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ECHO, Echo, echo

kT85rArgc

I am in the business of communication. I write, I make videos, I record audio. I communicate with the people I work with for art, design and writing and it is essential that I adequately express my ideas to do so.

One of the most painful things for me, then, is when I fail to make myself understood, and my tendency when that happens is to blame myself. Since I am a professional communicator, it seems to me that the blame must be mine.

I was given cause to revisit these thoughts recently. I don’t have the time or mental energy to engage in much self-promotion, nor do I especially have the temperament for it. To solve this problem I’ve hired someone – part-time – to do some promotion for me.

They had posted but a single promotion, in an appropriate subsection on a notorious forum on my behalf, when they were summarily banned. This gave me cause to investigate and to try and find out why this should be so. Guilt by association for my presumed ‘crimes’ perhaps? Hard to tell.

Still, in investigating it was made depressingly apparent to me that in my absence from most of these people’s discussion about me, in this and other places, that the echo chamber has had its effect. People’s ideas have gotten wildly out of hand, the accusations and assumptions over my politics and numerous other issues are wildly out of step with reality and yet there’s no way to answer back.

This, I think, is a goodly demonstration as to the hows and whys of the necessity of a right of reply, of being willing to engage with people and to listen to their explanations and words straight from the horse’s mouth. Without that, without bursting these bubbles, nonsense gets profoundly out of hand – even to the extent that questioning the fictions themselves becomes an act of unforgivable transgression.

It bothers me in the personal sense because it’s untrue and I feel that I must have somehow miscommunicated my beliefs and stances. It bothers me in the more significant, overall sense because I think this is an endemic problem in the modern west — self-imposed echo chambers of extremism and ideological purity, feeding incestuously on their internal mythology.

Some of this is top-down censorship, but a lot of it is self-imposed, and that’s even harder to change. We can’t even get social media companies to abide by their own professed ideals. Let alone get users to be willing to face discomfort or to question their assumptions.

I don’t see a way out.

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“Mine!”

Alice found herself suddenly awake, with someone or something pulling at her leg.

“Mine!”

“I most certainly am not!” Said Alice, sitting up quite abruptly.

The thing that had a hold of her was the most peculiar creature. It had pipe-cleaner arms and spidery hands, a body that was a knot of hair, and feet made of tiny pieces of soap. Its face, if you could call it that, was an old penny. The Queen’s face moved whenever it spoke in a way that struck Alice as positively disrespectful.

“I found you, you’re mine. Those are the rules, and if we don’t have rules, then everything just falls apart.”

“I’m my own!” Alice protested, kicking at the thing’s spidery little fingers, one of which snapped like kindling. It made the creature let go of her though and gave her a chance to scramble back up onto her feet. “Sorry about that.”

“Happens all the time,” said the penny-face, and took another spidery little finger from a bag around its waist and plugged it into its hand.

“Are you broken though? Most everything that ends up down here is broken, and broken things belong to whoever finds them. I found you; therefore you belong to me. It’s simple mathematics, d’you see?”

Alice squeezed water from her wet hair and combed it through with her fingers, picking out little pieces of muck from between the strands. “I’m fairly certain that’s law, or philosophy, rather than mathematics, but we don’t study that at school. As to whether I’m broken I’m not, I think something might have been left behind when I came through the grinder, but I suppose it’s washed far away by now.”

“Then you’re broken, and you’re mine, and I get to keep you. A piece of trash that walks and talks before it has been made, and even went to school! Perfect. Come along,” it gestured and waved her on after it as it walked away from the water.

Alice didn’t feel like she had much choice really, she didn’t want to climb back into the water – which didn’t seem to be going anywhere further, and following this strange creature seemed as good a thing to do as any.

“Might the missing piece of me have been washed up here?”

“Could be.”

“Well if I find it and put it back, then I won’t be broken, will I?”

“Everything’s broken,” said penny-face and with his ungainly stride, crested the top of the muck pile. “Everything’s broken somehow.”

Alice hitched up her skirts, though they were already ruined, and hopped along after him, blinking in surprise as she saw what lay beyond. “Oh my!”

