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THE VELVET PAW OF ASQUITH NOVELS

WHEN FEAR IS NOT AFRAID THOMAS CORFIELD

Panda Books Australia

“Corfield has again ensured he will never become a victim of plagiarism.” —Don Marconi, on probation. “As cultivated as an established rose garden, but with far more manure.” —Name withheld because of low self-esteem. “It’s no wonder the Dooven books conclude with a certificate of achievement.” —Brigette Formea, Dark Urine Marketer.


CONTENTS Title Page Licence Notes Sample Important Note Some Relevant Links Doovenism Opening Chapter Excerpt From The Next Book Thank You About the author


LICENCE NOTES All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. Written in Australian English. Thank you for purchasing this ebook. If you didn’t, and it’s pirated, then a pox upon you. I don’t do this for fun, you know.This is work. And it’s quite hard too. Especially some of the spelling. This book must not be reproduced, copied or distributed, nor can it be printed out to write shopping lists on. If you enjoyed this book, please return to ThomasCorfield.com to discover further books. If you didn’t enjoy it, then I suggest you re-read it paying closer attention. Consider visiting VelvetPawofAsquith.com for music, dancing and much merriment.


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t the desk, a receptionist repeated a question he hadn’t heard. “And you’re his doctor, I understand?” she asked. Oscar turned back to her. There were other receptionists beside her, busy with telephone calls and notes, and one was bandaging the paw of another who’d damaged it during some emergency dialling. “I’m sorry?” “You’re his doctor, I understand?” “Well, not really.” She glanced at some notes and frowned. “We were told his doctor would be accompanying him.” “Oh, yes. Sorry. I thought you were asking if I needed one.” The receptionist looked up at him. “Why would I ask whether you need a doctor?” He shrugged. “Well, this being a hospital, I presume it’s a common enquiry.” “So are you a doctor or not?” she tried after a sigh that was borderline diagnostic for needing one herself. “If not, I’ll have to page for one.” “Yes, I am a doctor,” he said, before wondering how he was going to contact the Loud Purr while keeping an eye on his patient. The receptionist’s look withered to irritation. “And?” “And what?” “What are you admitting him for, doctor?” Oscar glanced at the Returned Poet, who remained strapped to the stretcher and mumbling things about cheese and antique curtain rails. “He’s completely insane-of-the-mind,” he said. “He burst in on this evening’s lectures in the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe and disrupted them entirely.” The receptionist went pale and a paw covered her mouth. “The lectures? Surely not!”


“Yes. Such interruption is unforgivable, of course.” “Of course! How dreadful! Were they terribly cross?” “Terribly. Fortunately, the Elder Pom-Wimple, whom I know personally, called me directly.” “You know the Pivotal Elder of the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe personally?” “Oh, yes.We had a brief chat about poetry just this evening.” He glanced at the Returned Poet again. “I blame myself for his state. He’s been my patient for five years and has gotten worse over recent months.” The receptionist peered over the desk too. “He appears to be eating himself.” “Yes. It’s one of the problems associated with Cheese Syndrome.” “Of what?” “Cheese Syndrome. He thinks he’s made of cheese.” “Cheese?” “Yes, you know, the yellow stuff sometimes found in certain gourmet buns.” “He thinks he’s made from cheese?” Oscar nodded in a manner reflecting the severity of such diagnosis. “Goodness.” She scrabbled across her desk for an application form that might help lessen the gravity of their situation. “I’ve never heard of Cheese Syndrome. Is it very dangerous?” “It can be fatal if you’re lactose intolerant.” She found one and began filling it in. “Because he interrupted the lecture,” Oscar continued, “there are significant medico-legal-quasi-geo-political factors that have to be addressed most urgently.” “Yes, of course.” “So I’d like to make a telephone call if possible, to a colleague who’s an expert in professional cheese-shaping.” “Of course, doctor.” She stopped scribbling and dragged a telephone to him. After wiping some blood off it, she said, “Use this one, but be careful: it’s very sharp and has been responsible for three ad-


missions already this evening.” “It’s all right,” said Oscar, warming to the role, “I’m a doctor. I’m used to sharp things” She smiled in apology and continued her frantic scribbling. Oscar dialled and waited, wondering how he was going to speak to the Catacombs without a herd of receptionists overhearing. There was a voice at the other end. “Hello?” “Hello,” said Oscar, before realising he hadn’t thought any of this through. He tried turning from the desk, but the telephone’s sharpness threatened to cut the cord. “It’s doctor Teabag-Dooven. I was wondering whether I might speak to the animal in charge.” “Who?” “Doctor Teabag-Dooven.” He pronounced the name very clearly. “Is that Oscar?” “Yes.” “Goodness! It’s Binklemitre here! We’ve been up all night wondering how things were going.We’ve been playing cards. It’s very late here.What time is it there?” “Well, latish, I suppose. Look, can I speak to the Loud Purr?” “No, not really.” “What do you mean not really?” “He’s got a really good paw and I think he’s about to beat Messington—” “Just put him on the phone, Binklemitre!”When the receptionist looked up, he covered the receiver and said, “New administrative staff. Still learning the ropes. Nothing like the well-oiled machine you’ve got going on here.” When she smiled and went back to her scribbling, there was a gruff voice on the other end. “Pantaloons?” Oscar stood to attention, which had her looking again. “Good evening, You Illustriousness,” he said. “Sorry to bother you, but something very interesting has come up.” “Indeed?Well?” “Yes. Look, the thing is, I think it would be a good idea if you


came over here almost immediately.” “Certainly, if you think it’s necessary.What’s happened?” He glanced at the receptionist, who was looking at him. “Cheese, mainly.” “Cheese?” “Well, Cheese Syndrome.” “Cheese what?” “Yes. A quite serious case.” “You’re not making sense, Pantaloons.” “I know, but there’s a very good reason.” “And what’s this about cheese. Did you say cheese?” “Yes. Perhaps as soon as you can.” “Pantaloons—” “Far away from other patients, you say?” “What?” “Yes, I’ll do a complete and thorough examination.” “Pantaloons, have you finally lost your collar?” “Contagious? Are you certain?” “No I’m not! Stop speaking rubbish and start making sense!What’s going on?” “That’s marvellous then.” He gritted his teeth, adding, “I’d be very grateful if you could arrive here unbelievably quickly before the seriousness of the situation becomes something that I’m incapable of managing, let alone comprehending.” There was a pause on the other end. “We’ll be there directly.” He hung up, being careful not to cut himself. From Chapter 11


IMPORTANT NOTE This publication contains references to characters, events and places from other books in the series. It also contains 3 intentional typographical errors. Readers astute enough to identify these errors are eligible to receive a delightful ‘Certificate of Astuteness’ and a paw-written letter of congratulation from Oscar Teabag-Dooven. Moreover, readers who post a review of this book anywhere—even on their fridge—whether favourable or otherwise (the review, not their fridge), will receive a ‘Certificate of Indebtedness’ for doing so. These two certificates, along with the one received upon successful completion of the book’s quiz, add up to a veritable swathe of credentials which would improve the appearance of any wall, providing it would look good draped in certificates. Submit your finding(s) at velvetpawofasquith.com. Alternatively, don’t.


SOME RELEVANT LINKS The Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels are representative of the emerging New Fable fiction genre. Consider visiting the following links to find out more about both. 1. Chosen Chapters from the Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels on Youtube: http://bit.ly/2fmCbBr

2. Hotel Scenes from the Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels on Youtube: http://bit.ly/2fNekv9


3. Writing Wrongly – The Middle Bits, a book about writing the Dooven Books, on Youtube: http://bit.ly/2ggF1qB (contains adult themes)

4. The Velvet Paw of Asquith Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/doovenbooks 5. A bit about the author: http://www.thomascorfield.com/ 6. Dooven Muzak is music written exclusively for the Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels, the books referred to in this one. Listen to some here: http://www.velvetpawofasquith.com/dooven-muzak 7.The Dooven Books are available as Cinematic Audiobooks all over the place: http://tastypooh.wixsite.com/books


DOOVENISM The Velvet Paw of Asquith novels, aka the Dooven Books, are complemented with additional media to enhance the reader’s experience. Visit VELVETPAWOFASQUITH.COM to learn more about these additional components of the Dooven Books:


DEDICATION For Oliver and Jeremy, Tabitha and Natalie


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels

1 ____________________ “Courage arises when escape is possible. Heroism arises when it isn’t.” — Lyeia-Emther-Essden-Tonquaroughly.

