Good evening and welcome to my magnificently macabre miscellanea of tantalising tomes…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a drag-dressed octopus and its dribbling Tea Fiend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here; here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!
But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? Amontillado? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,
like this perhaps…
Sheath And Knife
It was a wretched night. The day had been, like all the rest that winter, blanketed by a sky as thick with yellow hairs as a she-wolf’s pelt. Around three o’clock, the sun had given up its feeble interruptions of the conversation between sky and earth and taken itself off to bed protesting a headache.
Richard keenly wished he could do the same. The great hall echoed with the sober sibilation of rote remarks, hissing like steam from vents stretched tight in cold calculated smiles. Wits upon a tight leash; conversations measured by the mark and the feather.
Only obligation held him upright in his chair. Obligation to an old friend, who had not yet arrived.
One by one the guests retired – like salamanders slipped away to cadge the warmth of some other, brighter flame. And still Richard sat, while outside the rain beat out its fury upon the leaded windows the wind sang with gusto as it swept the cobweb clouds away into the night.
Still Richard sat. And still his friend did not come.
At last, when the hall was completely empty and the fire naught but the lazy lip lick of the full bellied bear in slumber, the door of the hall swung open and in, with the storm hungry upon his heels, came the long awaited guest.
Richard greeted him as jovially as he could and bade him sit by the fire and pressed warm mead into his raw red hands and did all the hospitable things he was supposed to do as a host and his friend, Edward, thanked him and made himself at home.
It had been many years since the two friends had shared company.
Richard regarded Edward in the firelight. He looked pale and haggard – the kind of world weariness that comes from years, not hours, of storm-riding. The deep fatigue that penetrates bone and marrow until it feasts upon the delicacy that is the human soul and, bite by exquisite bite, devours it. The same exhaustion that Richard glimpsed each evening in the mirror before he snuffed the light upon another gruelling day of hollow living.
He kept his assumptions to himself.
He did not dare ask.
The friends sat in silence as only old friends can until, quite suddenly, there came a tremendous noise outside the door and Richard rose from his chair just as a gigantic wolf hound came bursting through it with something clamped tight between its jaws.
Edward rose at once “Gellert!” he chided, pushing the beast away as it leapt and lolled at him and capered all about the place shedding cascades of filthy water.
“He is yours?”
“Unfortunately, yes! I thought he’d stay put with the horses but the silly brute is loath to leave my side it seems…ho! What’s this he’s brought in? Gods above and below!”
Edward wrested the thing loose from the great hound’s mouth and held it up to the firelight. It was a bone. A human leg bone, by all accounts, and clinging to it – Richard clamped a hand across his mouth – fragments of tattered green and gold fabric.
“Curious eh? Wonder where he picked that old thing up.” Edward rose to shut the door but, before he reached it, the hound gave a loud bellow and charged back out into the storm once more. Edward shrugged, closed the door behind him and returned to his seat by the fire but Richard hesitated. He knew full well what this bone was and where it came from and every fibre of his being was trying desperately to think of a way to get rid of it before Edward realised what it was as well and ran screaming for his life.
But before Richard could do anything about it, the door burst open again and in crashed the hound, this time bearing another leg bone and a pair of feet to match. Then he wagged his tail happily and bounded off into the storm once more.
Well, this game went on all night – the dog coming and going and bringing back bone after bone after bone until Richard was on his knees with his head in his hands, Edward was opposite him with his jaw on the floor and two full human skeletons were laid upon the hall floor between the two of them.
Gellert sat and wagged his tail gleefully. As far as he was concerned, a good night’s work had been accomplished.
“Call the watch!” Richard groaned “Call the priest! Call everyone! Have them take me away! For here, before you, lie the rotted corpses of what should have been a noble woman and her innocent child. I could not stand the shame of their existence in life, but now to bear the guilt of their destruction? It is a far greater torture for your wretched hound to have unearthed them now and laid them out like accusations at my door! Oh for pity’s sake, do not look at them, take them away, and then go yourself and do not ever return for I know you cannot bear to know me any longer!”
Edward looked at the skeletons, bones shining silver and gold in the firelight.
He looked at his grinning hound and at his broken friend and then he took Richard by the elbows and he steered him gently back into his seat.
“Drink some wine,” he said carefully, “and while you recover yourself, let me tell you a story.
“We knew eachother as boys, you and I, but of course you remember that I was called away to care for my grandfather who was very ill. Eventually, the old man died and I was sad to see him go for we had grown mighty fond of eachother in the years that had passed. On his death bed he gave to me a rare and precious gift – a golden seed like no other on earth – and he bade me plant it in the soil outside his cottage and mark well to feed and care for it every day.
This I did and the tree grew so fast and so fine that within a few short weeks it towered almost as tall as the house and every kind of fruit imaginable grew in wondrous profusion upon its branches at every time of year.
