Mirkin Topp and the Hair of the Dog

A NaNoWriMo Novel by Phil Gardner

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I live in Brighton, work for the NHS, and write endless stuff online.

Chapter One

Mirkin Topp opened his eyes and lifted his head. The expensive duck feather pillow, rendered considerably less valuable now by the addition of an unidentified (yet surprisingly adhesive) gloop, came with it. So too did a pounding at the temples and a sourly textured taste in the mouth which told him the inevitable: he’d been drinking again. He carefully peeled the pillow from the side of his face and examined it with blurry eyes. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the particular bodily fluid which had stuck it fast to his left cheek, and neither was he sure its colour had a name which could be found in any dictionary. There was a chance, he thought, that he had produced something truly unique here. Feeling a certain inner satisfaction at this achievement, he belched, turned the pillow over and lay down again.

His aching body protesting at the effort of such extreme levels of activity so early in the day, he slowly rubbed his bloodshot eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and yawned. A spider dropped silently from the wooden beams above and slipped down his throat like a runaway oyster. Mirkin swallowed. It was the first protein he’d had all day.

As he lay there gently wheezing, the pounding in his head began to intensify. Thud-thud-thud. Louder and louder it came, bouncing around his skull with a rising volume and a growing urgency, reverberating around his brain and touching every nerve behind his eyes. Thud-thud-thud. Dull pain echoed through his whole body. It seemed to call to him: Mirkin... Mirkin... only to pound once again with an ever increasing fervour. It was the relentless soundtrack to the agonising hangover from hell. Either that, or there was someone at the door. Considering the situation for a moment, Mirkin plumped for the latter.

Rolling onto his side, he looked across his cluttered single-roomed home, past the carved oak table piled high with the unwashed dining debris of the past week, towards the front entrance: an arched wooden door with a small diamond of glass set at head height in its centre. Head fuzzy, vision still blurry, he could nonetheless make out a face peering through from the other side.

“Mirkin!” said the face.

“Go away,” said Mirkin.

“It’s me – Bray! I can see you’re in there.”

Mirkin paused for a moment to consider the possibility of suing the builder who had advised him against fitting frosted glass in the door, before remembering that he’d died in a freak accident the previous spring when the new Super-Storm 2000™ reinforced roof he’d just completed unexpectedly collapsed under the pressure of a mild breeze. There seemed little chance of a lawsuit now. “Humph.” said Mirkin.

The unseen fists belonging to the regrettably visible face continued to knock. “Come on Mirk, it’s important!”

Mirkin pulled the pillow from behind his head and covered his face, a decision he regretted moments later as realisation dawned that the mystery gunk with the unnamed colour was now being pressed into his features, and that it had an accompanying odour for which an adjective had not yet been invented. Fearing that it might also have a taste to match, but lacking the inclination to find out, Mirkin threw the pillow across the room, sat up, and wiped his face on the blanket which covered him. The knocking continued.

“This better be good, Bray…” called Mirkin.

“It is, it is!” came the reply.

Body aching, mouth dry, Mirkin hauled himself out of bed and trudged across the room towards the door. A pudgy face was pressed up against the window like a child outside a sweet shop, watching his every move. Mirkin paused at the oak table and scanned the selection of used mugs, plates and bowls for anything edible or drinkable. Finding nothing to dissolve the furry lining of his tongue, he took another step, trod on his pillow, and stumbled onwards, each pace a step of cushioned squelchiness. Reaching the door, he stood flamingo-like and peeled the pillow from his foot, before launching it back across the room where it landed with a thud on the grave of a recently departed spider. Mirkin opened the door and found himself eye to eye with the depressingly chirpy face of the enthusiastic knocker.

“What is it, Bray..?” he mumbled.

Bray looked down, distracted. “What’s that between your toes?”

“Nothing,” said Mirkin.

“It looks like cottage cheese.”

“Well this is a cottage, isn’t it?”