ELL ME ABOUTYOUR MOTHER.” Doctor Flem Funnel-Bremly leant back and waited for an answer, already aware what it would be. He’d asked the question of this patient each week for the past five years. Over that time, her response had not improved. It began with verbal abuse, followed by blazing row which culminated with the sort of violence that demolition is renowned for. She’d throw things at him, smash his pot plants and storm from his office, before confirming her appointment with his secretary for the following week. This was because Lyeia-Emther-Essden-Tonquaroughly was both insane-of-the-mind and not getting better. Her lack of progress, coupled with a desperation to make some, had been financially rewarding for Funnel-Bremly, even after taking office damage into account. Funnel-Bremly sat in a plush armchair and held a pen over a pad of notepaper. The chair was expensive and upholstered in green Cavaron leather which squeaked when he moved.The chaise longue upon which Lyeia lay was a similar design, and both went well with his office, which was also expensive, green and plush. Green wallpaper had gold flower motifs above a wooden beading that ran around its middle, which complemented a chandelier hanging from the ceil-

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When Fear Is Not Afraid ing. At one end of the room was a mahogany desk, upon which resided a gold-nibbed writing set and an elegant reading lamp with a cover of green glass. There were pot plants in reinforced concrete containers either side of floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the latter brimming with leather spines and folders containing years of patient notes. His office had an air sophisticated, intellectual establishment, which pleased him, as he aspired to the same. He pushed at glasses that slid down his nose, before pondering Lyeia through them. Most practitioners who’d treated a patient for five years without improvement would consider it failure. Funnel-Bremly, however, did not. As far as he was concerned, if a patient couldn’t be cured then there was nothing wrong with them in the first place. Indeed, he’d written a book along these lines entitled Stop Whinging, which had been published to considerable acclaim. In it, he suggested all disorders arose from self-indulgent moaning, and its release had inspired a new movement in psychiatry known as Funnelism. StopWhinging excused practitioners’ unsuccessful treatment by suggesting they probably shouldn’t have bothered treating them in the first place. Up until Funnelism, psychiatry had focused on patients. After Funnelism, however, focus turned to the practitioner. It insisted that psychiatric illnesses were the patient’s problem, not theirs, and consequently, neither was failure to cure them. Funnelism involves a two-stage treatment regime regardless of patient presentation. Firstly, a clinical insistence that they stop whinging is implemented, followed by a serious dose of perspective. For example, if a patient hears voices that aren’t there or sees things they shouldn’t, or wears gardening tools on Thursdays, or eats house bricks, Funnelism insists they stop moaning because in a hundred years no one will care. For more difficult case, a millennia may be used. Highlighting patients’ whinging against a backdrop of eternal indifference often turns out to be the proverbial slap in the face necessary for patients to effectively re-evaluate their cognitive behaviour. Moreover, because they’re mad, they readily accept this and continue 2


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels wearing gardening tools and eating bricks without beating themselves up about it afterwards. Lyeia, however, was different. She did not accept this proverbial slap; five years of expensive therapy being testament to the fact. And although she didn’t wear gardening tools on any day of the week, she did hear voices that weren’t there and certainly saw things she shouldn’t. Funnel-Bremly glanced at his bookshelves, and at one shelf in particular that bulged with notebooks from their previous sessions. Lyeia’s insanity had cultivated a temper so short that she had a habit of losing it—and even finding it again often left her furious. As a result, she had a tendency to punch animals in the face. She didn’t mean to. She wasn’t an aggressive dog at all, despite her habit of hospitalising strangers. Had she a choice, she’d prefer discussing the weather or cheese, rather than smash animals’ faces in. And although she didn’t understand why she heard voices that weren’t there and saw things she shouldn’t, she remained adamant that it had nothing to do with her mother. Which is why Funnel-Bremly was convinced it did. Habitually punching animals in the face inevitably compromises socialising for both parties. As a result, despite her tender years and charming looks, Lyeia was yet to converse with anyone for longer than twenty minutes that didn’t result in intensive care and bail application. She lay on the chaise longue, staring at the same ceiling she had for the past five years and blinked at welling tears. She’d wanted to be a doctor, but had decided against it when realising there was little point helping others if she couldn’t help herself. Instead, she worked in a library. Funnel-Bremly asked the question again. “Lyeia, tell me about your mother.” She focussed on the ceiling, its detail limited by virtue of it being a ceiling, rather like her life. The only thing she’d said about her mother was her bizarre 3


When Fear Is Not Afraid choice in names. Lyeia had no siblings. Her mother worked in a laundrette and her father in a coal mine. On this alone it was a convenient marriage. Both were kind and loved her, and gave her all she needed. She’d changed schools twice; once when her father had changed mines, and a second time after she’d set fire to a teacher’s car after ensuring the teacher was in it at the time. “Lyeia? Your mother. Tell me about her.” She wiped at tears. “We’ve been over this before.” Funnel-Bremly glanced at his bookshelf again. “Indeed,” he said, “yet never once have you answered.” “I have.” “I mean without destroying my office afterwards.” “It needs redecorating.” “It does after you’ve trashed the place. We’ve been over this many times. Your violence toward my office is an excuse to avoid talking about your mother.” While she stared at the ceiling, he felt a déjà vu so exhausting that he wondered about jotting it down. With a sigh, he lowered his notebook. “Lyeia, you must understand that your reaction insists I probe further.You don’t want me to resort to Funnelism, do you?” She rocked her head against pillow. “Good. Now, do you know why you find it so hard to talk about your mother?” “Because there’s nothing to say.” “Well, I think there’s a great deal to say.” She turned to glare. “What is it with you and my mother anyway?” “It’s you and your mother I am interested in, Lyeia. This has nothing to do with me.You know that.” “I know only that there is nothing to say on the matter.” “There is always something to say about our mothers.” “It depends on the mother.” “You’re avoiding the question again.” “I’m not avoiding anything,” she said. “I’m answering your ques4


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels tion by saying that there’s nothing of relevance to say.” “Perhaps I ought to be the judge of that.” After a time, she said, “She had a bizarre choice in names. Clearly she was a fan of hyphens.” Funnel-Bremly nodded, having noted this over two hundred times already. “Yes, but more than that.Tell me about how she makes you feel.” “I don’t feel anything. I feel nothing good or bad regarding her. I am completely devoid of opinion on the matter.” More nods as he flipped through well scribbled pages. “So you’re indifferent to her?” “I’m indifferent to the question. It’s irrelevant. She’s irrelevant. It’s like asking me to express my opinions on pompoms: they’re fluffy, light and often found on hats. But I see no point in deliberating over them.” “But most animals would consider their mothers rather more influential that a pompoms, Lyeia.” “Perhaps. Certainly she avoided sitting on hats.” “Now you’re just being flippant.” “No. I am answering an irrelevant question with irrelevance. It makes perfect sense to me.” “If things made perfect sense, Lyeia, I don’t think you’d be here, do you?” “Then what do you want me to say?” she growled. “If you keep pestering me like this, then I’ll end up mentioning something about her which you’ll insist arises from some deep-rooted maternal pathology that gives rise to my hallucinations, and that I’ll spend the next six months agonising over until it’s contradicted through further questions—which will not only leave me in a blubbering mess for a further six months, but you in traction for even longer!” Funnel-Bremly sighed. It wouldn’t be long now, and he cast an uneasy glance at his reinforced concrete pots.They were designed for war zones, so should survive another of her outbursts. He’d had them installed specially, having gone through seventeen standard ones 5


When Fear Is Not Afraid this year already. He peered at the floor beside him where an empty tray waited as impromptu shield. “All right,” he said, trying a more lateral approach. “Tell me how your mother makes you feel.” “Oh, for fluff’s sake! How many more times? My being insaneof-the-mind has nothing to do with my mother!” “Nevertheless, Lyeia, tell me how she makes you feel.” “I don’t think—” “Don’t think, Lyeia. I want to know how you feel. Begin the sentence with I feel.” “I feel your pedantic wording is ridiculous. Using words interchangeably does not make any difference to what I’d wish to say!” “And what do you wish to say, Lyeia?” When she turned to glare again, he said, “Lyeia, need I remind you that I’m a psychiatrist and you’re a librarian.There’s a difference. A big one.” Her eyes narrowed. “You know very well my reasons for surrendering medicine,” she said. “I did not take the decision lightly. My being a librarian does not make me less of an animal than I otherwise might have been. Indeed, such sacrifice might prove my being a far finer one.” “Are you certain of that?” “You know I am.You must have written it down often enough. I cannot hope to help others if I am ill myself.” She folded her paws and turned back to the ceiling. “It was a sacrifice necessary.” “Are you certain, Lyeia?” She nodded as tears welled. He hesitated. If she got upset, his office wouldn’t stand a chance. Nevertheless, he asked again, “Your mother. Tell me about her.” With a sigh, she wiped her eyes.“Have I made any progress at all?” “In a manner of speaking,” he said, thinking of his new yacht. She sat up, which had him leaning toward the tray. “I don’t think I am making progress,” she said. “What’s more, I 6


