to make the other feel under obligation or debt.

He watched girlie's older work-mate proclaiming in a loud voice how everyone looked up to her and sought her advice. Several times girlie chipped in with a comment or question and there was no evidence that it had even been heard. The epistle of 'How wonderful I am' went on ... and on ... and on. Girlie developed a vacant, depressed expression and began to drool.

'What is the point of such a life?' Horace growled.

He realised that someone was following, probably had been for ages. He repeated his question – 'this is some sort of reward for a lifetime of struggle? I could have been idle, selfish and probably much happier!'

'And asleep?' asked Kate. She smiled knowingly, with just a hint of rebuke. She pointed to the young girl who was walking through a gate towards an enclosed garden of trees, flower beds and a large pond. Horace followed the girl and found a cosy corner walled in on two sides by a vertical bank. Evergreen palms formed a roof to the enclosure and his easel and paints were already set out, together with his cooking utensils, a table and two chairs and his notebooks. Dog sat at the entrance, facing outwards. A guard dog of sorts, thought Horace.

Horace examined his unfinished paintings from their travels, his new notebooks of original, hesitant words and shrugged inwardly. He arranged the works-in-progress into two piles and found he'd put the easier tasks at the top of each pile. This surely merited a wry smile; he looked around to see if Kate was still spying. She wasn't. He tried the seat, found it comfortable and moved it a little to improve the daylight – sunlight filtered by leaves - onto his desk.

'I have work to do,' he declared, and suddenly felt totally at home.





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Short Stories: funny, satire, meaningful, comedy; psychology, sociology, corporations


Tags: Kate and dog : dogs, fantasy, short stories, illustrated stories, teens, hermit
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