Just heard from Hybrid Sequence Media, the publisher of my second Collection, Gimp World, that they are currently pulling a cover together for it for a provisonal March release. As I was going through the manuscript I saw that I have now completed what could be called my "pandemic trilogy;" stories all written in and inspired by the pandemic. Now, I admit I find the whole "inspired by the pandemic" thing rather tiresome, when most such stories are realist in nature and focus on feelings of loneliness or isolation or fear of the invisible virus, and so on. Thankfully, seeing the world through a genre lens, it is possible to just see patterns that trigger bizarro-style trains of thought that lead to absurd tales only nominally related to the pandemic, even if somewhat inspired by them.
The first of these stories was "Gimp World" itself, published by Horror Sleaze Trash.
The second was "Porno Park" published at the same place.
The third is "Scoby Snacks". I haven't yet started hawking it around for publication as yet, but as it is in the Gimp World collection, I thought I would publish it here, as an exclusive.
So here we go - enjoy!
“It’s great for the gut micro-biome” is something that Rob had never thought anyone would say to him, partly because he didn’t know what a micro-biome was and partly because prior to meeting Natalie he would never have found himself in a hipster emporium buying things that were good for the gut micro-biome.
The guy behind the counter handed him a sealed plastic bag, an artificial amniotic sac, within which a white mass slipped between his fingers. Rob peered at its featureless form before turning back to the assistant. “And you just put it in green tea and sugar and that’s it, yeah?”
“Yep, “the assistant said, his waxed moustache vibrating like a tuning fork as he spoke. “The scoby eats the sugar then converts it into beneficial bacteria. And when it’s done fermenting your green tea, not only will your scoby have grown, but there will also be a baby scoby there which you can use to make your next batch of kombucha.”
Rob had always liked the sound of getting anything for free, even before he had met Natalie and his interests had changed from beer and football to kundalini yoga, chakra opening and environmentalism. Funnily enough, all of which were her interests.
So it was that Rob found himself whizzing back from Camden on his electric scooter, in his backpack a glass demijohn, a bag of sugar, a box of organic matcha green tea-leaves and some steriliser.
It could never be said that Rob bore responsibility well. However, this time he was determined that he would prove something to himself and, more importantly, to Natalie. He placed the scoby into the sickly-sweet brew and gently tapped on the glass as it settled within, as if expecting a response. As the days passed, he got into the habit of inspecting his slimy new ward, as it day by day slowly, but noticeably grew, developing glutinous tendrils which reached out for sustenance from the furthest reaches of the jar until one day he saw it; another baby scoby growing from the mother. And while Rob posted pictures of the scoby on the ‘gram with joking, self-deprecating messages like “I’m going to be a grandfather!”, truth be told he did, for the first time in his life, actually feel a sense of responsibility for the oleaginous blob of fungus growing in his kitchen, perhaps even a bond.
After bottling up his brew, Rob was left with the decision on what to do with his now two distinct scobies. He was relieved to find from various websites that he would not need to part with his original scoby, so he decided to use it again for his second batch, reluctantly giving away the offspring to a friend of Natalie’s, surprising himself when he found himself asking her how it was whenever she popped round for a chakral cleansing or burning bowl ceremony.
And so it went on, month after month, batch after batch, brew after brew until, finally even Rob realised that his original scoby, now several times its original size but looking distinctly worn-out and jaded, probably needed to be replaced.
Reluctantly, regretfully, he picked up his scoby and, needing both hands to manage its slippery weight, threw it in the bin.
Rob didn’t think any more of it until he woke the next day and stumbled, still half asleep, into his kitchen and literally tripped over it. The scoby had now quadrupled in size and was the size of a medium-sized dog. What it was doing on the floor next to the bin, he didn’t know, but he could only assume that it had consumed the contents– various types of fruit pulp from Natalies’s juicer and other organic vegan scraps – and then climbed out, either in a bid for freedom or in search of more food. Taking a fresh bin bag from under the kitchen sink, Rob placed the scoby in it, the bag barely big enough to cover the whole thing, and then struggled down the stairs from his flat with it in both arms, before finally heaving it into the wheelie bin.