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels think my boss is beginning to suspect the same.” He frowned. “Fingelberry? But I was under the impression that you were finding the library very peaceful. As I recall, only last month you assured me you felt far less likely to punch animals in the face while working there.” She nodded. “Yes. But recently arguments have been erupting out of nowhere.” She looked at him with eyes tearing again. “I know it’s ridiculous: animals come to the library looking for books, not fights. So why do I end up telling them that they’re stupid and if they want their snouts smashed in? If they’re in a library they’re not complete idiots, surely? So why do I find myself telling them that they are?” “Perhaps you’re indirectly telling yourself?” “No,” she said, with a defiant sniff. “It’s definitely them. I find their voices and questions and smiles irritating, even though all they’re doing is asking about due dates and where the non-fiction is.” “And that irritates you?” “Yes! It’s a library. Surely they can read? I mean, there are signs all over the place! It’s not difficult to work out where the non-fiction is if they read the signs indicating where the non-fiction is! They should consider it practice for when they get there.” “The Great Library of Liebe is the world’s largest library, Lyeia.” “All the more reason to make an effort.” “But it’s your job, surely? It’s part of what a librarian would do.” “A librarian should not have to teach stupid animals how to be less so.” She began hitting her head. “They irritate me so much that I end up screaming at them.” Her blows lessened and she looked sheepish. “At least, I did until recently.” “What happened recently, Lyeia?” She bit her lip. “I began punching them in the face again.” He closed his eyes, realising he was going to need more shelving. “So even in the library you find opportunity to punch animals in the face?” 7


When Fear Is Not Afraid She nodded. “I thought we’d been over this, Lyeia. I thought we’d developed coping mechanisms to implement when you start feeling like thumping animals. Remember? So you can redirect your violence into something resembling polite dinner conversation?” “Yes, but there’s a problem with your coping mechanisms.” “What’s that?” “They’re rubbish.They don’t work at all.When I get infuriated, the last thing on my mind is implementing mechanisms of convivial dinner conversation because all I want to do is punch animals in the face!” He sighed and shook his head. Lyeia did not look capable of such violence. She was beautiful, for a start. Her ears were long and floppy and hung around her shoulders as though they were the latest fashion. Her eyes, big and brown, seemed incapable of harbouring anything other than wonder at the world. Yet here she was, LyeiaEmther Essden-Tonquaroughly: the most unstable patient he’d ever met. Who wasn’t in prison. She had a sick note regarding that. But even sick notes from psychiatrists as influential as he would become redundant if she’d begun punching animals in the face again. His reputation had persuaded Fingelberry to engage her at the library, and her relapse wouldn’t do much for it. Although Fingelberry was a kind animal, the Library Board would be far less understanding. Ambulances were supposed to be noisy. Libraries were not. Changing his approach, he asked, “The visions, Lyeia. Are they as frequent?” She looked away and fought tears. “Yes.” “More so?” “Yes.” “And still the same imagery?” “Yes.” “And the voices, Lyeia. Do they whisper more insistently than 8


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels before?” She stared at nothing; a lull before storm. “Lyeia?” he asked. “The voices. Are they more insistent than before?” She shook her head and sniffed at an escaped tear. “Are they lessening then?” When she shook her head again, he frowned. “If they’re not as insistent, but they’re not lessening, are they getting louder perhaps?” She shrugged. “What do they say?” “I don’t know,” she whispered. “Why? You can’t hear them clearly, perhaps?” Another shake of head. He was encouraged. “Is that a good thing?” he asked. When she turned to him, he felt to be kicked in the chest. “I can’t hear them properly,” she said, “because they scream.” He reached for his tray while swallowing at nothing. “All the time, Lyeia? Do they scream all the time?” She returned her attention to ceiling. After a moment’s deliberation, he asked, “And you’re absolutely convinced that this has nothing to do with your mother?” When she turned to him again, he retrieved his tray without any sudden movements. “Would you please leave my mother out of this?” she hissed. He glanced at his pot plants, hoping the war zone was a particularly violent one. He didn’t want it inverted again. The repair bills alone were his greatest expense last quarter. Next to hospital bills. “It’s just that every time I mention your mother, you get defensive.” “I am not getting defensive!” “True,” he said. “I stand corrected. Offensive is perhaps more apt.” “Offensive? How do you think I feel?” she cried. “I have no 9


When Fear Is Not Afraid choice! Your insistence about my mother drives me mad—which is quite an achievement, considering I’m already insane!” She leant closer. “I can assure you, Funnel-Bremly, that my mother has got nothing to do with my problem!” “That you admit you have a problem, is the first step to recovery.” He wanted to jot this down, but didn’t dare surrender the tray. Her glare hardened. “I told you I had a problem five years ago! For five years you’ve been supposedly curing my madness!Yet nothing has changed. I still hear voice that aren’t there and see things I shouldn’t! Am I beyond help? Tell me, Funnel-Bremly! Because I have seen five psychiatrists in seven years! None of them helped. All they could do was refer me to you—” “You did put two of them in traction.” “—and here I am five years later having made no progress whatsoever, other than ample opportunities to discuss my MOTHER!” She stood and lunged around his office as frustration boiled. “Listen,” she growled, “my mother has nothing to do with the fact that I hear voices that aren’t there and see things I shouldn’t. She’s got nothing to do with the fact that as a result, I spend my pathetic and lonely existence assaulting every second animal I come across!” “Every second one’s not so bad—” She turned to him as though mechanised. “That’s because the others run, Funnel-Bremly! They run from me! Can you imagine what that’s like? To have had no contact with any animal longer than twenty minutes?” He shook his head and braced the tray. “Twenty minutes!” she cried, waving her paws at everything. “I have had no contact with any animal that’s lasted more than twenty minutes!” “Lyeia,” he tried, “we’ve gone over this many times and discussed various coping mechanisms you could—” “You can shove your coping mechanisms right up your bottom! They don’t work, Funnel-Bremly.They never have! I am beyond coping mechanisms!” 10


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “You see? That was a perfect opportunity to insert one and steer the conversation toward a more constructive narrative. It’s called conversation, Lyeia, and they’re not difficult.They can be rather fun if you make the effort.” She stared at him. “Are you patronising me?” He sighed. “No, I am not. But I am frustrated that after all this time you still haven’t inserted anything into your interactions other than clenched paws.” When she stormed towards him, he raised his tray. “This is not about inserting coping mechanisms!” she cried. “my inability to discuss the weather is a symptom of my illness! I need, therefore, to be cured! That is what I need from you! Not ways of discussing weather that prevent me smashing animals’ faces in!” With a groan, she lunged across the room and grabbed his desk. “I don’t want to hear voices that aren’t there and see things I shouldn’t! I want to be like all the other normal, boring idiots running around the place. I want to chat about spoons and cheese and weather and not be compelled to smash faces!” She gripped the desk so hard that it shook with her. “And what’s more,” she cried, picking the thing up and waiting while his lamps and gold-nibbed writing set slid to the floor, “I do not want to discuss my MOTHER!” With a growl, she hurled it at a bookcase, which toppled, fell and distributed its contents across the floor.With a growl, she picked up his chair and smashed it across a pot plant. Her obscenities were so extraordinary that he wondered about jotting them down. He didn’t, however, too busy deflecting pawfuls of books that she threw at him, and a broken part of his desk lamp. With another cry, she wrenched open the door, stormed from his office and confirmed her appointment for next Thursday. In the wilting chaos of her wake, Funnel-Bremly lowered his tray and wiped books from his lap. He stood and surveyed the damage, impressed that she’d managed to crack a pot plant after all.Wad11


When Fear Is Not Afraid ing through mess, he gathered the sessions’ notes and circled the word mother several times, afterwhich he hunted for an intercom that used to be on his desk, before hunting for his desk. Finding both, he pressed a button. There was a crackle of broken speaker when his secretary’s voice spluttered through. “Do you need an ambulance?” she asked. “Not this time, no.” “Insurance details then?” “Yes. Did she made a time for next week?” “I’m afraid so. It’s rather hard to refuse her, you see.” He sighed, knowing that it was indeed.

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2 ____________________ HE DOORS OF THE UNDERGROUND TRAIN HISSED OPEN. From them, passenger spilled. There was jostling when animals waiting pushed through to replace them, both parties grateful not to need their pillows.. It was busy time of evening; those disembarking were eager to get home, as were those trying to board. One, in particular. The Returned Poet hopped from paw to paw, waiting for the passenger bolus to lessen in density.When the station he sought was announced over the platform’s loudspeakers, he could wait no longer, and fought through the throng, ignoring the flailing paws of those just as eager but marginally more courteous. The air smelt of ozone and detergent, and the noise of train and indignant passengers made further announcements incomprehensible. Passengers had long given up trying to decipher station announcements, and instead clutched pillows. Some time ago, when an announcement tried explaining that all services had been suspended after drivers developed sudden train allergies, passengers were forced to sleep on the underground platforms. As a consequence, there’d been a resurgence in deciphering announcements of badly positioned loudspeakers in poorly chosen locations. Because the desperate “shhs!” of those wishing to hear drowned out said announcements, passengers gave up and brought pillows instead. Struggling through flailing paws, the Returned Poet scrambled into the carriage and continued his paw-hopping. Passengers looked at him worriedly, concerned he needed a toilet long before he’d manage to find one, and gave him a large berth. He glared at them,

