Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2011 Results




Jasmine and Arrghbleck

Copyright © Ingrid Banwell 2011


Jasmine stretched and sighed as she woke, recalling the night of passion that had shaken her china ornaments off their perches and made the neighbours' dogs howl. Next to the pink flounce draped over her bedside table, Arrghbleck’s boots lay where he had hurled them off, their worn leather covered in mud and ancient bloodstains. As she stepped out of bed, a torrent of digestive noises coming from the bathroom shook the cottage walls.

She knew Arrghbleck would be in a rush, so she quickly put on her best summer dress and scurried down the hall to prepare breakfast. She placed a floral china plate, a knife, fork and a linen napkin on the lace table mat. Then, she went into her garden, picked a fresh pink primula and placed it in a white vase on the table.

Beyond the garden’s summer bursts of blue hydrangeas and tangled trellises of passion flowers, Periwinkle Lane was waking to another achingly beautiful summer day. Stretching cats soaked in pools of yellow light, birds trilled and flowers unfolded.

Further up in the sky, above the pink, sun dusted clouds, hovering beyond the stratosphere, the crew aboard the Shlaarkron battleship Blearsplurk waited for Commander Arrghbleck's return from his stress relief session. Their Putridium powered missiles were pointed at Earth. At exactly 8am they were going to blow Earth to bits.

Blearsplurk’s crew, who had just finished a breakfast of freeze-dried urch bugs, sat around the table carved from the bones of their enemies and rubbed their armour-plated bellies. Yaark, Second in Command, gazed at the cloud smudged ellipse hovering on their monitor.  

"I can't wait to blow up that planet of weaklings," he said as he put his feet up on the table and farted.

Blaarg, Third in Command, ran his tongue across his battle scarred lips, savouring the lingering taste of his breakfast. "To think they have woman leaders!" he said with a snort. Skarrk, the navigator, chortled as he pulled a long piece of urch bug fur out from between his teeth and flicked it onto the floor. "And can you believe it?" he said. “Earth men help nurture their young!"

They all threw their heads back, spitting and laughing.

"They wear pink cotton boxer shorts and eat vegetarian lasagne!" added Yaark after he had caught his breath.

"And they visit garden shows!" shouted Blaarg, guffawing so hard that a nest of fleas living in his chest hairs vibrated onto the table and scattered into the dark corners of the bridge.

Suddenly, the rhythmic whirring and clicking of Blearsplurk’s instrument panel was shattered by the screech of an alarm. The crew wiped the tears of laughter from their cheeks, their smiles vanished and their eyes narrowed. Breakfast and Communion was over. It was time for their Unity and Brotherhood Ritual. They got up from the table and formed a circle in the middle of the bridge, put their arms over each other's shoulders, rubbed their heads together and exchanged hair parasites. Then, they pulled back from the circle and raised their right fists into the air. "Earth, the pimple-planet must be destroyed!" they crowed. "The mould spore of the Milky Way must be exterminated!"

Back on Earth, under the cloud feathered sky, inside her white cottage with its emerald green door and lace fretwork, Jasmine pulled two slices of wholemeal toast from the toaster as she heard Arrghbleck clump down the hall. When he pulled out a chair and hurled himself into it, its slender legs squeaked and bowed under his weight. Jasmine buttered the toast and placed them on the plate in front of him. Then, she pulled a pickling jar out of the cupboard, opened it and placed several of the greenish-brown contents on top of the toast and garnished them with a little salt and pepper.

Arrghbleck had eaten them before she could blink. He picked up the plate and slurped the last bits up with his stupendous sand-papery tongue. "Delicious," he said. "What was it?"

Jasmine gave him a delighted smile. "Pickled cane toads," she said. "I thought they might appeal to your Shlaarkron tastebuds."

Jasmine blushed and took a shaky breath as Arrghbleck tossed the plate back on the table. "Arrghbleck, I know you are a busy man,” she said, her voice soft and trembling. She looked down and daintily flicked a crumb of toast off her apron. “But if you are ever in this neighbourhood again, well, I'd be happy to give you stress relief any time you need it." She blushed and curled a piece of stray hair behind her ear.  

Arrghbleck stared at her for a few seconds as she gave him a shy smile. “Yeh. Whatever," he replied as he pushed his wrist hairs aside and glanced at his time monitor. Then, he picked up the linen table napkin and blew his nose so loudly, the breakfast room trembled and the botanical prints of camellias and violets on Jasmine's wall quivered and fell crooked on their picture hooks.

