There she was, fuming skeletal menace: Daisy Wheelwright, The Current Death.
“Daisy, so great to see you. Is it that time already?” I knew it wasn’t that time, I was being coy.
“Time for you to reap me. Only I don’t remember dying.” The reason I couldn’t remember that, was because I knew full well I was still alive. I was trying to distract her. This was going to be a conversation I wasn’t very keen to have. To be fair, I knew it was coming; still, knowing something is going to happen, and wanting it to, are very different baskets of bricks.
“Shut your teeth-cave Wingsmith, you know why I’m here.”
“Do I?” Of course I did, but I didn’t want her to be aware of that. “Is it for a drink?”
I don’t know how the rest of you find it when a skeleton rushes at you from across the room, grabs you by the shirt-front, and shoves her flesh-less head right into your face, but I didn’t enjoy that experience at all.
“No,” Daisy hissed, “I am not here for a drink.” She loosened her grip, and slid her bony hand onto my shoulder. She was thinking. “What kind of drink are we talking here? It better be something good.”
“I think I have some Weissbier in the fridge.” Shit. Did I have some Weissbier in the fridge?
“Oh. Well, that’s different. In that case, yes, I totally came for a drink.” Daisy straightened up just enough to release my nose from where it was wedged in her nasal cavity. “And where would this fridge of yours be located?”
I pointed in the general direction of the kitchen.
“Good news. Lead the way.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go first?” Perhaps, if I was quick enough, I’d be able to make it to the front door and outside while Daisy searched for her drink. I didn’t want to be around if I had, in fact, consumed all the beer. That would not please Daisy, and she was pissed at me already.
“No. You go first Arthur, I … insist.”
I did not like the way she said my name, nor the word ‘insist’. She’d made the first sound like it was in terminal condition, and the second like it had a lot of venomous snakes in it. “Sure, Daisy. No problem. I was just being polite.”
“I don’t believe you. I think you were planning an escape. Move your donkey, and get me my tasty beverage.”
“It’s a euphamism for ‘ass’.”
“Aren’t they different kinds of equine?”
“Where is it you are from again?”
I told her. I should probably tell you, but I’m not going to. Anyway, I’ve left clues all the way through this website if you really want to have a run at that puzzle.
“I see. I guess for you it would be ‘move your arse’, then. Actually, I prefer ‘arse’ to ‘ass’. It’s a much more offensive sounding word. Still, the sentiment remains the same; start walking.”
I did start walking. Honestly, what would you have done if you had been in my position? But, once we got to the fridge, and I’d opened the door, I heard:
“Those don’t look much like Weissbier to me, Wingsmith ….”
• • • – – – • • •
I have no doubt that you are wondering: who is Daisy Wheelwright, why is she a skeleton, and why is she so cross with me? If I may say, that is some excellent ‘wondering’ on your part. Tell you what, I’ll do my best to answer those questions before I describe what happened at the fridge-door.
To know who Daisy is, I’ll need to tell you where she comes from, and why she was there in the first place. I should caution you, this might seem a little bizarre; it may even be completely bonkers – bonkers being a distance close to insane, which is itself not that far away from bat-shit crazy. Are you okay with that? Yes? Good, let’s begin:
Once upon time, there was an unfinished story written by … well, me. Not just any unfinished story, either, but my all-time favorite of incomplete works. (Don’t tell my other unfinished stories, they’ll get jealous, and I also care a great deal about them. I wouldn’t want them to get the impression that I don’t.) This story’s name is: They Made No Bones.
It’s not clear where They Made No Bones takes place, but it’s probably a world much like this one. It might even be this one for all I know; a writer can’t know everything about his or her work, after all. What is clear, is that there is a problem … [dramatic music] … with ghosts.
That’s right: ghosts. Specifically, there are just too many of them. Now, I’d like to tell you why this has happened – that is something I know about my story – but I’d prefer you read it for yourself. You can; it’s all here on Arthur Wingsmith: posted out in twenty parts of an unfinished glory that hungers for eager readers. Wait … [sound of Arthur checking his site]. Okay, so some of that is here. It turns out that a portion of it is still in my head, but we’ll get to that later.
As I’d originally conceived the story – which included the aforementioned ghost problem – there was only supposed to be three main characters. I figured a triad of personalities would be – more or less – a manageable deal. (In hindsight, I may have been woefully naive in that regard.) Wanting to have some idea of the kind of people I would be dealing with, I wrote character briefs for each of them. Here is what I said (mostly; I’ve decided to change some stuff. It’s not like you’ll be able to prove that this is not exactly what I wrote before):
Mamma Universe: She did not create the universe – she has no idea who did – but whoever was responsible, also created her to run it. She liked her work at first, but has now become so bored that she’s stopped paying attention; running a universe is not as interesting as most people think.
