Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “ghosts

Lovely Library: Muliebral The Bald… oops, I mean Bold, sorry!

Good evening and welcome to my awe inspiring athenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets – or as that ridiculous octopus calls it, my ‘lovely library.’ 

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I am the ghost of 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, catalogue and review every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler of the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

 

But I have not always been a bad tempered ghost in charge of an underground library. Once upon a time I was a bad tempered gentleman who had devoted his life to the collection of evidence which might perhaps one day bring about the downfall of our oppressive overlord, Wiz.

 

Not to be put off by death, I have struggled to find a way to continue my work and I have indeed found a method by which I can sporadically leave this library, to which I am otherwise bound, and travel abroad.

 

This method is known as The Opprobrious Pith Helmet.

 

By securing the services of a less than reputable Wizard I have had my soul partially bound to an ancient piece of explorational headwear and am therefore able to possess the wearer for short periods of time, with their consent…hm? Did I have to drug them first? Well how very rude of you of course I did not have to drug them…I mean the very idea! 

 

So this evening, I most honoured to be occupying the form of  authour Jaq D Hawkins and I… yes her hair is supposed to look like that. I think. Well, alright there may have been a very minor altercation with a disgruntled Bar Keep who mistook my innocent enquiries about leather bound tomes for something else entirely, but I managed to set him straight in the end… no, no those are not bruises on her knuckles, I didn’t hit him that hard. 

 

Anyway I do not have time for an interrogation on the moral use of other people’s bodies, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have new books everywhere and I must review and catalogue them  and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe? You’ve brought along some cherry brandy to keep out the chills as we work?

Oh.

Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate a short extract of each story and a review, and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem… 

 

Nav Logan has an undeniable talent for comedy. I first came across this author when we were both invited to submit stories for the Dreamtime Dragons Anthology. I was well impressed that he was able to make getting eaten by a dragon funny!

 

Muliebral the Bald (or Bold) has compounded my opinion that Logan could give Terry Pratchett some serious competition in the area of human observation comedy, while setting the story within a believable historical fiction context. He can even do the accents while keeping them understandable, no small feat!

 

The story is about a king who has two daughters whom he feels he must marry off to generate heirs in the old Medieval patriarchal system. However, the girls are good fighters, being descendants of Boudicca and all, and Muliebral, more than her sister Chastity, sees no reason why they need a man to protect them or fill the role of heir to the kingdom.

 

Her basic attitude is summed up in a quote from her maternal grandmother, who clearly never approved of her daughter’s choice of husband, king or not:

 

Todhmhii’s (Tommy) one regret was that he had no sons to pass his kingdom on to. His wife, Hayleigh, had given him two daughters: Chastity and Muliebral, and they were as different as chalk and cheese. His mother-in-law, Lannau, regularly and publicly scorned him for his inability to produce any male heirs. 

“If I  told our Hayleigh once, I must have told her a hundred times,” the old hag would mutter to anyone who was daft enough to heed her, “You need to marry a strong virile Iceni man and you’ll be blessed with godlike children, not go gallivanting off with a worthless bog-trotting Briganti brigand who can’t tell the difference between a ewe in heat and a tavern wench! My grandmother, Queen Boudicca, would turn in her grave at the shame of it. Her last surviving kinswoman marrying a foul-mouthed, crotch-dribbling, goat fondler!”

How Mulibral goes about getting around her father’s insistence on following tradition not too subtly reflects a trope popular in Classical stories about strong women, but it is delivered with Logan’s characteristic ribald humour and is entertaining from start to finish. The quality of writing is superb and the characters come to life from the page with seemingly no effort.

 

This is definitely one of my own favourite stories from the collection!

 

And I think we had better leave it there for this evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and I must be getting this body back to its rightful owner… hm? What’s that you say? You don’t think I should give it back in this state? Well we’ve only had a few haven’t we? It is hardly my fault if Jaq is a light weight… hic… 

 

MANY THANKS TO AUTHOUR JAQ D HAWKINS FOR BEING A FABULOUS SPORT AND SHARING HER REVIEW IN PERIL’S LOVELY LIBRARY! YOU CAN FIND JAQ HERE

:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jaq-D-Hawkins/e/B0034P4BFI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1570617386&sr=8-1

 

AND YOU CAN FIND MULIEBRAL THE BALD / BOLD IN THE DREAMTIME DAMSELS ANTHOLOGY HERE…

 

library image courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com by Johnathan Adrianzen


#RainbowSnippets: Jack and Marjory

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Happy Saturday! Here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here 🙂

So, here is the next snippet from Jack and Marjory – my novella-in-progress which gives two of my Bi-Gendered characters a chance to tell something of their own little side-adventure, which actually had a massive impact on the history of Ire in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ kind of way.

If you missed last week’s snippet you can catch up here: #RainbowSnippets: Jack and Marjory

If you want to start from the beginning you can do so here: https://blakeandwight.com/2018/09/29/rainbowsnippets-jack-and-marjory/

I hope you can forgive me but I’m  afraid this snippet is a bit longer than 6 sentences because this scene really needs to be read in one go (and for those of you who’ve spotted Jack and Marjory’s penchant for acting before thinking and plunging headlong into trouble, there’s plenty more of that just around the corner)

Jack and Marjory are learning to appreciate the Lancashire countryside on their way to pick up the smuggled teaset for the leader of the revolution…

 

 

We don’t mind telling you, we were made for better things than the hill that climbs out of Settle.

Settle Village – the Matriarch Of All Curs, the Innocuous Heffa, doe-eyed and peaceful with her hewn-stone paps leaking quaint floral window dressings and lace.

We’d not in a million years of puff have guessed what she kept in her petticoats – that Great Unholy Lovechild of a hill.

We’d have served ourselves better if we’d brought a rack and pinion instead of snap ; or at least those steel teeth, fitted onto the boot toes of adventurous hil’ walkers “who like to fancy that their own local Marilyn is comparable to the nation’s Munroe”, as our friend Peril likes to say. (We say friend, but really the body is dead and all he does is hang about his old underground library moaning at us to be quiet, or put that book down, or get our feet off the chesterfield… he taught us to read though, so he has got some patience, when it comes down to it.)

If the hill were just so steep that we had to go almost crawling up it, that would be bad enough. What added to the jest of it all was the fact – and nobody warned us of this – that every man, woman and dogspawn in the county used it as some kind of go-for-broke-death-run on their mad-cap Penny Farthing Bicycles.

There was a constant stream of the critters and when one came up a little faster than his neighbour in front, he just goes wide of him and sails on past! Not a notion to queue and wait his turn, like a decent Mor-Ire-ish citizen, enters his pill-box!

Three times we had to leap into the ditch, and once we was fair nearly mullered between a high stone house wall on the left and a low stone erection on the right but ( praise The Powers That Tea) the merry party of two bakers girls, on one bicycle, and three records clerks, each with their own steed, granted us right of passage by careering into eachother and forming such a tangle of spokes, blokes ‘n’ petticoats that we was long gone before they’d sorted out who was what again.

JACKANDMARJORYCOVER

being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless, historical tea set before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

 

Wishing you all a most splendiferous week and don’t forget to check in at the #rainbowsnippets facebook group for more fabulous snippets of LGBTQIA+ fiction 🙂 

 

rainbow flower image courtesy of mariah22 at http://www.freeimages.com

book cover image by Renphoto 

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as 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 that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. 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? A bottle of vintage port eh? 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… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FOURTH:  by ALLISON SHEPHERD

 

“My brooch!” I yelled as Mariah’s twinklepuff slam hit me full force in the chest

and sent me hurtling backwards into the wooden crates at the makeshift

gayelle’s edge. I hadn’t anticipated Mariah’s last pattern and was now

scrambling to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My brooch had ripped

off my bolero as the twinklepuff spell had infused the fibres of the old velvet.

