In the endless Cosmoses that exist in the Multi-verse (with equally endless possibilities) the adventures of two brothers, on an Earth where all myths are real and on our own dull magicless Earth, don’t amount to a hill of beans (except in the Cosmoses where they do amount to hills of beans …but that’s another novel).
In this story Philip Philips, a failed businessman, and his twin brother James, are unwilling participants in a battle of Good versus Evil when a mysterious gateway is opened by a minor God from a Dark-Age twin Earth.
It should have been James Philips who was found by the Dark Stranger and transported by an inter-dimensional being in the guise of a Womble to the Dark-Age Earth filled with every magical creature imaginable. But, as Fate would have it, it’s Philip, the useless one, who ends up leading a group of misfits across Medieval England to mount rescues, battle Hobgoblins and generally save the World(s).
James Philips meanwhile is stuck on dull, magicless, Earth in his old college, Botolf-almost-Oxford, which he discovers is staffed solely by men dedicated to the protection of our Earth from the paranormal. His old mentor, now living in a video recording, introduces him to an array of strange allies, as London, England and the World face an ‘alien’ invasion of swords and sorcery.
Others are caught up in the events of the inter-cosmic connection between two Earths; Vortigern the King has been bred for conquest and now his eyes are on our world. He brings with his armies many wizards, who themselves have gained an eye for the throne.
Sam, a young boy from West London has been sent through the gateway to the dark world of magic where he meets Snodrod and the children of an enslaved village, their only wish to get back to their homes; but they face enormous challenges … not least, Dragon-shaped ones.
The story, as told here in the first Chronicle of Botolf, takes place simultaneously in both Earths, where the connection between worlds has a strange echoing effect on every character.
Will the world be saved? Can the Wrong man do the job? Is this a rhetorical question?
All will be answered in this comedy/fantasy/mock-u-history tale.
p.s. There’s also a sarcastic Oak Tree in there somewhere.
Part 2 of the Botolf Chronicles
* SPOILER ALERT
For those of you who haven’t read the first instalment of the ‘Botolf Chronicles’, or did and have forgotten it, or have had it surgically removed from your brain, here is a brief and, largely, inaccurate summary of what has happened so far.
James Philips, a former student of the infamous Botolf-almost-Oxford College has found himself in the heart of a hidden supernatural world, centred on two groups, one human and one inter-dimensional. In a bizarre (and quite frankly hard to believe) set of circumstances England has been invaded by an ancient magical group of Wizards and a warlord King from magical version of our Earth.
With me so far?
You poor sods.
James Philips is a worried man at the start of our story. By the middle of it he is an extremely worried man; his worry is so great it could worry a blue whale and still have enough worry left over for an elephant or two (if you stood them close to each other). Firstly, his wife, Elizabeth, is missing (she is in fact on the alternative Earth about to marry the warlord King Vortigern), secondly, his brother Philip is also missing (he is also on the alternative Earth and marriage is very far from his mind, but we will come to him later) and thirdly, he finds himself an unwilling member of a secret organisation that protects the world from inter-dimensional threats. James is also worried about his former mentor’s soul, currently occupying a video cassette but that, for the moment, is the least of his worries.
The aforementioned Philip Philips is not having a good time. Having spent forty years in a state of perpetual scrounging and career failure, he now finds himself stuck in a magical medieval world, with some rather dubious company. He is desperately trying to find a way back to his own world for reasons that he’s not entirely sure of.
Back on our Earth the governments of the World are trying to explain away the strange events of the last few weeks. Some people have vague recollections of an alien invasion and mass destruction across southern England. Others woke up in their beds convinced that they had spent several days being dead. But on a certain dull Monday morning the world appeared normal, no one was dead (who wasn’t dead already) and no damage could be found (only James Philips and his new colleagues were aware that the world was missing two people). The population of the planet felt that something was wrong, something from their collective memory was missing but they couldn’t quite put their fingers on it. It was a bit like when you go to the supermarket and fill up a trolley with biscuits; you stand at the till knowing you came in for something else but darned if you can think of it, only to get home to find your house has burned down and you had left to phone the fire brigade.
So is that all clear ? …No? …Good! …Then we can get on.
Extract from Cosmogonic Marbles
Part I of the Botolf Chronicles
The Cosmos and 27 Oakridge Drive
Where to begin?
I suppose the easiest place is the nature of the Universe, or to be more accurate, the Multiverse. Much debate has been had over the size and shape of the Multiverse; in fact the Multiverse is infinite and essentially flat. I say essentially because the tiny buttonhole depressions in the fabric of space-time which contain each individual Cosmos are as insignificant as compared to the vast empty spaces of Multiverse between them as to make no substantial number worth calculating.
This is all pretty standard so far and doesn’t really affect the events of our story, but this next aspect of the Multiverse’s nature does. The Multiverse as I have said has an infinite disposition and therefore all probable, improbable, possible and impossible events that could, have, are and will take place somewhere in the Multiverse can, did, are currently and most definitely will happen. Too much?
Let us simplify it down.