Laid out before her was a whole town, made up entirely of rubbish and grot. There were high piles of fat and congealed oil being tended by creatures like penny-face, sorting and straightening with broken combs and the discarded ends of snapped spoons.

There was a disgusting pile of toenails and fingernails, one of the few white things there was to be seen and everywhere else, rising into the distance, the town was a mass of sardine tins, matchboxes and old shoes. At the very furthest point, rising above the town, was a towering mass of shiny foil and chocolate wrappers, culminating at its very tippy-top in a bright gold ring with a massive diamond.

“My aunt’s ring!” Alice exclaimed, but her voice was drowned out by a fanfare, blown through the empty shells of snails.

A gaggle of the junk creatures was approaching, gabbling, talking, in a constant uproar. Penny-face moved between Alice and the mob, protectively or possessively – she wasn’t sure – and she had to peek around him to see.

It was hard to tell where one junk person began and another ended. They were a grey-brown blur of detritus, hard to pick out as individuals. All save one. An old cotton reel was being spun out, and unwinding from it an old red-brown bandage. It served – it seemed – as a red carpet, for what followed.

Carried and pulled, pushed and moved along by great dint of effort, was a fat blob of a creature. Pearl buttons for eyes, a pouting little mouth carved out from the vibrant orange fat that was its body. It was dressed in an ill-fitting suit of purple chocolate foil and atop its head was a hairy spider, trying very hard to hold still.

The bandage unravelled to its end, and the big round butterball arrived at its end. Scurrying creatures moved to set up a matchbox podium, and the fat blob set itself up behind it.

“Great job, just the best. You’re the greatest scavenger there is. I’ve always said it,” the blob smiled, its button eyes twinkling in the dim light. “However, as Prime Minister, I have first dibs, that’s the law.” The crowd applauded wildly.

Penny-face shook his head and moved his arm, pushing Alice back with one soapy hand. “I believe the law you passed was ‘finders keepers’, and as the finder, I lay claim to her.

“You’re terrible, worst scavenger I’ve ever known. I’ve always said so. Bring forth and read the book of the law to settle this.”
“Do I get a say at all?” Alice asked, stepping gently around penny-face and curtsying, as you probably should do when you meet a Prime Minister.

“No!” They said, in unison, to more wild applause and cheering.

A little man, made of discarded twist-ties and pieces of broken glass pushed his way to the front, adjusted his bottle-bottom glasses and scanned through a dense, filthy book, full of tiny letters.

“According to the law, set down by the Prime Minister some four months ago, finders are, indeed, keepers. As settled in the ‘I didn’t know it was so shiny’ case, as you may recall Sir.”

“Hmm, but I set out the laws don’t I?” The Prime Minister quivered as he spoke and adjusted his spider toupee with one comically tiny hand.

“Indeed Sir.”

“Well then, take down a new law. The Prime Ministers may call ‘dibs’ on all good salvage.”

The little bottle-twist man flipped through the book until he found a blank page, where he squiggled down the Prime Minister’s words with a practised flourish.

“There’s a conflict between the two laws Sir, we’ll need to consult the judiciary to determine how to proceed.

“Oh, how tiresome,” the Prime Minister grumbled, hands on his hips.

Then Alice saw the most horrible and disgusting sight she thought she had ever seen. The Prime Minister’s orange, flabby bulk began to split down the middle with a sound like enormous, smacking lips. In a couple of breaths, he had completely split in half, two smaller versions of himself standing side by side, one with that ridiculous spider on his head, the other hurriedly donning a judge’s wig of soiled cotton wool.

“I agree with the Prime Minister,” said the judge. “The Prime Minister’s new ‘dibs’ law takes precedence over the older ‘Finders Keepers’ law. The Prime Minister will take possession of the salvage’s beautiful, luscious, verdant golden hair with immediate effect.”

“My hair?” Alice, who had become quite bored with all the arguing to-and-fro and whose legs were beginning to ache from standing still, was suddenly paying attention. “You can’t cut off my hair!”

“I can do anything I like!” said the Prime Minister, reaching for his judicial counterpart to glom back together.

