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Novel Idea

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Presenting… Prestige Animals

For those with mo-bricks who couldn’t read Sam Wilson’s winning story during Novel Idea, here it is in all its rollicking glory. This is the first of three parts, which I’ll be dishing out over the rest of the week (the mini cliffhangers are too much fun for me to post it all at once, of course!)

1
Here’s the truth, a badger is no substitute for a parachute. I hoped I wouldn’t have to prove it while accelerating towards the ground at two hundred kilometers per hour holding nothing more than an irate striped mammal. Dawn was breaking, the horizon was banded with pink and orange, and the honey badger, which I’d named “Bastard”, had just peed through the cage and soaked my legs. There was thick fog below and I was almost out of aviation fuel. I needed a plan, and fast.

2
The microlight’s motor was sputtering. I couldn’t see the altitude gauge, but I assumed it was trying to give me bad news. I gave up hoping that the fog would clear to reveal a wide runway with a forgiving control tower and angled downwards, letting waves of fog shoot over and embed me in a wet white void. It was eerily quiet which wasn’t a good sign: The motor had died. I felt lighter than usual, which meant I was dropping. Fast. Bastard growled.

3
Something grew out of the fog ahead of me and I pulled left hard, narrowly skimming an electrical pylon. Orange balls on the cable shot past the wing. I’d always wondered what they were for, now I knew they were there to scare the hell out of pilots. I strained to keep the microlight from spinning, and the wings fluttered like firecrackers. The ground was a vague greyness that was getting blacker and harder-looking by the second. I flew over a line of trees and glimpsed a field directly ahead, wide open and perfectly flat. My heart bounded. I held my breath, and brought my nose up for landing. I couldn’t believe my luck. I shouldn’t have. It was a lake.

4
The wheels dug into the water and yanked the microlight into a forward somersault, spraying a white V in front of me. An instant later I was looking at the horizon behind me, upside down. Then things were the right way up again but I was under water, strapped in tight, with an iron cage filled with badger on my lap. I fumbled for the cage’s latch and felt a crunch. Shock and cold water numbed my hands, but I was pretty sure Bastard had just bitten off my pinky.

5
The mud at the lake shore was thick and full of broken branches that kept trying to trip me up. I felt impossibly heavy as I tramped my way out, coughing, with my bleeding right hand in my left armpit. For some reason I’d always thought that losing a finger would be less painful than losing, say, a fingernail, so I learnt something. Bastard scampered off into the bushes ahead of me. Ingrate. Even if I got my pinky back, I didn’t know if it could be reattached. And I didn’t want to kill Bastard, or shove another finger down its throat to make it throw up. It was gone. I’d never clean my right ear with it again.

6
I took off my soaking coat and looked at my stump, severed at the first joint, not too cleanly. I checked my pockets and found that my wallet was missing. It was probably at the bottom of the lake. The thought of cancelling my cards distressed me for a second, until I remembered my finger. Amazingly my cell phone still worked, except for the numbers five and three. I walked up a low scrubby hill until I got one bar, and called my brother. “Eugene!” he said. “Did you get it? Is it done?” “Not exactly,” I said. I explained where I was (by a lake, pylons, a metal windmill, a road in the distance), where the badger was, where my finger was, and what had happened to the plane. There was a pause. “Okay,” he said. “Stay calm. I’m coming to punch you.”

7
It was late evening and the sky was blue-grey behind the mountains when I heard my brother’s VW Golf bombing along the dirt road. I stood to the side and it shot past, bouncing on soft suspension, and ground to a halt after five hundred meters. There was the sound of grinding gears and it reversed, almost running me over, and pulled up in a cloud of dust. Dennis burst out, shedding empty chip packets. I hadn’t seen him in five years, and it was like a missing and unwelcome part of the universe had returned. “You know how many lakes there are by pylons and roads?” he said. “Where’s my baby?” I pointed at a triangle of cloth, still visible in the half-light, poking above the water like a fin. Dennis swore. “You call that looking after it?” He turned back to me. “Oh well, let’s see your hand then.” I showed him. He gave an impressed whistle. “Brutal!” He opened the boot, took out his box of paramedic supplies and filled a syringe with liquid morphine, measuring it carefully. He tapped out the bubbles and injected it into his arm. “Ahhh!” he slurred. “All right, let’s get you fixed up.”

8
Dennis set up the first aid kit on the bonnet and started fixing me. “Why were you getting a honey badger?” he asked. “Because you phoned me and said bring a dangerous animal and don’t ask any questions.” “Yeah, like a leopard or a lion! Not a honey badger!” I took offence at this. “They’re vicious predators!” I said. “They have lightning reflexes, powerful jaws-” Dennis wasn’t listening. He sniffed at his armpit. “Is that you?” he asked. “-And apparently they can shoot stuff from their butts,” I continued. “Like skunks?” “Exactly like skunks.” Dennis snorted. “You get a lousy creature, you crashed my plane, you got me to drive out here, and now we’re going to have a four-hour ride with you smelling like that?” “You call me out of nowhere, get me in a panic, make me fly in bad weather, you get me skunked, get my finger bitten off-” It was like old times. “Have some more morphine,” I said. “Why?” “Because I want to punch you in the face.” Denis considered it. “You first,” he said. “Deal.”

