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Fantasy Funny Fiction

Archie Wellbeloved was a mess, emotionally and physically. His name didn’t fit for a start. Exasperated at his lack of get up and go, his girlfriend had got up and gone herself. That same day he’d been laid off work; some hacker had raided his bank account and he was skint until the bank sorted it out; his hair was a mess; his clothes unkempt, and his trainers looked like a pair of exploded tyres. Much like the deflated tyres on his car as he gazed down at them in undisguised bile, an unfortunate product of the neighbourhood in which he lived. Which, in itself, was another downer. 

He aimed a vicious kick at one of the tyres and was rewarded by his trainer flying underneath the wheels of a passing truck. Sighing, he limped over to retrieve it, saw that it now really did look like an exploded tyre, and binned it, along with its mate, and hobbled back indoors to contemplate his day, which had started off badly and looked like getting worse. Talk about Black Friday which, ironically,  it was - not that he had any cash to take advantage of it

He was still contemplating when his best mate, Jason, dropped by. Now, Jason was the very antithesis of Archie - he was always so upbeat it was positively nauseating. He was the sort of guy who could lose a tenner before lunch and find a fifty afterwards: he once found a platinum ring on the beach just by slipping on a piece of seaweed and made an absolute bomb on it at auction. It was worth noting that all of the other auction pieces in the same sale bombed themselves - he was the only one who walked away with a clear profit.

“Morning mate,” he called cheerily as he walked in. “Why the long face?” So Archie told him.

At length.

“You know what?” Jason sympathised. “You ever thought about counselling? I know it’s not what blokes do, but it might give you a more positive outlook on life. Can’t do any harm. My numbers came up on the Lottery last night so I’ll stand it for you until you get back on your feet. You have got some more shoes, haven’t you?”

“Ha-bloody-ha,” Archie said. “‘Course I have. Just as bloody well, ‘cos the car’s out of action as well so I’m on foot until I can get it fixed. And of course your numbers came up, Why wouldn’t they?”

“Ah, well, counselling’s as much as I can stump up for at the moment. Come on. I’ll give you a lift into town.”

***

It was one thing thinking about counselling, it was a different proposition getting it, Archie found. You can’t actually walk into a shop and purchase a ‘Get your Head Straight’ kit - not in downtown Midchester at any rate. You don’t see shopfronts exhorting their customers to pop in and bare their souls, free cup of coffee thrown in, Black Friday or not.

He could have made an appointment with his G.P.  he supposed - but he would probably be fobbed off with one of the nurse practitioners, and he’d gone to school with most of them so that was a no-no for a start, patient confidentiality or not. And, anyway, Jason had stumped up so he guessed he’d be going private. He pulled his phone out and googled.

Google wasn’t very helpful. It threw up a list so short it could have been a shortlist itself, and some of the entries looked a bit dubious. Somehow a Madame Fifi had inveigled her way amongst notable brain surgeons and neurolinguistic practitioners, but Archie doubted that the services she was providing were in any way long-lasting. He finally settled on one that looked promising and let the maps function take him there.

The route took him through Midchester’s seedier highways and byways and Archie began to think that perhaps it was taking him to Madame Fifi’s after all. Then, the cabbage-smelling  alleys gave out onto a brighter plaza in a part of town that Archie didn’t recognise and his doubts receded.

He thought he knew every inch of the town but progress goes on apace and this aspect looked brand new, so he Googled again and found the place he was looking for was across the square which, oddly, was quite empty.

The logo was encouraging though: HEADSPACE. Succinct, to the point - and probably very expensive, but Jason was coughing for that at the moment, so no worries. Who knew? Perhaps some of Jason’s luck would rub off with his money.

The proprietor looked up as he entered and the way he rubbed his hands together was disconcertingly usurious. The place was festooned with BLACK FRIDAY! Signs, as most of the High Street had been. And had been for at least a week - when Christmas, Halloween and Black Friday signs start fighting for space in shop windows it’s a sign that commercialism is alive and well even if the economy isn’t. 