“I… um… appeal!” Alice said, stepping around Penny-Face and feeling rather exposed. “I mean, if it’s not too much trouble, Sir,” she added another curtsy just to be sure.

“To the legislature?” the judge asked, while the Prime Minister made wild, silencing gestures with his pudgy little hands.

“Yes?” Alice wasn’t sure, this was all a bit beyond her, but she knew she was supposed to be polite around such august personages as judges and Prime Ministers, even when they were made of fat and rubbish.

“Very well, let’s put it before the legislature,” both the Prime Minister and the judge began to split off portions of themselves and to slap them together like clay, forming a third while an attendant scurried to tie a bow time – made of sooty string – around this third version’s neck.

Then the Prime Minister began to argue amongst himselves about who was in the right, it was all a show really. Since he was ‘arguing’ with himself, it seemed obvious how it was all going to turn out, and it looked like it was theatre for the cheering bits and bobs than anything meaningful.

Alice’s stomach grumbled, loudly. She realised she hadn’t eaten anything in quite some time and that she was starting to feel somewhat faint from it. Thankfully with all the arguing nobody had noticed and, given it was so filthy down here she didn’t want to eat a thing. It was far easier to be hungry.

Her mind began to wander. The Prime Minister looked so much like butter that she couldn’t help but think about it, that led her to bread and butter and thence to sandwiches. In that funny way the mind has of connecting one thing to another she ended up recalling an argument she had had with her friend Emily about sandwiches.

When you cut a sandwich in half, you get two sandwiches, not half a sandwich. Emily thought this was the most wondrous thing imaginable, while it bothered Alice a lot. If you cut anything else in half, you got halves, not doubles and the Prime Minister was cheating by doing the exact same thing. Cut those halves in half, and there are four sandwiches, not a quarter sandwich, cut those in half diagonally, and you got finger sandwiches, not eighths.

Alice was no fan of geometry or fractions, but it seemed to her that you might as well just have one big sandwich and eat it, rather than going to all the trouble of fiddling about with all those smaller sandwiches. She also supposed that eventually you would just run out of sandwich and have nothing but crumbs if even that and that you couldn’t possibly keep dividing things into infinity. Emily disagreed, and Alice hadn’t been invited to take tea with her for weeks afterwards.

“You’re a sandwich!” Alice shouted, interrupting the pretend negotiations the Prime Minister was having with himself, causing some consternation.

“And you’re a baguette, a stinking, foreign baguette!” Shouted the Prime Minister, petulantly.

“I’m sorry, Sir, I mean rather that I should like to take my appeal directly to the people!”

The Prime Minister, the judge and the legislature huddled together, whispering and when they split apart again, agreed.

“Very well. Your appeal shall be put to the people, and let that be an end to it!”

Almost immediately the Prime Minister – in all his forms – began to split apart into many, many little pea-sized blobs, scattering around him and lining up to vote to take Alice’s hair. She was heartened, however, to see that many of the subjects of this little kingdom were lining up to vote in her favour – just not enough of them.

“You can do what he does!” She called out, desperately, and saw a few of them take her advice, breaking down and remaking each other into smaller and smaller versions until all of them, the whole cheering crowd, were so reduced in size that Alice towered above them like an Amazonian giantess.

While they continued to fight and argue and to organise themselves to vote, Alice took one giant stride over them, delicately trying not to crush them, and made her way toward the tin foil tower and its glittering ring.

auriane-dubois-noyadeAlice swirled around and around until she was quite, quite dizzy and she couldn’t help but swallow some of the filthy water as it whirled and twirled. It was strange, she knew it was dirty, but it tasted like soap, and it smelled like lemon. So it was, that Alice found herself gagging on the sloshing filth, while also wondering how something could look, smell and taste so different in each way. Like white chocolate flavoured with lavender. Horrible.

With a sudden, welcome rush, Alice’s head was back above water, and the gulped for air and spat out as much of the nasty tasting water as she could, blinking her eyes to clear them.

It seemed to Alice, dizzy as she was, that she was rushing along in a grand, underground river. The dirty walls sped past at such a rate it was like looking at the sides of the cutting from the window of a fast train.