Well, at first my friends and neighbours were very pleased – they wanted the fruits and I was happy to share them out, there were so many. But, after a while, they started to complain. Some of the fruits I gave them were bitter and did not taste so good, others tasted sweet but were difficult to swallow. The tree was getting out of hand they said – its branches overhung the road, its shadow fell across the whole town and its fruits fell like rain into the gardens of all and sundry.
One night they came with torches and axes in their hands and bitter cries of hatred upon their lips.
They cut down my tree until it was naught but a stump. The tree my grandfather had given me. The tree that gave fruit enough to feed the world. And I let them Richard, I sat at my window and did nothing while they hacked it down. “
Richard looked up a little, and wiped his eyes on the back of his hand.
“After they had gone,” Edward continued, his voice cracking like the charred logs upon the hearth, “I went outside. All that was left was one golden seed, lying there in the centre of the stump.”
“What did you do?” Richard couldn’t help himself.
Edward straightened up and slowly, tentatively, hands trembling in the darkness, he undid the buttons of his shirt. Richard saw his own pain and shame mirrored in his friend’s eyes. “I swallowed it,” Edward whispered, “and it has grown in me ever since.”
“Gods above and below!” Richard leapt to his feet. Edward’s entire torso was a twisted, gnarled and writhing mass of living tree boughs – bursting from his torn and bleeding flesh, forcing their way through bone and sinew like thick, black cobras, their fruits deformed and rancid; ripening and rotting in the crevices between his pulsing organs.
“How are you even alive?” Both men turned, startled, towards the voice which had seemed to grind upwards through some deep and long forgotten vault, and there, in front of them, stood the skeleton of the woman which had risen from the floor as Edward had been telling his tale.
Edward swallowed hard, “I…I do not know, My Lady.”
The skeleton approached him slowly. She reached out a hand that was naught but bone and with her skeletal fingers she reached deep inside Edward’s chest and, ignoring how he screamed and writhed and tried to push her away, she stoically removed the golden seed.
With the seed now gone, some of the roots and branches slithered away also in gory pools of bloated purple tissue and dark clotted blood. Edward looked sheepishly at the mess but Richard seemed not to have noticed.
The skeleton woman walked slowly to the door and heaved it open. At some point the storm had wandered off to play elsewhere and a morning pale and pink was peeking tentatively over a blanket of rolling blue cloud.
The skeleton woman crouched in the wet earth and with her bony fingers she gouged a hole just big enough for Edward’s seed. She bedded it down tenderly and covered it over and as she did so, out from the empty sockets of her eyes soft tears felt like rain and watered the earth beneath her fleshless feet.
At once the earth began to shake and groan and the two men stumbled giddily out of the hall to find a magnificent fruit tree towering towards the sky, its branches bent over heavy with fruits of every description. The skeleton woman reached up into the branches and she picked a fruit.
Just one golden apple.
She bit into the yellow pulp with her bare bone teeth and she sucked out flesh and heart and sinew, she sucked out lungs and every vital organ, she sucked out eyes, star bright and ocean deep, brain cells bursting with the energy of wit and wisdom, muscles lean and strong, hips wide and sturdy, breasts full and heavy with milk and every good thing a woman needs and desires. Then Margaret took her little skeleton child up in her big strong feather-soft arms and she put him to her breast and he sucked and sucked until he was as ruddy and chubby as any babe could ever hope to be.
Now I cannot lie and tell you that this is the end of the tale, for I know that Edward and Richard and Margaret and their little babe and their strange fruit tree had many, many adventures after that. But those will have to wait until another time.
For now it is well enough for us to remember that any treasure that we bury cannot remain so forever. Treasure is put into the world to be shared, the skill is in finding out who to share it with and for that task, it is always good to have a wily hunting hound, like Gellert, as your ally.
Hmpf, well, as for you, you have no ‘allies’ here, only a grumpy old ghost who wishes to be left to rest in peace…or at least work in peace, now go on, out with you all I …no I don’t give damn if you are afraid of the dark or worried about the man-eating birds …werewolves you say? Well, you should have thought of that before you broke the curfew, GOOD NIGHT!
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is steampunk and fantasy author, Karen J Carlisle, writer of ‘Doctor Jack’ which Max and Collin recommended to us all on Monday. Good morning Karen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Tell me, have you brought along some soup to share with us?
“Thank you, Mrs Baker. I’ve got our version of homemade leek and potato soup. I grew the leeks myself. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 leeks (pale section) – thinly sliced
- 4 celery sticks – halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 4 zucchinis – quartered and thinly sliced
- 700g potatoes – peeled and cut into 1.5cm squares
- 1.5 L (6 cups) salt reduced chicken stock
- Handful of spring onions – chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan on low to medium heat. Add leek, celery and zucchini and cook until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes). Add potatoes and stock. Cover and heat on med to high heat, until boiling. Reduce to simmer and cook, partly covered, until the potatoes are soft (about 15 minutes).