My grandmother had made that brooch for me from the cogs of a broken toy

train and an old yuletide ornament. She’d fashioned the cogs into an owl tying

them together with copper wire, and using tiny emerald crystals pulled off the

bauble for the eyes. Every afternoon after school I’d go to her rag-and-bone

shop tucked away down a narrow cobblestone alley to wait for my parents.

She’d make a pot of Earl Grey with leaves from her “secret supplier” and tell

me stories of when her mother baked double-layered sponge cakes with

strawberry jam filling, and lighter-than-air profiteroles filled with sweet gooey

cream. “Earl Grey.” “Strawberry jam.” “Profiteroles.” I hadn’t heard those

words in almost a decade. My owl brooch had become my talisman, my

connection to my past.

I tried to stand but sat down quickly as my vision blurred. Mariah? This

powerful? I couldn’t understand; she was a third-rate slinger at best, over

estimating both her charms and her spells. Something was different. The

sophistication of the twinklepuff weavings and glitter were not her. Someone

was helping raise the level of her usually amorphous, sloppily put together

concoctions. Who? And why?

It was odd when Mariah had drawn the wildcard for our slingoff but I had

missed a few of the preliminary fights when I had gone out of town. Maybe

she’d improved and been bumped up a couple garnets, I thought. This was my

livelihood, and sometimes it’s better to shut up and sling. Now, as I sat

befuddled trying to clear my head and weave my threads, I saw a glint of silver-

black emanating from Mariah’s perfectly poised hands. Mariah who could

barely make a pattern for a pink-and-gold unicorn spell slinging an

onyxmirrorpearl? With advanced finger positions? I sat spellbound and the

omp smacked me flat. Blood gushed out of my nose, ruby red against my white

pin-tucked shirtwaist. Before I lost consciousness, I saw Emily, the bookie,

collecting from the disgruntled gamblers.

Gill found my brooch, the emerald crystals winking in the twilight-find spell he

cast. The healers had tried to revive me right away but the omp had proved

beautifully formed and knocked me out for hours. I lost my deposit and got

nothing for the night. According to Gill, Emily had been apologetic but could do

nothing as an unexpected large bet against me had her scrambling for gilt. Gill

had taken me home and tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, three

pillows and my favourite fluffy wrap. I was still in bed when he came back with

my brooch. I tried to sit up but the wave of nausea had me lying back gingerly

on the pillows. I closed my eyes clutching my owl, my fingers tracing the

notches along the cogs, and started to cry.

My parents were wizards, of course, fighting for Queen and country. They truly

believed that magic should be controlled and out of the hands of ‘ordinary’

people. My parents were strong weavers but by the time they disappeared (of

course) my abilities were rudimentary at best. I’d become a trope: orphan,

living with my grandmother, no magic. But as with my favourite fairy tales, this

was simply the beginning of the story.

My parents had taken an assignment to escort our Queen to Boss Town for a

diplomatic sojourn, or that was what the official correspondence claimed. We

knew better: an excuse for the elite to sample new-fangled sweet marvels and

magiscience tea twists. Mum and dad couldn’t say too much but they were

more tight-lipped than usual as they hugged me goodbye and dropped me off

at Gran’s. We never saw them again. I was fourteen.

Gran moved in with me. I finished school at sixteen and tried out for the

apprentice wizard programme. I didn’t qualify even though my parents had

been senior civil servants. Apparently, according to the report, I didn’t have the

“right attitude, and my spells were nonexistent.” Gran and I eked out a living

from the shop. I met Quelin her “tea supplier,” a jovial smuggler who was able

to find the choicest leaves for us, and sometimes, just sometimes, the tiniest

silver-sprinkled cupcakes. He’d never tell where he got them but always

tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, “It’s best you don’t know, my

darling,” he’d say, “because if anything happened to me, you might be running

for your life from some nasty bits.” He’d glance across at Gran, who would

pretend to be engrossed with a length of glitterwool handicraft, or checking

her numbers in the accounts book. They thought I never noticed but I always

did.

I had turned seventeen the year of the Youshallnevereatcake Spring, a short-

lived, half-hearted coup d’etat by a handful of boisterous youngsters. It was

quashed by the wizards within hours, the rebels marched through the streets

to the palace courts. I rushed home to tell Gran only to find her in the garden,

sitting in her favourite chair under the willow tree, a cold cup of Earl Grey in

her lap. She looked as though she were taking an afternoon nap, the breeze

ruffling her mop of curls. I clasped her inert hands, and wept.

I started hex slinging in the underground circuit soon after.

Of course my latent abilities eventually showed up, stronger than either of my

parents but without proper training and guidance, it was a mess. My early

slingoffs were either a triumph of a knockout, or me vomiting an endless

stream of bile in a dank corner, a side-effect of using pure, raw magic. Through

practice, and more practice, and much much more vomiting, I learnt to control

and weave almost beautiful hexes. I found a circle of friends who helped me in

the nine years since Gran died: Gill, Emily, Jendra. And I still ran the shop. It

didn’t make much but had become a safe place for us to meet to try out new

patterns and concoctions, catch up on gossip and, yes, of course, find a way to

bring back tea, cakes and magic: we’d been denied our right to a free life for

too long.

***

As I clutched my brooch in my hand, tears streaming down my face confusing

Gill to no end, I realised that Mariah’s win tonight had shifted our timetable. It

hadn’t been subtle, literally a punch to my gut. Someone had wanted our

attention. No longer was our light-hearted, drinking-after-a-slingoff chant of

“Tea, Cake, Magic For All!” a someday cake-in-the-sky dream; someone, or

someones, wanted us ready now. And I was terrified.

 

Allison Shepherd enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction, especially paranormal romance. She teaches at the medical school at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and has had her work published in bmj Medical Humanities, Tales From the Fluffy Bunny, and is upcoming in Lycan Valley Press Publications “Darkling’s Beasts and Brews”. https://mh.bmj.com/content/43/3/e33 https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Fluffy-Bunny-Various-Authors/dp/1942450699

 


Pipe and Slippers: With E. A. Hennessey

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as 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? A bottle of The Green Fairy eh? 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…

Excerpt from Grigory’s Gadget – Book 1 of the Gaslight Frontier Series by E. A. Hennessy:

Nikolai stared at the ceiling of the cabin, listening to Demyan and the elderly man snore. This is my luck, he thought unhappily. He rolled onto his side and picked at the golden wallpaper. Above, he heard the sound of rushed footsteps. At least I’m not the only one awake.

A few seconds later, a loud boom echoed through the ship. Nikolai felt the bed and walls shake.

“Nikolai, what are you doing?” Demyan asked sleepily. Nikolai heard a second boom, and Demyan jerked awake. “What was that?”

“I have no idea,” Nikolai said, jumping down to the floor. The girls appeared in the doorway.

“Is the ship being attacked?” Anya asked.

“Are you all alright?” Zoya added.

The elderly man stirred from his sleep.

“Sir, the ship is being attacked,” Nikolai told him, offering a hand to help him out of bed.

“Go back to sleep,” the man said grumpily. “The guards will take care of it. Silly kids.” He pulled his blanket back over his head and rolled over. Another boom sounded, and the ship shook especially hard.

“What do we do?” Lilia asked her friends. “Should we just stay in our cabins?”