One of the little potato men twirled past, shaking his little white fist in the air.

“curse you!” He shouted as he approached.

“DAMN YOUR EYES!” He screamed as he drew level.

“monstress!” He hollered, as he floated away, much faster than Alice, whose petticoats were acting like a drag beneath the water.

“I had always thought that potatoes were only disagreeable when they turned green,” Alice mused aloud as her spinning slowed and the walls rushed past with a hypnotic blur.

“Solanine,” came a stentorian voice from behind Alice, and she twisted and turned, kicking her feet as her petticoats bloomed in the water, trying to keep pace with whoever or whatever it was behind her.

It was an octopus, with tiny little arms and big, darting eyes. Even as it spoke to her, it was like it was looking past her.

“Doctor’s recommend that you shouldn’t eat them, even though it would take a portion of green flesh the size of a baked potato to even begin to harm a fully a grown man.”

“Well,” Alice trod water to stay close to the friendly-seeming octopus. “I am a girl, not a man, and while I have been both larger and smaller than I am now, I do not think I am grown in the way you mean.”

“That sounds like a fascinating story young lady, lots of human interest.” His eyes suggested a smile, but it was hard to tell with an octopus.

“But you’re not human,” Alice remarked, more than a little confused.

“Am I not?” Said the octopus. “Preposterous. When did you last meet anything other than a person that could talk?”

It was peculiar, the octopus did look a bit more human than it had a moment ago, face wrinkling and crinkling and even changing colour a little to seem a lot more like a person.

Alice reached out and took hold of two of his stubby little tentacles, as her legs were getting ever so tired from kicking. “Not for a long time I think,” she said. “Years at least.”

“Well then,” the octopus shrugged with his whole body. “That settles it.”

Alice didn’t really think that settled it at all, but she had been taught to be polite. The octopus was awfully grown up and spoke with such authority and finality she found that that was almost as good as it being settled after all.

“Excuse me sir, but you seem to be rather knowledgeable. Do you know where we are? Where we’re going?”

“Why, this is a wonderful tunnel leading us a land of wonderment and plenty!” Pronounced the octopus, inflating slightly from Alice’s flattery. “Can you not sense that from the speed and urgency of the water?”

“How do you know?” Alice frowned as she asked, looking down the seemingly endless tunnel. “Have you been to the end before?”

“No, I have no idea,” the octopus shook his body-head back and forth. “But I have an opinion, and I can speculate. That’s what I do. That’s my job.”

“To make things up?”

“Good lord no,” harrumphed the octopus. “To speculate, to think, to observe and opine.”

“And that’s how you know that the end of the pipe is a magical, wonderful place?”

“Exactly!” The octopus’ eyes lit up with self-satisfaction.

There was a hideous bubbling, and from the depths of the rushing waters there emerged a squid, bright yellow, with limbs as long as the octopus’ were short.

“He lies!” the squid shrieked, shrill and loud, a woman’s voice coming from its little white beak. “He always lies! The end of the pipe is a hell-hole! There is nothing there but the worst horrors that you can imagine!”

“And how do you know?” Alice took one hand from the octopus and placed it on the squid, pushed and pulled between them as they argued with one another.

“It’s my raison d’être to comment on things,” offered the squid.

“You’re a hack!” Yelled the octopus.

“You’re nothing but a pseudo-intellectual!” Screamed the squid.

Alice found herself floating free again, as the squid and the octopus flailed at each other in a manner that put Alice somewhat in mind of the time she saw two distant relatives swinging at each other with gloved hands at a wedding. The hatred was real – and shared – they just weren’t very good at fighting.

“This really hasn’t helped very much,” Alice said to herself, picking up speed and twirling faster and faster. “One tells me it’s heaven, the other tells me it’s hell. Neither of them seems to actually know, but both seem so very sure. Perhaps it’s some mix of the two things, and perhaps it’s neither. It seems like the only way to be sure, is to look.”

With that thought coming from her lips, Alice plunged over the edge of a waterfall and deep into the frothing pool beneath.

