Sample Chapters

For your dancing pleasure, herewith a synopsis and the first three chapters of The Benevolent Troll…

TheBenevolentTroll_Cover_Small sizeSynopsis

Failed inventor Practice Wells believes things can’t get any worse when on the same day he is dumped by his girlfriend, finds himself nearly broke, and worst of all, his latest invention, The Benevolent Troll, is rejected by yet another manufacturing firm. But then he is visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and duly informed of his imminent death – so yes, things could get worse after all. But a mysterious benefactor provides a ticket to London and the chance to present the Troll at the prestigious British Inventor’s Guild – a surefire ticket to fame and fortune. And there’s even time for some backpacking while he’s there! But who is this benefactor? And why is he falling so quickly for this feisty American girl he’s only just met? And why, oh why, has the Troll suddenly come to life and informed him that he is now solely responsible for saving mankind from the most horrible of extinctions? God, how he hates responsibility…

1. Pride of the Murrundji

The dog, if it knew anything, simply wasn’t talking.

The animal’s silence came as no surprise to Wimeera, whose strongly held belief that all creatures were capable of human speech had been eroded by too many failed experiments, too much bitter ridicule. This recent loss of faith was something of a pity, as by a startling coincidence the dog that accompanied him now was in fact quite capable of articulate discourse, if only Wimeera had known what to listen for. But of course he didn’t, and so it fell to Practice Wells to save mankind some 15,000 years later, though he would much rather have spent a quiet afternoon fixing the leak in his ‘67 Morris Traveller, thereby keeping his girlfriend.

Wimeera, who knew nothing of girlfriends or boxy English cars, gave up on the dog, and returned his gaze to the mountain that rose ahead of him through a mist that fell like a sad meringue.

It certainly looked like the right mountain, going by the pendant, but damned if he would climb all the way up yet another monstrous peak to find that he had once again mistaken its shape, or worse, have the dog tilt its head to one side and regard him with that smarmy, “IIIII know something yoooouuuuu don’t” look he’d seen all too frequently in recent days.

It was best to be sure. Wimeera raised the pendant from his chest and held it up, waiting for another break in the sweeping fog. The chill of the alpine country, and this strong wind roaring at his back, was starting to wear him down and he shivered involuntarily. This simply wasn’t loincloth country. He should have listened to his mother; “Take your kangaroo skin Wimmy – the nice grey one,” she’d urged, but no – the honour of being chosen for this quest had outweighed such trifling practicalities. The whole journey was beginning to tell on him. Today’s walk had been another long and uneventful one, which, when tacked on to the countless other long, uneventful days’ walks before it gave him the right, he felt, to at least have someone tell him why the hell he was doing all this rather inconsequential walking.

The gap he’d been waiting for suddenly emerged. Wimeera shivered again before seizing his chance to get a good look at the mountain. By closing one eye and holding his arm outstretched, he was able to compare the shape of the pendant with that of the peak. This time all the crags and crests and valleys and plateaus matched perfectly and as he continued to follow their outline he felt a tingling excitement that this time it was the real thing – he had at last found the prize that would forever enshrine him in glory.

Just before the mist re-enveloped him, Wimeera noted the length of his shadow. He estimated the position of the sun and deduced that if he hurried he could probably reach the mountain’s summit before nightfall. There he would claim whatever it was the Elders had sent him to find, then reward himself with a long and contented sleep. And tonight he would at last allow himself to dream of home; of sharing meals with his family and his tribe, of joining in the hunt, the noise and colour of the dances, the beaming smiles of the children as they played in the season’s first rains.

He let the pendant drop back upon his chest, where it hung on the thin strip of hide given to him by the Elders.

Buoyed by an emerging sense of accomplishment, Wimeera picked up his spear and started up the mountain at a brisk and steady pace, the dog following close behind. The pendant bobbed against his chest as he walked. He blessed the day he had found that pendant. He had been fishing for barramundi, and was standing in the fast flowing river near his tribe’s camp. Having already landed one fish of a decent size, he was fortunate enough to spot another soon afterwards. Raising his spear, he took two quick steps through the water, then screeched loudly at the sudden burst of pain which jolted through his body like he’d been stabbed.  He’d been stabbed. One of the pointed shards of the pendant had embedded itself deeply into the fleshy underside of his foot. After removing the strange item he had of course taken it at once to the Elders, who huddled together to examine it, muttering a lot and nodding sagely at one another. The pendant was fashioned from some extremely hard substance that certainly wasn’t wood or stone or hide but could still make a right mess of your foot if stepped upon. Its colour sat somewhere between the blue of the sky and the grey of the clouds and though it bore an inscription in his tribe’s own dialect, the meaning of the words was totally lost on him.

For several days, the Elders pondered the pendant’s origin and meaning, and when they emerged, weary with contemplation, Wimeera was summoned. The pendant, they decreed, was a symbol of incredibly good fortune, and a talisman of power for the Murrundji. No longer would they be a race mocked by others, forced to surrender their lands, their hunting grounds, their lives, to larger, more aggressive tribes hell bent on bloodshed. This pendant was the key to a golden new era. With the whole tribe gathered around, their eyes alive with pride and hope, the Elders draped the pendant around Wimeera’s neck and solemnly ordered him on a great Walkabout in which he must seek out the single jagged mountain which exactly matched the shape of the pendant. This mountain, they said, held a great and powerful secret, which only the pendant could reveal. Success for Wimeera and the future of the Murrundji depended on him finding and scaling this lone peak and then, only then, could the young warrior unlock the force that would save his people.

Wimeera’s heart raced as he recalled these distant memories. The face of the mountain was not as steep as he had feared, so he covered ground quickly, his legs toned and muscular from the journey. His weather-hardened soles felt no pain from the gravel stones and shattered volcanic rock that lay beneath each step. The wind seemed to whisper encouragement in his ear, and felt like a reassuring hand upon his back, urging him onward, up toward the summit. The expectation of what he would discover there fuelled his imagination and renewed his strength. The story of his conquest would become the stuff of legend, to be retold around tribal campfires for generations to come, much like the Elders now retold the adventures of great warriors of the past. “They’ll give me a title” he thought; Wimeera the Magnificent, Wimeera of the Great Walk, something of that nature. Something that would almost certainly get him laid.

He reached the summit faster than he had expected, with dusk only just beginning to fall, and his providence continued as the driving mist, so thick and penetrating on the lower slopes, thinned out during his ascent and was now almost non-existent. Wimeera’s sense of achievement was overwhelming as he sprinted the final few steps to the mountain’s highest point. A feeling of enlightenment filled his mind and adrenaline pulsed through his body. He knew that he was close to greatness, to immortality in the eyes of the Elders, and resounding success for his tribe. A large, flat slab of stone crowned the summit and Wimeera leapt upon it with the grace of a cat, all his senses alert and honed for the revelation that was to be his and his alone. He tore the pendant from his neck, held it tight within his hands and closed his eyes. The wind coursed wildly through his hair, and as the sun’s blood red light surrounded him in divine aura, Wimeera threw his arms to the sky with a roar of strength and stood proud – his mind totally blank, totally empty, totally ready…

And on the wind howled.

