Should I tell him about Sushing or play dumb?
Sticking in my comfort zone, I played dumb.
Writer Marco Ocram has a secret superpower—whatever he writes actually happens, there and then. Hoping to win the million-dollar Sushing Prize, he uses his powers to write a true-crime thriller, quickly discovering a freakish murder. But Marco has a major problem—he’s a total idiot who can’t see beyond his next sentence. Losing control of his plot and his characters, and breaking all the rules of fiction, Marco writes himself into every kind of trouble, until only the world’s most incredible ending can save his bacon.
Fast, funny, and utterly different, welcome to the weird world of The Awful Truth.
Today we have an exclusive extract from Marco’s forthcoming book The Awful Truth about the Herbert Quarry Affair. Marco and his suffering sidekick—police chief Como Galahad—are trying to trace the taxidermist responsible for stuffing the bodies of two people to aid a crime. In the extract, Marco writes himself into various canine difficulties when the duo set-off from Police HQ to call upon the first of their suspects, Zaquette Zorab.
With some relief on my part, Como engaged a reluctant gear and we set off, he continuing to cavil while I typed a paragraph of blatant padding about our journey. After clearing the gentle suburbs of sleepy Clarkesville, we pootled along the scenic two-laner that circled the southern flank of Mount Clarke before rising to the arid plateau to the south west. The contrast between the cacti and tumbleweed of our new surroundings, and the lush coastal vegetation we had left behind, was a salutary reminder of both the looming threat of global warming and my tendency to write unrealistic nonsense during the quieter moments in the narrative.
The fortunes of Mason’s Ridge had been in constant decline since the closure of the aluminium smelting plant that had once been the town’s largest employer and foremost example of inappropriate British English. The sidewalks of its run-down Main Street were strewn with garbage and peopled here and there by knots of idling ex-smelters reminiscing about the good old days.
Zorab’s place turned out to be a trailer in a rubbish-strewn lot next to a wrecker’s yard, its frayed chain-link fence showing no sign of ever being polished. My Bronx mom would have something to say about Zaquette’s standards of housekeeping. A mean pit-bull prowled the lot—it bounded over and leapt at the gate, growling and snapping to get at us. Como raised the obvious question.
“What now, Writer?”
“You mean the dog?”
“What else would I mean?”
“Don’t you have one of those things like a noose on a pole?”
“If I did, I would have used it by now—and I don’t mean on the pit-bull.”
I ignored his hurtful quip.
“I must say, Como, you seem lamentably ill-prepared. What if there had been an emergency—how would we get past the dog then?”
I regretted the question the moment I typed it. Como would probably say something about shooting the dog, and I’d have all the world’s animal welfare societies on my back. I held up a silencing hand and changed the subject.
“Never mind. Do you watch The Dog Whisperer, Como?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It is a him. The Dog Whisperer has an innate understanding of the psychology of the canine class—he demonstrates in countless astounding episodes his power to quell the most vicious and unruly behavior. You need simply emulate his techniques to pacify the beast, and we can go about our business.”
“I ain’t emulating nothing, Writer. If you want to emulate yourself into trouble, that’s up to you, but I vote we call the local cops and get them out with the right kit.”
I pondered Como’s suggestion—very level-headed and pragmatic, but hardly a plan to enliven the dozing reader. They’d be nodding off in hoards if we had to hang around waiting for the Mason Ridge police to turn up.
“Very well, Como, if you do not feel up to the task, I will take it upon myself. The key is to personify calm assertion. I will back into the compound, thus allowing the dog to realize I am not about to attack. There is a rope by the door of the trailer—I will ease my way over there
and form a leash with it. In the meantime, please remember the Dog Whisperer’s mantra—no touch, no talk and no eye contact. With the dog, obviously.”
I backed up to the gate and waited for the ensuing paroxysm of aggressive barking to die away. About twenty minutes later, the paroxysm showing no sign of abating, I decided we needed a plan B. I rewound my memories of the Dog Whisperer episodes.
“Clearly the dog is nervous, Como. I remember now that in such cases it is important to reassure the animal by respecting dog etiquette. You will doubtless have seen how dogs stand and allow themselves to be sniffed. I will do the same. Here.”
Handing a bemused Como my writer’s satchel, I got down on all fours, my rear against the fence. To my surprise the aggressive barking morphed into a whimper more of excitement than of fear.