Alice bobbed up again, into the air and the light and pulled herself, exhausted, to the shore. A shore of fat and hair, rice grains, crumbs and slimy things that didn’t bear thinking about. There was no sign of the octopus or the squid, but that made sense didn’t it? They were aquatic. At least it made sense to Alice’s exhausted brain and so, laying on her back upon the shore she closed her eyes.

artem-olegovic-kartofelscann2

“Who goes there?” Was what people said in stories about wars and adventures and Alice, a young lady of lawks-a-mercy-almost-ten, felt rather silly saying it. She was hardly a soldier, though she supposed she might count as an explorer. How many people could say they were ripped into pieces and stitched back together again as she had been? Not many, if any, she thought. That sense of uniqueness added some strength to her spine, and she stood up straight with her shoulders back – just as the doctor had told her to.

“Who be going over there by ‘eck?” It was a queer little voice and as it spoke the figure that was carrying it lifted a small lamp and Alice got her first look and who – or what – it was.

Before her, was a peculiar little man in a fustian suit of muddy brown. His pale little face peered out from between the eaves of a high, starched collar and as he blinked, Alice realised that there were more than two eyes. His whole face was covered with them, all of them staring. Alice also became aware that there were other little lanterns, picking over the ground, which she now saw was a ripe and foetid mix of everything that had ever fallen down the plughole.

“Why, I’m Alice. I’m pleased to meet you,” Alice gave a little curtsey, a man in a suit – however peculiar – seemed like a gentleman to her, and politeness cost nothing.

The little man seemed somewhat sombre, and he stared with his too-many-eyes at Alice before appearing to recall his manners. “My name is Edward,” he said, and stepped closer, wiping his grubby hand on the corduroy roughness of his russet trousers. “I’m afraid you come at a sad time, I was going to give you the last rites.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to have put you out by not being dead,” Alice didn’t quite know what to do, she hadn’t been to a funeral before – save that of poor old Dinah. She curtseyed again, for lack of anything better to do and offered the only words she could think of. “My condolences for your loss.”

“Thank you, thank you, but fortunately it seems to have stopped,” Edward looked upward and, when Alice followed his gaze with her own, she could see the opening to the plughole high above and the light streaming through – though it hardly seemed to penetrate the gloom.

“Oh however will I get back up there?” Alice fussed.

“You come from that hellish place?” Edward started in horror and turned his many-eyes on Alice again, seeming to see – for the first time – all the joins and scars where she had put her pieces back together.

“It’s not so bad, even if my aunt and cousin can be a little cruel,” Alice frowned as she looked up into the sky, trying to puzzle out the problem.

“But it is such a cruel place! Full of horrors! Only we, the shortest are spared the tortures, our friends and brothers skinned alive, cut to pieces, their severed parts raining down on us from above and only our dedication putting their spirits to rest!”

Alice was shocked and horrified to hear such a thing, not to mention puzzled. “You make it sound like the most ghastly place imaginable, and it’s really just a kitchen!”

“But look at you!” Edward, rather presumptively, poked and prodded with one whitish finger at the scar lines on Alice’s arm. “You were ripped to pieces as well! What manner of vegetable are you and how did you survive?” An intense, penetrating, suspicious stare emanated from every one of his squinty little eyes.

“Why I am not a vegetable at all!” Alice declared with her hands on her hips. “I am a human being!”

“A harwig bean?” Edward leaned even closer. “Que’st ce to fais ici, si loin de la Belgique?”

Alice’s French vocab had entirely abandoned her, so she tried explaining clearly and loudly. “A human being!” She said. “An animal!” She added, for clarity.

“Oh, we don’t get many of those, and never alive,” Edward said. “How is it that you are untouched?”

“Sir, I hardly think I was untouched. The machine chopped me into tiny pieces, and it was all I could do to pull myself together again. I’m not sure I got every piece though, I have a suspicion that there were some bits of my insides left over.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t worry about that,” Edward shook his head. “Have you ever taken apart a carriage clock?”

Alice thought for a moment and winced slightly. “Never on purpose.”

