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2. Jack Links 4. Sprout Wars

August 4th, 2020

Cork Life

A pop rings out and cheer goes up as the cork flies skywards into the garden night and is lost amongst the low, flowering bushes that grow cosily in the lower beds of the lawn. A streak of panting drool goes lolloping after the quickly lost stud ball but returns giddy and wide-eyed to roll about on the patio and have his belly gloriously rubbed by the family toddlers who giggle and waddle after each other, patting the dog and pulling at their new bowties. There's another round of brief speeches which spark more tears, the joy of the happy couple combined with the sorrow of two particular absentees. The music changes tone and eyes are wiped to the sound of disco beats that go on and on as dancing devolves to stumbling, then to falling, then to carry me home I'm the happiest man alive. The dogs are called in, though one is still sniffing in the lower beds where they could have sworn something to be fetched was thrown earlier, the sweet scent drifting faintly through the smell of the flowers. The dogs are called again and now they come bounding up the garden and in where they're throughly made a fuss of by the last late goers; bleary eyed, ties off, flat shoes, yawns, and to bed. Watch from the garden. The lights go out, dark in the kitchen, dark in the hall, goodnight called out around the door to the sofa bed, the air bed and the spare mattress. Shadows against the bedroom blinds go back and forth from the bathroom upstairs. Dark going up, whispers, the boys are asleep, round the door goodnight for the daughter's old room, dark on the landing. Shadows in the bathroom, then dark there too with a click. The last room's lights turn down low on a dimmer, but don't quite go out, as someone sits up for a while longer, hazy as they are, before lids droop, the lamp goes out and night glows in the dewy bushes and the sky. The house sighs and rolls over, closing its eyes for the night. An easy wind rolls the clouds away and the reflections of a million stars begin to twinkle and shine in a million freshly gathered drops of dew which cling to the leaves and blades of the garden. A light pattering shower of drips is the only sound apart from the softly swaying trees as the snuffling noses of the woodland floor come curious and cautious from burrow, nook, and den to discover the night quiet, peaceful, and dangerous. Two eyes like beacons glint from the tree and the mice and weasels, ferrets, rats, and toads stay hidden tonight, slinking and scurrying, fearful of the no-man's land of mown grass where too many have been lost on quiet nights like this to those steady, unblinking lantern eyes. There is one, however, who ventures into the red zone, not quite out of bravery, but due to a number of factors including skin pushed down over his cataracts, ears stuffed with earth and mud, a nose crushed by an ancient accident or scrap, and the aged grump of the elderly whose world view shifts and shrinks as the second boldness of childhood becomes an unwavering steadfast belief that if this is to be the day, then so be it, it will be. The snuffling, grunting hog slowly makes his way out into the open in search for a juicy fungal snack to begin his nightly feast. Without the inbuilt need to either fly or fight his exercise regime has slackened over time into direct trundling strolls towards the nearest food source which he senses through a seer-like intuition, making his way from root to root, as he remembers them, the ancient trees of the garden and woods beyond remaining as they ever were when he was a young, scrappy, spike-ball. He pauses to remember barreling around at his pleasure, eyes bright and full of adventurous hunger, his thick coat of spines bristling a warning that none dare ignore. The very thought of all that work on the knees makes him groan as he goes on his way, arriving at the garden's lower beds where he makes light work of a patch of rubbery grey stems, lip smacking, shoulders hunched in the gloom he chews readily, without so much as a glance up or around in watch, he chomps on. The strange texture of one mushroom catches him by surprise and he coughs, choking on the unusual piece of wooden trunk that he spits out, grumbling and sniffing his discontent. Approaching the offender he gives it a tentative nudge and it topples over with a soft thump. He investigates further with a few nibbles and discovers the same scratching, veiny texture which is so far from the soft, bulbous, delicious treat he desires that he turns fully around and give the tough mushroom a hard kick with his back legs, sending it bouncing through the bushes and into a roll that carries it further downwards, into the shadows of the thick trunk-roots of an old yew that's leans thick and heavy over the small gate at the bottom of the garden. There the chewed, popped, sweet-smelling stopper lay, tired and wounded, feeling rather hard done by considering the work it had put in hours earlier to fly so gracefully high above the assembled cheerleaders, only to be left by the wayside, rather than gathered and kept in a drawer as was its right. There it lay, thinking about the pinboard it could have been when a strange floating sensation overcame its underside and it suddenly became aware it was on the move. Far from the monstrous grunting creature who had first bitten him carelessly, the many footed thing that now carried him down into the earth felt like a blanket of great reverence. Indeed, when finally he was placed down and his gentle rocking had ceased he looked around and found a whole colony of admirers, with hard backs and strong legs, who seemed remarkably pleased with themselves, and stood patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves on another fine specimen saved from the over-world.

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