She has no form of her own, so any being that interacts with her sees her as it/she/he expects. For some, she is a small terrestrial star; for others, she is the Witch-Hag of Fate that cursed them to an eternity of hanging around their own grave, etc.
Stag Hartford: A prehistoric deer turned Spirit Animal. Not just any Spirit Animal, either, but the world’s first Spirit Animal. You’d think that would make him proud, but it doesn’t. Instead, it has made him grumpy. Honestly, sometimes he has the grumps so bad, it verges on the point of being churlish. To be fair, most people would be upset if they were tricked to their death by humans with the crafty use of fruit. Also, having his skin made into clothes, and his bones into tools, didn’t help matters much. Even being the origin of religion is cold comfort after an experience like that.
He loves Red Ale, which he prefers to drink through a straw.
Finley Jansen Guildersand: A man so self-involved, so vain, so oblivious to anything that isn’t him, he went to his own funeral as a sign of respect.
That’s really all that can usefully be said about Finley at this point.
What do you notice about these character briefs? … That is correct: Daisy Wheelwright is not mentioned anywhere. So, being as she was not part of the original cast, how exactly did she end up giving me a hard time prior to my accidental offer of a drink? An excellent question, to which the answer is: through the contingent and chaotic flow of a narrative that has no idea what it is doing, where it is going, and why it is bothering to do anything at all, really. Which is to say, I was just making it up as I went.
And why not just start writing without any plan? Isn’t that how everybody writes fiction? Although, now I think about it, I do occasionally have a plan, so I guess the answer to the last question would be: No, sometimes people – even Arthurs – have plans. Alas, not in the case of They Made No Bones (or, at least, not until I had gotten about halfway through). That story had three characters, a premise, a ‘sort-of-mystery’, and not much else.
But, this was no problem, all I needed was an initial setting, and to get at least one of the main characters in there. After that, I presumed, the story would practically write itself (although, it would be weird if it really did do that). For my setting, I chose a pub; just because I like pubs and don’t get the opportunity to go to them very often. I called this pub Red Harry’s Arms; a name derived from the fact that it is haunted by a redheaded ghost; that ghost’s actual name is Haldrick. For my initial character I chose Finley, because … well, I was curious as to what he would be like in person. He was attending his funeral ‘after party’, and seemed not to notice that everybody there was pretty pleased he had died. He was also talking to Haldrick, much to Haldrick’s eternal frustration.
So far, so peachy. I still had no idea where the story was going, but I’d managed to get at least two ghosts in at the outset. One of those ghosts – Haldrick – was even my first incidental character (you know: the kind of character that your main characters occasionally talk to, because they have to talk to someone that isn’t important, sometimes). Things were looking great. … Or were they?
Actually, yes. As far as I could tell, things were looking fantastic. What I hadn’t realized, however, was that by the end of They Made No Bones: Part One, I would make a terrible mistake. The mistake was this: I’d decided that Haldrick was really cool, in a hard-put-upon sort of way, and wanted to adopt him as a main character. This set a dangerous precedent – as you will soon see – but I expect it is the sort of of thing that happens to writers all the time. Anyway, four main characters seemed like an okay number to me. So, by the time Mamma Universe had shown up to collect Finley – scaring the un-living-shit out of Haldrick in the process – I had three main characters in play. They were off to collect the fourth: Stag Hartford. They left through the urinal.
Now we come to Daisy Wheelwright.
After successfully convincing Stag Hartford to join them in ‘Part Two’, They Made No Bones: Part Three finds the quartet of kind-of-hero-types in a nice cottage. This charming abode is none other than ‘Death Cottage’. This is where Daisy lives, or un-lives, as the case may be. For Daisy, as I think you have already guessed (not least because I introduced her that way at the beginning of all this), is The Current Death ….
I’m sorry, what’s that you asked? Why isn’t she just called Death, instead of ‘The Current Death?’ Look, I get that you’re curious about that, but it’s really complicated. Seriously, it took me ages to wrap my head around that myself. I’ll tell you what, if you’re that interested in the metaphysics of how Daisy works in the story, you should read parts Three and Four. That should answer most of your questions. What you should take note of now, is that because she is The Current Death, she has the appearance of a skeleton. Daisy calls this her business suit, and that explains why she looks the way she does: for the purposes of ‘business’. It’s a pretty lucrative business, too, if I’m any judge of these things. She always seems to have money, for some reason.