You can feed a hungry horde of eight.”
Mmm, it smells delicious, and how wonderful that you grew the leeks yourself! Here in Lancaster, Lord Ashton is apparently building a sky-garden so that every resident can have their own vegetable plot so perhaps I will try my hand at leek growing too! Now then, while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about the heroine of your book series, Viola Stewart?
“Viola is an intelligent woman living in a man’s world. She studied, in Edinburgh, to become a doctor but was refused registration because of her sex. After her husband died, she became an optician. She is also an inventor, amateur detective and avid reader.”
Doctor Jack is based on the well-known London mystery of Jack The Ripper, however you manage to take the reader on an exciting and unexpected journey as Viola investigates, what inspired you to put a new twist on this famous tale?
“I was watching a documentary on Jack the Ripper and wondered what would happen if my recurring villains, The Society (aka the Men in Grey), tried to use him in their plans – and what if he had plans of his own? Of course, even the villain has a past – old acquaintances and a family. Perhaps he and Viola had already met? During my research I discovered little tit bits suggesting various alternatives to the traditional narrative.
I love ‘what ifs’.”
Ah, the old ‘what-if-itis’ … I believe it is the curse of every true steampunk! Now,the cover art and presentation of your books is absolutely beautiful, do you design the covers yourself?
“Yes, I do. After high school, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a writer, a photographer/cinematographer, an artist/designer, an astronaut, or the Doctor’s next companion. I wanted to do it all. I chose the safe option and finished a Bachelor of Applied Science in optometry. I recently changed careers (long story) and now I get to do photography, design, make book trailers as well as write. Perhaps I am trying to make up for lost time?”
My goodness you certainly have a lot of strings to your bow! And do you have any more mysteries for Viola to solve in the near future?
“Oh, yes. I’ve just published a second journal of Viola’s adventures, Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales, with a second set of short stories and a new novella. There’s mummies and curses and madness. I’ve already started working on the third book in the series.”
As well as writing wonderful books you are also a talented artist have you brought any of your work to show us today?
“I’m participating in Inktober again this year. Inktober is a concept, created by Jake Parker: 31 days, 31 inks. The aim of the project is to practice and improve my ink work and drawing skills. I post to my Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook pages.
This year I started with some characters you may recognise:
Viola Stewart and dear Doctor Henry Collins and Doctor Jack…”
“I’ve just released the Doctor Jack design as a t-shirt on my Redbubble store.“
Those really are amazing, Karen, and a t-shirt with Doctor Jack on the front sounds like a very splendid thing indeed, especially for Halloween! And do you have any new releases, workshops or events planned over the next few months?
“My short story, All that Glitters, is being published in an upcoming steampunk anthology, Den of Antiquity. It’s a story set in nineteenth century South Australia. I’m also attending a few local events: a local ‘mini comic con’ over the Halloween weekend – featuring local Adelaide writers, artists and comic book creators, and I have a table in the Artist Alley at Adelaide Supanova’s pop culture event, next month.”
Wonderful, so that is lots of places where fans can catch up with you! And now the all important question, I’ve heard that you are rather passionate about tea, but what is your favourite brew and how do you take it?
Max and Colin will be glad to hear you take your tea black! (or ‘neat’ as I think they term it.) you know, for an octopus, Collin has very strong opinions on adding milk to hot beverages.
Well now, here is your tea and thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Karen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you! Your home made soup smells delicious and I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?
“Definitely. And thanks for sharing your kitchen.”
A pleasure! Max and Collin will of course be ‘all punked up with no place to go’ tomorrow if you would care to join them in the parlour, and of course Peril will be sharing some fabulous fiction on Friday from his lovely library. I will be back next week with musician and youtuber Bellabeth giving me a hand to dish up the soup.
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope we are all feeling extremely eleven o’clockish because the time is, indeed, 11’o clock. So, step inside, take off your hat, hang up your parasol and make yourselves at home in Max and Collin’s perfectly polished and chichi-to-the-core parlour, located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some people have called it a rattling death wagon filled with bad apples and other forbidden fruit but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us this morning going dippy over apples – yesterday our afternoon stroll was intercepted by a band of oiks who thought it would be great sport to pelt us with the rock-like rounds of a nearby tree.
Never go up against myself and Max in a hurling match.
Of any description.
The cowards soon fled for their lives, dropping their fruity load, which we gathered up and are now having enormous amounts of fun dipping them into every sweet or sticky substance we can get our hands on.
If you find yourself the sudden owner of superfluous fruit and need some inspiration check out the link below, we really don’t think life holds greater pleasure than a plate full of huge glittery pink apples.