“Well, you will often find,” Edward took on a professorial and lecturing tone. “That there are pieces left over, but that the clock works just the same as it ever did. You seem to be fine. Has anything like this ever happened to you before?”

Alice paused and thought for a long moment, she had happened to have strange adventures before, but she had never been entirely sure whether they had really happened or not. “I suppose I have. There was a time when I fell down a hole, and another when I travelled to a mysterious land. There may have been another one where there was a sort of mechanical doll that looks exactly like me, but I’m not sure it’s canon.”

“Well, I’m sure I fail to understand what guns and explosives have to do with it, unless they’re what blew you to pieces,” Edward had become haughty and priggish since explaining about the clock. “You can join me if you wish, I must find a couple more casualties before I return to camp and then we can see what is to be done about you.”

“Oh, I do so hope you and your friends can help me,” Alice fell in behind Edward, glad of the warm little light cast by his lamp and keeping quiet, for his search seemed to be rather sad.

Alice found herself wondering, recalling her past adventures, which of them had been real and which had not. They seemed ridiculously fanciful when she thought back to them, but then again here she was in yet another strange and sinister world, at the mercy of forces beyond her comprehension. There was nothing for it but to go along with things and to see how they all worked out.

“Hark! Avert your eyes girl!” Hissed Edward, and Alice swiftly turned her back.

“What is it?”

“The gruesome remains of one of my poor, fallen brothers,” answered Edward and crouched in the muck, mumbling some sort of prayer. Alice could barely hear, but it was something to do with tubers and leaves and the richness of the soil. It had the same, well-practised drone that the Reverend’s words had every Sunday and while it was pleasant enough, it made her feel bored by association.

Alice had been told not to look, but then she’d also been told not to play with the garbage grinder and where had that gotten her? Slowly, carefully, trying not to make any noise, she turned about. “Why, it’s nothing but a potato peeling!” She cried.

Edward started from his crouching prayers and twisted back to look at her. “I said don’t look! This is too terrifying for a mere bean-sprout to see! It’ll turn your leaves black!”

“But it’s only a potato peeling, I’ve seen plenty of those!” And, after a moment “Altogether far too many of them!”

Edward seemed horrified, spluttering without words for long moments before gasping out, “You poor, poor creature, to see such terrors!”

“Oh, it’s not terrifying, just annoying to be made to do chores like a common scullery maid. I’m almost ten you know! I shouldn’t be peeling potatoes.”

“Puh-puh-puh-peeling? You did this? You carved the living faces of my brothers from their bodies and cast them into the pit?” He was shaking and trembling and seemed in a frightful sweat.

“My aunt made me,” said Alice, scuffing the dirt with her shoe.

“But why?” Edward stood, clutching at his own face, every one of his eyes glaring, unblinking at Alice.

“Well, without them what would we have to go with our sausages for supper?”

“Sausages?” The concept seemed outside of Edward’s experience.

“Chopped up meat in a sort of skin-bag and cooked,” Alice offered, matter of factly, trying to remember what the butcher had said last time she had visited. “Pork and fat and… rusk, I think.” Then, after another moment’s thought she added; “But I don’t think I’ll eat sausages any more, having been treated like one. I think I might become a vegetarian.”

“Eat… only vegetables?” Edward’s jaw had practically hit the floor.

“Well, what else could I eat if not meat or fruit or vegetables?”

“Soil!” cried Edward, forcefully. “Like any peaceable, civilised tuber! Delicious, loamy soil! Full of goodness and minerals!”

“I can’t eat soil,” Alice frowned.

“Won’t, you mean, you unethical monstress!” Edward took a deep, deep breath and began to bellow. “Help! Help! A demoness! A monster! A wild-eyed potato eater! A fiend in a pinafore!”

Alice almost jumped out of her skin. “What? No! I mean yes, but…” There was no talking to him, and the little lights of the other suited men were getting brighter and closer. Alice turned this way and that and then, in a panic, hitched up her skirts and began to run, as far and as fast as she could.

The lights gathered and pursued her, with a hollering, bellowing roar of outrage. Alice was terrified, but also confused and scared. Why were they all so upset? “It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t mean anything! It’s just a silly chore!”