And on the sun shone.

And slowly, ever so slowly, did the rock erode…

Wimeera slightly opened his right eye and darted an eyeball back and forth across the landscape, then quickly shut it again, and continued to wait for the moment of moments, the truth of truths.

And eventually his arms began to tire in that excruciating way they do when you hold them up for too long. Perhaps he was slightly early and had taken The Great Powers by surprise. Perhaps he was facing the wrong way. Perhaps…

“Get down from there you bloody idiot.”

Wimeera let his arms drop limply by his sides. There. There was that annoying voice again. He knew what that meant. He opened his eyes to confirm his fears, and sure enough, standing nearby was the dog, a wild dingo that had been following him since he began this trek. Why did he only hear the voices when the dog was around? It couldn’t speak, that was clear, as no sound came from the animal. And anyway, he didn’t believe that nonsense anymore. The tales of the great creatures of the Dreaming told of fighting barramundi, huge kangaroos, giant lizards; not one mention of flatulent, emaciated feral dogs. Wimeera remembered the day, in a particularly boring part of the desert, that he felt like running the stupid animal through with his spear for a bit of light entertainment, but his attention had been diverted at the last moment by the altogether exhilarating experience of sighting his first tree in eighteen days. The dog was even more pleased.

Now he wished he’d garrotted the animal when he’d had the chance. He hated the way it just stared at him as if…as if perhaps he wasn’t a great and courageous warrior after all but some no-hoper who’d been sent on this expedition by his tribe because they wanted to be rid of him for a while.

Wimeera stood and thought deeply about what the Elders had told him. ‘“Seek out the mountain and then you will know what to do.”’ Yes, very easy to say when you’re an old and respected tribal leader and everyone kowtows whenever you pick your bloody nose. “Then you will know what to do” could well mean “I’ve got absolutely no idea what you should do, but if I send you away to deal with it then no matter what happens I end up looking wise and enigmatic.”

Wimeera chastised himself immediately for even entertaining these thoughts. He had not needed to exercise his brain for weeks, and was struggling to think clearly.  If he could just get this mission completed tonight, he could have a good sleep and then start the trek home tomorrow, embellishing the story on the way to guarantee his everlasting fame. He stood there, a lone figure on the peak of the mountain, casting a long, raking shadow in the fading light.

And that’s when it came to him.

He had of course come across the pendant the day after the tribe had performed the Murra Murra Dance, designed to bring them good fortune in the hunt. There must be a link between the pendant and the dance. With his adrenaline rising once more, Wimeera raised his spear high above his head. Although lacking the rhythm and beat provided by the didgeridoos, he commenced the long, loping circular hops and the crouched stalking steps of the dance, alternately raising his arms high above his head and then dropping them low, as if he were about to take flight. From deep in the back of his throat he produced a series of low, guttural growls, interspersed with occasional loud whoops, the last timed to coincide with the large hops that signified the kill.

It was on about his sixth loud whoop, that is, the one with the really big accompanying hop, that he noticed the dingo looking at him as if he were now alone in the middle of nowhere pretending to be a large flightless bird with impossible ambitions and a good dose of emphysema.

Wimeera froze in mid-whoop and felt blood rushing to his face. He stood up straight, jumped down from the elevated slab and marched stiffly over to a clear patch of ground, where he sat down, his hot face averted from the dog.

This was so annoying. This sort of thing never happened in any of the tales of the other great warriors. He simply must work out how to unlock the secret of the mountain. Wimeera thought long and hard, his anxiety building as the daylight faded around him. As he pondered, his hand idly came to rest upon the charm once again, his finger tracing first the line of jagged edges that represented the mountain scape, then moving over the small indentations that carved out the inscription.

The inscription.

He had never felt a bolt of realisation hit him so completely. But this time there were no histrionics. Wimeera calmly got to his feet and with jaw set firm and a look of grave determination, he turned and stared grimly into the dying sun.

He took the pendant from his neck and held it up, its strange surface seeming now to almost glow with life.

Summoning the full power of his vocal chords, Wimeera, mighty warrior of the Murrundji tribe, stood tall and slowly, carefully, shouted out the mysterious words inscribed on the back of the pendant. He waited for each word to echo several times off the surrounding mountains before moving on to the next, which gave the whole situation a much greater sense of drama and would make a fine inclusion when his story was retold with supreme reverence by future generations. He allowed the echoes of the final words to fade away, and within moments Wimeera became aware of a sound he had never heard before. A sound that continued. And grew. And with the slow dawning of realisation he knew at last what it must be.

Canine laughter.

Damn. Damn it all. Damn this stupid walk and this stupid quest and especially the stupid dog which just sat there grinning at him like he wasn’t a great hero in the making at all but Wimeera, Wonder Clown of the Murrundji.

In anger and frustration the Aboriginal warrior went into a cabbalistic mania. He tried waving the talisman around his head. Then he touched it to different parts of his body. He held it up and shook it vigorously and meaningfully at the full moon. He clasped it tight to his chest and sang every tribal song he had ever learned, stopping only to point the thing firmly at each new star that emerged in a sky that was fast becoming the same colour as the warrior’s mood. He was, in short, necromancing the stone.

None of this seemed to have any effect on anything. Except on the wild dog, which after having the pendant thrust particularly aggressively at it on one occasion, promptly stood up and yawned, Wimeera felt, in a rather exaggerated fashion, before trotting off to some nearby scrub where it curled up and went provocatively to sleep.

Where the hell were these Mystical Powers? It was fast looking like “Wimeera the Great” was completely out of the question and the best he could hope for was “Wimeera the Thoroughly Satisfactory” or “Wimeera Who Tried Quite Hard” or something similar.

The young Aborigine gave up and lay down, tired from his fruitless exertions. Whatever the answer was, it could wait until tomorrow. Maybe after a good night’s sleep everything would become clear, he would wake up, discover The Ultimate Truth and could then celebrate by spearing his loyal but unhelpful companion for breakfast.

With these thoughts Wimeera began to nod off, tiredly noticing the unusual occurrence of the full moon crossing the face of the setting sun – but he was just too tired to watch. At the exact moment that the moon completely eclipsed the sun, Wimeera’s pendant slipped from his dozing grasp until it came softly into contact with the ground beside him.

At that instant the wild dog’s head jerked up, its eyes savage and mad, teeth fully bared and snarling. Barking ferociously, it sprung to its feet with impossible speed and hurtled toward the sleeping figure, each muscle straining to provide more power.

At the same moment, the ground beneath the large stone slab opened up like a massive trapdoor. Wimeera woke in fright at the barking of the dog and the tremendous shaking of the earth.  Reaching for his spear, he turned swiftly, but the sight that confronted him froze him where he lay. There, rising up from the bowels of the earth, and emitting a therefore not inappropriate smell, was a creature so unfeasibly huge and so immensely ugly that Wimeera was forced to turn his head away, gagging in disgust.