Desmond Decker is a man. He is a man walking down a street. It’s not a particularly interesting street and, if you met him at a sandpaper manufacturing convention, you’d know, Desmond Decker isn’t a particularly interesting man. He is dressed in a grey off-the-peg suit, carries a black umbrella, even in August, and is whistling the first four bars of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight sonata’ over and over again.
With me so far? Good.
In another Universe
Desmond Decker is a man. He is a man walking down a street. It’s not a particularly interesting street and, if you met him at a sandpaper manufacturing convention, you’d know, Desmond Decker isn’t a particularly interesting man. He is dressed in a grey off-the-peg suit, carries a crested king penguin, even in August, and is humming the first four bars of the Zambian national Anthem (even though he’s never heard it).
In another Universe
Desmond Decker is a man. He is a man walking down a street. It’s not a particularly interesting street and, if you met him at a Flat Earth Believers Convention, you’d know, Desmond Decker isn’t a particularly interesting man. He is dressed in the back-end of a pantomime horse costume, carries a crested king penguin, even in August, and is humming the first four bars of the Zambian national Anthem (even though he’s never heard it).
In yet another Universe
Desmond Decker is an evolved Kangnasaurus. He is an evolved Kangnasaurus walking down a giant hamster tube. It’s not a particularly interesting hamster tube and, if you met him at a Flat Earth Believers Convention, you’d know, Desmond Decker isn’t a particularly interesting evolved Kangnasaurus. He is dressed in the back-end of a pantomime horse costume, carries a crested king penguin, even in August, and is humming the first four bars of the Zambian national Anthem (even though he’s never heard it).
… and so on and so on… infinitely and with all possibilities … you get the picture.
This phenomenon has of course huge ramifications for our own version of the humble Human Race, spinning as we do around the Sun on a lonely rock made mostly of iron, boiling magma and plywood. Firstly, God does not exist. And, of course, God does exist, in all his/her/its forms. Furthermore, all the Gods of lost cultures also exist, individually in some Universes, in clumps in others and all together in more than a few. Somewhere in the Multiverse, Zeus is transforming into a bull in order to pick up girls in a Tottenham Court Road nightclub. Khepri is rolling a ball of fire across the sky (literally) over the Superbowl and Abellio is sitting under a tree crying softly to himself and mumbling about how none of the other Gods ever show him any respect.
Of course, in more than one Universe you’ve stopped reading at this point, so anything I write from here on in is pointless. You stink of rotting halibut and your father frequented bars with sailors. But, for those versions of you in other Universes who have kept going I shall endeavour to continue (and please ignore the previous sentence).
Desmond Decker IS a man. He is a man walking down a street. It’s not a particularly interesting street and, if you met him at a sandpaper manufacturing convention, you’d know, Desmond Decker isn’t a particularly interesting man. He is dressed in a grey off-the-peg suit, carries a black umbrella, even in August, and is whistling the first four bars of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight sonata’ over and over again. He passes a house, which has a red door with peeling paint and a small garden filled with weeds, dustbins and piles of rubbish. This house is 27 Oakridge Drive, it is not pretty, or quaint, nor has it the playful whimsical air of a family home.
27 Oakridge Drive squats like a typical Victorian terraced house in greater London, thinking to itself, in whatever universe it can think, ‘I wish I was built a train station, it would be great to be a train station, with all those locomotives coming in and out, thousands of chatting people and the occasional steam train delighting children who’d never seen one before. Sod this! I’m falling apart, that’ll teach ‘em.’
What 27 Oakridge Drive does have is a quite interesting resident. That is, interesting for the sake of our story, not if you were his Council Clerk engaged as you would be in a legal battle to have him evicted for non (or never) payment of rates over nine years. Not if you were the utility companies who have cut off gas, electricity, water and bins; only to find those services continuing through a makeshift series of wires, pipes and backhanders. And certainly not if you were the Postman.
Desmond Decker you see was just a literary device. Which this Narrator has now ruined by stating this. Apologies.
In some Universes you have begun to read a better novel and in many I’ve written a better one; but in this reality you’re stuck with this one. If this is a Universe where this is the best novel you’ve ever read so far, check yourself into the nearest psychiatric clinic immediately.
The Postman felt the same old sickly churning of his stomach as he progressed down Oakridge Drive. The road had normal letters from 1 to 26, number 4 got a reminder from the gas company, number 8 has subscribed to Littlewoods pools and number 17 received his monthly porno in a plain brown envelope marked ‘private’ and ‘fragile’ and a small label for a return address ‘Spain in the Arse Productions … Hammersmith …’.
As he got close to 27, the nauseating feeling grew. He’d been suffering chest pains of late, waking up in the middle of the night screaming and recently he’d found a number scratched into his bedpost by a bloody fingernail, ‘27’.
Perhaps today would be one of those rare days when he wouldn’t come to the door; the letters would just slip in the box and fall on the floor with a satisfying ‘plop’. Maybe he was out, maybe he was evicted or arrested or …
“Killed in a car crash or flattened by a steam roller or crushed by a comet or or or shot in the face by a bow and arrow!” The Postman froze in the middle of the street with his arms held out and his head tilted up toward the sky. Had he just screamed that or was it all in his head?