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When Fear Is Not Afraid aware of his tattered robes and knowing he hadn’t washed for weeks. He closed his eyes and tried to lessen his breaths, which had become more ragged than his attire. He willed the train to move. When it began to, he willed it to go faster, which it did. He looked at the roof, desperate for patience despite his hopping bordering on dance. He whimpered, trying to quell rising panic. It felt like bile in his throat and rose as the train gathered speed. When he dared glance around the carriage again, he discovered its berth had grown to its length. Alone, he closed his eyes in relief and forced his hopping to slow.When the train began slowing also, he stumbled to its door, paw on its doors, eager for them to open so he could continue. A squeak of brakes taunted him, and he gritted his teeth while pulling at doors in an effort to have the thing come to a halt faster. When the squeak died and the train jolted to s stop, they hissed open. With a flail of paws, he burrowed through a tide of boarding animals, their determination understandable, considering it was already empty. He collapsed upon the platform, ignoring the paws stumbling over him and looked up at the station’s sign; the relief at having arrived forging a determination on par with the passengers when boarding. He struggled upright and lunged towards stairs. At the top of them two Ticket Inspectors waited, one of which intercepted him. “Excuse me, sir,” the large uniformed dog asked barring the way in a manner resembling walls. “May I see your ticket?” The Returned Poet stopped, though his aroma didn’t, which had the Inspector coughing when it continued past him. “May I see your ticket please, sir?” Patting his tatters absentmindedly, the Returned Poet realised not only was he devoid of one, but that he didn’t care about them either.The Ticket Inspector wasn’t surprised, having had considerable experience inspecting tickets which allowed him to recognise fare evaders in the same way others recognised colours. He’d been nominated for Ticket Inspector of theYear eight years running. But having been thrown from a train by fare evaders recently, he’d failed to 14


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels achieve the award for an eighth time, and had instead been demoted to station duties, which had shattered his confidence into the sort of thing dustpans had been invented for. The Inspector folded his paws and glared. “So you don’t have a ticket?” The Returned Poet shook his head, his desperation to be somewhere having left him oblivious to the logistics of getting there. “If you don’t have a ticket,” the Inspector said, “then I shall afford you the opportunity to purchase one now. If you don’t purchase one, then I shall have no choice but to reprimand you.” The Returned Poet stared at him, trying hard not to lose his temper. “Well?” the Inspector said. “Would you like to purchase a ticket now? Or would you prefer a reprimand instead?” Holding out his tatters to show he had no money, the Returned Poet stared up at the animals in dismay, unable to believe he had come so far only to find he needed a few coins for the last bit. He asked whether a reprimand would take very long, as he had to be somewhere almost immediately, which the Ticket Inspector hoped might be a bath and wardrobe in that order. “I shall offer you a caution,” the Inspector decided, pulling out a notebook and flicking through pages. He found an appropriate one and scribbled upon it, before tearing it off and holding it out. The Returned Poet took it and read. Don’t do it again. Tickets exist for a reason, you know. If I catch you evading a fare again, I shall get very cross indeed, all right? Amidst a veritable swathe of blinks, the Returned Poet looked at the Inspector in bewilderment. “You are fortunate,” the Inspector said, pocketing his book. “I have spent the past few months not only in hospital, but traction, 15


When Fear Is Not Afraid which has made me seriously consider how much effort I should make regarding tickets—which, as you might imagine, leaves me in somewhat of a quandary, considering I’m a Ticket Inspector.” The Returned Poet nodded, seeing the dilemma at once. “Should you find any money upon you at a later stage,” he continued, “I insist that you return here and purchase one in order to make amends, understood?” After another nod, the Inspector stepped aside. “Go,” he said, “before I change my mind and care.” After glancing at the other Inspector, who was watching with interest, the Returned Poet hurried from them and scurried up some more stairs. With desperation returning, he stumbled from the station and into the night. The second Inspector approached the first. “How are you feeling?” he asked, unable to imagine the trauma of being thrown from a train, let alone miss out on the Ticket Inspector of the Year award for the eighth year running. The large dog sighed and wiped at a tear. “Oh, fine,” he said. “Quite fine, except that I don’t seem to have any sarcasm anymore. And how can I be a Ticket Inspector if I don’t have sarcasm?” “Give it time,” the second said, patting his shoulder. “You have to give these things time, you know.You’ve been through an awful lot recently—and I’m not just referring to the traction. Being thrown from a train must be dreadful, let alone when thrown by fare evaders.” There were some nods. “It was pretty horrid, yes.” “You have to remind yourself that the moment tickets are no longer inspected is the moment that society needs them to be.” The notebook was retrieved and fiddled with self-consciously. “It’s just—you know—I could have had the title for the eighth year running.” There were some understanding nods from the first. “It’s not the title itself, you understand,” he continued, “it’s just encouraging to know that the Ticketing Board recognise that I’m 16


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels good at it.” “You are good at it; seven times in a row proof of the fact.” “Then why did I get thrown from a train? I’m used inspecting to the hardest, toughest railways in the world, not being thrown from them!” “Perhaps it was slippery?” “And now I’m assigned to Liebe, where the only fare-evaders are ones who catch the wrong train and end up here accidentally.” “Look, I’m certain the Board just want you recover well, that’s all. And once you have, I’m convinced you’ll again be assigned to the most dreadful routes imaginable. Before you know it, you’ll be sarcastic and infuriating and ticketing fare evaders until your bum falls off.” “But that requires that I care.”The notebook sagged. “And at the moment, I just don’t.” “Give it time.” “Do you really think so?” Another pat of shoulder. “Rudeness is like a plant,” the second said. “It takes times to grow, and you’ve just been very heavily pruned.” The city of Liebe was busy. Beneath a night sky thick with cloud, it bustled in amber haze. Streets and pavements choked with fumes, honks and shouts as traffic attempted to move amongst swathes of animals vying to return home. Cars stopped and started, tending toward the former when pedestrians got in the way, while above it all, lamp-posts lit their haste with a patience rare for the time of day. The city was known well to the Returned Poet because he was a poet. Liebe is known as the city of poets, having hosted the greatest recitals ever recited and being home to the greatest poets who’d ever lived. One building in particular epitomised the realm of poetry: the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe; an institution that had the greatest poetic license since the things had been instigated. It was where he’d learnt his craft. 17


When Fear Is Not Afraid He stumbled across the pavement and into traffic, battling its currents and dangers like water rapids. On the street’s far side, he hurried past pedestrians, barely noticing the smells of restaurants he passed, despite having not eaten for months. He rounded a corner and turned down a laneway, his breath as ragged as his attire. When he stumbled into another street, breath left him altogether. He skidded to a halt and stared at the magnificence that greeted him opposite Beautiful gardens adorned a hill, and rose to a crest upon which resided a stunning edifice; a seven storey mansion lit in floodlights, its vestibules gripping the hill as though it were a monster ready to pounce. Beneath the cloud heavy night, it had a sinister mass, its sandstone walls shone wet and black with grime, while its spires were like stretched treacle, as though having been spun from the clouds it hung beneath. The Returned Poet shivered, certain that brightness of day would render it no less menacing. For those knowing little of rhyme, the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe left them in awe of the craft, while those knowing something of it, were left in an awe still greater. He hurried across the street and grasped the garden’s railing. Beyond it, manicured lawn rose, black where groves of tree wound up its flanks and blue where it sprawled.The air had a weight of cold and smelt of wet branches and dead leaves, which rendered the smell of traffic more comforting. At a driveway, he squeezed though the railings of a wide gate and hurried across a gravel to the cover of trees. Through them, he peered up the hill until certain no animal patrolled the building, before scrambling up the hillside. He remained in the cover of hedges, his heart thumping with a turmoil of despair and hope. Taking a shuddering breath, he darted across the driveway until stumbling into the nearest vestibule’s alcove. He reached for a metal knocker, closed his eyes in dread and thumped it once. A boom echoed through the space beyond. He whimpered, his exhaustion and arrival readying him for collapse upon its steps. He could not comprehend how the wonderful years within the place had 18


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels him return with such deep darkness. When a latch shifted, and then a bolt, he stumbled backwards, readying to beg and plead for all he was worth. The door opened to reveal a slither of cat with whiskers raised. “The Elder Splunnet Pom-Wimple,” the Returned Poet whispered, unable to find volume. “I need to see him most urgently.” The cat said nothing. “Please. It is most urgent. I was a student of his many years ago. I pray he still resides within?” “Is he expecting you?” The hesitation that followed was answer enough. “Unless he is expecting you,” the cat said, the door no wider, “I cannot allow you to enter, regardless of urgency. You will have to wait until a more sensible hour when he is available in the Halls, and then make an appointment.” “Please—I assure you it is not for personal gain. I have something terribly pressing to advise!” “And that is?” “I fear I dare not tell you, sir. But I beseech you ask that he grant me just a moment. He will be indebted, I can assure you.” “Even so, I cannot. If you wish to speak to him, I have told you how you might manage. Goodnight.” The door moved to close. “Wait!” cried the Returned Poet, lunging for it. “Please— look—I shall wait here. All I ask is that you pass one word onto the Elder, and I know you will be asked to fetch me.” “But he’s having dinner,” the cat said through a slither of opening. “I cannot disturb the Elder Pom-Wimple when he’s in the middle of dinner!” “Mention this word to him, and you can be assured he will have no appetite for what remains of it.” The cat sighed. “And the word?” The Returned Poet whispered, “The Creed.” “The what?” 19