He quickly retrieved the pendant, placing it back around his neck, and by the time he looked back the Great Beast had risen completely from its subterranean lair and now stood atop the mountain, towering over the aborigine and regarding him with a look which held no promise of affection. It was covered with a thick coat of matted, dirt encrusted hair and although it was ape-like in overall appearance, Wimeera estimated it must have been nearly fifty times his own height. The creature’s face was distorted and fierce, like a gorilla missing a few chromosomes, its eyes a sickening, luminescent shade of yellow. But the most grotesque feature of all was the Beast’s stomach, which hung like a bloated, distended sack, nearly reaching down to its knees. In the middle of this lumbering belly, right at the point that the naval should have been, there was an enormous weeping orifice, and it was from this hole that the pungent smell that accompanied the Beast seemed to emanate.

The creature stood barely a few metres from Wimeera, but it was only as it moved its immense, hairy arm towards the warrior that he was galvanised into action. He had never seen anything so large or so fearsome, and though filled with terror, the warrior thought quickly. Knowing he could never throw his spear far enough to reach the creature’s head, he aimed instead for the disgusting orifice in its belly, figuring this region was fleshy and soft enough for him to inflict some sort of damage. Wimeera knew he would have only one shot, so as the creature’s huge hand came down towards him the warrior leaned back, summoned every ounce of strength, and sent the spear on its path with destiny.

And it may well have hit its target plumb in the middle had the sudden sound of barking and a cacophony of voices in his head not put the warrior off at the last moment. As it transpired, the spear struck the huge creature’s stomach just a few feet to the right of its intended target, promptly split in half and fell uselessly to the ground.

As Wimeera turned with the full intention of throttling the dog, he was prevented from doing so by the hairy palm of the Great Beast closing about him like a massive vice.

The experience was not unlike being dipped into a large barrel of congealed animal fat that had been left in the hot sun for several weeks before having thousands of small ticklish hairs and some stale goat’s cheese added to it, and Wimmera felt he was about to retch. His arms were pinned by the Beast’s grip. The voices in his head were maddening. Something about throwing the pendant away. Nothing was making any sense in this chaos. As the Beast lifted him from the ground, Wimeera saw the small dog spring onto one of the creature’s fingers. The dog sunk its teeth as far as it could into the leathery flesh. It was trying to save him! The massive creature let out a deafening roar and released its grip on the warrior, simultaneously flicking the dog off its hand like an annoying insect. Wimeera fell the few metres back to earth, grazing himself badly along his left side. He turned quickly to see the Beast’s hand coming down for him once more. The dog had regained its feet and was hurtling towards him once again. Wimeera struggled to get up and run, but collapsed as a blast of pain issued from his left ankle, which had twisted badly in the fall. The creature’s hand was only seconds away. Engulfed by terror, Wimeera turned to the dog, knowing his only chance now rested with the small animal that only minutes before he had considered spearing. The dingo reached his side, and as Wimeera looked on, the dog glanced up at the Beast’s descending hand, then looked back into the aboriginal warrior’s terrified eyes.

With a resigned shake of its head, the dog went for Wimeera’s throat. The aborigine did not have time to defend himself and felt only the brush of the dog’s fur against his face as in a flash, it tore the pendant from his neck and sprung quickly out of harm’s way. The palm of the Beast closed once again around the warrior and lifted him off the ground. Wimeera could only just turn his head to see the dog bounding away down the mountain, the pendant dangling from its mouth. “Oh Good! Great! Thanks!” were the warrior’s shouted, and as it transpired, final words.

The Beast looked extremely displeased by this turn of events, and lumbered awkwardly after the dog, the immense weight of its belly forcing it to give up the chase after a few steps, after which it could only watch as the dingo disappeared into the distance. The Beast stamped and roared with uncontrollable anger, then fixed its gaze firmly on Wimeera, who got the distinct impression that he was now being blamed for this whole sorry episode. The Beast’s hand was moving again. Wimeera looked down to see that with its other enormous paw it had hoisted up its bloated stomach, so that the wet, putrid orifice was revealed once more. With mind numbing horror, Wimeera realised his destiny lay within that sickening hole, and as the creature brought him down towards it, the warrior could now hear the blood curdling cries of unthinkable living things emanating from somewhere deep within the rank opening in the Great Beast’s belly. As the fetid smell and the plaintive wailing of a million dead souls overpowered him, Wimeera was grateful in the end to feel his mind and body just give up in incomprehension and plunge into unconsciousness. The final thing he heard seemed to be a voice from afar, echoing in his head, and the words that resounded there were “Ummm…Sorry…try holding your breath.”

In one swift motion, the Beast thrust the limp body of the aborigine deep into the grisly hole in its belly, and after a final hateful glare in the direction in which the dog had fled, it descended into its subterranean lair, the wound in the earth closing up once more.

Having run at full tilt for some 30 minutes or more, the wild dingo dropped to the ground on the lower slopes of the mountain, panting heavily and at last allowing the pendant to fall from its jaws. It lay in that position for several minutes, alert to any sounds that would indicate the Beast was following. When finally satisfied that its escape was secure, the dog rose, dug a shallow hole in the Earth and roughly buried the charm within it, using its hind legs to scrape a small amount of dirt over the pendant’s surface. Its work completed, the dog cast a final glance to the distant peak of the mountain, then turned and trotted away into the night.

The pendant lay partially buried beside a small boulder. Still attached to its original hide, still the same colour, but now transformed into the shape of a small, distinctive cross. It also bore a new inscription on its back, four words in a completely new and unknown language. From this position on the remote mountainside, the small talisman would see very little but sunshine and snow for the next 15,000 years.

The Murrundji, in the meantime, while waiting every day for their hero to return, were attacked yet again and completely wiped out in what was, even for them, an embarrassingly short battle. Recent deciphering of the tribe’s cave drawings tell the story of the warrior who went on the great walkabout to find a mountain, with his name now etched forever into history as “Wimeera, Who Forgot His Coat.”


2. The Ignominious Return of The Benevolent Troll

“PRICE CHECK AISLE TWELVE – SURESHAVE PINPOINT RAZOR BLADES – FIVE PACK! REPEAT PRICE CHECK AISLE TWE-”

Practice stopped the checkout assistant in mid-announcement. “No, look. You don’t understand…I know the price. It’s $13.20, I’m-”

“Then why do you want a price check, sir?”

“I don’t,” he said, “I just want to-”

            “YES, AISLE 12” interrupted a young male voice on the loudspeaker, “SURESHAVE PINPOINT RAZOR BLADES ARE $13.20.REPEAT $13.20”

Practice tried again “…I just want to-”

“$13.20 – THANKS RUSSELL!- They’re $13.20, sir.” said the smiling assistant.