The proprietor was suave, dapper, and swarthy, with a neatly trimmed goatee and a manner bordering just the right side of oleaginous.  A lapel badge in faintly cyrillic iconography bore the name ‘Dr. Bubezleeb’. “Was it a consultation, sir, or merely an enquiry?” he asked, the accent suitably Eastern European to go with the badge. “As you can see, we have various offerings, and we do have consultations available - we have only just gone into business here. Although we have many years of experience in putting people on the right path.”

Archie explained his dilemma and the doctor nodded understandingly, producing several brochures and steering him through to the consulting room, whilst motioning a curvaceous blonde amply filling out a nurse’s uniform, to man the office. 

If Archie had been expecting a couch and a clinical atmosphere, he was sadly mistaken. He could have been excused for thinking that the consulting room was a rather sophisticated Madame Fifi’s antechamber. Luxurious didn’t begin to describe it.

The doctor smirked. “Yes, it takes everyone by surprise. But all this …” he spread his arms in emphasis “... is emblematic of the success you can achieve if you sign up to one of our personal development programmes. We find that example reveals far more than explanation.” He rang a bell and another curvaceous blonde appeared through a set of velour drapes bearing a silver tray with a bottle of champagne. Decorously, she opened the bottle, poured, and presented Archie with a glass, which he took in amazement.

The doctor accepted his own glass and sank down into one of the plush armchairs, motioning Archie to do the same. “Much more civilised than a simple cup of coffee, I find. Here’s to your … shall we say … future?” he said, raising his glass.

Archie automatically did the same, still gazing around in wonder.

The doctor downed his glass with relish and riffled through the brochures. “Now, to business.” He quickly took Archie through the various HEADSPACE procedures available which ranged from Bronze to Platinum, with - as might have been expected - a Black Friday deal on the Platinum+. If genuine, Archie was amazed to recognise several well-known faces amongst the wealth of endorsements listed in each.

“Yes. We have helped many, many, people achieve their goals,” the doctor said, noticing Archie’s reaction, “but for obvious reasons they have kept their involvement … private. For that reason the brochures I am showing you will never leave this office. If you take advantage of any of our offers you will be joining a very exclusive club, Mr. Wellbeloved.” 

“A major part of our treatments lie in the field of hypnosis. Now, just as a taste of its efficacy, I would like to offer a small experiment. What, above wealth and success, is something that you would dearly wish to achieve?”

There was no need to think. “Well,” Archie said, “I’ve always wanted to pick a guitar up and just play, if that’s what you mean?”

“Excellent!” He clicked his fingers and the second blonde walked in with what Archie immediately recognised as a high end Stratocaster, hooked up to a bank of amplifiers revealed behind the velour curtains. Archie picked up the guitar reverently - he wasn’t exactly a novice but by no means proficient - and strummed a few hesitant chords.

“Look at me!” commanded the doctor, and his eyes bored into Archie’s with an intensity that was frightening. Archie felt his own eyes widen and then relax as the stare waned. “Now play!”

He let his fingers play up and down the fretboard randomly and soon they were flying all over the frets making the most stupendous sound he had ever heard his fingers produce. As the last chord reverberated away, Archie snapped out of his reverie. The next note he tried was as bum a note as he had ever played - and that was saying something.

He gaped at the doctor. “How…?”

The doctor smiled. “As I said, that was just a trial. The effects were only temporary.” He reached over and took the guitar out of Archie’s hands. “But that could be reality for you. As could many, many, things.”

Archie looked at his still twitching fingers. “Jesus,” he whispered. “Are you a magician or something?” 

The doctor laughed dryly. “I have been called many things, but never, ever,  that.”

“Well, it’s magic to me,” replied Archie. “Where do I sign?”

***

Obviously, he signed the Platinum+. Especially when the doctor explained there would be no down payment, but instead regular monthly contributions as the treatment progressed, topped up by a percentage of any earnings that might result from the enhanced lifestyle that the programme guaranteed. Archie could hardly believe his luck.