When Fear Is Not Afraid “The Creed.” “I can’t hear you.You’re whispering.” “I’m know—and I’m sorry—but it’s such a terribly dangerous word!” “And yet you wish me to?” “Just mention it to him. Please. I shall wait here. I can assure you that the Elder will demand my presence.” “Creed?” the cat repeated, to be sure. “The Creed.” “The Creed?” “Yes.” “So it is, in fact, two words.” “What?” “It’s two words you want me to mention.” “Does it matter?” “Of course it matters!You’re asking me to disturb the most esteemed Pivotal Elder of the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe with an assortment of words—and during dinner, no less—so I think it rather does!” “It’s not an assortment of words, it’s just two—and one of them isn’t important.” “Which one is that then?” “What?” “Which is the less important word?” “Isn’t it obvious?” “None of this is obvious.” The Returned Poet stared. “The first one: the.” “The?” “Yes.” “And what was the second one again?” “Creed.” “The. Creed?” The Returned Poet nodded. “Please, I beg you. Mention both to the Elder.” 20


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “I haven’t agreed to mention either, yet.” “Please—I implore you!” “I mean, it’s almost a sentence—” “Please, cat!” “In fact, I am quite certain it is a sentence. If you’d asked ‘can you mention one sentence,’ rather than swamping me in an assortment of words—some of which aren’t even important—we could probably have avoided all this confusion and the Elder’s dinner need not be threatened in the first place.” The Returned Poet felt blood rise in panic. “It’s cauliflower cheese,” the cat said, his deliberation apparent. “Which it the Elder Pom-Wimple’s favourite. So if I’m going to dare interrupt him, it had better be worth it. One word, possibly, but not a sentence.” More stares. “So I shall mention the second word only,” the cat decided. “Just think yourself lucky it’s one syllable.” “Please mention both!” “I can’t! It’s cauliflower cheese!” “You need to mention both!” “Why?” The Returned Poet stared so much that his eyes hurt. “For support.” “Support?” He nodded. “The second word is so dire, that the first must be included to help lessen the shock when uttering it. Should you mention the latter without the former, the Elder may well bring up whatever portion of cauliflower cheese he has already consumed.” The cat was aghast. “You wish me to be responsible for making the Elder Pom-Wimple vomit? That’s hardly helping your argument!” “Please!” The door was opened more and the cat studied him. “Only if you admit it’s a sentence.” “What?” 21


When Fear Is Not Afraid it.”

“Admit it’s a sentence and I’ll have a bit more of a think about

“Why do I need to admit it’s a sentence?” “Because I have but a lowly role within this most esteemed institution. I’m responsible for mops and doors, you see—for which I am grateful, of course. But if you’re supposedly a poet, and I’ve recognised a sentence when you haven’t, then your admission to such oversight would make me feel a great deal better about being lowly.” “Yes, it’s a sentence—but does it matter?” “You’re the poet,” the cat said, “So it fluffing-well ought to.” When the door closed, the Returned Poet released a breathe he’d been unaware of holding. He turned back to the gardens. Their manicured blue was ominous, the night having carved the grounds surgically and rendered them bruised. He shrank against the alcove and waited. The Inaugurate Halls of Liebe were huge, so it would take some time for the Elder to be sought. He waited. There would be time for the shock to dissipate and the Elder to find words.The Elder would tremble, go a strange colour and probably gag. He’d throw his meal of food aside and demand the messenger be fetched directly.The Returned Poet smoothed his tatters in anticipation. He’d be ushered into a reading room, where, in the presence of the venerable Elder Pom-Wimple, he’d surrender a burden that threatened to crush the world. Still he waited. After a time, he wondered if the cat had done anything at all. He knocked again. There was again a shift of latch and a slide of bolt, before the slither of cat appeared again. An enquiring blink left the Returned Poet stunned he had to ask. “Well?” There were more enquiring blinks. “The Elder Pom-Wimple,” the Returned Poet whispered. “Did 22


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels you find him?” “Yes.” “And?” The cat shrugged. “I mentioned the words. Both of them, actually, and then in reverse order to make quite certain. But the Pivotal Elder was entirely indifferent.” The Returned Poet stared at him as the door began to close. “Wait!” he pleaded, a paw upon it. “Pom-Wimple? Splunnet PomWimple? The esteemed Pivotal Elder herein? That was who you mentioned both words to?” “Yes. And he wasn’t bothered with either of them.” A weight of despair pressed at his lungs. “But—what—he reacted not at all?” The cat shrugged again. “I noticed him hesitate, but then he continued slurping. That was it, really.” “He asked nothing of why such words were brought to him?” The cat shook his head. “But—there must be some mistake,” the Returned Poet said, pressing at the door. “You didn’t pronounce them clearly enough! Or perhaps you whispered too quietly?” “Not at all. I have rather good diction as it happens. It’s a prerequisite for employment within the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe. I’m also very good with mops, quite good with buckets and know an awful lot about doors.” The Returned Poet’s stare became all-consuming. He’d expected shock, not indifference. He’d anticipated the Elder erupting in horror, desperate to know everything. “Something is wrong,” he whispered, before pushing at the door. “Let me in. I must seen him!” The cat barred his way. “No chance. I have done what you asked, and no one appears to care. The Elder Pom-Wimple is not interested in your words and is now busy with pudding. That is an end to it.” He looked the dog up and down. “And what’s more, your attire is hardly befitting a Poet of Liebe, if indeed you are one—as your inability to identify sentences suggests. On the account of your 23


When Fear Is Not Afraid clothes alone you shall not enter this place.” The Returned Poet forced the door with a shoulder. “Regardless of attire, cat, who is larger? You or I?” The cat barred it harder. “It matters little,” he growled. “You shan’t enter. And certainly you will not disturb the Elder.” “I do not believe you have even sought him out!You have done no more than play games of tease with dangers you cannot begin to imagine!” “Excuse me,” the cat said, “but I have done exactly as you asked. I even swapped the words around. I can’t help it if the Elder’s more interested in pudding. And what’s more, I don’t need to imagine anything: this is your madness, not mine. Now leave before I get cross.” The Returned Poet felt the night close in, its dark heavier than anything he could bear. If his teacher preferred denial rather than fight, then the world was already lost. With a growl, he threw himself at the door. It shifted inwards and there was a frantic scrabble with bolts behind it. “I shall be in soon enough, cat,” he growled, “so I advise you to step away or be torn apart once I do!” After another lunge the bolts were surrendered. When the door opened, the cat stepped backwards, saying, “You shan’t get away with this, you know. No animal barges into the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe without some pretty dire consequences, I can assure you!” The Returned Poet ignored him and stared at a huge vestibule he’d once known well. Its floor remained as he remembered, with thick carpets across polished stone, while ceilings towered above upon columns amidst a colossal web of black beam. Lamps glowed in recesses in cathedral-like walls, between which rugs cascaded, their fabric stained with centuries of incense that left the air potent, mature and wise. “I fear, cat,” he whispered, staring at its height, “such consequences are already upon us all.” While the cat ranted about security arrangements and mops, the Returned Poet drowned in nostalgia—until the cat mentioned 24


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels cauliflower cheese again. “Which dining room?” the Returned Poet demanded, turning to him. The cat had armed himself with a mop and bucket. “Which what?” “Which dining room is the Elder in. There are over thirty in this vestibule alone!” “I’m not telling you!” the cat said, sloshing his bucket threateningly. “You shouldn’t even be in here. I’m responsible for doors, you know, and having you barge through one of them has rendered my tenure of said role highly dubious!” When the Returned Poet strode towards him, the cat retreated. “Don’t even think of hitting me!” he cried, holding his mop threateningly. “I’m also very good with mops—which you’ll find out if you get any closer!” With a growl, the Returned Poet turned and hurried across teh vestibule. The cat called after him, waving his mop and shouting things about security and unconventional mop-usage. At the far end was a broad sweep of staircase in a glacier of marble, up which the Returned Poet leapt until arriving at a landing as elegant as the hall downstairs. Corridors led from it, and while breath struggled to catch up, he tried recalling the direction of dining halls. Choosing one, he barrelled down it, turning some corners and ignoring others. Through a large doorway, he stumbled into a library. He hurried through it, ignoring two surprised Elders. Careering through more doors, he transgressed a reading room, three sitting rooms, a second library and a cheese room. Down further corridors he hurried, before bursting into a large dining room where three Elders were eating pudding. Two of them looked up in surprise. The third, however, did not. With breath still somewhere near the second sitting room, the Returned Poet stared at him. The Elder Splunnet Pom-Wimple. 25