Clammy, wet, white hands clawed at her, dancing lights threatened to catch her petticoats aflame and just as all seemed lost, a great flood of water fell from the sky and in a maelstrom of icy suds and filth the world was swept away.

sergey-shetukhin-alicesAlice was getting thoroughly, indescribably bored with scrubbing and peeling potatoes. Her fingers were numb and cold from the tap water, there was dirt under her fingernails, and her fingertips were scratched and tender from slipping with the knife.

The little potatoes kept falling down the plughole, which was frustrating, and the larger ones seemed to take simply forever to get clean and were leathery and awkward to strip out of their tight brown jackets.

“Surely,” Alice said, petulantly. “Some clever fellow should have invented a machine to do this, so as to spare little girls such a chore? Or is it could have? Would, could, should.” As was so often the case, Alice found she was only confusing herself even more in trying to puzzle it out.

Snowdrop thought, for a moment, that Alice might have been talking to her and stretched out her paws, giving a little “Mrrp” for an answer, but Alice was only talking to herself.

What would such a potato-peeling machine even look like? Alice liked to imagine something terribly modern, electric and shiny, gleaming gears and clicking switches, but if she allowed herself to be sensible – something she was loath to do at the best of times – she thought it would likely more closely resemble her mother’s unused apple-peeler. How beastly dull that would be. Even duller was the realisation that, so far as her aunt was concerned, Alice was the potato-peeling machine.

Alice stared down at the latest potato from the sack, a big greenish one, and it stared back, in all directions at the same time, which was a little unnerving, like trying to maintain eye contact with a basket full of kittens.

“Why do they call them eyes do you suppose?” She asked, to nobody in particular and Snowdrop paid no heed, curled into a ball in front of the stove, already dreaming of sardines. “They don’t see, they’re where the potato grows its roots – so I’m given to understand by the gardener.”

Alice drew the peeling across the skin, slicing down to the watery off-white flesh beneath. The length of peel unfurled, curled and dropped down into the sink. Easily distracted, especially when engaged in a chore or left at a loose end, as she often was, Alice watched it slide perilously close to the yawning maw of the plug hole.

Soon, fascinated as she was by the slightest amusement, Alice found herself on tippy-toe, atop the wooden step that granted her sufficient reach to use the sink. It was a grand old sink, massive, weighty, almost the size of a bathtub – so it seemed to Alice – dark and smooth, like the worn stone steps at the church. In the dark of the plughole, there was a sinister glint of steely metal teeth.

That was the grinder.

Alice was a little confused by such a modern contrivance. It seemed out of sorts, out of character, out of time and out of place. Alice often felt that way herself, and so didn’t really feel she had the authority to complain about the world she found herself inhabiting. Why shouldn’t objects have as queer a life as she had, herself?

Her aunt had been simultaneously proud and terrifying when she described the grinding machine. A set of electrically powered, stainless, whirling blades that would chop anything that fell down into the hole into tiny bits and flush it away into the sewers, “of which we do not speak as it is not ladylike” as her cousin would have it.

“Alice,” her aunt had said, wagging her finger with the imperious authority that came naturally to her, despite her advancing spinsterhood. “You are absolutely, positively, never to poke your finger or anything else down the plug hole that does not belong there. Do you understand me? I lost my first engagement ring down there, never to be seen again, and a maid lost her finger. It was a such a frightful fuss.”

Losing a ring made sense to Alice, she had once lost a good dozen curtain rings and had been locked in the nursery for a whole day for the sake of it, but losing a finger didn’t. How could you be so careless with something that was attached to you? She’d heard you could forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on, which worried her because she’d never been able to find the screw. There was nothing about fingers though. For all she knew the finger was still in there somewhere, and perhaps the maid would be happy to have it back. Still, it wasn’t worth incurring the wrath of her aunt, who was quick to anger and almost as ready to reach for the slipper.