Over the next few weeks Archie’s progress through the programme was phenomenal. His proficiency on guitar was so good that he joined a band, cut a record, and made good money for the first time in his life, syphoning 25% of the royalties back to the clinic. He also achieved another ambition by writing a novel, winning a cash prize in the process, with publication, and advances that he could only have dreamed of a few months ago. And his hitherto easy-going personality took on a harder edge with an assertiveness that he never thought he could ever achieve,  which he exploited to the full.

In short, Archie became a bit of a clever, unlikeable, polymath arsehole.

He also formed an attachment to the blonde receptionist, Olga, whom he had come to know well on his frequent visits to the clinic, and very intimately indeed in her frequent visits to his new apartment. It was a liaison very much against the clinic's code of conduct according to Olga. The doctor did not take kindly to fraternisation with clients, but such was the force of Archie's new personality that all conventions went straight out of the window.

Archie's friends, such as he had left after ostentatiously living it large, were amazed at the transformation. Jason, particularly, was astonished that his advice and investment had produced such remarkable results. "Tell you what," he said one day, gazing in awe around Archie's dockland apartment, "you've really got it made. But you need to drop the attitude. Nobody likes a smartarse. And the body modifications are a bit much. When did you start that?"

Archie looked surprised. True, he'd had a few tats since he last saw Jason, and the fake tan had become more of a permanent feature, but he was at a loss to understand what else Jason might be on about.

Jason tapped his forehead. "The horns, mate. Tell me they're just cosmetic, or are you going the whole hog like those weirdos with the eye tats and forked tongues? Not a good look. I know it probably goes with the band image, but there are limits."

Archie felt his forehead and walked over to the mirror and, sure enough, there were two little nodules protruding quite significantly. "Bloody Hell!" He said in shock. "They weren't there yesterday! What the …?"

Jason snorted, "Nice try, mate. You don't grow horns without some intervention. Just get a grip, Archie, you're becoming a bit of a liability. Don't spoil yourself more than you already have." And with those words of advice, he walked out.

Over the course of the next few days, Archie's horns grew, until a hat would barely cover them. And an irritation in the coccyx area eventually revealed the beginnings of a stumpy tail. And he stopped going out, if only because the fake tan was slowly deepening to a faint magenta sheen. If the strange transformation was an embarrassment for Archie, it was a real turn on for Olga, who didn't seem fazed at all.

"What do you mean, sexy!" he cried in horror when Olga ran her hands over his head. "It's bloody awful! Where have these come from?"

She looked amazed. "You mean you don't know?"

"Know? Know what? I know I'm looking like a freak!"

"No! You're starting to look like The Master. Didn't you read the contract?"

"Contract? What contract?"

"The contract you signed when you started the programme that made you what you are. It's all in the small print. Don't tell me he didn't explain it. He's getting very forgetful in his dotage."

Archie looked at her as though she'd suddenly grown two heads - although that probably shouldn't have surprised him. "What small print? Who reads small print? And who's 'The Master'? Am I going mad, or are you?"

She sucked in her lips. "Ah, he didn't. Oh dear."

She gently took his hands. "Archie, when you started the programme, you sold your soul. Don't tell me you didn't realise. The Master is Beelzebub."

Archie took a moment to let that sink in and then felt the blood drain from his face.

"Archie, entering the programme comes at a price. Not only did you sell your soul, but you also contracted to become a demon. I mean, that's only supposed to happen when you die but you seem to have kick started it somehow. It's not unknown, but not in my lifetime and I'm 210 years old."

It isn't often the expression 'his jaw dropped' achieves reality but in Archie's case it did. He also physically recoiled, dragging his hands away from Olga's grip in horror.

"What!"

She shrugged. "Those of us in service tend to have longer lives, although I have to admit it can get a bit tedious. In my time I've been a Blood Letter, an Apothecary's Assistant and a Bordello Mistress, just by way of a change. Always under The Master. Well, not actually under, not even in the Bordello - a girl does have some taste - but in servitude." Her eyes softened. "That's why I've loved being with you. You were different from the rest. Now you look like going the same way."