“Yes I know! I was just wondering why they are $13.20? I mean-”

            “ANYTIME FOR YOU, JEN” (snort) blurted the loudspeaker again.

Practice continued undaunted “…how can they justify charging $13.20 for 5 replacement blades when a whole new razor with 3 blades-”

The assistant ignored him and instead giggled into her microphone.

“HOW ABOUT A ..UM..SERVICE 7 AFTER WORK RUSSELL?” (hee hee) “Sorry sir, was that a Razor pack with 3 blades? RUSSELL… ER, WHILE YOU’RE DOWN THERE (hee hee) GIVE US A PRICE CHECK ON A ‘SURESHAVE’ RAZOR PACK WITH 3 BLADES.”

Practice decided it was time to be firm with the girl. “EXCUUUSE me, no, look I know the price. They’re $4.95… What I want to know is why a-”

$4.95 JEN.” came the loudspeaker “SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE GOT A… UM, SERVICE 12 ON YOUR HANDS? (snort)”

The assistant turned on the man standing before her “Sir, you’re holding everyone up. I wish you’d stop asking for price checks and then telling me the price.” “IT’S ACTUALLY MORE OF A SERVICE 30 RUSSELL (hee hee hee)” she snorted sideways into her microphone.

“I’m NOT.” yelled Practice. “Look, what I’m trying to do is alert you to a major conspiracy being perpetrated by the shaver manufacturers. You see, they lure you into buying a whole new razor with 3 blades for $4.95 right? Then, when the three blades you’re given at the start run out, you come back to buy some more and that’s when you discover that the incredible technology that allows them to think up all sorts of different model razors mysteriously doesn’t allow them to think up a single uniform attachment.”

The girl stared at him for several seconds before finally replying with an exaggerated  “Huh?” but Practice felt he was now on the home stretch “Which means that you can only buy the blades that are specifically made for that model razor and lo and behold, a set of these replacement blades suddenly costs $13.20 for a pack of five….. you see?” he finished.

The girl rolled her eyes. “…$13.20. Yes, sir… That’s what I’ve been saying all along…DEFINITELY A 30 RUSSELL – I’M REALLY GONNA NEED A SERVICE 69 TONIGHT (hee hee).”

Practice stared at the girl for a second longer, then sighed, thrust his hand into the pocket of his jeans, and pressed the button he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to press. Shoppers and staff alike froze and turned in the direction of Aisle 12. The checkout assistant sat open-mouthed, her face burning as she heard her own voice, amplified many times, shouting “MY APOLOGIES SIR. I’M AFRAID I AM A BRAINLESS GIT. I DON’T HAVE A CLUE ABOUT CUSTOMER SERVICE, OR MUCH IN GENERAL, AND I REALLY CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY ANYONE WOULD HIRE ME, LET ALONE WISH TO BE SERVED BY ME. I HATE THIS PLACE AND EVERYTHING IT STANDS FOR. I REGULARLY STEAL, OVERCHARGE THE CUSTOMERS AND CHANGE ALL THE USE BY DATES. MY MANAGER IS TOO INEPT TO CATCH ME, CHEATS ON HIS WIFE, AND SMELLS LIKE A BLOCKED SEWER. FINALLY, I THINK YOU SHOULD ALL KNOW I’M CURRENTLY HAVING UNSAFE SEX WITH THREE WORK COLLEAGUES, TWO ROCK SINGERS AND ONE VERY HORNY GOAT, YIPPEE-I-O-KAI-AY!”

The whole supermarket stopped, as scores of customers stood in silence, their mouths open, staring at the girl – who appeared to have gone into a trance, her jaw opening and closing like a bored goldfish. An ashen faced middle-aged man strode purposefully over to her, hissing through tight lips “Inept eh Jennifer? Sewer huh? Come with me young lady” and dragged her by the arm toward a nearby office.

Practice smiled inanely at the girl’s replacement who apologized before completing his transaction. He took his bags and walked briskly to the exit, thinking about how it had been a transaction very like this one which had first inspired him to design The Retail Revenger. Back then he could never leave the supermarket without feeling completely defeated. If it wasn’t the prices it was the staff. If it wasn’t the staff themselves it was their habit of moving all the goods just when he’d grown used to their location. But mainly it was the parsley. No-one ever needs more than a handful, yet they only stocked it in bunches big enough to last a year, nearly all of which went limp in three days. He’d grown so sick and tired of having to deal with surly checkout assistants, bad-tempered bank tellers, pushy car salesmen, and robotic call-centre staff that he knew it was time for the people to fight back.

It has been shown that in these situations the perfect put down line comes to mind exactly two and a half minutes after it is needed. So Practice went to work. By connecting a miniature digital recorder to a micro voice-processing unit, he stored a range of pre-recorded statements and responses in the Retail Revenger. Then, with the unit hidden away recording the voice patterns of whoever he was speaking to, he could play the most appropriate lines as needed, using the offender’s own voice, simultaneously gaining vengeance upon the perpetrator and a chorus of “Bravos” from all surrounding customers. He had never trialled Retort 15 before this evening, but it seemed to work a treat.

It was raining as Practice walked to his car. ‘Shit’ he muttered, remembering he had parked on a left hand upslope facing west. He threw the shopping in the back, quickly opened the driver’s door, peered across, and swore again three times in quick succession. A small amount of water lay pooled on the passenger’s side floor. The car, a 1967 Morris Traveller in a fetching almond green, had recently developed a completely irrational leak, which only occurred when it was parked in certain orientations during a particular type of rainstorm. The problem was trying to discover what it was about the orientation, or indeed the rainstorm, that caused the leak. All he knew was that if he parked on the legal side of the road during most downpours, the floor on the passenger’s side of the car would be ankle deep in water upon his return. By parking in the same direction on the opposite side of the road he would always return to a perfectly dry floor, but a wet infringement notice. Practice was still not sure if it was due to parking on the left, on an upslope, facing west, or rain falling at a specific angle, speed or intensity, or any combination of these factors, which caused the problem. What he did know was that Sarah wouldn’t be happy.

He drove quickly and found a parking spot on the street outside his apartment block, then grabbed a rag from the boot and tried to remove as much of the pooled water as he could before locking the car and going in. His flat was in a typical building for this part of inner Melbourne, three storeys, rendered, a solidly built early 20th century block, with a neatly kept courtyard at its front. An estate agent’s board advertised that Unit 2 was for sale, describing the complex as ‘A Grand Old Lady’. He pushed open the rusted iron gate and mounted the stairs to his first floor flat, noting that the Grand Old Lady was somewhat in need of a face lift.

He reached Number 14, turned the key and sighed heavily as the door swung back to reveal a jumble of skis, jackets, poles, boots and assorted snow paraphernalia blocking the corridor. The same paraphernalia that Sarah had asked him to put away several times and was now placed here as her final reminder.

“Practice?” came a demanding voice from the bedroom.