After those dire warnings that dark little hole and the mysterious machinery that lurked within had become increasingly attractive to Alice’s inquisitive mind, rather than less. It was most certainly a lot more interesting than peeling potatoes, while her aunt and cousin were off trying on dresses and taking tea in town. Alice was near-as-damn-it-ten, wasn’t she? Old enough to think, and even sometimes say, a scandalous word like ‘damn’. Maybe she was also interested in dresses and gossip, tea, cake and shopping. Perhaps she wasn’t, but it had to be more fun than peeling potatoes for supper, and she did oh-so-very-much want to be treated as a lady, rather than as a child.

Alice heaved a fresh sigh, puffing her hair up into the air, and slowly she drew the peeler over the potato once again, making a game of it. She tried to get the piece of peel to drop, directly into the hole and she smiled to herself in delight when a part fell right into the hole. That was when the grinder gave a deep, vibrating grumble and swallowed down the skin – eyes and all – in one, big, mechanical gulp.

All of a sudden a long strand of Alice’s golden hair fell from behind her ear, in the exact same instant that the latest strand of peel dropped from the potato into the mouth of that metal glutton. With a roar, it began to chew enthusiastically, on both the skin and Alice’s hair.

“Oh dear!” Said Alice and braced her hand against the edge of the sink as her hair was twisted, knotted into a rope and pulled down into the sink.

“Oh bother!” Alice shouted as she was pulled, head first, off her feet, into the air and over the side of the sink.

“Help!” Screamed Alice, getting dizzy as she spun around and around, legs in the air, stockinged feet towards the ceiling, presenting a most undignified sight to a fortunately indifferent Snowdrop.

“Rurrrr!” Said the grinder, as it chewed its way through Alice, from the crown of her head, all the way down to her toes. It ate the lot of her, unfussy, snout to tail.

It gnashed its way through her dress, her pinafore, her shoes and her unmentionables.

It chewed her hair, devoured her scalp, gobbled up her arms, wolfed down her legs, gorged itself on her torso, noshed on her skin and gulped her down, every bit, without so much as a burp to show for it, the lace of her shoe vanishing into the plug hole like a strand of spaghetti.

Alice decided there and then that she would never eat another sausage so long as she lived, now that she had some inkling of what might be involved in the process from the perspective of the meat.

The kitchen had vanished in a whirl of metal, blood and ripped strands of cloth. She was left dizzy, nauseous and sickened from the twisting as she spun around and around into the darkness of the drain. She had a strange sensation of being stretched, drawn out, taken apart piece by pieced, sorted and alphabetised as though she were a bookcase, rather than a collection of bones and organs, dreams, aspirations and half-remembered French vocabulary.

Finally, it stopped, and Alice realised she was sitting in a little pile, all bits and pieces, in the dark of whatever it was that came after the grinder.

Then Alice realised that she was realising something, and that – she realised – was unlikely and peculiar for someone who had been chopped into little pieces.

“I would have thought that I would be dead,” said Alice, thinking aloud as she was wont to do. She heard her own voice coming from the area around where she would normally expect her knees to be. That was unsettling, but amongst so many other troubling things it didn’t seem quite so urgent.

“Well, it is what it is.” She’d heard her aunt say that when she broke a vase once, and it seemed to help a little. “Pull yourself together gel!” That she’d heard at the train station, called from the window to a distressed looking woman, so she assumed he’d meant ‘girl’ and had never had a governess who was committed to elocution.

Alice wasn’t entirely sure where to start, but she had to start somewhere and, so, she began to grab around with her hands, pulling the scattered pieces of her body into a pile and sorting through them, trying to remember – from her dollies – how her body might fit back together into one overall piece.

Finally, with a sort of wet-sounding ‘pop’, Alice slid her second eyeball into place and turned back and forth, swishing her raggedy skirts. She was just about certain she had put herself together, and now that her eyes were brushed off and put back where they belonged they’d had time to adjust a little to the darkness.

Alice was still a little dizzy, but even through that dizziness and the shock of being pulled apart and put back together, “definitely no more sausages,” she was aware of the sensation of being watched.

She squinted a little and peered into the murky darkness, shielding her eyes with her hand, two-dozen little eyes glittered in the dark, gazing back.

“Hello?” Said Alice, and took a careful, faltering step towards the eyes. “Who goes there?”

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Inktober – Jolt

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