He gingerly looked around, no curtains were twitching and no doors opening, not that he’d expect them to open their doors, not this close to ‘27’.
As he neared 27 the street seemed to get darker, the road wasn’t swept clean. A thin line of dirt in an arc indicated where the council sweepers took their break (every week). Somehow the bricks of the houses here sagged and appeared depressed, their doorways were down-turned mouths and their windows half closed eyes, one even was weeping with a leak from the roof rolling down its terraced face.
His sweaty hand reached down and tipped gently the rusted garden gate, thirty years of paint crumbed at his fingertips, he give it an experimental push.
‘EEEeeeeeee’ it whinged.
“Bastard,” he whispered. The oil, he’d forgotten the oil. He reached into his overcoat pocket and drew out a can of spray oil and gave the hinges a liberal spray of oil from about six to eight inches; just as suggested in the instructions. He extended a long skeletal digit and gave the gate’s frame a second experimental push inward. It accepted the motion with little more than a soft moan; he stood up and stepped across the low gate with his lanky legs.
He was on the footpath now, a short cement strip which divided the jungle of grasses, trees and rubbish, piled as high as eye level. Sometimes he wondered what lived in there. From the outside its dimensions were that of an ordinary terraced garden, perhaps sixteen feet by twelve, but from in here … it had some kind of Tardis phenomenon. From in here it seemed to black out the rest of the street, somehow it grew into a wilderness, shadows moved and exotic creatures cried out. Once he was sure he heard the roar of a gorilla or something with enough teeth to be a presenter on daytime TV.
Each footstep was dropped on the dirty ground with careful forethought. He had to consider the terrain, how much initial noise would his size 10’s cause, would he be off-balanced and forced into a quick saving step that could send him into the bushes or the overflowing bins … noise, noise, more noise .. it was sure to draw him. Just get to the door and slip the letters into the box in silence.
The door was a grinning circus clown red; its peeling red lips puckered as he drew closer, the letterbox, a tarnished silver rectangle was the space between those cracked maws. This time he didn’t forget the oil; he sprayed the whole can, dropped down to his knees and placed his ear against the wooden lower lip of the door.
Nothing. Not even the familiar hum of a fridge. Perhaps he was dead, lying there, a rotting corpse just behind the door. He could look of course, lift up the letterbox flap and peer into the hallway to see the decaying body, riddled with maggots. How he hoped that would be the case, he could just drop the letters on the corpse, the stench wouldn’t bother him at all, he could keep up deliveries for months.
He reached into his satchel and pulled out a bundle of letters tied together with a shoelace. He always kept them separate, in case they infected the other mail. Trembling, he undid the lace and sifted through the letters, they were mostly bills, tax collectors’ notices and death threats, inserted among these were letters he’d delivered before, many times before. A ‘Thank You’ card from the Royal Air Force for sterling work in overthrowing a Balkan dictatorship, an invite to the Queen’s garden party with ‘1973’ tipexed out and a begging letter from a mother in Croydon asking for him to come and perform life saving surgery on her septuplets.
He wanted to rip them up, burn them or eat them on the spot, but there was the Postman’s Code, that thin Navy Blue Line that kept his sanity, that made him do his duty.
He ran his finger around the rusted rim of the letterbox, and made several aborted attempts to push the letter in. The spray oil was running in micro-rivulets down the door discolouring the paint from a peeling ruby red to a peeling hooker pink.
Finally his courage grew and he poked a bony finger through the slot.
The Postman jumped out of his skin or at least made a damn good effort to make his skeleton go skyward, the letters in his hand scattered into the air and it was only by hurling himself to the ground without regard for his own safety that he managed to save the last one from landing on the dirty wet ground. He lay there panting and shivering, mumbling under his breath ‘the Postman’s Code ... the Postman’s Code …’
“That was some dexterity there Postie,” said Philip Philips standing behind him, “Makes me recall the time I saved a whole platoon of men in the Falklands, Argie grenade came flying into the trench, I caught it like a cricket ball, was just about to hurl it back on them when five more followed, or was it six, ended up juggling them ‘til I got to the lip of our trench then fast-spinning the lot, took out three machine gun nests and their forward HQ.”
Philip leaned down to the stricken postman and relieved him of the bundle of letters, “Is this all today, nothing from the U.S. Embassy I see. Will have to give them a ring. Ah Her Majesty’s garden party’s coming up; old girl would be gutted if I didn’t make it, best go in and clear some diary space. Ta ta Postie, watch the bins on the way out, I’m thinking of going private for them, council must be on strike again, see you tomorrow.”
He was gone. The Postman lay there in the dirt, crying softly to himself. “The lies, the lies. Everyday the lies over and over.”
The door to 27 re-opened, “Ah Postie these bills are wrongly addressed again, must be for some other Philip Philips, take ‘em back there’s a good chap.”
The bills wafted down from above and landed stamp side down in the wet as the door slammed shut.
“I’ll kill ‘im.” said the Postman to himself.
“There’s nothing in the Postman’s Code about murder. So long as he gets his mail, being dead won’t matter.”
* * *