“I’d say that’s a good idea,” a strange voice said behind her. The girls jumped and turned around. A lean young man with dirty blond hair and blue eyes grinned at them while drawing his pistol. A multitude of necklaces hung about his neck, and his ears were dotted with golden earrings. “I suggest you go back to your cabins and hand over any valuables.”

“We don’t have any valuables,” Zoya lied. The young man seemed surprised by her and stepped back eying her quizzically. It took less than a few seconds for him to compose himself. He stepped toward Zoya with his pistol aimed at her head.

“You look pretty valuable to me.” A second man with black hair and almond eyes appeared next to the first, similarly covered in gold jewelry with pistol drawn. “We’re in need of more crew, right Alexi?”

“That’s right, Fyodr,” Alexi, replied. “You and your friends have two minutes to grab anything you can carry. Then you’re coming with us.”

“We’re not going anywhere with you!” Nikolai said defiantly. Alexi stepped toward Nikolai, now pointing his pistol at Nikolai’s head. Anya stepped forward, placing herself between Alexi and Nikolai.

“Two minutes,” she said, staring the pirate in the eye. He smirked, nodded, and lowered his pistol.

“Anya!” Nikolai said, glaring. Anya returned his look then turned and walked into her cabin.

“What did I tell you kids?” the elderly man growled from within Nikolai and Demyan’s cabin. Nikolai glanced back at him and stepped to block the doorway. When the man saw Alexi and Fyodr, he furrowed his brow in annoyance.

“What are you, now? Pirates?” He spat in Alexi’s direction. “Bunch of lazy crooks. The guards will put you down in a second.”

“We’ve disposed of the guards already,” Alexi said. “We can dispose of you, too, old man, unless you give us whatever valuables you have.”

“Do I look like the sort who owns any valuables?” He gestured to his raggedy clothes. He wore a dingy, ill-fitting vest and a button-down shirt that may have once been white. His trousers were covered in salt stains and worn through in one knee.

“Well, if you have nothing of value, maybe we should just put you down,” Alexi said, raising his pistol and aiming at the old man.

“Don’t you dare!” Nikolai shouted, rushing toward Alexi. Fyodr turned his pistol on Nikolai and drew a sword. Alexi drew his sword as well. Zoya and Demyan moved to Nikolai’s side, guarding his body with their own.

“Your two minutes are almost up,” Alexi told the group. “I’d get moving if I were you.”

“You can’t just kill an innocent man!” Lilia protested. “He hasn’t done anything wrong!” Fyodr sheathed his sword and grabbed Lilia by the arm, shoving her toward the girls’ cabin.

“Get packing, miss!” he ordered. “This doesn’t concern you!”

Zoya took the opportunity to grab for Fyodr’s gun. He twisted around and slammed her into the wall, his forearm pressed against her neck. Zoya gasped and clawed at his arm. Demyan yelled and charged toward him, knocking his arm away from Zoya’s throat. Alexi shot his pistol into the air.

“Enough!” he shouted.

“That’s right, enough!” A third pirate appeared. This pirate was older, with scarred tan skin and black hair that was turning gray. The pinky and ring finger of his left hand were missing, as was half of the middle finger on his right. His eyes were large, and Nikolai thought he saw a kindness in them.

“Pavel,” Alexi said. His face flushed red and he lowered his pistol.

“Stop acting tough, Alexi,” Pavel said. “This old man hasn’t done anything wrong, let him be. The captain is almost ready to leave.” Pavel then regarded the group of friends. “Recruiting, are we?”

“Pavel, this bunch says they have no valuables,” Fyodr said. “They look pretty valuable to me.”

“So, try not to damage them.” Pavel smirked. “Let’s go. The captain is waiting.”

Pavel’s presence seemed to pacify Alexi and Fyodr, who watched silently as the friends gathered their things. Nikolai and Demyan packed quickly then joined the girls in their cabin to help them. Anya, having already packed her bags, stood in the doorway and glowered at the pirates.

“Zoya, what do we do?” Lilia whispered as she fastened her suitcase.

“I don’t know,” Zoya admitted. “They have guns and swords. I’ve got wrenches and screwdrivers. I don’t think we stand a chance.”

Nikolai watched as Zoya dug out her gloves. Her shaking hands knocked her gadget out of the bag. It rolled halfway to the door before she caught it. Fyodr and Pavel weren’t looking, but Alexi saw it and looked at Zoya coolly.

“It’s nothing,” Zoya muttered quickly, fumbling to hide the object.

“Put that away and hurry up,” Alexi replied. “We don’t have all night.” Zoya exchanged a concerned look with Nikolai as they finished packing and stood.

“Alright!” Pavel announced with a smile. “Let’s go introduce you to your captain!”

 

 

 

What’s that? More? No no I’m sorry I haven’t got time for that, I’m a busy man, albeit a dead one, if you want to know what happens to Zoya and her friends I suggest you pick up a copy of Grigory’s Gadget yourself…

gregorys

Or connect with the author  online….

 

Website: www.eahennessy.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AXD0UI0/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/grigorys-gadget-e-a-hennessy/1123314615?ean=2940152591446

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/610196

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/grigory-s-gadget-1
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/grigorys-gadget/id1078386807

 

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least, putting pay to these dreadful rumours that I am a woman… or at least the ghost of a woman…. I may from time to time possess the bodies of young women, wear dresses and call myself Pearl, but that is purely for professional reasons …. well how very dare you! Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…


Pipe and Slippers: With Ichabod Temperance

 

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.

old-library-1571043

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? Finest Stout? And some of Mrs Baker’s left over steak and ale pies? 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… it is an excerpt from the tenth book in the Ichabod Temperance series, ‘The Two Faces of Temperance’. Hm, there is a note here tucked inside in the cover…

 

A fiendish monster is on the loose in London but as the machinations of intreague threaten to crush poor Miss Plumtart and Ichabod in their merciless gears, could this adventure become known as ‘the strange case of Dr. Icky and Mr. Temperance … ?

 A Request by the Author:
Dear Reader, if, perchance, you should come across some drunken rogues in song whilst reading this book, you are strongly encouraged to sing these passages aloud.
Your cooperation in this matter is sincerely appreciated.
~Icky.

THE TWO FACES OF TEMPERANCE

By Ichabod Temperance 

 