When Fear Is Not Afraid His teacher. His mentor. The Pivotal Elder of the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe. An animal unperturbed at having a mad, tattered dog plough into dining rooms during pudding. The Returned Poet stepped forward in a surge of hope. But with breath still elsewhere he was unable to find words. “Elder Pom-Wimple?” he asked, when it arrived, his paws clasped in plead as much as apology. The animal did not look up and remained engaged with pudding. The Returned Poet glanced at the others, both of whom stared at him. “Where’s the custard?” one asked. “Elder Pom-Wimple,” the Returned Poet said, ignoring them. “I must speak with you. It’s terribly urgent.” Still Pom-Wimple ate. But the others didn’t. “Did you bring more custard? Because I can’t see any custard.” He turned to his colleague. “Can you see any custard?” The other shook his head that he couldn’t. “Where’s the custard?” Not interested in custard, the Returned Poet ignored them. He took another step, worried about mentioning the words lest the Elder sprayed pudding across the table. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and said, “I must speak with you regarding the Creed.” When he opened his eyes, the Elder continued to slurp. “Did you hear me, Elder? I speak of the Creed!” A deliberate licking of spoon. Astonished, the Returned Poet asked, “How can you ignore my mentioning the word? I speak of the Creed!” Still nothing, other than the other two demanding custard. “You must help me, Elder! I have been stolen for years, yet have found myself returned this day with barely a week having passed! We 26


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels are trapped, Elder! All of us!Your greatest students! Stolen from this world and forced to work upon the Creed!” Still nothing. “How can you just ignore me!” “I know nothing of which you speak.” The words were deep and heavy and felt like granite. The Returned Poet stared. “You know nothing of it?” he whispered, taking a step closer. “You know nothing of the Creed? Nothing of the Enslaved Poets?” “I know nothing of which you speak, dog,” the Elder growled, staring at his pudding. “I know nothing of your creeds or your slaves. You speak in riddles. And although this is a hollowed hall of verse, I do not take kindly to it being interrupted by vagrants who believe themselves to have tendencies in the craft.” He glanced at his colleagues, who agreed, before demanding custard. The Returned Poet began trembling with despair. Something was wrong.The Elder had once nurtured his study of poetry.That he now refused to acknowledge what was once taught left him devastated. Without Pom-Wimple’s help, those enslaved would remain trapped and the world would invert as a consequence. “You deny me?” he whispered through tears. “You deny what you once taught?” When the Elder returned to his pudding, the cat arrived with security. Blinded by desperation, the Returned Poet collapsed to his knees. “Tell me, Elder; do you deny also the Morrigan?” The Elder threw his chair backwards and stood. “DO NOT MENTION SUCH NAMES HEREIN!” Everyone froze. Silence fell. And the Returned Poet’s hope surged. One of the other Elders stood also. “Dog,” he said, “not only have you no custard, but you distress our colleague. He has already admitted knowing nothing of your cause, so I suggest you leave now lest your tatters become more so and unable to cover you at all.” 27


When Fear Is Not Afraid When security arrived beside him, he ignored he wasn’t interested in the fate of his attire. He’d risked his life to find the Elder and couldn’t surrender. When security grabbed him, he fought their grasp. “They write the Creed!” he cried. “The Enslaved Poets write under duress for the Morrigan! You know it to be true! You told us this would come to pass! You of all animals can imagine the horrors the Morrigan is readying!You must help us, Pom-Wimple!You must before this world becomes theirs!” To this, the Elder smashed a paw at his half-finished pudding. The bowl scattered across the table and fell to the floor. Seething, he left the table and approached. “There is nothing I can do for you, dog,” he growled. “Nothing, I know nothing of your Creed, or the Seven of whom you speak. I know nothing of your poets enslaved, nor of the world being under duress. Is that understood?” The Returned Poet’s hope surged further. “That you mention them by number proves you know them! You deny them through fear! Well, I have seen them, Elder! For years I’ve remained crushed beneath their will! If you refuse to help, then rest assured you’ll choke upon such denial when the Earth burns beneath their rule!” In disgust, the Elder turned from him and ordered the dog’s expulsion. Despite further protests, the Returned Poet was dragged from the room. The Elder remained standing, seething with anger. The cat slunk forward to retrieve the bowl, before scraping splattered pudding off the floor into it. After returning it to the table, he apologised for having permitted such a disturbance and asked whether it meant he was no longer in charge of doors. The Elders ignored him. “Do you know that animal?” one asked, helping Pom-Wimple back to his chair. “I have no idea, truly,” the Elder whispered. He sat and flapped a napkin as though it was the reason he’d stood in the first place. “Why in the Name of Verse would he mention fables of creeds and morrigans?” the other asked. 28


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels To this, he did not reply, knowing the answer only too well.

29


When Fear Is Not Afraid

3 ____________________ HE GREAT LIBRARY OF LIEBE IS HUGE AND OLD, and has the sort

T

of prestige that envy was originally invented for. Lyeia loved working in it, providing she didn’t interact with those frequenting the place. Questions about the location of books on interpretive paw painting or the nomenclature of seahorses she could manage by pointing, but anything more detailed had more dire consequences. And although being curt and pointing lessened the chances of violence, it nevertheless left her dreadfully lonely. Lyeia sat behind the borrowing desk and tried not to assault anyone, which she achieved by sitting on her paws and forcing the sort of smile that looked as though it involved sutures and a pulley arrangement. Because punching patrons in the face wasn’t condoned by the Library Board, she’d tried negotiating a clause in her contract to discount any assaults that didn’t require hospitalisation. When her boss had laughed at this, she’d punched him in the face, which left her on ice so thin that it might be better described as a meniscus. As a result, pointing was the only means she had to ensure she didn’t punch patrons in the face, which left her frustrated that after all her therapy, it was a technique she’d invented herself, albeit a difficult one if she was forced to sit on her paws. Her frustration was somewhat appeased, however, by the library having recently begun trialling new signage to indicate exactly where the non-fiction was. This not only lessened her need to point, but meant she could continue sitting on her paws and not smash patrons’ faces in. She looked at one of the signs, which was shiny and well lit, with large letters and an arrow, and was relieved at the number of 30


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels patrons taking its advice, rather than asking for hers.Which was fortunate, because she also found the phrase ‘non-fiction’ as irritating as their requests for directions to it. Non-fiction suggests fiction in some way superior, which was ridiculous, she thought, considering it’s founded in the intangible. As a consequence, she felt non-fiction ought to be labelled independently. Factual, for example, which would help rectify the inequality of invention over reality in the same way she battled insanity. Were patrons to ask her where the factual books resided, she was convinced she’s be less inclined to punch them in the face.When she’d mentioned this to her boss, Fingelberry had laughed again—but not before cowering behind a barricade of books he’d piled upon his desk. She sat on her paws and tried to appear sane. To be behind the borrowing desk was unusual, as Lyeia’s temper meant she was generally assigned to reshelving, which suited her because it allowed considerable opportunity to read. This morning, however, a staff member was away and the library was busy. Fingelberry had initially assigned her to the help desk, before realising the hypocrisy of such appointment. She was subsequently assigned to the borrowing desk, which, although just as dangerous, was less likely to have patrons ask where the non-fiction was. She removed her paws and shook them, dreading the thought of having to stamps books in case it inspired her to do the same to faces. She had to show restraint. She owed it to herself. And to Funnel-Bremly. And Fingelberry, for that matter. Let alone innocent members of the public. She sat on her paws again, wondering whether she could get them to stamp the books themselves with facial gestures only. If not, she’d try one of Funnel-Bremly’s ridiculous coping mechanisms. After all, polite dinner conversation was preferable to extreme violence unless extreme violence was the subject matter. When a young dog approached, she groaned and sat harder. 31


When Fear Is Not Afraid He smiled and waved a book helpfully. “I wish to borrow this book, please,” he said, handing over a book about the nomenclature of seahorses. After some facial gestures that didn’t help either of them, Lyeia removed her paws, took the book and waited for his library card. But so excited was he about seahorse nomenclature, that he forgot about it. “Card,” she said, extending a paw. Realising his oversight, he apologised and rummaged through his fur. “Sorry,” he said, handing it over. “I forgot about that bit. I’m just so excited to find a book on seahorses, you see. Especially their nomenclature.” She took a deep breath and inserted a subject-extrapolative coping mechanism. “Do you like seahorses?” she asked, realising she wanted to punch herself in the face for doing so. “Oh, yes indeed! They are the most fascinating creatures imaginable. I have read over seven books on them, but have never come across this one before. I only read books on seahorses, you see, because they interest me considerably.” “Do you mean eight or three hundred?” she asked, already bored. “What?” “Do you mean you have read eight books on seahorses, or three hundred?” The dog blinked, not understanding. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You said you’ve read over seven books, which implies a number greater than seven. So do you mean eight—with this being your ninth—or a figure nearer three hundred?” “Three hundred is an awful lot of books. I don’t think any animal has read over three hundred books on anything.” “I have.” “On seahorses?” “No.” 32