And whilst we wait for those beauties to dry and our delicious pumpkin pasty tea to brew – All that is needed now is some eleven o’clockish music to tap our tentacles to as we tuck in, No Lodging For The Mad? That seems appropriate, still, not for the faint heart ed perhaps…
Ah, awesomely audacious audios to usher in the afternoon! We wish you have a very sweet and sticky one, filled only with the very best apples, and hope you will join our dear witchy friend Mrs Albert Baker and the marvellous Karen J Carlisle in the soup kitchen tomorrow. Myself and Max will be back on Thursday with some tantalising Tea @ Three so, until then
Be always, Utterly Yourself.
Good evening and welcome to my alluring athenaeum of litigious librettos…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have blundered in here on the ill-advice of a cross-dressing witch and her soup-slurping orphans, let me assure you that you will find no noodle-ish nonsense or brothly behaviour here!
Here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!
But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? La fée verte? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something; the day has, after all, been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,
like this perhaps…
This story is taken from the folk tale anthology Gather Around The Flame, the profits from which are donated to the homeless charity, Shelter. It is based on a ghost story from Windsor Forest, Berkshire.
Once upon a wood, this wood in fact, this very wood we breathe into ourselves this eve. Its heavy vapours wind their fingers through our cords, into our minds, green and bronze, dripping with deer scent and dew, the divine musk of fern and mould-rich earth.
Ease into the night, friends, its cool breath a cloak to cradle us, breathe in its riches, deep into your soul.
Once upon this wood, there was a tree. A tree of terrors and angels, they say, monstrous giants and fantastical beasts. The essence of all the worlds, they say (the old ones, who would remember), is spun like moth silk through its branches.
A mythical tree, perhaps. And yet here it stands. Its branches upholding the weight of the evening sky; the mauving fabric of a tent above our heads. Feel that it is real, friends. Press your palms against its rough skin, deeply burst open with the glut of memories it strains to hold. Circle your arms around its trunk, press ear and cheek and hear the thrumming veins – up from the well of life, out from the marrow of the earth’s great bones it sucks the blood of warrior and priest, martyr and maiden and every other that has watered the ground with the crimson ink of their history and ever, ever will.
A mythical tree, perhaps. But here it stands. And you sit beneath it, very patiently, waiting for its story. For your story. Well, and so here it is, a story of hoof and horn for these darkling days of satellite and silicone.
Once upon this wood, upon this tree, there hung a man.
Ah, but as I’m sure you know, every tale that begins with a man on a tree must end with a woman. Or else it may be the other way around, right? Such is the way of our island stories, though other nations may mock us for it I’m sure. Still, there it is.
But let us start this tale at the beginning, as I say, with this particular man. And his name, my friends, is Herne.
Richard Horne was a gamekeeper, here in this wood, the greatest gamekeeper the wood has ever seen, so they say. But it wasn’t always like that, oh no. When Richard was a lad, of just around sixteen years, or so I’m told, he was here a-poaching. Not pheasant or hare as his friends would, oh no, Richard had his sights on greater game, and not for his pot but for his pride he walked the forest floor one night, in what he thought was silence at that time, stalking the scent of a young stag. But just as he had the creature in his sights, a hand he feels upon his shoulder, ah-ah! And young Richard quails, for young Richard is now caught and he knows what fate must have in store for him.
But when the poor lad turns to look his apprehender in the face he sees, not the keeper, nor one of his groundsmen, but a lady. A Lady of the Wood, or so she must be he thinks, for her skin is the green-gold of opening ferns, her hair is soft oak grey and birch silver and her eyes are dark and moon-licked like pools that collect in the folds of roots and earth. On her head she wears the curling antlers of a great stag and her clothes are laced up animal skins, scraped clean, worn soft and bleached pale.
“Leave him, Horne.” she whispers, her voice like rain in honey comb, secret and sweet. “Leave him go and I will teach thee something. Men eat deer flesh and they think this way they will become the beast. But they become only more themselves, more and more man. Come with me, Man, and I will show thee how to become Him. How to become the beast. Then you will hunt for me and your quarry will be man-flesh. Come with me, Richard Horne, and I will give thee a new name, and a crown and I shall be thy Lady.”
Well, what should young Richard do? What would any man do I ask you? He jumped to his feet and, cap in hand, he followed the green lady into the wood.
Well now, a time or two and a half went by and by again and there came a vacancy for the post of park keeper over there, up at the old lodge, you know, and the days became weeks and the weeks became a month and still no one was found who was able enough to take the post on. Meanwhile of course the lodge keeper was at his wits end, even as the poachers were in their element, and he vowed most earnestly to accept the very next applicant for the post, be he who it please God, he did not care.