“Take a deep whiff, Mr. Temperance.”
“I’d rather not, Ma’am.”
“Fleet Street has an aroma all her own.”
“I’ll give you that, Ma’am.”
“I smell meat pies. Wait here, Mr. Temperance, I shall go and fetch us a pair myself.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Gee, there goes Miss Plumtartt. I don’t like being by myself around all these people. Oh golly, there is so much bustling traffic around here, I hope I don’t get caught up and washed away.”
“Hello, young man.”
“Hien! Oops, I mean, howdy, mister. Gee, I guess you kind of startled me. I did not notice you looming up behind me.”
“Forgive me, my boy. I could see by your clothes that you were a visitor to our shores. Now that I hear your boorish American tongue I am justified in my assumption. The moment I clapped eyes on you, my befuddled little friend, I said to myself, Todd Squweeny, you need to take that lost little lamb under your protective wing, lest some unscrupulous villain sweep in to do this innocent guest an injustice. No, I decided on the spot to make it my mission to prevent you, my sweet naïve doe, from coming to injury.”
“Golly, that sure is swell, Mr. Squweeny, sir.”
“You have the advantage, of me, Mr.? …”
“Temperance, sir.”
“You have family here in our fair city, Mr. Temperance?”
“Nossir.”
“Tee, hee! No family in the city, says you! Well, tell me, do you have family here in England, Mr. Temperance?”
“Nossir, Mr. Squweeny.”
“Ho, ho! You have friends here, then?”
“Not so much…”
“There is a Mrs. Temperance?”
“Nossir.”
“I see, I see, I see. Then you are here on business?”
“Yessir.”
“You look newly arrived. Have you checked into a hotel?”
“Yessir.”
“Blast! Oh well, this may still work. Have you made contact with your employer, yet?”
“Nossir.”
“Good! Oops! I mean, eh, pardon me for saying so, but you look a terrible sight, my lad.”
“Hunh? I do?”
“Yes, dear boy, but you are in luck!”
“I am?”
“Yes, for you see, I am a barber! I am a most skilled barber, I assure you, my bosom mate. I am the most famous barber Fleet Street has ever known.”
“Gee, my whiskers ain’t no more than a little peach fuzz. A kitten’s tongue would do the trick to their removal. Why, I just shaved this morning…”
“You SHAVED, yourSELF!?!? No sir! This is not done, sir. No sir, a gentleman does not shave himself if he wishes to make a good impression on his new employers and that’s a fact, sir! Come with me this instant. I will brook no protest. Come along to my shop and I shall see if I can remedy the damage done.”
~ding-a-ling-a-ling-ding!~
“Gee, this is a nice little barber shop you got here, sir.”
“Thank you, my boy.”
~click.~
“Did you just lock the door? Don’t you want no more customers?”
“I wish to devote all my attention to you, my boy, without any interruptions.”
“Then why do you have two chairs?”
“One chair is for commoners, but you dear child, are no commoner. I want you to sit in my special chair.”
“Your special chair? Gee, I’m about as common as common can get. Maybe I oughtter sit in this other chair…”
“I said to sit in this one, you little fool! Oops, I mean, my especially, special friend.”
“Yessir.”
“Ah, that’s better. Now then, just lie back and be comfortable as I apply a few last strops to this razor.”
“Yessir.”
~strip / strop / strip / strop~
“Hmm, hmm, hm, hmm/hmm. Strumm, strumm, strumm, dee-strumm:”
Razor, razor, lovely sight.
Piercing reflector of any light.
Scraping necks with pressures slight,
Trajectory’s change reveals your might.
“That’s a cute little ditty, Mr. Squweeny, sir, is there any more to it?”
“There would be if you would quit interrupting me you stupid little… er, I mean, let’s have a listen, eh?”
Crimson geyser to ceiling gush,
Death’s cheeks do quickly blush,
Just as quickly the face will flush,
And from the body life will rush.
“I don’t think I got the reference that time, sir.”
“Just a bit of the colloquial dialect, changing a meaning here or there. This final stanza will reveal our song’s true face.”
Scarlet rivers, they do flood.
Maroon is the colour of the sewer mud.
No-one will miss this faceless dud,
As I release this torrent of steaming bl..
“Hey, does this chair have a draft? Why looky there, there is a faint line, indicating a seam in the floor, all the way around this chair. It reminds me of a theatrical stage’s trap-door.”
“Get back in that chair!”
“Hang on a second, and lemme borrow that razor.”
“How dare you, you filthy Colonial! Return me my razor at once!”
“I just want to poke it down in this crack. There looks like there might be a latch… woah, watch out! It is a trap-door! This here barber chair is all set to tilt its unlucky inhabitant to a dreadful fall!”
“Get away from my chair! Give me back my razor!”
“Gee, it sure is a good thing I found that. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. I bet that little hidden cellar connects with the old Fleet Street canal, whatcha bet, hunh?”
“Perhaps.”
“I wonder if there ain’t an underground connecting cellar between this place and the meat-pie bake-shop, next door?”
“Enough! Get out of my barber shop!”
“Okay, okay, I’m going.”
“Wait, come back. Give me back my razor.”
“Oops, oh yeah, right. Here you go, mister.”
“Mr. Temperance, I have been looking for you.”
“Oh, howdy Miss Plumtartt, Ma’am.”
“I instructed you to not move, sir.”
“Well, you see, what happened was…”
“Never mind. As it happens, I find you exiting this Fleet Street barber shop at the same time that I am exiting Langela Annebury’s Meat Pie Bakery directly next door.”
~nom, nom, nom.~ “This sure is a good meat pie, Ma’am! What kind of pie is it?”
“I am given to understand that the best policy is not to inquire too deeply into a meat pie’s mysterious origins.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Take a care, Mr. Temperance, for you are dribbling your juices. I am assured that Miss Annebury is ‘slitting her own throat’, by selling her ‘pastries of mystery’ so inexpensively.”

 

 

Hm? You want to know what happens next? Well you’ll just have to visit Icky yourself won’t you and ask him for a copy …

2facetemperance.jpg

 

No, no I really don’t have time to… wait a minute… are you sure these pies are steak and ale? They taste rather suspicious to me…


Soup of the day: With Jennings and Jennings Paranormal Investigators

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 Ive 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 Im always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

I am extremely happy this morning to welcome my dear friends, the paranormal investigators Sir John and Marie Jennings… Good morning to you both, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitc… Sir John? Over here… Marie, my dear, are you sure he can see with those goggles on? Whatever are they for?

EctoscopicGlasses.jpg

Sir John: These are my ectoscopic goggles that allow me to see any spectral energy so as I look around the room…GOOD GOD WHAT IS THAT!

Marie: I think you are looking at the cat, mon cher…if you take the googles off…

Sir John: Ah yes, ahem, yes I’ve seen this before where feline energy can be mistaken for, er, ghostly energy. Perfectly normal.

Mrs Baker: Oh dear yes, I’m so sorry about the cats, they are after my illicit cream stores, you know. Well, why don’t you both have a seat here by the window. How was your journey here from your own dimension? I hope you were not delayed by any spectral presences en route?

Sir John: It was relatively uneventful. We made use of my brother Saul’s cabinet to travel here through time from 1901. He was, I’m afraid to say, a bit of a crank, believing in some pseudo scientific hogwash he called Quantum Physick. Most bizarre, with strange parallel worlds and waves behaving like particles. He built this device to travel to these parallel worlds, and it seems to work as it’s brought us here. Hopefully we can return, it’s the first time we’ve used it.

The only real trouble we had was when we were stuck in some hellish box, travelling in random directions with strange, dishevelled muttering creatures. What was that thing called Marie.

Marie: I think it was Southern Rail.

Mrs Baker: Oh dear me yes, I have heard your trains are as bad as our Skyway Rails, for future visits might I  recommend the number nine bus, some have found the driver both adventurous and persuadable if bribed with sufficient tiffin. Now then, I shall put the kettle on, have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?

Marie: I brought a recipe that our maid Miss Henderson suggested for Courgette and Milk Soup. She said it is from the “Mysterious and Exotic East”.

Sir John: I think she means Walthamstow.

Mrs Baker: Oh!

Marie: Here is her note…

Mrs Baker: Thankyou my dear, let me see now, she writes… “Dear Mrs Baker, please find below my recipe for Corset and Milk Soup. Take a pound of corsets…”  CORSETS?!

Sir John: we think she means courgettes

Mrs Baker: Oh! I see!…...and cook in a bit of water until soft but not too long or the taste will cook out. Mix them up – I use a device Sir John has made for me called a Vegetofruit Blending Device. It’s quite quick and only moderately dangerous. Put aside and then heat a tablespoon of butter and when that’s melted take off the heat and add tablespoon of flour. When that is like a paste, add half a pint of milk and stir until it thickens a little. Then add the corsets and some ground Kew men…

 

Marie: “cumin”

Mrs Baker: Oh yes of course!  …and season with salt and pepper. Finally serve in bowls with some Sumac powder sprinkled on top. The soup is mild in flavour and the dark purple colour of the Sumac is a lovely complement to the pale green of the corsets.”

