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 Two

The kingdom of Phillysia was a predominantly peaceful land. Elves lived happily alongside dwarves, hobbits co-existed with orcs, and trolls mingled cheerfully with fat Elvis impersonators. Wars were almost non-existent, and King Pip the Fantabulous ruled with a velvet glove, having found the iron fist approach a little uncomfortable. It was a world of magic and mystery, with pretty young girls regularly being sawn in half on a Saturday night, doves appearing out of thin air, and the phrase “Pick a card” featuring in scrolled lettering on the king’s official coat of arms.

The small town of Melee lay to the north of this land, between the Benni Hills and the Bear-Faced Mountains. It was an inconsequential place, cruelly overlooked by guidebooks, and rarely found on people’s lists of must-see locations. But it was home to Mirkin Topp, and as such, it was a special place.

Well ok, not that special. But it had nice views of the River Feenix and a thriving line-dancing community, so the place wasn’t without redemption.

Mirkin was the last of the four ‘Topps of Ackapulko’, a travelling musical act which had made their way north from the banks of Rikky Lake via the bars and taverns of Phillysia, driven from town to town with a song in their hearts and an angry mob on their tail, whilst simultaneously popularising the phrase “For one night only”. Arriving in Melee many moons ago, Mirkin had chosen to embark on a solo career, citing musical differences and a love of contemporary jazz, and splitting from the remaining three members of his family, who continued on as a trio, garnering rave reviews from the features editor of The Daily Thompson, before meeting an abrupt and tragic end a week later when they were eaten by a giant hippo. Mirkin had never quite got over their demise. He’d always loved hippos.

Finding solace in drink, Mirkin’s solo career had peaked with an appearance at Fat Andy’s House of Soul in the cultural heartland of Melee, before troughing the following weekend with a two minute a cappella performance at Ken’s Kebabs, where Mirkin debuted the self-penned ‘Pitta Patter’, a jazz fusion number with elements of yodelling. Like the food being sold around him, it did not go down well, and Ken’s subsequent decision to pay Mirkin’s fee in cold cooked hippo meat proved a cause of some controversy.

As the bookings dried up, the cheap ale flowed, and Mirkin settled into a life of drinking, eating, and picking fluff from convenient orifices, whilst eking out a living playing the musical longbow on street corners. Passers-by would inevitably pay him to stop, and the loose change they flung at his head was sufficient to support his grubby, lowbrow lifestyle. The glamour, the fame, the bright lights and cheering crowds were long gone. Well, to be fair, they’d never really been there in the first place. But the point is, Mirkin Topp’s life was off the rails.

But things were about to change. He didn’t yet know it, but Dame Providence had smiled on Mirkin Topp, and his life stood on the verge of an extraordinary transformation. Which is just as well, or this story would end before chapter three.

In Phillysia it was lunchtime, but Mirkin’s day was only just beginning. Back at his small cottage in the fishmongering district of Melee, he pulled on his clumpiest shoes and hauled himself up from the sofa.

“Ok, I’m ready,” he said.

Bray looked at him disapprovingly. “Do you have to wear those shoes? Elves should have grace and poise. You’re meant to be lithe and light-footed. Those boots make you walk like an overweight elephant.”

“I’m making a fashion statement. And besides, I don’t do grace and poise. Grace and poise won’t save you from the giant hippos, my friend. Steel capped boots might. At the very least you can get in a swift toe poke to the nether regions before those jaws snap shut.”

“Mirkin,” said Bray, “how many times do I have to tell you, there are no giant hippos around here. The River Feenix has been certified hippo-free for six generations. I know you’ve been hurt, but you need to let this thing go.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“It’s easy for anyone to say. Anyone who isn’t stupid enough to accept a cabaret booking in Hippo Valley at a pub called ‘Hippo Hippo Hooray’.”

“That wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for.”

“Mirkin, your family were good people, talented people, and they could undoubtedly sing. But face it, they were also deeply, deeply stupid. And I mean that in a caring way.”

Mirkin shrugged. “Well whatever you say, these boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Bray.

“Let’s go,” replied Mirkin, opening the door.

Bray jumped down from the table, unaware of the stale beer stain now present on the rear of his trousers, and followed Mirkin out of the cottage.

It was a warm day in Melee, and the street outside was bathed in bright sunshine. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, and the constant stench of rotting fish hung in the air.

“I don’t know how you can live in this part of town,” said Bray, holding his nose.

“You get used to it,” replied Mirkin. “The first six months are the worst. After that you start to notice it less, and begin to appreciate the fact that you can get spicy kippers twenty-four hours a day.”

“If you say so,” muttered Bray, unconvinced.

They set off down the road, heading into town, and the sweeter air on the opposite bank of the River Feenix.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Mirkin, attempting to show some enthusiasm for his little chum’s news. “I say we make for the pub, have one for the road, then head on out of town and make a new life for ourselves as travelling gigolos. How about you?”

“Well,” said Bray thoughtfully, “I thought we’d just report to the king’s guards and hand you over.”

“And what’s in that for me?”

“Well, for a start you get to find out what the king wants. You’ve got to be curious?”

“I don’t do curious. Curiosity killed the fat.”

“Cat.”

“The fat cat. Whatever,” said Mirkin. “The point is that no matter how much you want to see what’s on the other side of the guillotine, you don’t stick your head through the hole beneath the blade.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning we’re going to the pub.”

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