Well then, close to the dusk of a day not unlike the one that we have just had, there came a man. He was dressed head to foot in animal hides, crudely laced together, worn soft and bleached pale. His skin was the puckered gold of walnuts after the frosts have bitten them brown and pinched them up and his eyes were the silver grey of island sky and rock and rain. On his feet he wore great boots of shaggy brown fur and from out his head of long wiry hair, two massive antlers curled like a warrior’s crown.
The lodge keeper was assuredly taken aback by the stranger’s appearance but, in some doubt of the man’s sanity, he refrained from conveying his astonishment and, being by now in desperate need, he agreed to give the man a trial of one week. If he could rid the park of its plague of, now flagrant, poachers, he could keep the job.
But when he tried to show the man his lodgings, outfit him with his uniform and acquaint him with the various traps and weapons he might employ to carry out his duties, the stranger quietly declined all that was offered, stating simply that he would have no use for them. Feeling now both bemused and intrigued, the lodge keeper shrugged and asked the man if he wouldn’t at least give his name?
“Herne.” was the reply. And with it the stranger walked with quiet confidence out into the gathering shades of night.
The lodge keeper scratched his head and damned himself for being an old fool in allowing a simple minded man to walk out to his certain death at the hands of the merciless poachers, with nothing to protect himself but a comical piece of headwear. Then he turned to his stove and his kettle and his pipe for an hour and, when no screams were heard or ill news brought up to him, he scratched his head again and went to bed.
The next morning the lodge keeper awoke and, curious to know what had befallen the new game keeper (for he was certain it could be nothing good), he took up his flask of brandy and his stoutest staff and strolled out into the dew-jewelled grounds, all hung about with a soft white veil of mist that was rising away fast to reveal the tender glow of a buttermilk sun in the soft grey sky.
He had not gone far when his curiosity was slaked for there, striding through the tall white grasses of the grazing land, was Herne himself. Well, you can be sure the lodge keeper was both amazed and relieved and he hailed the new gamekeeper at once and asked him how he had passed the night.
“Well enough.” was the reply “I met with ten who had no rightful business here, to one I dealt justice as the law of the wood decrees, perhaps only nine will come tonight.”
The lodge keeper was impressed and he scratched his head and said so. “And now” he continued “I suppose you are wanting your meat and your bed and well, it seems to me, you deserve it.”
But Herne merely shook his head “All the meat and rest I require” he said quietly “I have already taken.” and with that he nodded his great antlered head and continued his pace across the grass. The lodge keeper watched him go, until he was swallowed up by the curve of a high- brackened mound, and then he scratched his head and went about his own business for the rest of the day.
Well, the days that followed passed in an almost identical fashion, each morning the lodge keeper would take his constitutional before beginning his day’s work, each day he would, at some point, meet with Herne, and each day the game keeper’s remarks would be the same.
He had started work upon the Monday. On Tuesday he reported meeting “nine who had no rightful business here, to one I dealt justice, as the law of the wood decrees, perhaps only eight will come tomorrow.” By Friday eight had become six, come Monday again and the number was down to three and so, you see, the lodge keeper was well pleased, and he said so, for never had the park known such a keeper that could dwindle the number of poachers and bring them to justice so speedily and with such quiet confidence.
Well now, on Tuesday evenings ‘twas the lodge keeper’s habit of strolling out of the park grounds, down the lane to the village and a little further on to the White Hart, where he was wont to share his wages with the landlord in exchange for a fair portion of meat, a fair portion of ale and a fair portion of the gossip he had missed in the days since his last visit (for life up at the park, you must understand, was one of isolation from the comings and goings of the village itself).
On this particular Tuesday, he happened to be sharing the bar with the village constable and the lodge keeper could not resist singing the praises of his new gamekeeper, and was the constable not impressed with the regular flow of poachers this Herne was bringing his way down at the station?
To his dismay, however, the constable’s face darkened. No, he had never met this man, Herne. No, no poachers had been arrested, not his knowledge anyroad, but for the last few days his own hours had been occupied in trying to solve the mystery of a number of ‘well-known’ young men from the village who had, or so it would seem, vanished from their beds without anyone being able to say where or why they had gone.
Driven by intrigue, and a grim sense of foreboding, the two men hastily finished their drinks and, arming themselves against any possible violence, they made their way quickly to the park, hoping to tie the knot in the end of these uncanny coincidences.
The moonlit sweeps of the gently undulating parkland were, as they had expected, quiet and vacant but, as they made their way into the woods, they were struck instantly by a queer and unsettling sound. At first they took it to be the gentle knocking of the tree boughs above their heads but, as their foray took them deeper into the thickets, they were not so certain. Surely tree boughs did not sway so rhythmically, surely their resonance was not so hollow, their chime not so faintly melodic? But what, in a wood, if not tree boughs, could be knocking together to produce such an eerie symphony?
Their curiosity was soon satisfied when, to their horror, they turned the corner of a small earth mound they had been skirting and beheld the thing they had been seeking.