“It’s more of a hovel if you ask me. Honestly Mirkin, what’s going on? You shouldn’t be living like this. You’re descended from some of the most graceful and noble peoples this land has ever seen. You’re a skilled being, a talented creature, your people have done more than any other race to make this world great. And now look at you. You’re hung over, overweight, and lying in bed until noon with dairy products between your toes. Don’t you know what a waste that is of your birthright?”

“Hey, just because I’m an elf, doesn’t mean I have to know anything about the culture. I have pointy ears. So what.”

Bray took a hold of Mirkin’s shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. “So what???" He stopped suddenly. “Hang on, are you wearing a face-pack?”

“No,” said Mirkin nonchalantly. “It’s cottage cheese.”

“It smells like it’s gone off.”

“I didn’t have access to a fridge.”

“Oh. Interesting colour though.”

“I know. I’m thinking of redecorating.”

“Right.” Bray looked distracted. “Where were we?”

Mirkin scratched his armpit and yawned. “Well I was in bed, and you were out on a limb.”

“I’m only trying to help, Mirkin. You’re wasting your life here.”

“Well thanks for popping round with that breaking news, but really, I have things to do.”

“We both know that’s not true.”

“You’d be surprised. Spiders don’t just eat themselves you know.”

“What?”

Mirkin turned to leave, only to be halted by the thumb and forefinger of Bray, attached firmly to his ear, and pulling him back towards the doorway.

“Listen Mirk,” said Bray, “I know you’ve started drinking again, and I’m not standing by this time while you throw your life away. I’m a mild-mannered man, but I can be tough if I want to be.”

“You’re not a man, you’re a dwarf,” said Mirkin bluntly.

Bray jumped down from the large wooden barrel on which he’d been standing, and walked through Mirkin’s legs into the cottage. “PORG, actually.”

Mirkin turned and looked down. “Whatever. The bottom line is you can’t reach the bar at ‘The Bitch & Butt’, and that precludes you from having an opinion in this matter.”

“’The Bitch & Butt’? That dive? What on earth possessed you to go back there?”

“They do bar snacks.”

“Cottage cheese?” asked Bray.

“Amongst others,” replied Mirkin.

“Really Mirkin, you need to sort your life out. Look at this place.” Bray climbed up onto the table and picked his way through the detritus of eating utensils and discarded mugs. He looked down and shook his head. “I won’t ask for a cup of tea.”

Mirkin shut the front door and pulled up a chair. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s rude to walk around on other people’s furniture?”

“I don’t like to be looked down on.”

“Standing on the table won’t stop that happening.”

Bray looked his friend in the eye. “You should know.”

“The difference is that I don’t care what people think of me.”

“That much,” said Bray, “is obvious.”

Mirkin yawned. “So did you just come around here to point out my shortcomings, or is there a reason for your visit?”

Bray walked to the edge of the table and sat down, stumpy legs dangling over the side. “Oh yes! There is a reason. Sorry, I was distracted by the empty beer barrels outside, and the trail of distressed children stretching from the high street to your front door. I think they heard you singing on the way home.”

“Kids today. They wouldn’t know good music if they fell over it.”

“Yeah, well anyway, that’s not why I’m here.” Bray drew himself up to a sadly deficient height. “Brace yourself. I have big news.”

Mirkin was unmoved. “How big?”

Bray paused for dramatic effect. “The king’s guards are looking for you.”

“That’s not big news, that’s bad news.”

“Not necessarily. The word is that the king has personally requested to see you.”

“Does he still employ the big sweaty bloke with the axe?”

“Not sure. I think he’s on a job-share with the club-wielding ogre. But they’re underused these days. And frankly the king’s got better things to do than pay to have your blood removed from his ogre’s best club. I’ve got a good feeling about this one Mirkin – I think it’s going to be good news.”

“You would say that,” Mirkin muttered, “you’re not the one with a death warrant hanging over your head.”

“True,” replied the cheery dwarf. “That must be why I’m in such a good mood today. So come on, get dressed, shave your tongue, and we’ll go and hand you over to the authorities.”

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