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “That’s good.” He laughed. “Otherwise I’d have to ask you where you found them all.” “And I wouldn’t tell you.” “You wouldn’t? Why not?” “Because I’m not the one interpreting the world through the narrow-minded assumption that reading only what interests me affords a realistic view of it—a view which happens to justify avoiding the convoluted, intricate confusion it’s built from, which would not only prove the ignorance of said assumption, but disprove the assumption that I’m not at all ignorant.” After some more blinks, the dog said, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t understand a word of that.” “I’m not surprised.” “Perhaps you could explain it again?” “You’re an idiot.” When Lyeia stamped card and book harder than necessary, the dog wondered whether she was joking, brilliant, or mad. “Are you being sarcastic?” he asked. “That you ask proves my point.” “Wait—are you saying I’m stupid?” “I don’t think I need to now.” She handed both back to him. “Do you like seahorses?” he asked, deciding she was joking. “I’ve never tried them.” “No, I mean does the subject interest you?” “Not particularly.” “Perhaps I can convince you otherwise? Perhaps over dinner?” “Perhaps not.” “We don’t have to talk about seahorses, of course. We could talk about other things.” “Like what?” He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He glanced at some books nearby. “Eighteenth century architectural heritage of Splaam?” “I can borrow a book on that.” “Ah, but you can’t talk to a book.” 33


When Fear Is Not Afraid “It would be far more interesting than talking to you.” “That’s not very nice.” “Neither are seahorses.” He stared, realising she wasn’t joking. “I think you’re just being rude.” “Oh, so you’re not stupid?” “Why are you so insulting?” “Why are you so stupid?” He frowned at her. “You’re really mean, you know.” “You have no idea,” she said, before punching him in the face. Twenty minutes later, after the ambulance had left and the borrowing desk hosed down, Fingelberry asked her to step into his office for some very stern words, most of which would be his. Unlike the library, Fingelberry Flampp-Yogurt’s office was small and cramped with barely room for a desk. Despite being Head Librarian, this wasn’t surprising. Designed at the outset to be the greatest library in the world, its housed books, rather than anything else, including administration. Indeed, Fingelberry had been surprised he’d got an office at all, having expected a cardboard box, or one of the wooden packing crates the library’s books arrived in. Other library staff were not so fortunate, although they did have places to retreat when necessary. There was the pavement, for example, outside. Despite its lack of size, Fingelberry’s office was lined with bookshelves and jammed with so many books that the removal of one would remove them all. The books were Fingelberry’s favourites: unknown volumes and forgotten editions.They were old and weathered and lent his office a fragrance of musty paper, saged inks and aged leather; a room both pregnant and claustrophobic, and one Lyeia was spellbound by. Indeed, she sometimes wondered whether her habit of punching patrons in the face was merely excuse to be summoned to it. Fingelberry had wedged himself not only behind his desk, but behind a bunker of books upon it that had arisen in response to their 34


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels previous engagements. He stared at her. As usual, she was besotted by the books rather than pending reprimand.Were it not for her blood-stained paw, anyone would assume that the most violent thing she’d contend with all morning was waking up at the beginning of it. He sighed and arranged some books upon his desk to reinforce a barricade he’d built as a result of their previous discussions. A dog tall and old, Fingelberry wore glasses that were peered over unless reading, and an old, worn coat that he never took off. He had the look of the austere; a drawn searcher and the bearing of a cleric. Being a kindly animal, he’d readily agreed to permit Lyeia a position in the library, though hadn’t expected it to be such a violent one. “Lyeia,” he said, “as we have discussed on previous occasions, there is a limit to how often I can permit this sort of behaviour.” She stopped browsing and her gaze fell to a carpet so old and worn that only mould kept it together. “I have tried to help you,” he said. “I am a very tolerant animal as you know, and will do anything I can to assist your treatment. But you must understand that I cannot allow such wanton violence upon patrons or staff. Or even me, for that matter.” She said nothing, acutely aware she’d already broken his nasal septum twice. “We all get cross, Lyeia. Goodness, we all get frustrated. But you are an intelligent animal, and I cannot understand your predisposition of smashing animals’ faces in.” She stared at dusty spines, wondering at the tales that lay within. With a sigh, Fingelberry extricated himself from his bunker. Considering what he had to say, her struggle for sanity left him feeling to deserve a punch in the face. “Lyeia,” he continued, “I am very sorry, but although I’m the head librarian, the Great Library of Liebe is governed by animals far more influential than me. Your antics have become too difficult to 35


When Fear Is Not Afraid keep from their attention, which leaves me in an untenable situation.” She said nothing. “As much as it grieves me, I am on the verge of having to relinquish your terms here.” He braced, expecting a flail of paws, expletives and books. But none arose. Instead, she remained staring at carpet while blinking at tears. Although Fingelberry felt wretched, there was nothing he could say that he hadn’t been said many times already.There’s a limit to the sacrifice one might make for another before both become embroiled in slaughter. Lyeia stared at books she knew nothing of. She wasn’t angry. His kindness left her indebted. It was the waste that had her broken. Whether in medicine or in a library, she had much to give, yet was burdened with a mind too insane to deliver. She reached a paw to touch books upon shelf. “I understand,” she whispered. “You do?” “Yes. I can hardly blame you. That you have given me opportunity at all leaves me grateful.” Fingelberry stared, her loneliness leaving him more broken than if she’d lunged at his face. “Lyeia, other than your sick notes, I know little of what you have been going through. Perhaps you might help me understand why you explode? What frustrates you to such an extent? I know you to be far above the mediocrity of others. So why do they infuriate you so?” She sniffed at tears and rested a paw upon shelving. The books had age, wisdom and contentment, while she had nothing. “Do you truly not know?” he asked. “Even after all the sessions with Funnel-Bremly, do you still not know what troubles you? Do you have no idea why you become so frustrated and angry at others?” “I am not angry at others,” she whispered. “Or frustrated with them, despite how it might appear. I am angry and frustrated with 36


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels myself.” “But why, Lyeia?You are an intelligent animal who’s been dedicated to treatment. Surely you can find kindness, rather than frustration?” “A lack of kindness is not the problem,” she said. “The problem is my apparent inability to be cured. My madness leaves me so alienated and lost that I’m obviously beyond the help of others.” She sighed. “I’m even thinking of trying Funnelism.” Fingelberry stumbled backwards. “Goodness—Lyeia—surely there’s no need for that?” Her paw fell from shelving. “There’s nothing else left.” “But—there must be something—” “There is,” she said. “Punching animals in the face. But even that doesn’t stop them.” “Them?” “The hallucination. I see things that aren’t there,” she said, while staring at nothing, “and hear things I shouldn’t.” “Like what?” “I see places. I hear voices.” “What do you mean?” “I see worlds where there should be none and the ghosts that walk upon them.” Her words shocked him into silence. “It happens when I least expect it,” she said. “It happens out of the blue. It happens when I’ve forgotten that it happens. That is why it hurts so much.” A silence descended and rendered the room small and dense. “And how cruel is such madness?” she cried. “How cruel is it to be assaulted the very moment I’ve forgotten that I’m haunted?” She turned on the spot. “There is no reprieve, I am forever awake. My insanity not only drives me to despair, but dumps me there, terrified and exhausted. That is why I have little tolerance for others.” She stopped, swayed and stared at nothing. “I am, perhaps, envious of their oblivion to such torment.” 37


When Fear Is Not Afraid Fingelberry stared in bewilderment, having been under the impression it had something to do with her mother. After licking his lips, he asked, “What exactly do you see, Lyeia?” “Places unfamiliar,” she whispered, “despite feeling to know them. Dark places with shadows where there should be none, and others with colours bereft of hue. Places where mountains touch at stars and moon bites soil. Places where animals scream and run; where the Earth turns only to see what is chasing it.Worlds unfamiliar, you see, and yet I know of them entirely.” She fell silent, her gaze lingering somewhere beyond both of them. “Lyeia?” he asked, hesitant to encourage. “They used to whisper,” she said. “When I was young I used to wonder whether they were far away. Then they became louder. Or closer.” She shook her head, he gaze unbroken. “But now they’re too loud to understand.” “What do they say, Lyeia?” When she wiped her eyes and stared at the floor, he squeezed back behind his desk lest his bunker was needed after all. “I cannot tell anymore,” she said. “Why not?” “Because they scream.” He swallowed, noticing how cramped his office was. “What do they scream about, Lyeia?” “Nightmares.” More swallows when he realised refusing Funnel-Bremly’s request would have been more sensible. “Have you read all these books?” she asked. He stared, surprised at her sudden change in demeanour, before realising this might not be unusual when insane-of-the-mind. “Well, yes,” he said. “Some of them many times. But not for years now. Ironically, my position here leaves me with little opportunity.” “Why are they not on the library shelves?” 38


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “Most of them are un-catalogued,” he said, squeezing from his desk to examine them himself. “They’re generally rare volumes, or over-run editions of forgotten ones.” He reached for a book and pulled it from the shelf. Blowing at its dust, he said, “Some have errors that were only discovered after an initial print run and then abandoned once the typeset had been corrected.” He flicked through yellowed pages and felt a warmth of fondness. “The errors supposedly render them worthless, though I find it makes them priceless.” He offered it to her. “I have collected these over a lifetime and consider them safer here than in my own home.” When she took it, their mutual love of books pushed his concerns elsewhere. “It’s a misconception that the worth of a book resides in its words,” he continued. “There is something far more powerful about a work than what is held within its text.” He looked at her. “Do you know what that might be, Lyeia? Do you know to what I refer?” She turned the book in her paws. Its leathered jacket was clean from being tucked against another, and its gilded lettering remained bright despite its dusty spine.With pages yellowed where they’d been exposed to air, they remained a crisp, textured cream within. She brought the book up to her nose and breathed its scent. Fingelberry smiled. “That’s right, “ he said. “Books are not for eyes alone. Their words may be printed, but books are for all the senses. Their aroma tells tales, too. As does the feel of their press. And their binding. And their weight within paw. Even the sound of page against page and the texture of grain and leather. Even the very bumps of their gild.” “And taste?” she asked. He raised his whiskers, impressed. “It is certainly true that book connoisseurs will always buy two copies; one to read and one to eat. Books are to be digested, Lyeia. Literally.Terribly good for the bowels, you see.” “Is that really true?” “Oh, yes. They are almost entirely roughage.” 39