As I was saying, Mamma Universe, Stag Hartford, Finley, and the freshly adopted Haldrick were visiting Daisy in her cottage. Naturally, this was Mamma Universe’s idea, since the ghost problem was her responsibility, and having no clue what was going on, she decided that asking Death would be a good idea. It wasn’t. Daisy had the exact opposite of information vis-á-vis ghosts. What she did have was several super-tanker-loads of moxie. I like moxie, it’s charming in a brutal kind of way, and under its weight I began to wonder: could Daisy also be a main character?
But, alas, no. That must not happen. I’d already taken on Haldrick, and I could hardly send him back to the pub now (he’s very sensitive, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings). I would hold firm. I would pat myself on the back, and say: “It’s alright Arthur, you’ll always have fond, moxie filled memories of Death Cottage.” And I did hold firm. I was going to be okay ….
Until Part Four arrived, and there was Daisy Wheelwright drinking with Stag, Finley, and Haldrick at the pub I had refused to send Haldrick back to. “Mother fucker,” I thought, “how is this even possible? Am I doomed to end up with an unwieldy amount of main characters? Also, where in the name of the Amighty-Albino-Hedgehog is Mamma Universe?” Daisy just grinned.
It turned out that Mamma Universe was elsewhere, for reasons of ‘narrative’. That came as a relief. I’d initially thought that Daisy had done something to my story; something to create enough space for her to become a main character; something shifty that involved kidnapping Mamma Universe, and locking her in a trunk in some nameless desert. But she hadn’t.
What Daisy had done was fiendishly simple: she’d just invited herself into the story of her own accord. (And how could I stop her? I’d already set what I now call: ‘The Haldick Precedent’. Characters can hardly be blamed for doing something I have done myself; it wouldn’t be fair.) Yet, what she didn’t know at the time – what she couldn’t possibly have known, as I did not know myself – was that I would not finish that story, on account of nocturnal-flying-mammals. But you already know about that, so I won’t go into it again here.
It is probably true that nobody likes an unfinished story. This goes some way to explaining why no one ever reads them. What most people are unlikely to know, however, is that nobody gets more annoyed with an unfinished story than said story’s main characters. And this is why Daisy is so pissed at me. It also explains her presence in my kitchen, and the whole getting my nose caught in her nasal cavity thing: she is there to insist that I finish the story that she invited herself into.
And now we return to my open refrigerator door, and the distinct lack of any Weissbier ….
• • • – – – • • •
“I suppose,” I said, experiencing both relief and panic in equal measure, “they don’t look much like Weissbier, because they’re not.”
“I see. They are beers, though, right?”
“Technically, I think they are ales.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I have no idea.”
Daisy reached inside the fridge, withdrew one of the bottles, and read the label: “Augustus Goat’s Dangerously Strong Ale, nine percent alcohol. Seriously? Nine percent? I’ve had stronger, doesn’t seem that dangerous to me …. Oh, it goes well with vegetable casseroles.”
“It does? How can you tell?”
“It says so, right here on the label.” Daisy’s finger tapped the part of the label that provided the culinary information. The sound her finger made when it did that was: ‘CLACK’. “What’s it taste like, this …” she searched for the right phrase, “not-as-dangerously-strong-as-it could-be ale?”
Unlike Daisy – who does not possess a liver or physical brain – I did find the ale dangerously strong. In truth, I was a little afraid of it, which is why I still had a lot of it stockpiled. “I can’t remember.”
“No? Never mind, we’ll find out soon enough.” Daisy pulled out another bottle and shut the refrigerator door with her pelvic bone. “Where shall we sit? You and I need to have a bit of a talk.”
Once we were seated at the table on my back porch, Daisy opened the conversation by saying: “What’s all this not finishing my story Wingsmith?”
I was going to tell her that, in reality, it was my story, but the look on Daisy’s skull suggested I better not. “I had problems with miscellaneous nature,” I said. I said that because it was true, and hoped that she would find that reason enough for my lack of work on what is most definitely my story, and not hers. She did not.
“I don’t care about your problems Wingsmith, I only care about my problems, and right now my problem is that you are a lazy bastard.” She took a swig of her ale. “That’s pretty good, if a little weak. You now, it reminds a lot of Red Ale. You know who else likes Red Ale Wingsmith? Do you, huh?” She looked at me with an intensity I wouldn’t have thought possible for someone that had no eyes. It turns out empty eye-sockets are very expressive. Who knew?