“Hi” he replied.

“I thought I heard you. Can you clear up that mess and hurry up with the shopping. The airport road’ll be packed in this rain and I told Gina and Nick we’d meet them in the Qantas Club for a drink. Did you get sunscreen?”

“Yep.”

“And moisturiser?”

“Yep.”

“Nivea?”

“Yep.”

“Well come on!”

He sighed. Only two weeks had passed since their last trip away and Sarah was already back to her tense and testy best. The last trip was a weekend at the Mt Hotham Ski Resort, which had gone surprisingly well, despite Nick’s uncanny ability to appear to be generously passing on advice while letting everyone know how successful he was. “Guys, I’ve got some great shares if you want in – take it from me, there’s truckloads of dough for you out there.” A weekend with Sarah’s work friends was bad enough, but now he faced two weeks with them in Noosa, a chic resort town in Queensland. Practice hurriedly made some room in the hallway cupboard and stuffed the snow gear away, then joined Sarah in the bedroom, her suitcase fully packed except for her toiletries bag lying in wait for the goods he’d just purchased.

“Thanks” she said, taking them. “I’ve taken your clothes out of that old backpack and put them in there.” She pointed to a black Samsonite suitcase on the floor. “You might want to do a last minute check, but I want to be out of here in ten. And there’s a package for you on the dining table.”

“What’s wrong with the backpack?” said Practice.

She looked at him squarely. “Well, it’s just not…right for Noosa is it?”

“What do you mean it’s not right for Noosa? Sarah, two years ago, even twelve months ago, it was right for everything we did. What you mean is, it’s not right for Gina and Nick.”

She glared at him. “Practice, don’t start. You promised me you’d do this trip.”

He suddenly registered something she’d said earlier, and dropped the subject with a wave of his hand and an “It’s fine” executed, he felt, with just the right degree of martyrdom. He hurried to the living room where the mail lay in an untidy heap on the dining table.

Practice went straight for the package. He tore off the brown outer wrapping and quickly opened the box that lay within. On one side was a small envelope addressed to him. On the other, staring out from a layer of bubble-wrap, was The Benevolent Troll. He placed his creation gently upon the table, then hurriedly opened the envelope and unfolded the single page that it contained:

MICRON  MANUFACTURING  PTY LTD

“For a life well lived”

P T  Wells

14/14 Rambling Close Greythorn Victoria  3065

Dear Mr Wells

 Thank you for forwarding your latest invention, “The Benevolent Troll” for our review and consideration.

 While your accompanying explanation of its use bears merit, we regret to say that as with many of your submissions to us, we believe the overall appeal of the invention is somewhat limited in scope and therefore unsuited to our current product range. We enclose your prototype herewith and thank you for your interest.

 Rest assured that, as always, your details will remain on our files and we will contact you should any future opportunities arise.

 Thank you again for considering Micron Manufacturing.

 Yours sincerely

Peter Hamill

NEW PRODUCTS DIVISION – MICRON MANUFACTURING 

Practice tossed the letter to one side and shook his head. “Limited in scope?”  What on earth did that mean? God, he looked forward to the day when he finally got through to these people. Someone, somewhere, would eventually see The Benevolent Troll for what it was – the ideal improvement to the greatest invention of all time.

Someone would see…. Somewhere…..Sometime. After taking a second to compose himself, he flicked through the rest of the mail. Three letters, nothing unusual; a gas bill which had no sign of red lettering upon it and could therefore be comfortably ignored; some junk mail from Reader’s Digest Promotions which had an enormous amount of red lettering upon it telling him that he was “Already a winner!” and could therefore be just as comfortably ignored, and finally a letter on which his name was handwritten in an attractive free flowing script. Appended to his name was the curious title of  “The Last Hope” which alerted Practice to this being either one of Nick’s jokes, or the latest in a series of overtures from the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. He deeply regretted the morning he had, in a moment of misguided compassion, invited the two nicely suited young gentlemen into the flat for some coffee, only to have them spend the next two hours informing him of what an unhappy life he led, poisoned as it was with alcohol, greed and fornication. He had since received a barrage of letters, labelled variously as “You Can Forget the Free Fruit Basket When You Check In At Hotel Satan”, “There’ll Be No Nice Suit When It’s Beelzebub A-Knockin’” and his personal favourite “Are you Headin’ for the Grail or the Guy with the Tail?”

He flicked open the letter to discover it was one of Nick’s jokes after all. A used airline ticket to London, still bearing Nick’s name and dated several weeks previously, had been attached to a card, no doubt gleaned from one of Nick’s spectacularly successful business acquaintances. The card was an invitation to present at the world’s most prestigious showcase of new ideas, the British Inventor’s Guild. God knows which of Nick’s friends had actually been invited, but this was Nick’s latest volley in his game of one-upmanship at Practice’s expense. No doubt when they got to the Qantas Club Nick would slap him on the back, laugh at his own wit, and relate the whole story of how so-and-so had received a phone call begging him to come to London to present his latest combustion engine which ran on water, or air, or leftover parsley.

“Sarah, were you in on this?” he called.

“What?” she replied.

“The Guild invitation.”

“The what?”

“The invitation being rubbed in my face in the name of outrageous humour.”

“Practice, I’ve got no idea what you’re on about – are you ready?”

He flicked the card back on the table, then changed the answering machine message and checked the window locks before taking the suitcases down to the car. Sarah followed and climbed into the passenger seat.

“We better step on it” she said, as Practice started the car and pulled out from the kerb.

“Yes, God knows we’ve only got 3 hours for this 30 minute trip.”

“You know I don’t like to be late and URGH, Christ Practice when are you going to fix this bloody leak?”

“It’s not so bad – it only happens when it rains.”

“Very funny. God I’m sick of this car. When we’re back from Noosa, we’re getting rid of it, if it hasn’t rusted in the airport car park.”

“There is nothing wrong with the car Sarah. I’ll fix the leak.”

“It’s not just the leak. It’s everything. It’s old. It’s crappy. The heating doesn’t work. It breaks down all the time.”

“It does not break down all the time. When did it last break down?”

“When you picked me up from work last week. It was so embarrassing. It’s embarrassing.”

“That wasn’t a breakdown, it was a flat tyre – it happens.”

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever…anyway it’s not just the car… I’ve been thinking. Practice – this whole thing of yours, with the inventing and everything. Haven’t we given it enough of a go? I mean, need I ask what was in that package tonight?”

Practice stared fixedly at the road, and was thankful for the loud squeak of the wipers.

“Well?” she persisted.

“It was a rejection.”

“Surprise surprise. So how long do we go on like this? While everyone else moves ahead with their lives – we get around in this wreck and argue over shitty things like a backpack that should have been thrown out years ago.”

“I thought we wanted to travel again next year. Remember, six months in South America?”

Sarah pondered for a moment. “Well… I don’t know now…I kind of feel like I’ve got all that out of my system.”