When Fear Is Not Afraid “No, I mean about connoisseurs always buying two?” He nodded. She looked again at the one in her paws, before saying, “During the stillest part of the night, when I’m too frightened to sleep, I feel more might be hidden between the lines than contained within them. It’s not the words that are important, but what the mind constructs because of them.” He felt a stab of despair for her madness; it was a cruel irony when a creature intuitive about books was expelled from them because if it. “Are there more of these?” she asked. He frowned. “You do realise what I’ve said, Lyeia? That from this moment on I am left bordering on having to relinquish your employment here?” She nodded and glanced around, convinced the world’s most hallowed library must harbour rooms full of the things. “Yes, but you said as much alongside the words teetering and bordering, which suggests some hope remains.” “I can give you one more chance, Lyeia. One more only. The next hint of unprovoked public rhinoplasty and you will leave me with no choice other than to terminate your employment here. Is that understood?” She nodded. “It is understood, yes.” Understanding was one thing, but ensuring as much was another. “So what will you do?” he asked. “How will you make certain such behaviour doesn’t occur again? I do not want to banish you from this place. I know how much it means to you. But you must understand there is little more I can do if things continue to regress. It really is up to you.” She glared at him. “It has always been up to me,” she said. “Always. No other creature had been able to help. Regardless of qualifications. It’s been more lonely than you can possibly imagine.” When she held out the book, he took it. Her resilience was remarkable, and again felt for her; she had the courage of an animal 40


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels who’d only ever battled alone. He frowned, wondering whether there was one bastion left for her. A place where she might find something to help her plight. Although it was unlikely, so was her sanity. He put the book upon those covering his desk. “Come with me.” He led her from his office and along a corridor not much wider. Pulling at a large ring of keys, he unlocked a door that led deeper into the library’s dusty recesses. Down an old wooden staircase, he trudged, with Lyeia following. Dim lamps glowed on wood-panelled walls, the latter sagging with age and pushing at floorboards no less decrepit which squeaked beneath their paws. It became dark where bulbs had not been replaced, a staleness of air implying few ventured down often enough to warrant doing so. They passed doors that appeared sealed with dust, their frames distorted by the weight of building above. When Fingelberry stopped at one of them, he hesitated. With keys jangling, he turned to her. “Few animals come down here,” he whispered, the words loud in such confines. “Certainly not without knowing what lies at such depths.” He looked at the door in deliberation. “You should not be shown this place, Lyeia. It exists for those of a certain education only. A certain echelon. That said, I cannot offer anything else that might help you find an answer to your predicament.Were it not for your intuition for books, I would not dare. But we are here now, and I shall take the risk of revealing something that remains unknown to almost all.” He looked at her sternly. “Your plight has me certain you can honour secrets, Lyeia. And I beg that for my sake, you do not tell a soul that you’ve been here, let alone that you know of it. Is that agreed?” She nodded. He jangled keys in a lock and pushed at a door. There was a squeak and air thick with mustiness, dust and age spilled from it. When he stepped aside and gestured, she stepped into a vast hall. Lone bulbs buzzed into life at its heights, illuminating countless 41


When Fear Is Not Afraid rows of loaded bookshelves. They soared to more than three stories and were so old that they teetered in warp, their pinnacles grey with cobwebs caked in dust. She stared, and turned to aid comprehension; despite the number of books around her, she could find no words. Fingelberry offered some. “This is a secret vault of the Great Library of Liebe,” he said, “and is known to only a select few Elders of influence. This vault contains volumes lost to the world; editions dangerous and forbidden, titles that should never have been titled. Herein lie texts that even I do not dare peruse.” They stared for a time, with reverence and bewilderment. “My duty is to shelve them and nothing more,” he continued, “for I know what damage holding flame might do to my paws.” Lyeia peered between their rows, unable to conceive such a secret. Fingelberry followed, pondering the same. “It is a peculiar thing,” he admitted, “that libraries across the world wish to compare themselves with the Great Library of Liebe, without knowing what treasure it truly houses.” “But there must be thousands here!” “Several thousand, in fact.” “But why here?” she asked, hurrying to the nearest shelf and wiping caked dust from spines. “Why are these hidden? Why are they not on the shelves upstairs?” “Lyeia, you make the mistake of assuming that just because a book is written, it should be read.” She turned to him, puzzled. He took a deep breath. “Upon these shelves are texts, ideas and imaginings considered dangerous in the paws of ordinary animals.” Her puzzlement turned to glower. “Who are you to decide what should or should not be read?” “I decide nothing, Lyeia. I am merely the Head Librarian. Such decisions are made by animals in far higher realms than me.” “And what gives them the right?” He shrugged. “It is not my place to question, but certainly they have their reasons. Who knows? Perhaps they wrote them.” 42


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels Lyeia turned to back the towering shelves. “Wrote them? But some of these must be hundreds of years old. There’s no way their authors could still be alive!” “Not the authors themselves, Lyeia, but the schools founded upon them.” She turned to glower again. “The world is old, Lyeia. Very old. We can conceive it only on the scale of our own lives. But thousands have lived before you and me; thousands who read and thought and wrote with a conviction then as strong as yours and mine is now.” She humphed. “My conviction borders on being remarkably fragile, actually.” Fingelberry conceded this with a nod. “If these are so dangerous,” she asked, “why are you revealling them to me?” “Because although these books are deemed dangerous, I must confess to finding you far more so.” She thought about this, before shrugging in acceptance. “But I also wonder whether you might find within these volumes some clue as to why you are the way you are. Perhaps some means to help yourself? Because for all you have read in the library above, I fear you find yourself no better mended than upon your arrival down here.” Turning back to the books, she wondered at the possibility herself. After all, it was unlikely they’d mention her mother. There was a sudden flash followed b a high-pitched whine. She wasn’t expecting either—which was always the way—and she took a step backwards as realisation dawned. A shudder went through her and she snarled. “No,” she whispered, unable to believe it was happening “No—not now—not here!” She grabbed her head, furious that when shown something so wonderful, she was brutally reminded of why it was being revealed in the first place. Above her, bookshelves began to warp. 43


When Fear Is Not Afraid Another step backwards. “No!” she cried, paws over ears as shelving reached across the aisle. “Not now! Please! Not now!” As shelves stretched, the books upon them began to melt and slide downwards. The hall’s height distorted in a blur of stretch, before disappearing in silent tear to reveal a night sky beyond. The bulbs, buzzing in low wattage, shattered across the sky in a shower of scattering stars. Around her, floorboard bent and rolled, flexing as though pushed from beneath. With a pop, they sprang upwards and began sawing at each other, leaving her to scream and stumble amongst their splinters.There was a rumble as bookshelves reverted back to the branch and bark they were made from, which blistered to reveal rock like bone beneath flesh. From it sprang grass and vine, into which torn pages seeped into its grain and covers scurried into crevices like rats. In despair, she lunged for the doorway, only to see it race away to the horizon and grow into a moon, where it floated upwards like a babble with Fingelberry’s face staring from it. Her frantic breaths became sobs of terror and she sank to the ground, cowered upon wet and pungent wet soil. A storm of leaves began to fall.They were cold and heavy and threatened to bury. She scrabbled through them, desperate to escape along a path that appeared, until it also become smothered in leaves. On one side, ground heaved, cracked and fell to an abyss.The world became swamped in pale moonlight and swirled white where mist rose amongst the rain of leaves. Choking on cries, she grabbed at vine and pulled herself from the edge and against a mountain that had risen upon its otherside. Against cold stone, she fought through fern and frond blindly until finding a crag, into which she crammed herself as leaves overwhelmed. She covered her ears and crouched, knowing the screams would soon begin. Shaking, she began to sing, a futile attempt at drowning their pleads. She sung between sobs a song about a cradle. “Hush now and sleep, I am here. 44


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels Close those tired eyes—” When the screams arrived, they were like metal striking bone; they stung and split and emptied her of marrow. Having stumbled back to the doorway, Fingelberry watched in horror at Lyeia cowering halfway up a bookshelf.With paws over her ears and eyes, she sung in a wail of sob. Not knowing what to do, he stared. One thing was certain, however: that showing her this vault was a biblical mistake. He wanted to run and hide, but her behaviour was so disturbing that he couldn’t move. She clutched and sang and wept a lullaby he knew well: one his mother often sang to him too.

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4. When Fear Is Not Afraid, the first three chapters.