The next day, as Rob opened the front door to get to work, he saw the scoby seemingly waiting for him on the front step. It was now almost waist high at its central point, its sides spreading out in a circle almost four feet in diameter, its edges climbing up the walls of the porch.
What the Hell do I do now? He thought. I can’t just leave it here?
Eventually he decided it was easier to just drag the thing down the alleyway at the end of the road and then just dump it in the mucky waters of the Thames. And true, while the scoby was heavier than expected – he estimated it at 3 or 400 lbs now – and it was also slimy and slippery to the touch, by finding an old rusty pick axe in the derelict shed that was hidden in the undergrowth at the end of the communal garden, Rob was able to bury the pick deep into the scoby’s quivering mass and pull it, in sharp, energetic jerks to the edge of the river before, groaning with the effort, hoiking it in, pick axe and all.
And as the weeks passed, Rob did not think of the scoby again, too busy was he navigating the traffic on his e-scooter, whizzing past the hundreds of missing cat and lost dog flyers posted on the lampposts to work, like Xerox leaves blooming on metal trees. He would be partially aware of local news reports on TV expressing confusion about the vanishing homeless population but he was too focused now on trying to read GreenPeace newsletters on his phone as Natalie had now apparently developed a passion for biodiversity and fighting climate change so he felt it would keep him in her knickers if he could be similarly well-informed. So as she whined about diminishing species in the Amazon, dwindling numbers of tigers in India and fish populations in the Channel suddenly plummeting to the point that the whole body of water now seemed barren and lifeless apart from a foam of beneficial bacteria that washed up on the coasts in greater amounts every day, he would tut, and shake his head in disbelief and exhale sharply, while not really paying too much attention.
That was until one day Natalie called him through to the living room, where she was stood rigidly in front of the TV, her hands clasped to her mouth in disbelief. “L...Look at this!” she said finally, gesturing to the BBC News report on the screen, a banner “Mystery Mass in Channel moving towards U.S.” ticker-taping across the image of what appeared to be a slimy white island, some half a mile across, drifting against the waves, a tiny pick axe embedded in its centre. It was undeniably his scoby and, as disinterested as he actually was in environmental matters, even Rob felt a twinge of guilt as the scoby slowly made its way across the Atlantic, doubling in size every day, as it consumed mega-tonnes of bio-matter to fuel its growth.
Indeed, as time went by it became clear that the scoby itself had stopped moving but was now instead just accumulating mass at such a rate that its mere growth meant that its outer edges moved hundreds of miles outwards – towards Greenland, Europe and the East Coast of the States - the Scoby now an expanding fungal continent in a diminishing kombucha ocean. The American military tried bombing it, but even their heaviest ordnance did no damage and was as futile as trying to destroy an island by throwing pebbles at it.
But then the reports from China started to come in.
Terrifying footage posted on Twitter of coastal cities collapsing into the sea, clouds of sea-water, rubble, dust and pre-biotic foam. Grainy cell-phone images of masses of people being plucked from seafronts by mesophylic tendrils, of whole cities locking themselves away in fear, screaming their terror into the night skies. Initially, such footage was dismissed as CCP propaganda but soon it became clear what was happening on the other side of the world. An uber kefir – a kefir kaiju if you will –was rapidly expanding across the Pacific, consuming all in its path as it gained mass at an incalculable rate. Panicked discussion then moved on to what would end life on Earth first – the kombucha or the kefir – the entire planet girding its loins for the clash of the two pro-biotic titans as their respective masses swelled to envelop the globe.
Still, whether it was his ADHD or he had been vaping too much Moroccan hash, but by this point Rob had long-since lost interest.
Besides, sea water was delicious now and was outstanding for the gut microbiome.
And for Rob, who had always liked a freebie, that was very much a win.