Practice looked across at the girl he didn’t know anymore.

Out of your system?…Oh Sarah it’s gone hasn’t it. That day on the New Delhi railway station?”

Sarah stared at passing lampposts out of the passenger window, but Practice wasn’t about to let her off. “Hawkers and dust and flies and that god-awful stench, and we looked at each other and giggled ourselves silly and decided that the thing about travel, the BIG thing, was to get that feeling into your system and nurture it and hold it there and protect it for all you were worth. Remember that?”

Sarah turned back towards him, but wouldn’t look him in the eye. “Well, Practice, that’s great, but it doesn’t pay the bills does it? It’s money down the drain. I’ve moved on and maybe it’s about time you did too. We’ve given this inventing thing two years – I mean how much longer do you intend to go on?”

“Doing what I love you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

They drove in silence for a while. To escape the icy tension in the car Practice let his thoughts wander back to when he and Sarah had met in their final year of Uni. They graduated, then worked for a year to save enough to backpack their way through Europe and India. The two of them discovered living on that journey, and it was near the end of that trip that they vowed to keep that spirit alive when they returned to Melbourne. Sarah would continue stockbroking only to help fund their travel, while Practice believed in himself enough to leave Grayson Electronics and start out on his own. Back then, they lived to travel. Nepal came next. Vietnam after that. As soon as they’d saved enough, or one of Practice’s inventions hit a bull’s eye, they would conquer South America. Or maybe do Africa. Or-

“I mean Practice, you’re 28 years old and when you’re not making stupid gadgets or getting rejection letters you’re working in a greasy spoon. We’re renting a run down flat while everyone else is buying their first investment properties. I’m embarrassed when people ask me what you do and I say you’re trying to be an inventor, and we’re driving this bloody car…I mean Jesus.

“Don’t start on the car again.” said Practice, annoyed at being plucked from his reverie.

“Why not? It’s like a metaphor for your whole life. I just can’t do it anymore Practice.”

He stopped at a red light, and they stared bitterly at each other.

“Meaning what?” he asked.

“Meaning are you going to give up this shit and get back into proper work again or not?”

“And if not?”

“Then I’m sorry” she said, her voice quivering as she turned her gaze back to the road.

The light changed, but they sat still in a morbid silence for a few more moments.

“It’s green, Practice” said Sarah.

“I know” he said, without moving. The car behind them hit its horn.

“Well go!” she yelled.

Practice set his jaw and stared at the road without moving. Several cars blasted their horns.

“Oh For God’s sake Practice don’t be childish! I’m not going to apologize. I meant every word of it, and all this does is prove I’m right. I’m not going to change my mind, so get moving.”

“It’s not that” said Practice.

“Then what?”

“I think it’s the clutch cable.”

3. Deconstructing the Bed & Breakfast Dilemma

Wet and miserable, Practice walked back into the flat and slumped into the tatty armchair in the lounge, hearing the springs utter their usual complaint. Four years together meant he hadn’t noticed how each day had moved them minutely farther apart until bang – it was all over. But he couldn’t deny a part of him felt genuinely relieved – the part that ached for no more fights, no more Gina and Nicks. The part that ached for the girl that Sarah had been then, before the siren’s song of the life she now craved had steered their relationship onto the rocks. They’d both been drowning by degrees for a long time anyway, so this was probably just the final gulp. In the end, she didn’t want him at Noosa either, and farewelling her into a taxi while he waited for roadside assistance had been something of a release for them both. More mutual resignation than teary goodbye. He promised to be out of the flat by the time she returned. Easy enough. He had two weeks to find somewhere new and a few thousand dollars for bond, rent and some furniture.

The nagging, niggling demon in his mind through all this was the one that hinted that perhaps she was right. On paper it was irrefutable. He had nothing to show for the past couple of years but a drawer full of rejection letters like the one he had received tonight. Practice closed his eyes and tried to look deep within himself to rediscover his self-belief, but could only muster a chaotic battle between personal hopes and practical necessities. Perhaps it was all just folly, and Sarah along with the rest of the world was moving on, leaving him behind as a sparkling example of wasted talent. He could see the exposé of his life – “Four years on, Melbourne University’s top electronics engineer now works in a greasy spoon and makes useless gadgets. Where is our education system getting it wrong?” Well, they weren’t all useless. This was the same engineer who in his time at Grayson Electronics had designed both the Self-Raising Ironing Board (Lowers too!) and their biggest seller, the Reverse-o-Wave, the first microwave capable of both heating food and chilling drinks in seconds.

So now he was an inventor. Of sorts. Whether one could be officially decreed an inventor without having actually invented anything viable was the point that worried him. As did the constant stream of letters like the one he had received tonight, from manufacturers too blind to recognize something of genuine value when they saw it.

Practice was, he felt, quite unlucky in his profession, due largely to his unfortunate habit of thinking up incredibly brilliant ideas in incredibly inconvenient locations, such as when he was in the shower, on the toilet or, say, waiting in line at the bank.

He had once dreamed up an infallible solution for Telephone Dropout Deadlock. Practice had always been fascinated by the dilemma caused when a phone call dropped out in the middle of a conversation. After the customary two or three “Hello… Hello… you still there?”s he would hang up and wait for the other party to call back, and then, if they didn’t, he would immediately assume they were sitting there waiting for him to do the same thing. As a result he would hurriedly dial their number, usually at the exact same instant that they, too, tired of waiting, had decided to call him back. Both callers, upon then hearing an engaged tone or voicemail, would swear in realisation and hang up simultaneously.

The two parties would then commence waiting again, and a pervading air of anxiety and impossibility would lurk over the whole situation.

A perfect solution to this problem had come to Practice one day as he was seated on the toilet and in a rare moment of good fortune, happened to be carrying a pen. He hurriedly scribbled down all the critical equations using the last of the toilet paper, but of course the phone had then rung, and he was forced to employ all the paper for its originally intended purpose before sprinting for the receiver, reaching it in the nick of time, and then having the line drop out on him half way through the conversation, by which time he had forgotten his earlier solution.

The Benevolent Troll, though, would put everything right.

It was his crowning achievement, The Holy Grail for every inventor. The invention that would prove Sarah wrong and allow him to give up waiting tables at The Ali Akbar & Grill and become a full time Inventor with a capital I. Or with at least some capital.

The Benevolent Troll was The Big One.

All it needed was for someone to see it. The right person to see it. Someone of influence who shared with Practice that one personal character trait that was vital to fully understanding the great good that the Troll could bring to humanity.

Like Practice, they had to be a true NeverMorn. That is, a hater of mornings. A person who loves nothing more than a dozy lie-in under a warm blanket and for whom the concept of ever arising from bed is blatantly counter to all known logic and reason.

This is in contrast to the nemesis of the NeverMorns, the EverMorns, a generally despised species, who within 4 nanoseconds of waking, spring from bed oozing sunshine and daisies and then flounce their way merrily through the day with twinkling steps and smiling hearts.