"I'm not going anywhere," Archie retorted. "This is false pretences,  this is. Who signs up to be a demon? How do I get out of this? Can I sue?"

Olga pondered. "I don't think anyone's tried. Anyone who signs up usually knows what they're in for. But …" she stroked her chin in thought. "I don't know.  Maybe if I can get hold of the original contract."

"And …" said Archie, grasping at a possible straw.

"I don't know," she said. "Leave it with me."

So he did, and fretted the days away measuring the rate of growth of his horns, taking care not to sit down too heavily on his stump of a tail and cursing the day he ever set foot in HEADSPACE.

***

Meanwhile, Olga was biding her time. Getting into the doctor's office was not easy, yet every day that passed was one more day that Archie had to endure his involuntary transformation. But, eventually, in an unguarded moment when the doctor was distracted by a new client, she found the opportunity to slip inside. Unfortunately the latest potential client was a cute cookie, not easily taken in by smooth talk and promises, and had declined the doctor’s ‘services’ and walked out. Which displeased him. He wasn’t used to being declined and stormed back to his office, where he found Olga rifling through the files. Coming on top of the recent rejection, the thought of a formerly trusted assistant abusing her privileges was too much, and it was only Olga’s ample decolletage and the thought of at last getting hold of it that prevented him from exacting the worst retribution that he could think of. And that would have been really quite nasty.

Then, just as he was about to lay hands on her, the door to the office sprang open and Archie barged in. Concerned at the length of time that Olga had been absent, he had decided to take matters into his own hands and exact his own retribution. It’s amazing what a change of personality will bring about. The doctor wheeled round in alarm, Archie picked up the Stratocaster sitting in the corner, and brought it down on the doctor’s head, who collapsed in a heap. With just a scintilla of regret at the ruined Strat hanging in pieces by its neck, Archie grabbed Olga, Olga grabbed the necessary documentation, and they made their escape before the doctor came to.

***

Later that evening, she and Archie had a small bonfire of the documentation on the apartment roof and, as the smoke dissipated into the night sky, Archie's appendages began to shrink. And so did Olga’s decolletage and, over the course of the next few days, as Archie reverted back to his normal personality, she became less the brassy blonde and more the girl next door: she had taken the opportunity to steal her own contract too. And, as in all fairy stories, they lived happily ever after, living testament to not falling for Black Friday scams. If it was too good to be true, then it probably was.

November 30, 2023 13:05

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7 comments

Marty B
01:40 Jan 05, 2024

Go Archie and Olga! Quite a play to get one over on Beelzebub! The characters were great, and I appreciated how Archie became more of an expert, he also became an 'clever, unlikeable, polymath arsehole' That rings of the truth! Thanks !

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Story Time
07:14 Dec 12, 2023

I thought this was so clever and well-paced. I really thought the language was just light enough without feeling fluffy and I look forward to going back and reading your other pieces.

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Malcolm Twigg
07:52 Dec 12, 2023

Thanks for the comments Kevin. There's never any planned logic to the stuff I do. It all starts with the first line and builds on that.

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Danie Holland
18:31 Dec 11, 2023

Well, I don’t have it in me to Black Friday shop. So many companies in America do this cute thing where they don’t pay their employees a livable wage. Can you believe it? However, I loved this cautionary tale. “And, as in all fairy stories, they lived happily ever after, living testament to not falling for Black Friday scams. If it was too good to be true, then it probably was.“ - such a good lesson. Thanks for the story, Malcolm. 💜

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Malcolm Twigg
19:07 Dec 11, 2023

Thanks for reading Danie. It's much the same in the UK wage wise, particularly in catering.

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Martin Ross
21:23 Dec 06, 2023

Great, witty story. Reedsy should do a book based just on this prompt — your story plays it out perfectly. Nice job!

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Malcolm Twigg
21:31 Dec 06, 2023

Thanks Martin. Didn't know where this was actually going but it worked out in the end. Critique on yours incoming - it's on a list

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