“See, Como, it is just a matter of psychology. Open the gate and I’ll back in.”
Como eased the mesh gate aside just enough for me to squeeze in backwards. I could hear the dog’s snuffles and feel its nose prodding inquisitively at my nether regions.
“What’s your plan now?”
It was a good question. For a moment I dithered about whether to ask myself what would the Dog Whisperer do? or what would Jackson Pollock do? The dog was more decisive—it mounted me and proceeded to hump with remarkable passion and energy. It felt like a jackhammer on my back.
“Don’t laugh—get it off me!”
Como was bent double.
“Writer, you sure got your dog psychology mixed-up. Keep him busy while I get the rope. Don’t put him off his strokes.”
I clenched my jaw—and buttocks—and wished I’d had the forethought to raise the collar of my cardigan as some kind of prophylactic against the dog’s germ-laden breath and slobber, both of which were warming the back of my neck. I encouraged Como to be quick about his task.
“Christ, Como, are you making that rope?”
I heard his returning footfalls above the noise of the dog’s frenzied panting.
“I’ll say one thing—you sure have some balls.”
His words induced a glow of pride. I might be humiliated by an oversexed pit-bull, but at least my resourcefulness and courage had gained Como’s respect.
“Thank you, Como, but if you could please hurry.”
“I was talking to the dog.”
Como hauled off the beast and tied it to a sturdy bench. I thanked him as he proffered my satchel.
“My pleasure, Writer. It ain’t every day you get to see dog psychology practiced by a master. You should do your own dog whisperer show. C’mon, let’s knock up Zorab.”
I dusted myself off in an attempt to patch-up my threadbare dignity as Como rapped, knocked and rattled the door of the filthy trailer. Eventually his percussive efforts yielded a result in the form of a coarsely voiced question, thus:
“Alright, alright. We’re coming. What’s the big fuss about?”
The door opened to a person between thirty and seventy holding a tumbler and blinking at both the harsh light and the contrasting forms of her unexpected visitors, one giant, dapper and authoritative, the other slender, disheveled and authorlike. Como flipped his badge.
“Can we ask you a few questions about taxidermy?”
“Sure, though I don’t do so much now.”
“Can we ask you inside?”
We followed Zaquette into the gloom of her trailer, Como stooping in the limited headroom.
“Want one?” She gesticulated with the tumbler.
“No thank you, ma’am, we’re on duty.”
“Suit yourself. Take a seat.”
We made space between old magazines, discarded wrappers and other detritus, and perched on the edge of a filthy couch.
“We understand, ma’am, that you practice taxidermy. Can you tell me whether you have taken on any unusual commissions recently?”
“Did. Did practice it. Don’t no more. Don’t see too good. Besides, I got nerve trouble.”
She held out a hand Saint Vitus himself might have envied, her fingers waving like the tentacles of a hungry polyp.
“I can see that might be a handicap,” acknowledged Como.
“Yes, but you’d be a demon on air piano,” I added, to show there was a bright side.
Ignoring the bright side, Como asked if we could see an example of her most recent work.
“Sure. Help yourself. It’s in there.”
We followed the direction more-or-less indicated by her wobbling arm, and entered a room that was part office, part workshop, part study, and part bottle-storage depot. We had to burrow through several years’ junk before we found any evidence of actual taxidermy, that being a medium-sized mirror carp that looked like it had been stuffed as a communal exercise in a kindergarten class. I stared at its mournful eyes, at least one of which had been sewn in the wrong place.
“We’re wasting our time here,” Como announced, overlooking the twelve hundred words I’d invented with very little help from him. “Let’s go.”
We thanked Zaquette for her cooperation and made our excuses. Como released the pit-bull after I’d sought sanctuary beyond the fence. It stared at me with eyes that seemed to ask Don’t you love me anymore? as I got into the car
Thank you, Marco Ocram and Damppebbles
About the author
Marco Ocram is the world’s first self-written author-cum-protagonist. First imagined in 2015, he has gone on to infect the world of literature with two awful anti-thrillers which subvert the tropes of mainstream fiction. Heavily dosed with nuanced intertextuality, the books make little literal sense, and will strike you either as hilarious spoofs or utter nonsense, depending upon your taste in such matters.