It was the day of the annual Brandon College rowing race and rowing fever had swept the town. Yellow fever had also swept the town, making it dangerous to hold rowing training at dusk. Clifton sat in his bath firmly gripping a canoe paddle. He was trying to get into the spirit of the event by practicing inverse canoeing; an activity said to greatly improve your paddling skills and general cleanliness. Inverse canoeing involved submerging yourself in water and paddling dry land. The exercise was invented by Brother Milkwood, an 18th century monk whose only previous connection to paddling had been hazing new monks. His theory was that by paddling dry land, you’ll improve your upper body strength and break quite a few paddles. It should be noted Brother Milkwood also owned a paddle shop and most assumed he created the exercise to increase business. It was the first time Clifton had ever used his bath and he found it a curious experience. Pip had bought him a rubber duck after hearing it was a typical bath toy, but not understanding the concept of a rubber duck, Pip had given Clifton a live duck covered in rubber bands.
The duck floated at the end of the bath motionless, glaring at Clifton. It was most likely skeptical of the benefits of inverse canoeing and Clifton assumed the duck was composing a critical opinion article in its head.
Clifton climbed out of the bath using his abseiling equipment and indoor rock climbing hand holds. His body was covered in bites he’d received during his stay at Spriggs’ Inn. He and Pip had been attacked by bedbugs, mosquitoes, horseflies, spiders, snakes, scorpions and tigers. How Spriggs obtained a permit to keep large wild cats was anyone’s guess. Clifton dried himself with the drying machine Pip had built. It wasn’t much of a machine and, in fact, was just a toaster tied to a fan. It was largely ineffective, unless you were drying toast.
Clifton, despite trying to manufacture enthusiasm by inverse canoeing and sporadically shouting, “Row!” through a megaphone in Pip’s ear, was not looking forward to the race. He despised Brandon College and all it stood for. The school’s motto, Qui Lono et un Cliftonus, roughly translated as We Stand For All That Clifton Hates, was too much of a coincidence for Clifton to ignore. The students of Brandon College attended a school with immaculate facilities, boasting two sporting grounds, four swimming pools, a private zoo, state of the art classrooms, qualified teachers, mowed lawn, a wind tunnel, a large hadron collider and four helipads, (one for each pool). The high school Clifton graduated from had a pet guinea pig who also taught Physical Education and a shed. The shed didn’t even have walls, a door, or a roof. Clifton had always had a chip on his shoulder about the gap in quality between the two schools. He’d also had a chip on his facial hair too, but everyone was too polite to tell him.
Clifton had promised to accompany Pip to the race, as it was her favourite event of the year. She loved the pomp and ceremony, plus she liked to pretend the sweaters tied around the private school boys’ shoulders were capes and made them upper class super heroes.
Clifton put on a Roman era toga and olive branch wreath, but changed into jeans and t-shirt when he realised he’d got the date wrong. As Clifton threw the wreath out the window, there was a large explosion that sounded like a cannon firing. The shockwave blew the water droplets Pip’s machine had failed to dry off his face, but the chip remained.
Pip flew up the stairs and burst into the room. “Did you hear that?” she asked, excitedly.
“How did you get in?” asked Clifton.
“Through the front door.”
“The door is locked.”
“I know,” admitted Pip. “I had to cut through it with a power saw.”
“You didn’t think to ring the doorbell?”
“It’s out of batteries.”
“How would you know that without ringing it?”
“Because I took them out.”
“So it wouldn’t be awkward when I cut your door down.”
Pip threw her power saw onto Clifton’s pile of mattresses. “So, did you hear the bang?” she repeated.
“Yes,” answered Clifton, trying to figure out where he was going to get a new door.
“What do you think it was?”
“It was probably just the refinery.”
The town’s oil refinery had caught fire some years ago. Rather than putting it out, the authorities threw a large blanket over it and hoped no one would notice. Occasionally it exploded and everyone noticed.
“You’re probably right,” agreed Pip. “Hey, I brought in your mail.”
Pip had taken a part time job as a postie. The post office was looking for experienced applicants and in the interview Pip lied and claimed she had 57 million years of post delivering experience. In reality, Pip had zero, but when questioned about the unlikely duration of her postal practice, Pip deflected the conversation to a discussion about the nature of time, culminating in her being offered the job and given an honourary doctorate in quantum physics.
Clifton opened the envelope. “It’s so heavy,” he said.
The letter was written on vellum with a gold leaf border, embossed letterhead and speckled with diamonds.
“Who’s it from?” asked Pip.
“You’re joking,” said Clifton, glancing over the letter in disbelief.
“I’m not joking, but I could be. I’ve developed a tight-five about annoying people in cafes. What’s with them? Scoff,” said Pip, holding a microphone and playing to an imaginary audience.
“It’s from the council. They’re fining me $250,000,” said Clifton.
“What for? Is it because I’ve been insider trading under your name?”
“No, for destroying the Lonely Pier. Wait, what have you been doing in my name?”
Pip picked up the microphone. “And these people bring their kids into the cafes and they’re all, like, noisy and ‘Oh, I’ll have a babycino’. Am I right? Ahrem. Goodnight everyone, you’ve been great!” ignored Pip.
“The Heritage Society complained,” said Clifton.
“It’s so much money.”
“If the Council spent less on diamond and gold encrusted paper, it’d probably be less,” reasoned Clifton.
“Can you pay it?” asked Pip.
Clifton was broke. He’d foolishly allowed his friend Tim Binks to handle his money, who had invested all of it in the oil refinery after it had caught fire.
“I’ve burned through all my cash,” said Clifton.
Pip laughed as though she’d been gored by a bull and gave Clifton a comforting pat. Pat was an old school friend of Pip’s who was notably empathetic and always had something compassionate to say. Pat was also a humble man, so much so that he even spelled his name with a lowercase ‘p’.
“You could sell pat?” Pip suggested.
“Someone so wonderfully personable as you would certainly negotiate a great price for me,” said pat.
“Shut up, pat!” said Clifton and Pip in unison.
Pat trudged into the cupboard and closed the doors.
“Come on, the boat race will be starting soon,” said Pip.
“I don’t feel like going,” said Clifton.
“You should. It’ll take your mind off your enormous, burdensome fine,” pleaded Pip. “Because it is really big, like, I mean, really big.”
“Ok, just stop mentioning it.”
An explosion echoed in the distance.
“Are you sure that’s the refinery?” asked Pip.
“It sounds more like a cannon,” said pat.
Clifton locked the cupboard door.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Clifton and Pip’s folkloric adventures will continue with a new entry every week.
If anyone has any thoughts on the story, please feel free to comment. Feedback is always appreciated!