Unbeknownst to most inhabitants of Earth, the InterGalactic Research Oddfellows of Splundark 6 once performed a five hundred year observation of the EverMorns and NeverMorns of Earth in a bid to determine whether these two species, identical in every other way, could ever cohabitate on the one planet in peace and harmony. The findings of their study ran to over 24 million pages, but also contained an impressively succinct Executive Summary, which read as follows: “No”.

Practice was a devoted NeverMorn. The idea for The Benevolent Troll came to him in his time at Grayson Electronics. Howard Grayson, director and founder of the company, had one golden rule. Every employee absolutely, positively, had to be at work at 9:00 am sharp. On the dot. No excuses. No second chances.

Therefore, each morning, Practice’s entire routine worked backward from that time. And for true NeverMorns, this inevitably gives rise to the “Bed & Breakfast Dilemma”.

Practice would, as usual, set the alarm for exactly thirty minutes before the moment, determined through exhaustive trial and error testing, at which he would need to actually arise to ensure he could shower, have breakfast, change and drive to work, arriving just as the echoes of the ninth gong were fading from Howard Grayson’s replica grandfather clock.

It was at the end of the thirty minute lie-in that the Bed & Breakfast Dilemma struck. If he got up now, as calculated, he could have his usual long shower, cook up a hearty breakfast, get dressed and commute to work, arriving perfectly on time, sated, full of energy, and ready to attack the day.

Or he could lie in bed just a little longer. A shower was unavoidable. Getting dressed and commuting were similarly unavoidable. That left breakfast as the only dispensable item in his morning routine, though skipping it would leave him feeling hungry and irritable for half the day and possibly produce some unusual and embarrassing stomach noises in the 10:30 Status meeting.

Bed vs. Breakfast. Bed (Inertia, Warmth, All that is Good) vs. Breakfast (Complex Activity, Dirty Dishes, All that is Evil). It was never any contest.

But true NeverMorns have one greater nemesis – and it is for this that The Benevolent Troll brings joyous salvation.

It is well known that western civilization’s greatest moment was the invention of The Snooze Button. Those nine magic minutes of warmth, serenity and carefree nothingness that blissfully float the slowly rousing mind from semi-forgotten slumber into the stark realities of consciousness.

It was Practice’s thirty minute morning lie-in that alerted him to the single flaw in the operation of the Snooze Button and gave rise to his most perfect of solutions.

The problem with The Snooze Button is that you actually have to move to activate it. In the worst case scenario, a 180 degree body turn is required, followed by the actual withdrawal of an arm from under perfectly warm covers, the stretch, the few seconds of fumbling to ensure you don’t mistakenly hit “Alarm Off”, the actual button press, and then the return of the now grumpy arm to its former position beneath the covers. Nine minutes later, the entire process would need to be repeated.

This type of rigorous activity is absolute anathema to the genuine NeverMorn.

The Benevolent Troll is a truly beautiful creature. Practice had crafted his only prototype from soft rubber and plastic. Standing just under six inches in height, the Troll is a plump fellow, with stumpy legs, searing eyes and a larger than life grin. Practice had painted on a healthy beard, a pair of blue workman’s overalls and a long, floppy red hat to complete his model. The only moving parts were the Troll’s two stocky arms, which were set in a raised position above his head, tightly gripping a small, rubber mallet.

Placed next to the alarm clock last thing at night, sleep would come easily for the NeverMorn, just knowing he was there for you.

Come morning, the sound of the alarm activates a tiny microphone in the Troll’s base, triggering the creature’s Hammer of Salvation to come crashing down upon the snooze button, silencing the alarm and instilling vague feelings of vengeance, satisfaction and undying Troll-love in the half-woken, drowsy mind of the sleeper.

Its work done, the Troll’s arms spring back to their original position, readying the hammer for action once again. Nine minutes later, the action is repeated when the clock commits its next indiscretion.

It was simple. It was brilliant. It was perfect.

And some prime geek at Micron Manufacturing comes back with “in keeping with many of your submissions to us, we believe the overall appeal of ‘The Troll’ is somewhat limited in scope.” OK, maybe one or two of his other submissions to the manufacturing giant had been a tad lacking in marketability, though he still believed his Indoor Lawn had genuine merit, once the dog problem was fixed. But this one, Oh how could they not see!

Thoroughly deflated, Practice arose and re-read the rejection letter, then stared into space for several minutes, contemplating the overall uselessness of his existence. Looking to complete his depression, he re-read the card from Nick’s letter.

You are cordially invited to demonstrate

to Worldwide Manufacturing Firms

at the 153rd Annual Exhibition of The British Inventor’s Guild

commencing 9.00am sharp on August 19th, at The Guild Rooms

15 Thrippingthorpe Lane, London W1 7AL

Practice smiled whimsically. That would be something – exhibiting with the most revered body of creators in the world. Where a single demonstration was almost a guarantee of a major contract with a US or European manufacturing giant. It was impossible to get a demonstration with them without countless years of sycophantic approaches and expensive palm-greasing.

Something caught his eye. Last time he looked, the airline ticket attached to the card had been a used receipt from one of Nick’s recent flights, a black and white photocopy from several weeks ago. The airline ticket now attached to the card was in full colour, in Practice’s name, and was dated in the future, in fact four days in the future. His brow furrowed as he perused the ticket carefully, turning it over several times and reading all the details once more. It looked completely and utterly real. Now who was toying with him? And how had they got into the flat? And why would they bother if they thought he would be in Queensland for two weeks? And why on earth would they bother anyway? He looked over the envelope again, but it gave no clues. Nick, of course, could afford it, even as a joke – but he would be in the airport lounge by now. Practice checked every room in the flat, but the windows were tight and secure, exactly as he had left them. He checked the phone for messages, then, on a hunch, looked in all the wardrobes. He found nothing unusual.

Practice sat down and stared at the airline ticket. He was certain he hadn’t been mistaken earlier this evening. And yet Sarah didn’t seem to know anything about it. He tapped his foot and gazed at Sarah’s Kandinsky print for several minutes, then looked at his watch. Finally, lips pursed, he got to his feet and walked to the phone. It would be mid-morning in London. He obtained the required phone number from the internet and placed a call. The phone was answered promptly by an elderly male voice sporting a thick British accent.

“Good morning, Inventor’s Guild – how may I help?”

“Good morning – um, my name is Wells. I’m just confirming a booking to present at the Exhibition on August 19th?”

“And you’re calling from?”

“Australia.”

“I’m afraid that’s quite impossible sir.”

“That I’m calling from Australia?”

“No – that you’d have a position to present at The Exhibition. Most of our Exhibitors have at least one hyphen in their surname; Carmody-Smythe, that’s Viscount Carmody Smythe of course, Terrington-Flockhart, that’s Earl Terrington-Flockhart of course. So as you see, Wells, quite impossible.”

“Right…of course it is…well never mind. Umm, while I’ve got you, what about next year?”