There sat Herne, cross legged on the bare earth, amid a small grove of dark, towering yew trees. His eyes were closed, his great antlered head was raised towards the stars and around the glade, from the boughs of every tree, hung seven human skeletons, each perfectly in-tact, stripped clean of flesh and swaying gently in the breeze like seven ghastly windchimes.
“Two walk this wood, who have no rightful business here,” Herne said softly, not bothering to open his eyes or make any other movement. “Perhaps tomorrow, there will be none.” and with that he leapt at them with gnashing teeth and a hunger in his eyes as that of a wild beast. He fell upon the lodge keeper first and his strength was immense, bowling him over into the dirt as a wolf might flaw a rabbit. But the constable was too quick for him and, drawing his cudgel, he struck the wild man across his temple, below the crown of horns. Blood spilled instantly and Herne collapsed, leaving the grateful lodge keeper trembling and breathless but unharmed.
The constable’s blow was not fatal but Richard Horne never regained his senses. They hung him from this very tree, or so I have been told, and before his breath could leave his body, a strange lady, dressed in green velvet, with a crown of gold upon her head, came and kissed his lips and drew his soul away with her, vanishing into the woods over there, from where, they say, she had first come.
Now on many a full-mooned night, such as this, Herne and his Lady walk the park and sit below this tree and talk and laugh and make merry beneath the stars. If you have business here, they will leave you to it so, let us leave them to theirs now, for it is well known in these parts that they who bring peace into a place, will find peace in it, but they who carry evil, will find evil waiting for them there with hungry eyes and sharp, sharp teeth.
Hmm? What’s that you say? Very real evil waiting for you outside in the form of flesh-eating Liver Birds? Well, you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! No I am not reading you ‘just one more’ this is not some bedtime story hour I am running here! You can tell that lunatic witch, when you see her, to stop sending people down here to bother me with their ‘special requests’ I have serious work to be getting on with. Good night.
Oh, er, leave the bottle though….
all images used with kind permission from http://www.freeimages.com
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome, once again, to Max and Collin’s perhaps-not-so-private and extensively excavated parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a house of ill manners, ill health, ill-conceived fancies and illicit tiffin but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
We are taking tea on our new balcony this afternoon. It was immensely kind of our landlord, Montmorency, to put one in for us…sorry? Oh yes, well… Max says, “There are implements better suited to smashing holes in walls than the heads of Very Quiet Gentlemen”… well, yes, Montmorency does get a little over excited when we don’t pay up on time. But never mind about your injuries, Max, because it is Thursday afternoon and we are ‘all punked up with no place to go’ so, while our lovely werewolf butler makes us a reviving cup of Slytherin Serpent’s blend from Friday tea , let us peruse the society papers and see where we should be heading to this weekend….
The Yellow Book in Brighton, Brittain’s first Steampunk Themed Pub is always a delightful hotspot for steam-themed shenanigans and on Saturday they are playing host to Victor and the bully…
Need we say more?
Or, looking further ahead, don’t forget The League of Splendid are planning another Splendid Day Out- on the 22nd of October in Morecambe, Lancashire. It looks set to be a smaller but just as marvellous event with artisan market, tea duelling and entertainment from Cauda Pavonis, Professor Elemental and more.
And on the 24th of October the monthly Newark Steampunk Meet are holding their Halloween Event as well so, all good things to look forward to.
Ah, but now I think our tea is brewed and it is has just occurred to me that having an enormous hole in the wall is not perhaps the best of plans when the sun is about to set and hoards of carnivorous Liver Birds are about to descend upon the streets of Lancaster… perhaps Klapka can nail some planks over it…quickly…
Hopefully, we will survive the night and be back in the parlour on Monday! In the meantime, we hope you will join Perilous Wight for Pipe and Slippers in his lovely library tomorrow evening when he will be sharing something of ‘ineffable literary merit’…or so he informs us…hopefully it isn’t his sugartax returns…
So until then! Be always,
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins.
Helping me this morning is one of my favourite authors, Charity Tahmaseb, writer of ‘Coffee and Ghosts’ which Max and Collin recommended to us all on Monday. Good morning Charity, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Tell me, have you brought along some soup to share with us?
“I do have some soup, although my husband is the soup expert in our house. That being said, my daughter’s favorite is the matzo ball soup I make (and to be honest, I use a kit–still, she loves it). “
Mmm, it smells delicious, I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your book series, Coffee and Ghosts?
“Coffee and Ghosts revolves around the adventures of Katy Lindstrom and her business partner Malcolm Armand in which they use coffee (and sometimes tea) to catch ghosts.
The first season begins with Katy and her grandmother using coffee to catch ghosts and storing them in Tupperware containers, an idea which I (and probably most of your readers) found instantly adorable, where did the inspiration for such a brilliant idea come from?