Sir John: Funnily enough she got the name for Sumac powder right. It’s a fascinating spice, rumoured to give anyone that prepares it correctly a five octave singing voice. I’m not sure that’s true but our previous maid, Mrs Flitwick, did once mistake it for cocoa and she made a very high pitched noise.

 

Mrs Baker: Well it certainly sounds delicious, I wouldn’t worry about the Sumac, the orphans are quite hardy round here you know. So, I will just pop the cauldron onto the fire, there. Now while that is simmering away why don’t you tell us all a little more about the work you do, paranormal investigation sounds most fascinating!

Sir John: Well it all started in Paris, where we met. I was working away at various theories of how to detect paranormal activity. Marie was my willing companion, assisting where she could. Eventually we married and moved to London and set ourselves up as Paranormal Investigators. It was a little easier as my French isn’t terribly good and I was concerned it may be difficult to communicate with francophone fiends.

Mrs Baker: What a wonderful story, I do like a good romantic tale! And I have heard that you employ some very specialist inventions to help with this work, have you brought some along to show the orphans?

Sir John: This is my Thanatograph. It’s allows us to hear the spectral voices of any phantasm. It’s quite subtle, if there are any such entities present we may hear a faint human-like voice when the machine starts. Now I’ve set it up, let’s all be very quiet and see what happens.

Thanatograph.jpg

 

Mrs Baker: Is it supposed to do that?

Sir John: Actually no. It’s quite unusual for it to fly around the room like that.

Mrs Baker: Oh, silly me! I’m afraid we are directly above the underground library and so our resident ghost, Perilous Wight, may be setting it off?

Sir John: Ah I see! Let me see if I can catch it. Oooof!

Marie: Mon cher, are you alright!

Sir John: Yes I think so. I don’t chew much on that side of my face anyway. Let me put it away before it causes any real damage.

Mrs Baker: I’m so sorry about that, I hope it will be alright. Well, these machines are all very technical and exciting,  but Marie, my dear, (and while Sir John is occupied putting that device away)  I cannot help but sense something of the mystical about your aura, I have a feeling that perhaps you do not need such devices to see these ghostly goings on?

Marie: Well, why I sometimes ‘ave some, shall we say, intuition into what may be going on… I’m not sure what you mean or where you have ‘eard this…

Mrs Baker: Oh my dear, I’m so sorry, I did not mean to alarm you or to be rude! Magic is forbidden in this dimension of course, but there are those of us who still practise it in secret where we can and I cannot help but sense that you have, shall we say, the ‘gift of intuition’ when it comes to the paranormal?

Marie: Ah, I see. Well, yes, it is true that I can sometimes offer … more help than is obvious. I like to keep that to myself. Oh look, Sir John is back.

Mrs Baker: Oh marvellous, and that is the kettle singing, can I offer you both some tea? How do you like it?

Sir John: Plenty of milk, three sugars, not too strong.

Mrs Baker: Oh dear, I’m afraid that is almost the last of the sugar, I shall have to visit the smugglers again.

Marie: Black, please. No sugar.

Mrs Baker: There you are. Now I know you have had many adventures but would you like to tell the orphans a little about your most recent or exciting one?

Sir John: Yes we have recently been relating our vacation in Sunnyport in our journal. It started out as a holiday and quickly became a terrifying nightmare. And that was before anything supernatural happened.

Mrs Baker: It all sounds so very exciting! And I hear that Paul Michael and Josephine Pichette have compiled some of your adventures into a book?

Sir John: Yes, indeed. It’s a collection of our first four investigations: a haunting, a strange case of a mesmerised young heiress, a fiendish killer in London, and a theft of some magical artefacts. It’s called, rather appropriately Jennings and Jennings Paranormal Investigators Casebook One. It’s apparently available in South America?

Marie: Amazon, mon cher.

Sir John: Ah, yes.

casebook one cover copy medium

 

Mrs Baker: Splendid! And where else can we read about your adventures?

Sir John: Well our journal regularly publishes details of our adventures and other interesting tidbits. Mr Michael and Mme Pichette are kind enough to update it twice weekly. They are also on, is it Twitbook, Marie?

Marie: That’s Twitter and Facebook.

https://thebenthictimes.com

https://www.facebook.com/thebenthictimes

https://twitter.com/thebenthictimes

 

Mrs Baker: Splendid! And will there be more books in the future?

Sir John: Yes indeed, Mr Michael and Mme Pichette are, I believe, chronicling our recent trip to Paris in a book they are calling The Paris Awakening. You may have read about the aftermath of that trip in the papers. It made the front page.

Marie: I don’t think Mrs Baker gets Le Monde here, and not from 1900, especially.

Mrs Baker: No indeed, the year here is 1840… and besides which, the only paper I get the is Tiffindependent…

Sir John: Well I believe it was in The Times as well…page 27. Underneath an advert for a mechanical carpet cleaner.

Mrs Baker Well perhaps I can use my soup-scrying techniques to locate a copy. Ah but that soup certainly smells the ticket doesn’t it? Thank you so much for coming to help out in the kitchen today, my dears, it’s been wonderful to chat with you but now those little urchins must be ravenous so shall we start dishing it up?

Sir John: Yes, let’s! Thank you so much for having us to visit. I’m terribly sorry about the scorch marks from the Cryptozoetropometer. I can pay to have that cleaned.

Cryptozoetropometer.jpg

 

Marie: Yes thank you Mrs Baker, it’s been nice to meet a fellow…cook.

Mrs Baker: Indeed! Thankyou all of you for joining us in the soup kitchen today, I hope you will come back again next week and until then

Blessings on your brew my dears!


Pipe and Slippers:Perilous Journeys#2

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

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 I do not have time for entertaining tonight, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have papers everywhere and notes to set in print and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe the notes from my journals into volumes so that they can be preserved for generations to come? You’ve brought along some late bottled vintage port to keep out the chills as we work?
Oh.
Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem…

Here, then, is the next instalment of the account of my first expedition…..(if you missed the first instalment you can find it here)

 

“Pearl White is it?”

I gave the boatman my most imperious glare. The effect was not the desired one and I instantly feared that my mastery of these new, delicate feminine features was going to take some time to achieve. What I needed was a mirror, and time to spend in perfecting the manipulation of this woman’s eyes, nose and mouth into the expressions I required.  But neither luxury was afford me and so I was forced to try again.

“You quite alright Miss?” the boatman looked deeply concerned as he watched me wipe the canvass clean and start over with an new attempt at ‘menacing frown’.

“The name is PERIL” I corrected, ignoring the soft and almost squeaky intonation of my new inferior vocal chords.

The boatman wiped his nose with an oily rag. “Right. You sure you gonna be alright with this skiff Miss? The Thames might be fine for a couple of chaps on a hay day but a birdie on her own, that seems asking for trouble to me…”

I tell you I very nearly popped the fellow with my dainty lace gloved fist for his sheer impertinence.

He must have sensed the menace in my aura because at length he shrugged, muttered something about Abney Park and handed me the oars.

There was some little difficulty in boarding the craft and arranging my belongings but after a little negotiation and a quick dip in the river to gain perspective I  managed to get going and soon fell into a steady rowing rhythm, putting the raucous laughter of the dock workers behind me as I headed up stream towards Bermondsey.

