Here it is, as promised – not only can you read a never-before-released sample of ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’, you also get to see the shiny new cover! What do you think of it? As always, all comments gratefully received. Enjoy!
(This is taken from the middle of the book. In it I’m working as a volunteer in an animal refuge in Ecuador with Toby, my boss and mentor.)
A Close Shave
To me, a trip to Tambillo town meant food. There was a tiny bakery which sold bread rolls and an equally minute dairy shop which sold a kind of weak tasting, soggy white cheese. I was living almost exclusively on these two products. Shopping with Toby had been such a sensory overload that I hadn’t really spared much attention for what he was buying. A day later I’d awoken to the realisation that we still didn’t own any meat – in a country where the staple diet was chicken and rice, living with a vegetarian would be a singularly bland experience. We had an infinite variety of fruit of course and plenty of oatmeal. Hell, we might as well be eating straight from the animal’s feed bowl. It suited the monkeys. But alas, Toby’s shopping list had been utterly devoid of anything I consider food.
He’d bought a carrier bag full of chillies though. Seriously, the man was obsessed. He put them in his cheese and bread rolls. He put them in his rice. He put them in my rice. At times he put so many in that they outnumbered the rice. I could tell from his face when he was eating his corn flakes that he was wondering whether or not a dash of chilli would spice them up.
So when Toby decided he needed a haircut (and insinuated that I might be similarly in need) I jumped at the chance. A hike down and, later, back up again was adventure enough by itself, since it involved leaping crevasses in the road, climbing several fences and trying to walk for almost an hour at a forty five degree angle to the slope. It was murder on the thighs. At the bottom was the short road into Tambillo town – and on that road sat the Empanada Lady.
What is an Empanada? Now that’s a tough one to describe. Its… some kind of substance, not unlike play-dough, deep fried, covered with sugar and filled with cheese. Sounds disgusting eh? But they tasted like heaven. Especially since there was no burning sensation associated with eating them. I’d tried them twice and was already considering offering the woman who sold them hard cash for the recipe. She was so friendly, sitting on the step behind her pavement stall. She had merry eyes and deeply etched laughter lines, and skin tight blue jeans. Probably a stunner twenty years ago – or maybe five? Ages were almost impossible for me to guess as I had no basis for comparison. The Empanada Woman was ageless in body, but young in heart. She always smiled and asked simple questions like ‘How are you’? and ‘How are the animals?’ This meant I could actually formulate answers, and feel good about myself in the process. I guessed that Toby had taken other volunteers to sample her delights (by which I mean her Empanadas!).
With the late afternoon sun on my face I strolled casually along the street next to Toby. Stall holders and the odd passer-by threw us an occasional “Buenos Dias!”. Across from us stone steps led down to a series of formal gardens arranged around a central monument. Together they formed a square, bordered on all sides by the road, and the whole lot sloped sharply away from us. The buildings that lined the square formed Tambillo town – apart from the gas station on the Quito road and the pay phone shop on the street leading back up to it, there really wasn’t much else. It was peaceful, especially at this hour, and quaint. Every wall needed paint, every shutter repairing, but the people seemed relaxed and friendly. I was starting to like Tambillo for more than just it’s sodden cheese.
We ducked into the miniscule hairdresser’s shop, and a slim, middle-aged woman with smiling eyes wasn’t there. She was in the shop next door, chatting happily to it’s owner with no fear at all of what was happening in her own little place. Which was strange, because there was a young lad with half-cut hair still sitting in the padded armchair and picking his nose in front of the mirror. Our presence was clearly the reminder she needed though, and she quickly scooted in through the door making the place feel quite crowded. She seemed scaled to fit the room at about four foot nine, and as he stood up, apparently satisfied with what I still maintain was an incomplete haircut, the boy proved to be equally small. I watched him leave, fascinated by his sense of style. Or maybe he could only afford the first stage and was having his hair done in instalments.
Toby took his turn first, chatting amiably to the young woman. She seemed very friendly. It didn’t take long, largely because he emerged from the chair unchanged to the naked eye. Apparently he’d had something cut off somewhere, and I decided to pursue the matter no further than that. I was starting to believe his faded red baseball cap was actually grafted to his skull anyway, so it seemed unlikely that his life would be changed overly much by the absence of such a microscopic amount of hair.
He nipped next door to buy us a couple of beers, leaving me alone and within clear speaking distance of the hairdresser. I gave her a wide smile, then carefully studied the lino floor.
“Something something something?” She asked. I recognised by the rise in her voice at the end that it was a question. I glanced at the door. Toby was still very inconsiderately buying me a beer. I groped for an appropriate response, and came up with a technique I’d been falling back on more and more recently.
“Si.” I replied.
She seemed satisfied.
Then as if by magic Toby was back, handing me a nearly cold beer, joking with the hairdresser, and beckoning me forward for my turn under the scissors. I was feeling a little nervous as I parked my ass in the chair. I really hoped she wasn’t fond of small talk. I was liking silence.
Toby asked me what I wanted.
“Just a bit shorter, really – short back and sides, nice and tidy. Not too short though.” I warned him.
I still don’t know the exact Spanish words he used, and I’m sure he doesn’t remember them either, so I’m probably paraphrasing here. He turned to the hairdresser with the barest trace of a grin. “Shave it all off,” he said.
And she did.
“Yeah, I stitched up a few of my mates like that back home,” he elaborated, as we sat on the curb outside the hairdressers with our beers. “They always say ‘Don’t stitch me up, right?’, so I persuade them it’ll look great.”
I couldn’t stop running my hand over the back of my head. At least in a couple of weeks, I thought, I would be able clean my nails this way.
“They must think you’re an asshole,” I diplomatically remarked, careful to keep myself out of the equation.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“Well, I don’t care,” I lied.
“It’s easier in the mornings! And easier to wash shit out of!” He reminded me.
“Yeah. True.” I wasn’t actually planning on rubbing my head in much shit regardless of the length of my hair. Toby himself seemed to have managed to avoid the problem of a head covered in crusty shit despite having hair infinitely longer than mine was now.
The hair on my arse also never seemed to suffer from this particular problem, despite it too now being considerably longer than that on my head. I was clearly thinking way too much about this situation. But at least it was taking my mind off the shape of my skull.
We returned our empty beer bottles and set off back through the town. His hair stirring gracefully in the wind, me staggering jerkily along behind him in a state of shock. Letting out an occasional anguished moan. Two feet taller than anyone else around, with a pallid bald head the shape of a dented light bulb. I wondered if any of the locals had ever seenFrankenstein.
Hope you enjoyed that! ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ will be available as downloadable eBook for Kindle, Mac or PC from 1st July. It is priced at £2.99 (or $2.99 for US buyers). If you like the sound of it, please tell your friends! Hell, tell your enemies too. Maybe they’ll stop hating you afterwards!
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