The Road to Amarlea, part 6

“Fuck off, Pep. ” said Uncle Tip.

“Aw, that’s what you always say, Uncle Tip. But I’m bored and I want to DO something!” said Pep.

“That’s none of my concern, you little shit. Why are you always bothering me when I’m drinking. ” said Uncle Tip, pointedly taking a hearty swallow of the thick and fuzzy liquor his clan produced.

“Because you’re ALWAYS drinking. ” whined Pep. “And you’re my favorite uncle!”

“Bugger if I know why. ” said Tip. “All I ever do is tell you to fuck off. ”

“That’s not true, that’s not true!” insisted Pep. “Sometimes you give me something to do in order to get rid of me. Nobody else does that!”

“You have a point, Runt. I must be getting soft hearted in my old age. Time was, I would have told you to fuck off with the end of my boot up your arse and laughed the whole while, like a real Tassie. Now I can barely work up the ire to tell you to fuck off with my mouth. I always knew that my kind soul and gentle heart would be my downfall one day. I just never thought it would come in the form of a pint sized demon child plaguing me with questions and demands all the long bloody day. Ah well, it’s a fool that feeds a foal unless he wants a pet for life, they say. Say, why aren’t you with your Gram right now?”

“She’s got a gentleman caller in, and he paid for the whole day, so I can’t go back til tomorrow. She said this one smells rich and she is going to go all out to insure repeat custom. ” said Pep.

“Oh, right. ” said Uncle Tip, eyes glazing over with sudden nostalgia. “I remember when I had one of your Gram’s full days after a grand day at the bug track. Gawd, but she has an imagination and a will to please. I couldn’t walk a straight line for days after. No wonder she didn’t want a little shit like you hanging around creeping out the customers. It’s a wonder I don’t see you more often, then. ”

“Sometimes she lets me stay!” objected Pep. “I just have to stay in the attic and not make any noise. But this time the old beggar saw me and wanted me out pronto, and Gram said I better leave before the old beggar got any idea, and so off I went and here I am. ”

“Yes, here you are, to plague me afresh. But that is just me, always ending up with other people’s problems dumped into my lap when I am just trying to enjoy a nice quiet drink. Why, just the other day, your mother was over here trying to cozy up to me to get my liquor. Me, of all people! With all this bad luck I’ve been having, and Dud’s still blowing up so I had to find someplace new to steal my medicine, and this bustitis of mine making all the joints on my left side burn like Bewel’s piss, and…

Pep listened eagerly to his Uncle Tip’s long and exhaustive litany of complaints, making sure to say “That’s too bad!” and “What a shame!” and such in the right places, and he meant it every time. It did not seem right to Pep that one person should suffer so much terrible misfortune, and always right when Uncle Tip was just about to get back on his feet and make a go of things again.

Plus, of course, he had already learned in his eight short years of life that if you got old people complaining and listened all the way till the end, they almost always gave you something. He was not sure why this was, but he figured old people have so much to complain about that most people got sick of hearing it, and so they needed a fresh audience all the time just to get through it all.

And what the hell, it wasn’t like Pep had a lot to do with his time, especially when Gram had a caller in.

When Tip was done, or at least exhausted, Pep risked asking a question. “Uncle Tip, why won’t anybody give me anything to do?”

Tip laughed. “To do? And just what can a worthless little runt like you do? You’re too small for most jobs, and you are too young and too stupid to know how to do anything, besides!”

“But how am I supposed to learn how to do anything if nobody will teach me anything?” protested Pep.

“I don’t know, plenty of ways! When I was your age, I didn’t go about moping and whining and bothering my elders. I learned everything by stealing and spying and copying and trying things out on my own, like any good member of the Tasselbar clan. Learning by asking is the skivvie thing, and you are a Tassie, kid, through and through, for all there is of you anyhow. And we don’t ask and we don’t learn from books and we don’t hang around bothering poor old men who just want to drink in peace with stupid questions!” He punctuated these last two words with violent gestures in Pep’s general direction with his liquor jug, causing the contents to slosh, gurgle, and mutter dangerously.

Pep knew he had pushed his luck too far now, and he had better skedaddle. But he would not be a true Tassie if he didn’t at least make one more try to get what he wanted despite ferocious odds.

“Well that’s just too bad, Old Uncle Tip, because with Gram in business, I got nothing to do all day but sit here bothering you and stealing your liquor when you aren’t looking!” said Pep. Where did I come up with that last bit, he wondered. He had tried a little of Tip’s liquor once and all it had done for him was make him piss and puke for a couple of hours. Stealing it had never even occurred to him before. But he had said it, and now he was stuck with it. Inspiration took strange forms some time.

“You would never! Mark my words, you filthy little demon, if you go taking my liquor and selling it down at Ollie’s, I will lock you in my pantry then sell your arse to the Ginners over in Clede.”

Pep didn’t know what a “ginner” was, exactly. He just knew they liked to “do things” to little boys and girls. He had no idea what “things” those might be, but they must be pretty bad, what with the way the adults said “things”. Still, he knew this was an idle threat. Clede was three days walk from here, and Uncle Tip hadn’t gone that far for decades.

He was going to remember that bit about selling liquor at Ollie’s though. He hadn’t even known that was possible until now. Uncle Tip always taught him something, sooner or later.

“Just watch me, old man!” said Pep. “The minute you pass out, I am going to find all your liquor and take it down to Ollie’s and when you wake up, there won’t be a drop in the house!”

Tip swore him up and down and sideways with all the vigor and color of his Tassie ancestry, then said “What is it going to take to get rid of you, you little shit?”

Pep had been waiting for this. “What’s this box?” he asked innocently, pointing to a quite fascinating looking box with a monster painted on front and a bunch of levers in back that he had noticed quite some time ago in Uncle Tip’s old hovel.

Uncle Tip snatched it up and peered at it with his weak old eyes, and after a few moments, he said “Oh this? This is my old spinner box. You push the levers and pretty music comes out. It goes over great with the skivvies, you put a hat down and play it and they put coins in the hat, just like that. Here, take it and get out of here. ” He thrust the box into Pep’s tiny hands so hard he bowled the boy over.

“So I just push any of these and music comes out?” said Pep as he got back to his feet and looked the strange box over. ”

“Yes, yes. Push the levers, pretty music, anyone can do it.” babbled Uncle Tip as he pushed Pep through the flap of leather that was the Tassie definition of “door”. “Take it down to Ollie’s and you will get more coins than you could ever get for my good liquor, that I stole with my own two hands and all!”

“OK, I’ll give it a go. ” yelled Pep at his Uncle Tip through the other side of the “door”, out on the street. “But if it doesn’t do what you say, you old drunk, I will be back for your liquor. ”

The formalities taken care of, Pep examined the mysterious “spinner box” carefully. It seemed harmless enough. He gingerly pushed down on one of the dozens of levers, and was so shocked by the horrible noise that resulted that he nearly dropped it.

“Don’t you start playing that godawful thing again, Tip!” shouted a neighbor. “I swear, if you wake the baby with that again, I will come over and smash your old bald head in with it!”

Clearly this was not a safe place to unlock the mysteries of this mysterious treasures. Pep racked his brain for someplace isolated enough that he would be left alone.

Then he decided to just wander out of town and find a likely spot. Down a gully somewhere, or up a hill. Someplace only farmers and other skivvies went, so he could find some peace and quiet to shatter.

And so Pep wandered out of town, and climbed a big hillock, and was just starting to get the hang of making the music sound not quite so bad when something caught his eye.

It was the biggest human being Pep had ever seen.

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