9
We rode in silence. I held a handkerchief up to my nose until it stopped bleeding. Dennis was driving. He’d taken less of a beating because he could hold his morphine, but the pain kept me more alert than him. Every so often we’d start drifting off the road, and I’d reach across and steer us back on. After the third time we almost wrapped ourselves around an oncoming Maserati, I tried talking. “Why do you want an animal?” The question woke him up a little. “I owe this guy. He said he’d take a fierce creature.” “What do you owe him for?” “Well, you know I’m a smuggler?” I did know. Mom had told me. It made me feel so much better about my matric score. He continued. “I lost a shipment. Told him the cops got it.” “Okay.” “Could be worse. If he thought I stole it I’d be dead.” “What was the shipment?” Dennis looked down, embarrassed. “Morphine.” he said. He kept looking down a bit too long, and we drove into a tree.

*Thanks to dickvolz on Flickr for the photo

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    October 22nd, 2008 @11:36 #
     
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    Brilliant!

    (Whispered: I have to confess that although I signed up for two stories I didn't read them on my phone even though it is WAP-enabled. Right phrase? Because um, er, um ... I can't get into phone stuff.)

    Thanks for posting the story and I look forward to the next instalments and to Sam Wilson's future writings.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 22nd, 2008 @12:22 #
     
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    Glorious! (of course, I want to edit it. Ever so slightly, ever so lightly. BTW, Sam, this is a compliment -- a bad sign is when I say "No, no, it looks fine to me, no really" while backpedalling.)

    What happens to the badger??? Send more!

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  • <a href="http://www.michellematthews.co.za" rel="nofollow">Michelle</a>
    Michelle
    October 22nd, 2008 @12:28 #
     
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    Hi Helen - ah, that's my responsibility - interested to know what you'd suggest! (Other than some of the grammar and punctuation problems I can now clearly see - will try and make sure it's clean for tomorrow, though commissioning, not proofing, is my strong point!)

    I'll post parts 2 and 3 at around noon on Thursday and Friday.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 22nd, 2008 @12:43 #
     
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    Did you catch "summersault" (somersault) and "offense" (offence) and "Okay." He said.? And does "Did he get it" = "Did you get it"? Oh and "..take A fierce creature". Feel free to send it to me for a very hasty look-through. I don't have much to do, only a simply horrendous deadline on a monster monograph that your fiance trustingly thinks I am meeting.

    Explanation for others: I am a Virgo. Michelle knows not to take this personally.

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  • <a href="http://www.michellematthews.co.za" rel="nofollow">Michelle</a>
    Michelle
    October 22nd, 2008 @13:51 #
     
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    I blame it on Bridezilla-brain. I should have checked it again before loading! Ben-editor is going to give me the secret key to the backend (I hope)... ah, the beauty of the interweb.

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  • <a href="http://www.michellematthews.co.za" rel="nofollow">Michelle</a>
    Michelle
    October 22nd, 2008 @14:42 #
     
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    Okay, I've cleaned it up. I'm mortified. Can we pretend this didn't happen? (And I will take you up on your offer, Helen!)

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    October 22nd, 2008 @14:45 #
     
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    Such a fantastic romp of poacher noir, with or without typos. It was absolutely my favourite of all the Novel Ideas (and it was damnably hard to choose). Still nagging Sam to write a novel-length version or at least a variation in the same genre.

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  • <a href="http://www.michellematthews.co.za" rel="nofollow">Michelle</a>
    Michelle
    October 22nd, 2008 @15:04 #
     
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    Oh, I agree! The guy has some comic-timing skillz teamed with what I think they call "a fevered imagination" (in a good way). I can't wait till his novel!

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 22nd, 2008 @15:20 #
     
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    He's writing a novel? Lauren, nag harder! Can I edit it? Pleez pleez pretty pleez? (The typos are to make Bridezilla feel better. Remind me to show you some of my clangers -- some notoriously in a published style guide -- OUCH.)

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    October 23rd, 2008 @08:28 #
     
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    Such a fantastic romp of poacher noir, with or without typos. It was absolutely my favourite of all the Novel Ideas (and it was damnably hard to choose). Still nagging Sam to write a novel-length version or at least a variation in the same genre.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    October 23rd, 2008 @09:14 #
     
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    I just finished reading it. Wow, that was brilliant!

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 23rd, 2008 @09:36 #
     
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    Thanks for this, Michelle. Please could you post Robyn Goss's story next? I loved the first instalment, but my mo-brick declined to receive any more of it.

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  • <a href="http://www.samwilsonwriting.com" rel="nofollow">wombatsamwilson</a>
    wombatsamwilson
    October 23rd, 2008 @11:12 #
     
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    Hello! Thank you, everyone, you've very kind. I'd like to say that all the spelling and grammar errors are entirely due to my own failure, and are no reflection on the SUPERB BRITISH EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM that taught me to count to numbers over five and not eat the crayons. I got extra credit for accurately drawing the Ghostbusters in spelling class. RULE BRITANNIA.

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  • <a href="http://www.samwilsonwriting.com" rel="nofollow">wombatsamwilson</a>
    wombatsamwilson
    October 23rd, 2008 @11:19 #
     
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    Well, actually, I just drew four stick figures shooting a ghost. But my teachers still thought it was good enough to get me the GCSE.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    October 23rd, 2008 @11:32 #
     
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    Hello Sam! *waves*

    Really great twisteroonie at the end there. I loved it.

    Want moar! Finish book.

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