A long while back, I wrote a mystery from the point of view of a ghost. While the novel never went anywhere, during my research, I came across an anecdote about people catching ghosts in jars.
That idea percolated for years until I saw the call for submissions for Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic, and I used that to write a short story about catching ghosts with coffee. Glass jars seemed too dangerous for that task, so I substituted Tupperware containers.
That story, Ghost in the Coffee Machine, became the pilot episode for Coffee and Ghosts. Early this year, The Drabblecast produced the story in audio. It’s so much fun. It even has sounds effects! It’s not very long and you can listen to it here:”
And have you ever seen a ghost?
“I have not. Can you believe it? I even did a “haunted London” tour when I went to England several years back. No cold spots, no slamming doors. Nothing. I was so disappointed.”
Well, never mind my dear, you must be sure to pop along and visit our own resident ghost, Perilous Wight, in his Lovely Library some time! Now then, several readers have commented on the beautiful coffee pot illustrated on the front of your books, do you have a special coffee pot or other piece of chinaware that inspires your writing?
“The samovar that Malcolm uses is based on the one my in-laws have, as is the tea he brews. I love incorporating a little piece of their heritage into the story.”
Oh that is wonderful to know! I must say I did love the samovar description and the gorgeous smell of the tea he brews, how wonderful! Malcolm is a splendid character and Katy is a very lovable character who I think most readers can identify with but, if you had to chose, who is your personal favourite in the first series?
“Although he doesn’t get a lot of page time in season one, I do like Police Chief Ramsey. He changes a lot over the next two seasons, and has his reasons for being so grumpy. But there will always be a generation gap and some antagonism between him and Katy.”
Hm, reasons to read on then and discover more! Each series is made up of fairly self-contained ‘novelettes’ which makes them very convenient reading for a busy witch like me, rather like a biscuit tin which can be dipped into during sneaky tea (or indeed coffee) breaks! Did you set out to write like this or was it more of a ‘happy accident’?
“It’s a little bit of both. When I started, I thought I would write a handful of self-contained stories. But as I was writing, a larger story arc appeared, one that encompassed the entire season. Then, it evolved into a multi-season arc.
I make a point to wrap up each story (even if not all threads are resolved) and try to make each one a satisfying read. It’s a fun way to write. It’s more flexible than a standalone novel, and I can take time in various episodes to explore subplots and secondary characters.”
And do you have any plans to write another season?
“Seasons one and two are already out, and I’m getting season three ready to go, with the first episode available on or about Halloween. I recently released both seasons on all vendors, so you can find the series on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.”
Coffee and Ghosts has totally captured my heart as a reader and I really hope you will continue to write about Katy’s adventures but what other projects are you working on right now? Do you have any new releases we can look forward to
“Certainly! Season three of Coffee and Ghosts is almost ready to go. This season wraps up all major story threads and was a blast to write.
For 2017, I’m hoping to launch two new series, a fairy tale one and another paranormal one.”
Wonderful news! Well I will be sure to keep an eye out for those next year and perhaps when they are out you’ll come back and tell us a little more about them. But now the all important question, on which the fate of the universe may very well hinge,…you are obviously passionate about hot beverages but which do you really prefer, coffee or tea?
“I must–must–have my coffee in the morning, and I take it with half and half, no sugar (in fact, I dislike sweet coffee so much, I don’t even like coffee ice cream).
In the afternoon? Well, that’s a different story. Then I’m all about tea. I love all sorts of teas, but generally drink green tea and the hot cinnamon spice tea from Caribou Coffee. (My go-to drink when I’m writing at the coffee shop.)”
Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Charity, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
“Thank you for having me! I’ve enjoyed our chat. Let’s eat!”
I will be back in the kitchen next Wednesday with another helpful guest, Karen J Carlisle who will be telling us all about her steampunk series, The Adventures of Viola Stewart, but Max and Collin will be back in the parlour tomorrow with some tremendous Tea @ Three.
Blessings on your brew my dears and if you’d like to read Charity’s lovely series for yourselves you can find her books by following the links below…
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope we are all feeling extremely eleven o’clockish because the time is, indeed, 11’o clock. So, step inside, take off your hat, hang up your parasol and make yourselves at home in Max and Collin’s privately perfect and exclusively expansive parlour, located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some people have called it a ramshackle old shrimping shed, suspended by a rusty chain above the turbulent waters of the river Lune, liable to plunge its inhabitants to their icy deaths at any given moment, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
Upon this curiously clement autumnal morning, you find us in a quandary, you see Klapka, our werewolf butler, has found for us these beautiful little ghosties to go with our tea this morning…
…but honestly they are so adorable we’re not sure we can bring ourselves to…oh…oh well it seems that Max has got over the adorability of them and eaten twelve already. I suppose I had better catch up…the advantage of having eight tentacles of course becomes apparent when rampantly cake-scoffing.