It is there that the Toshers have a legend which I was certain must be evidence of some magical presence – The Rat Queen.

Toshers, in case you are unaware, Gentleman Scavengers who frequent the city sewers at nught in search of all the coins, pocket watches, rings, swans…you know how easy it is to drop these things when one is preoccupied.

The Tosher makes his living from trading in the treasures he finds in the subterranean darkness in much the same way as a Treacle Miner and so it is no surprising to find that the two professions share a belief in protective spirits who have the power to grant good fortune and personal safety, as long as they remain appeased.

For the miner, this sprite is a type of brownie known as A Knocker, for the Tosher, it is The Rat Queen.

The Rat Queen is a supernatural being said to be able to shift form between that of an enormous sewer rat and that of a beautiful woman. In her human form she will approach a Tosher when he is alone in the tunnels and offer him a deal – if he can satisfy her passions and pay her a worthy tribute of treasure from his haul, he will be blessed beyond his wildest dreams -his business will prosper and his family will grow large and healthy. But if he fails or refuses to part with his loot he will find nothing more i  the sewers but a watery grave.

I moored the skiff beneath an overhanging elder tree and, after a minor war with the potable stove, made myself a depressing supper of cold tinned ‘standard issue’ soup and hunkered down to wait for midnight.

Under the cloak of darkness, I lit my dark lantern and made my way into the sewers in search of The Rat Queen …

“Pardon me, ladies, but would one of you happen to be The Rat Queen?”

The little coven of brightly painted damsels whom I had stumbled headlong into in the dark regarded me with unrestrained disgust; hands on hips, red lips twisted into smirks and sneers. “Oh, we’re all rat queens down here, deary..” the eldest bird squawked, flicking her head plumes, “question is, who the Hull are you, eh? You can’t just wander in here trying to join the game, thinking you can get in on a good earner…” her eyes narrowed, “anyway, who was it who ratted out on us?” She held up her own lantern and shone it into the faces of the assembled women, “who’s not here? Sharon! That little chatter box tart…”

Teeth began to gnash, painted talons flexed, I felt the time had come to set the record straight…

“Fear not, Madame,” I said, attempting to inject an air of authority into my voice which was ricocheting off the brick dome in sopranino staccato  most vexing. Cursing my new feminine vocal chords, I floundered on.. “I have no intention of encroaching upon your little entrepreneurial endeavour I…”

my confident smile fled the scene

“I…”

my manly resolve snatched up his hat and followed suit

“I…”

my legs finally cottoned on and joined the exodus, propelling me back through the watery tunnels with the rabble of raucous rat queens in rabid pursuit. Rocks and lemonade bottles exploded off the pith helmet as I made good my escape and at last, breathing hard, I made it back to the skiff and applied myself to the oars as if my life depended on it.

Of course this was quite ridiculous as my life expired many years ago but I did feel a certain obligation to return this body in proper working order….

 

Aaaand I think that is quite enough for one evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and…what’s that you say? Stay the night? Certainly not, what sort of a wraith do you think I am? Now go on, out with you, not another word, GOOD NIGHT!

 

 

all images used with kind permission from http://www.freeimages.com


Pipe and slippers: The gospel of Agnes Day

Good evening my dears and welcome to Perilous Wight’s Lovely Library (which we are keeping safe for him until he returns from his ‘business trip.’) I am Mrs Baker (otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle) and Peril has kindly allowed me and my little street urchins to shelter down here from the flesh eating Liver Birds until he returns.

Tonight I will be reading to the orphans, once again, from The Child Gospels, (this time from the gospel of Agnes Day) which we discovered on our expedition to Siberia. The chronicles were chiselled onto ice tablets and had been preserved inside a lead lined soupophagus for centuries before we smashed it apart and salvaged them for all humanity to enjoy.

Sadly, our return journey took us through the heat of the Jentacular Jungle and so, as the ice tablets began to melt (and even though it was three o’ clock in the morning and nobody had any tea)  our quick thinking octopus, Collin, speedily copied their contents down onto banana leaves with his own ink, using only his tentacles for a pen.

This desperate act of heroism, he claims, should excuse the rampant spelling mistakes, technical inaccuracies and absence of all  artistic merit which glare out from the manuscript like the foul raisins  in that cookie you thought was chocolate chip.

Peril has of course preserved the banana leaves as only a pedantic book-fetishy ghost can, but Collin asks  that we all bear in mind the manner of their construction and the great suffering he endured and risks to his life and mental well being and so forth and send him extra packs of medicinal biscuits whenever he indulges in…I mean suffers from, a bout of psd over the whole affair. Poor Collin…

So, are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I shall begin…

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Pipe and Slippers:Never bet the devil your cheese

Good evening and welcome to my  rambunctious repository of valuable volumes…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

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 convenience! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a cheesy octopus and its tasteless Gentleman Friend, you had best turn yourself around and wander out again! You will find no dreary double entendres, no pathetic punning or ridiculous riddle-rendering 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? Amontilado? A whole cask you say? And vintage cheese selection? 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…

fishing-bait-1347926.jpg

Never Bet The Devil Your Cheese 

I was sick – sick unto death with the stench of that dreadful chamber; the foul odour of my captors’ fetid breath and the rank, stale fume of their wrinkled skins. I swooned and felt at once as if my senses were leaving me, the sound of their voices seeming to be curdled together into one indistinct whisper – as the whisper of cream within the revolutions of a churning vat. And as their dreadful voices churned together to determine my fate, my mind was involuntarily drawn to ponder those unhappy events that had thrown me into the power of this unholy Society…

For the last two decades my life has happily revolved around the preservation of all that it is natural, healthy and wholesome for people to consume within the city of Cagliari and its surrounding provinces. In the course of this work I have had the pleasure to dine at some of the most exquisite restaurants and luxurious hotels that our beautiful island has to offer and, although there is always the occasional exception – the unscrubbed floor, the out of date salmon, the chef whose certificates have obviously been forged – on the whole I have found the consistency of cleanliness and order to be exemplary in all establishments under my jurisdiction.

The Monday that has most recently passed was the third of the month. I remember it distinctly. Upon entering the office as usual, I noticed a file upon my desk and, curious to see what it could contain, I immediately flicked it open.

BERCEI

I instantly recoiled, as though stung by some venomous insect, I struggled to breath in the oppressive heat which suddenly seemed to fill the room and yet a cold sweat burst freely from my pores and stood in fat glass gems upon my forehead.

BERCEI

I had heard the rumours. I had thought them fables – myths spun by our elders to scare the young novice or to pass time on the long journeys between one inspection site and another. But as, with trembling hand, I turned the pages of that file, the vile truth of the matter began to dawn upon me; That hidden deep within the mountainous regions of our fair Sardinia there exists to this day a group of souls  so depraved, so foul, that their deepest desire is to feast upon what is known as, Casu Marzu – The Devil’s Cheese. This, I assure you, is no ordinary curd. The Camembert you may have tried and thought a little daring, the Blue-vein perhaps you may have been persuaded to attempt in your wild and impetuous youth but I assure you that nothing, nothing but the very rotting of a man’s mind and moral fibre could induce a human being into suffering a mouthful of Casu Marzu.

This unnatural cheese is nothing but the rotted corpse of a once noble Pecorino which has been purposefully infested by the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. The digestive juices of these lavae break down the fats within the curd until the poor cheese actually weeps lagrima as it liquifies beneath the rind. Once the Pecorino has rotted to the point that most sane human beings cannot bare to be within a few feet of the ammonia scented atrocity it is considered by the devotees of this strange cheese-cult to be ready for consumption; maggots and all. The ammonia is so strong that it burns the skin around and within the mouth and throat, the risk of food poisoning, and even death, has been estimated as equal to that of consuming the rotting corpse of a sewer rat.