He got up and pushed himself out of the chair. When it fell to the floor, he kicked it out of the way. "I have to go," he said.

He marched and scraped down Jasmine's narrow hall, his chain mail vest clanking and his boots scuffing her beige sisal carpet. Jasmine padded behind him, drinking in the dark, square shape of his head, the great girth of his torso and the splendour of his vast, armour plated thighs.

When Arrghbleck opened her front door, he let forth a gusty burp that blew the petals off a potted gardenia sitting on the porch. Then, he stepped out onto her front yard, walked past the rows of polyanthus with their circus tent colours and activated his transporter. He frowned and raised a hand in farewell. Jasmine’s heart sighed as he evaporated in front of her.

A few seconds later, back in the transport bay of his mother ship, Arrghbleck rubbed his stomach where the cane toads and toast had settled. He thought about Jasmine. She wasn't like Shlaarkron women, who picked a fight or tried to kill their lovers after sex. She was gentle. She was submissive. She was refreshing.

"Hurry, Commander," said Yaark as Arrghbleck marched onto the bridge. "We only have a few minutes before weapons ignition."

Arrghbleck paused. "I think we should think this through a bit more," he said.

Yaark looked aghast.  "Commander, have you gone soft in the head?"

The sinew in Arrghbleck’s back tightened as he strode to the pulsing ignition button. Everything was waiting. He had two minutes. Two minutes before the Putridium catalysed. Two minutes before the ship exploded if the missiles weren’t fired.  His nostrils quivered as he blew out a great gust of air. "I have discovered something of great value on Earth," he said.

He put his hands on his hips and gazed at the blue and white orb of earth, hovering in space like a piece of fine china covered in lace. "Earth must be saved.”

Yaark stared at Arrghbleck, his mouth half open. "What? We’ve come all the way out here to obliterate Earth and now you've changed your mind?” Yaark sneered, his pointed teeth glinting in the gloom of the bridge. “What are you - a woman?"

Arrghbleck stared back at Yaark without blinking. Then, he glanced at the monitor, his insides churning.

“Earth is host to a precious jewel,” he said, “in all our years of rape, pillage and destruction I have never come across anything like it...”

He gave a loud quivering sigh and his eyes turned misty. “It is divine," he added.

While Arrghbleck smiled as he recalled his moments of ecstasy, his crew looked at him in horror. "You have to try it," he continued, "Pickled cane toads on buttered wholemeal toast with lashings of salt and pepper.”

He rubbed his stomach. “You won't find anything as tasty anywhere else in the galaxy."

Yaark lowered his great black brows and shadows fell across his eyes. When he walked up to Arrghbleck and folded his arms across his chest, the air in the bridge crackled with tension. "We've come all the way out here and I'm not leaving until we blow something up," he said, leaning so close to Arrghbleck, the forests of bristles on their chins touched.

They glared at each other, every hair on their bodies erect. The air in the bridge curdled, the darkness broken by the pulsing red light of weapons ignition counting down to zero. The crew stood stone still; not a single muscle on a single cheek twitched. Not a single stomach grumbled.

“Look!” Blaarg’s yell shattered the silence. Everyone on the bridge turned to the aft monitor where a trailing ball of rock hurtled through space.

“It’s a meteor!” he said, rushing over to the controls and doing some quick trajectory calculations. He gave Arrghbleck a fleeting glance. "And it’s heading straight for Earth!" he said, spitting with excitement.

Arrghbleck gave Blaarg a faint nod of acknowledgement. Then, he pounded his fist on the table of bones and shouted. "Change the weapons coordinates and point them at the meteor!"

A mechanical voice from weapons ignition started counting down. “Five, four, three, two, one.”

Arrghbleck pressed the pulsing red button. The missiles, hungry for a target, blasted out of the ship, towards the ball of fire churning through space. A collection of sighs rippled through the bridge as the explosion threw a blaze of light into the ship. Wispy, incandescent trails hovered and danced across the monitors, leaving diamond bright stains on the crew’s retinas. Then, the silent void of space returned. The bridge retreated back into gloom. The meteor was gone.  Everyone roared.  "A direct hit on a moving target!" crowed Arrghbleck. The crew of Blearsplurk all shook their fists in the air then spat on each other's boots in the traditional gesture of Shlaarkron victory.

Then, Arrghbleck wrapped his arms around his second and third in command’s necks and affectionately clanged the steel plates on their heads together.

"Now, who'd like to go and visit Periwinkle Lane for some pickled cane toads on toast?"