And to wash it down we have this frightfully good Zombie Hunter blend from Fandom teas! All that is needed now is some eleven o’clockish music to tap our tentacles to as we tuck in, something spine-tingling and macabre is in order I think…
Ah, perfectly atmospheric audios to usher in the afternoon! We wish you have a very splendid one, filled with adorable apparitions, and invite you back to join, not us I’m afraid, but our dear witchy friend Mrs Albert Baker and her special geust, Chariy Tahmaseb, in the soup kitchen tomorrow. Myself and Max will be back on Thursday with some tantalising Tea At Three so, until then
Be always, Utterly Yourself.
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s perfectly paranormal and extensively exorcised parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a haunted hovel located within a hideous high-rise that is harangued by demonic presences and liable to be sucked into the jaws of the abyss at any moment, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us on this, bright but blustery, Monday morning debating a piece of local legend with our beautiful friend and Milliner, Miss Belle Otis. We were just showing off our new Tea Cake Or Death teapot, and my matching tattoo, when Miss Otis told us that she herself was saving up for a similarly splendid pot…
This beautiful, hand painted raven six-cuppa from Tattoo Tea Lady! Isn’t that just gorgeous? And of course talking about teapots got us talking about haunted teapots…
I well recall visiting a bookshop in Kent where the teapots were haunted and Miss Otis remarked that when her aunt had stayed at The Three Mariners in town (an Inn well known for its ghostly goings on) the teapot brought to her room one evening had undoubtedly been laced with spirits.
Apparently, as the old lady reached across to take the handle of the pot, it rattled ferociously at her until she pulled her hand away. This happened repeatedly until at last she rang the bell and ordered a second cup be brought for her invisible guest. This seemed to resolve the issue and once two cups of steaming chai were poured, Miss Otis’ aunt and the spectral presence enjoyed a peaceful evening’s sup.
Well the Three Mariners is the place where criminals from The Castle are allowed to pause on their way to the gallows in order to taste one last cup of Devonly Tea before the ‘short drop and sudden stop’…something we tea fiends don’t like to think about too often…perhaps one such felon enjoyed his tea so much he has returned post-mortem for a second helping?
Which reminds me, we haven’t yet had our first helping! This morning we are calming our nerves, after all this talk of ghosts and gallows, with the mellow, earthy flavours of Birt and Tang’s Pure Pu ‘er tea (mainly because it is going to be terribly humorous to try saying ‘pure ‘pu er’ as fast as we can after eight cups)
And in keeping with our conversation about possessed beverages, our book this morning is:
This really is a delightful book! It begins with Katy and her grandmother and their unusual methods for catching ghosts…using coffee! But when Katy’s grandmother dies and a new ghost-catcher moves into town things begin to get tricky. Malcolm, you see, uses tea to catch ghosts and his stylish shirts and shiny teapot are stealing all Katy’s customers. But Malcolm has a bit of problem…and he needs Katy to help him deal with it…
Coffee and Ghosts really is as fun and charming a read as it sounds, packed with witty lines, belly laughs and crazy adventures, and we highly recommend it. What is more, Charity has kindly agreed to help our darling witch, Mrs Baker, in her soup kitchen on Wednesday, so there is a splendid thing to look forward to!
And now, just while the pot is still brewing, let’s see what our oracular cephalopterois has to show us this morning…
Well, as usual that makes little sense to us here in The New World but hopefully it has inspired some of you out there in your own dimensions…
As for us, there is little left to say except ‘chin chin pass the tin open the book and let’s begin…’ We wish you all a hauntingly beautiful morning full of pu’er perfection and we invite you back to join us in the parlour tomorrow for elevenses so until then
Be always, utterly yourself
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and so over the next few months I’m going to be looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
For now I’m afraid it is just me, but not to worry, I’m cooking up something seasonal and spicy to really help us beat this wet and chilly weather – Roasted Pumpkin Soup with garlic sage pesto and spicy roasted seeds from Half Baked Harvest. You can get the recipe by clicking on the picture below:
Mmm that smells delicious and while it’s simmering away let me share with you all my latest cast on project. I’m always making something whether it’s with knitting needles and a ball of steel yarn or, more recently, a blow torch and a few loose screws.. today I’ve fallen in love with this crochet octopus mask by Amy Hitchcock, and I’m determined to make one for Collin – I think it will keep him perfectly warm and toastie as he strolls…well, slithers…around Lancaster with Max.
Ah and now I think the soup is ready, and my goodness the little urchins are quing around the corner so I had better get to serving up! Max and Collin will be back in the parlour tomorrow for tea @ three and I will see you next week with more delicious soup recipes and an exciting mystery guest to help with the cooking!
Blessings on your brew my dears!