“Have you submitted an application form for next year sir?”

“No.”

“Well, are you a Knight of the Realm, a Duke of the Garter, a Prince of the People or the King of the Jews? Oh no, strike that last one.”

“Um. No.”

“Well, I’m sorry, there are only twelve positions allocated each year and they do tend to go to, ah, people known to Guild members. By the way sir, I am tapping the side of my nose lightly with my forefinger when I say “known”, if you, tap-tap “know” what I mean? Are you sure you’re not thinking of the… ahem, British Invective Guild?”

“The what?”

“That pathetic little bunch of pompous wimps who-…Not them?”

“No. Look I just wonder if you could check if there’s been some late addition – ah, very recent, possibly within the last hour?”

“Absolutely impossible sir. The Guild selection panel has functioned under the same procedure for the past 153 years, and we’re not about to change for…Wells was it?”

“Yes.”

“OK you’re in.”

“What!? I am?”

“Yes. You and ah…The Benevolent Troll. You can pick up the details from our offices anytime from now. Odd name that.”

“The Benevolent Troll?”

“No, Practice.”

“Oh…yes, but how-”

“Best not to pry too far into these things. Good day to you.” There was a click on the other end of the line.

What the hell was this? Some sort of grant? A last gift from a deceased relative? Practice quickly re-checked the airline ticket. He would arrive in London nearly six weeks before The Exhibition, in plenty of time to arrange his demonstration, and then maybe hit the continent for a few weeks of solid travel before the big day. And afterwards, when he’d received his outrageous advance to produce ten million Trolls for worldwide distribution, well, maybe some more travel was on the cards. The backpack had been idle for far too long to miss this opportunity.

Adrenaline began to course through his body. “London.” He repeated the word out loud. “London. London. London.” He re-read the invitation, searching for some tiny clue. Nothing. He re-read the rejection letter from Micron. Nothing. He rang up to check his bank balance. Next to Nothing. He put down the phone, picked up The Benevolent Troll and kissed it long and hard on both rosy rubber cheeks, the tender moment reduced somewhat by the deafening sound of his front door being smashed in.

In a wide-eyed funk of fear and panic, Practice covered the few steps across the lounge to enable him to look down the hallway. The door had been reduced to splinters which covered the hallway almost to the point at which he stood. But of slightly more concern were the two immense black horses, with luminescent red eyes and foam spattered mouths, which had entered the flat and were charging towards him, their hooves like thunder on the floorboards. Mounted atop the horses were identically masked riders dressed head to toe in black, cloaks billowing behind them as they approached. The first rider pulled on the reins and halted his steed immediately in front of Practice, holding up a gloved hand which signalled the second rider to pull up immediately behind him. As Practice’s jaw dropped, a third rider entered through the gaping hole that had once been his doorway, and took up a position at the rear of the trio, completely filling the remaining space in the hallway.

The leading beast towered over Practice, and both horse and rider glared down at him with open malice. The bone jarring cacophony of hooves faded, but was replaced by a heavy silence in which the only sound was the fevered panting of the horses, infusing the air with a different, deeper sense of dread.

Practice gulped and made to speak.

“Wh-“

“THIGH LENGTH!!” roared the leading rider, causing Practice to stumble backwards. The voice was hoarse, rasping, unforgiving. The echoes took several seconds to die. Practice feared he may do the same.

“I…I beg your pardon?” offered Practice timidly. The rider was clearly incensed and reared his horse over Practice, who cowered, holding his hands up defensively. The horse’s front legs crashed down upon the floorboards, sending reverberations through Practice’s body.

“I THED THIGH LENGTH!!!!” roared the rider, spitting the words in anger.

“He said ‘Silence’…or at least that’s what he meant.” This came from the rider of the second horse.

“AAAAARRRGGHH!!!” shrieked the first rider, turning to his counterpart. “I AM THE THPEAKER!! AND I THALL DO THE THPEA…TALKING!!” He turned back to Practice, and heaved an immense, rickety sigh before continuing.

“YOU ARE PRACTITH WEALTH?”

“Prac…Practice Wells…y-yes I am” mumbled Practice.

“DEATH ITH COMING.”

Practice was quiet for several seconds before responding.

“And…and how shall I know Des?” he said at last.

“WHAT!!!???” roared the rider.

“No, he actually means ‘Death’ this time” said the second rider.

“Oh I see” said Practice.

“THUTUP!! THUTUP!! ALL OF YOU THUTUP!!” roared the first rider.

Everyone went quiet. Satisfied, the dark rider continued.

“I THAY AGAIN, DEATH ITH COMING.”

Silence. Practice stood like an admonished child, blinking inanely at the rider.

More silence.

The first rider turned his head to look at the others, then turned back towards Practice.

More silence.

“Well, I guess that’s about it” said the second rider eventually.

“HANG ON, HANG ON” boomed the first rider. “LOOK PRACTITH WEALTH, I THAID DEATH ITH COMING. MITHERABLE, PAINFUL, AGONITHING…DEATH.”

“Umm…OK” said Practice timidly.

“OK???” screamed the rider. “THATH ALL YOU HAVE TO THAY??”

“Well I don’t quite understand” said Practice, “umm…who are you exactly?”

“AHHHH, THATH MORE LIKE IT”. The rider threw a winning glance at his colleagues. “YOU THEE NUMBER TWO, FEAR GRIPTH HIM LIKE A VITH”

“Yes…indeed… like a vice.” sighed the second rider.

“Well Number Two – now that I have him cowering like a dog, you may tell him who we are.”

The second rider leaned around to look fully at Practice. “Good evening, we’re The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

“Wow” said Practice “And what are you doing here?”

“Well, we have to do that whole ‘Death is Coming’ thing shortly before Armageddon.”

“Armageddon?  How? Wh-”

“Can’t say I’m afraid – we just kind of do the announcement. You’d really need to speak to the Evil Portents & Harbingers of Doom Union regarding demarcation guidelines.”

“I see” said Practice nodding. “But if you’re the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, then why are there only-

“ARRRRGHHH” interrupted the first rider again, trembling with rage. “DO NOT THPEAK OF THITH. WE CANNOT…WE CANNOT…”

“Count?” offered Practice. The second horseman sniggered.

The lead rider glared at Practice, then said coldly, “IT MATTERTH NOT. YOU ARE DOOMED PRACTITH WEALTH”. He then signalled to the other riders who backed their steeds noisily out through the shattered doorway.

When they were all on the landing outside the flat, the first rider looked in at Practice one last time. “WE THALL MEET AGAIN, WEALTH” he snarled, then kicked his horse, and the three riders thundered off down the stairs and into the night.

Practice blinked several times, shook his head, and went off to google “symptoms of insanity”.

End of Sample Chapters

If you like the above chapters then please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or sign up to my email list to be informed about the release of The Benevolent Troll in a few weeks’ time. I promise you’ll be first to know and get your hands on a copy. 

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