 

Naturally, the consumption of such rancid fruits was deemed, by both the church and the crown, to be hazardous to a man’s body and to his soul and so the making, handling, buying, selling and ingesting of this demonic cheese were outlawed many centuries ago – the punishment being then, and remaining to this day, death. Yet there have always been rumours that in one particular village, a remote sheep farming settlement known as Bercei, devotion to this unholy curd was so strong that it bordered upon idolatry and a secret order of cheesemongers was convened there that they might continue to ferment and consume their beloved Casu Marzu.

Time and again these rumours had been investigated as every decade or so fresh evidence would appear to raise suspicion that the myth may actually be true, but, time and again, no genuine proof could be found and the investigator would take early retirement or put in for transfer to another region and so the story would lapse back into legend once more.

And now it seemed it was my turn to try my luck at the Bercei Mystery, well I tried, they cannot say I did not try; I bet the very devil himself that I would not rest until I had uncovered this foul mystery and exposed these wicked fiends in their disgraceful maggot munching. I poked my nose into every pantry and cellar, I left no churn unturned, I searched and I questioned and in general made such a spectacle of myself that I did not fail to catch the attention of the devil cheesemongers themselves.

And now I had fallen so completely into their power.

As I lay there, watching the gleaming of the candle flames upon the neat rows of variously shaped cheese knives, the girolles, the graters, the wires all aligned like instruments of torture awaiting my tender rind, a sudden deathly silence came over the occupants of the chamber and in that instant I was seized by many hands, lifted and carried out of the room and then down and down many winding passage ways where all about me there came the hiss of  pent up steam, the grinding of the motorised cheese presses and the constant rumble of the churning vats until a dreadful dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the infiniteness of the descent and the vague horrors which might await me at my journey’s end.

At some point during this hellish passage into the bowls of the city – perhaps the very earth itself! – I must have slipped again into unconsciousness because my next sensation was of flatness, stillness and intense cold.

I did not dare open my eyes, at first, but instead I tried to imagine what there could be.

I felt that I lay upon my back, upon something cold and moist, and then into my weary mind their pressed such horrible visions, conjured up from the memory of the hideous rumours I had heard of these demonic cheese mongers and the thick debate of my captours as to what should be my fate.

I dreaded my first glance at objects around me, I dreaded the impending sensations which I imagined I could feel the beginnings of in every nerve and hair.

And then, as moments passed in silence and stillness, I grew suddenly aghast at the thought that there should be nothing to see or feel; that my captors, in their utter madness, had decided to bury me alive!

In a fit of panic, I leapt to my feet and thrust my arms out wildly in all directions. I felt nothing, yet I feared to move any further in case I should encounter the cold, stone walls and ceiling of a tomb!

Yet at last the agony of suspense grew intolerable and I cautiously moved forwards, my arms outstretched and my eyes straining from their sockets.

One, two, three, four, five… and my hands struck a cold, smooth surface – slightly slimy but more solid than the floor on which I stood. This sudden contrast brought me momentarily into a clarity of mind and now an urgency gripped my every fibre; to better understand the nature of my surroundings. It was a futile and utterly hopeless curiosity and yet the mind in torment will clutch desperately at any thread of reason in endeavour to anchor itself back to normality.

Keeping one hand upon the wall, I crouched and cautiously laid a palm upon the floor of my prison. At first I encountered some soft spongy substance which I took for moss.

Then, to my horror, it moved.

I plainly felt beneath my palm a steady palpitation, a writhing pulse, which sent a shudder – as of electricity – through my entire being. I can barely describe to you the horrific fancies which now plagued my shattered mind, nor can I recall the length of time that I crouched there in the icy darkness, feeling the sweat pool in the creases of my skin, feeling my breath steam as it passed in ragged shudders over my trembling lips. Where and what was I? What tortuous end had these devils dreamed up that I, like all my interfering predecessors, might be silenced eternally and that they should be left free to go on with their infernal cheese munching?

It may have been one or many hours that I remained paralysed in a state of utter terror and during all that while my attention was fixed wholly upon the floor. After a while my sanity must have fled the premises for my mind took up a grim fascination with the various pulses, tremors and reverberations that were taking place beneath my finger tips, until at long length there came a point at which my obsession with these movements – their cause, origin and intent – overrode my dread of the unknown and I determined to make an awkward circuit of my cell with one hand still against the wall and the other groping carefully about the floor.

I used one shoe as a marking point and by this method I soon deduced that I was in something like a circular pit, the walls of which were uniformly smooth and slick with moisture. As to the floor, the same gently pulsating moss was only present in patches – becoming denser with decreasing proximity to the wall – the remainder being of a smooth, cold, almost rubbery material.

But it was the pulsing that disturbed me more than anything for I could not imagine its origin or purpose, despite the zealous efforts of my mind to produce fancy after horrific fancy as to what tortuous death my captors had devised. This fact; that what lay in store for me was some fate worse than a mortal mind could fathom, filled me with such a terror that I collapsed and lay for many hours, perhaps even days, fitfully passing betwixt the realms of unconscious void and waking nightmare.

At length however, and since I remained alive and no change in my circumstance had occurred, I became aware of a sensation more primal than fear; hunger. A devastating, gnawing need which brought first dizziness, then nausea, and finally a passionate drive to consume anything I could lay a hand to.

Almost at the same instant that this hunger set in I perceived a gentle greying of the darkness around me. A light like dawn softly breaking in from some high shaft and then – oh mercy! – I was at last able to understand the nature of my grim predicament.

I was in the cheese.

As the light increased, so did my understanding and my horror of that place. The rubbery floor I had circumnavigated was an enormous round of the dreaded Casu Marzu. The suspected fungus that I had felt pulsing beneath my trembling fingertips was, in reality, the thousands of cheese fly eggs, gently squirming and, even as I watched, beginning to hatch. What would happen when those maggots sensed a new sallow flesh upon the menu? I shuddered, remembering the missing members of my unit – was this how those poor souls had met their grizzly end? Slowly digested, cell by throbbing cell, in the fermenting chambers of the demon cheesemongers of Bercei?

I have said already that I was starving to the point of near delirium and yet at no point did the thought of devouring even the tiniest crumb of that repulsive curd ever enter my mind. Instead I sought to press my entire body up against the wall and as far away as I could get from those wretched larvae, which had now began to nose about the silky surface of the cheese and spread their ammonia stench throughout the pit.

Thus I stayed. Marking the passing of time only by the fading and dawning of that distant greyish light, at first, until the larvae began to pupate and then…the flies.

They didn’t so much fly as hop and flit from one surface to another, drifting lace-like and silent on the pungent air, filling my eyes and nostrils like smoke until, at length, I lost both the energy and the will to waft them away.

The flies came, the flies went. They laid their eggs in the cheese and the eggs hatched and the maggots squirmed and formed oozing puddles of stinking putrid puss upon the floor. The maggots became flies and the flies came and the flies went. Up and up, called away by the fresher air and the light at the top of the pit.