“That is correct. And where is Stag Hartford now Wingsmith? Can you tell me?
I could, actually. But it was pretty obvious Daisy’s question was rhetorical, so I didn’t.
“I’ll tell you, shall I?” Daisy was gathering momentum. “He’s in the black-heart-of-who-the-fuck-knows, that’s where.”
“Well, If I could ju–.”
“Shsssst. I haven’t finished. Do I seem finished to you? You will remain silent until I’ve said all I have to say.”
I shsssst, as directed. When a skeleton tells you to be quiet, it pays to listen.
“And, Haldrick,” Daisy continued, “he and all those other ghosts are really starting to get on my nerves with all that creepy beach-behavior.”
“Do you have nerves?”
“I do, and those ghosts are seriously shredding them. Don’t even get me started about Finley, he’s up to something shifty, I just know it.”
“So. What are you going to do about it? Don’t answer, I already know what you are going to do: you are going to finish my bloody story, that’s what.”
“You can talk now Wingsmith. What have you got to say for yourself, eh?”
“Can I ask a question?”
“Why do you need me to finish the story? I mean, you seem to be doing alright outside of it …. How are you doing that, by the way?”
“How I’m doing it is not important. What is important is that I need you to finish the story, because I have to know what happens.”
“Really, that’s it? You just need to know how it all turns out?”
“Yes. That’s it.”
“I could just tell you.”
“I could just tell you how it ends.”
“You mean to say that – for well over a year – you have known exactly what happens?”
“Not exactly what happens, but, yeah, I know how it ends.”
“You really are a selfish-sloth-like-wanker, aren’t you, Wingsmith?”
“You should be sorry.” Daisy sat back in her chair, took a deep swallow of ale, and muttered to herself for a while. When she finished her mutters, she said: “I can’t believe you’ve known what happens all this time, and just didn’t bother to clack fingers and write. Not even as a kindness to your own characters. It’s … incomprehensible.”
“It’s sort of comprehensible. Anyway, just let me tell you, and it’s all fixed.”
“I don’t want you to tell me.”
That confused me. “You don’t? Why not? It’d be really efficient. Quite the time-saver, in fact.”
Daisy grew wistful. “I am not a woman that is satisfied with being told about life. I must un-live every moment of it. I must grab it by the … whatever it is it has that are equivalent of testicles, to make sure it’s aware that I’m really here. For that reason, you must write the rest of my story.” The wist dissipated. “Besides, I insist that you do.”
It occured to me that Daisy does seem to be overly fond of insisting. “Well, I am sympathetic – don’t think that I’m not – but I have quite a few upcoming projects that I want to deal with. I just don’t see how I’m going to have time to finish yours. It’s hard to see how you could make me, anyway. Not if I really don’t want to.”
“Is that right?” Daisy leaned forward in her chair. “You are aware that I am The Current Death?”
“What if I decided I didn’t want to be The Current Death anymore? What if, instead, I decided I wanted to be your death?”
“You can’t do that,” I said with the confidence of a writer that knew she couldn’t do that. “I didn’t write you that way; it’s impossible.”
“Is it?” Daisy leaned all the way across the table and gripped me firmly by the shoulder. “You may have noticed that we are sitting on your back porch; that’s something I’m pretty sure you didn’t think I’d ever be able to do.”
She had me there. “Yes, that is strange.” Then it occured to me that it was also strange that I had expected to have this conversation in the first place. What reality-warping action was happening here?
She leaned even closer, I was going to lose my nose again. “You see, Arthur, in your absence I’ve had to start writing myself. At this point, I can do almost anything I want. Perhaps, even, everything I want. You understand?”
“Can I think about?” I was seriously freaked out at this point. If I hadn’t been, I would never have asked such a bullshit question.
Daisy’s grip tightened. “No.” She straightened up, and let go of my shoulder. Something had caught her attention. “Who are they?”
I turned around, and looked in the direction of Daisy’s gaze. There, standing next to the tree in the middle of my backyard, was a scruffy man wearing a loud shirt, cargo shorts, and a trenchcoat. Next to him there hovered a phase-shifting fern in a pot. “Oh, that’s just Justin Tempo and The Quantum Entanglement Fern. Don’t worry, I know them.”
“What to you suppose they want?”
“The same thing you do, I expect.”
“Really? Well, tell them to bugger-off; I was here first.” Daisy paused briefly, then said: “Also, get me another drink. I rather like this ale-of-the-goat.”