I became grotesquely fascinated by this cycle and, when my legs could no longer take my weight and I was forced to lay amongst their writhing, pulpy layers, I took an almost child-like delight in watching every aspect of their development at close range. In fact, as time passed and my senses began to rot along with the cheese, there rose inside my bosom an almost paternal affection for the little creatures whose brief and simple lives were playing out before me hour by hour and some of the very nearest to my face I even thought to give names to; Beatrice – after my beloved sister, Maud  – my dear mother in law…

As I drifted in and out of the realms of nightmare and fantasy my position seemed less and less dire, the instruments of my demise less like ravenous predators than familiar friends comforting my cold aching flesh with the warm blanket of their bodies; a blanket that was rising now about my shoulders, creeping around my ears, falling gently like a shroud over my exposed cheek and

Oh

My mouth

I had forgotten that parched and puckered hole in my delirium. My mind had ceased to dwell on gastric sensations but when one over adventurous wriggler slipped in his exploration of the valley of my cadaverous cheek-pit and in

Oh

Taste I remembered

Meat I remembered as I sucked him in

And suddenly my mind teetered back from the edge of the abyss; these were not my friends, pets, tormentors nor even yet my devourers! No, these squirming worms were my salvation!

With wild abandon I scooped handfuls of the urine-soaked larvae into my mouth and they burst amongst my molars, their warm pus like a fine sherry sliding down my gullet. I rose frantically onto my hands and knees, grasping great handfuls as they tried to flee before me and then, all in an ecstatic second, it happened.

The cheese was in me.

I cannot describe adequately here, with pen and ink, the transcending beauty of that first mouthful. The intense burn of ammonia heat, almost unbearable in itself yet coupled with the cool and silky cream of the part-digested cheese that heat transformed into a mouth watering candied sweetness, perfectly balanced, before it became cloying, by the acidic tang of the savoury maggot meat.

I gorged myself into a divine frenzy. I leapt and danced like a freshly baptised demon waking into this new fromagian Eden.

Then, as if in confirmation that my sins of unbelief in this god-of-all-cheeses had now been washed away, the feeble veil of muted light, which had watched over my long hours of penance in the pit, burst suddenly into a blinding ray of brilliant gold illumination!

Dozens of arms reached down to me, hauling me up and out and into the welcoming embrace of my new brothers, who wrung my hand and slapped my back and dressed me eagerly in the fresh white robes of that secret and most holy society – The  Cheesemongers Of Bercei.

 

Good grief, who is it that keeps slipping these mutilated corpses of classic literature in amongst my treasured tomes? I do apologise for that atrocity and I assure you it is not representative of the rest of my magnificent collection. But, now, enough of this cheesy nonsense! The cask has been drunk dry and so has my patience so come on, out with you all, immediately! No I do not care a hoot about the man eating Liver Birds or your long and treacherous walk home, you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew. GOOD NIGHT!

 

 

 

all images courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com 

 

 


Pipe and Sippers: Nevermore?

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

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 convenience! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a pun-happy octopus and its alleged Gentleman Friend,you had best turn yourself around and wander out again! You will find no dreary double entendres, no pathetic punning or ridiculous riddle-rendering 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? Amontilado? A whole cask you say? 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…

teafiend2

 

THE WYVERN – an unscrupulous piece of skulduggery By Penny Blake 

 

Once upon a teatime merry, as I set my table heavy

Laden up with scones and crumpets, florentines and cakes galore

Whilst I sat, my tea a –lapping, suddenly there came a tapping

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my parlour door

‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered ‘tapping at my parlour door

Wanting tea, oh what a bore!’

Up I leapt, I well remember, flung the tea into the fender

Grabbed the table, newly laden, cast its contents to the floor

Eagerly I sought the dustpan, with its brush and so I began

To erase the scene of plenty, lest this guest from me implore

Sustenance. I, diligently, swept each last crumb from the floor

Evidence was there no more.

Still the tapping came, now ruder, heralding this bold intruder

‘Gods above’, thought I, ‘a teatime never suffered thus before’

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

‘Let them in, tis merry meeting, not a crumb sits on the floor.

Chat a while and then, politely, show them once again the door.

Then begin the tea once more.’

Presently my soul grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,

‘Sir’ said I ‘or Madam truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was lapping tea, no, sorry, I was napping

And so gently you came tapping, tapping at my parlour door

That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door: –

Darkness there and nothing more.

Feeling vexed, my temper miffin, at this wanton waste of tiffin

And unfounded fears that caused me to cast all upon the floor,

Silently I stood upbraiding, all my senses and degrading

Every cell which had imagined rapping at my parlour door

‘Fool’ I muttered ‘now the table must be spread as was before.

What an utter bloody chore.’

Back again to spread the table, just as fast as I was able

Soon again I heard a tapping, somewhat louder than before

‘Surely,’ said I ‘tis no fancy, this time and I must happensee

What it is that so insists on plaguing thus my parlour door

Let my teacup rest a moment and this mystery I’ll explore

Then I’ll sup in peace once more.’

Open here I flung, with meaning, parlour door and, brightly gleaming,

In there stepped a clockwork wyvern, hot breath crackling the air

Not a single greeting gave he, not a moment stopped or stayed he

But, as I cried ‘some god save me from this beast oh I declare,’

Perched himself upon the silken cushion of my favourite chair –

‘Look here, sunshine that’s my chair!’

Not forgetting I was British, though I felt a little skittish

At the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore

‘Sir,’ I said ‘Would you partake, with me, in having tea and cake?

As you can see a finer table never was there spread before –

But the creature shook its head and, pointing to me with a claw,

Quoth the wyvern ‘One cup more.’

Much I chuckled this creation to hear hest, as if libation,

One more cup of this sweet nectar for myself I should now pour

‘sure’ said I ‘some fiend hath sent thee, For amusement he hath leant me

Tempter sent to thus torment me, with this mantra ‘one cup more’

Sent this brass abomination for amusement to implore

Me to drink ‘just one cup more’

But the wyvern, sitting brazen, on my cushions it had taken,

Fixed me with its burning eyes and, once again, it did implore

Nothing further then it spoke – till I said ‘tis some bad joke

But to appease thee I’ll oblige’ and so a cup I then did pour

Drank and thought the matter ended, rose to show the thing the door

Then it chanted ‘one cup more.’

‘Be that phrase our sign of parting, Hullish fiend!’ I shrieked, upstarting

‘Take thy talons from my teapot, and vacate my chair once more

Thou hast made a grave mistake in thinking I would certain break

My will and meekly thus partake, at your demand, this ‘one cup more’

Certain your corruption I will not endure a moment more

Quoth the wyvern ‘One cup more.’

‘Villain’, said I ‘thing of evil – sent from Hull and certain devil

I will lap this tea at leisure, and if I chose now to pour

For myself another cup, it’s only for myself I sup

And not a shred of credit to you, fiendish thing that doth implore

Wicked wyvern, by your words I’m putting neither stock nor store,

Still, I will have one cup more.’

And, alas, I still am sitting, still am sipping, still am sipping

On bequest of this grim wyvern, one cup more, just one cup more

And his eyes have all the seeming, of a demon’s that is scheming

And his scales, still brightly gleaming, I have come now to adore

As I, dutifully lift the teapot and again outpour

For myself ‘just one cup more…’

Hmm, one cup more? Don’t mind if I do…oh, what’s that you say? Getting late? You really ought to be going?  Oh dear, surely you can stay for just a little while longer, I mean it is after dark and Lord Ashton will have unleashed his flesh-eating Liver Birds by now, you really don’t want to be mistaken for a vagrant out there on the Lancaster streets and there’s still plenty left in the bottle…


Morning Cuppa: Tricky Spaces

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s delightfully delinquent and ruthlessly rebellious parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.

True, perhaps, some have called it a rancid, mouldering pumpkin shell , hollowed out and fooling nobody as to its suitability to house an Octopus and his Very Quiet Gentleman Friend, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

So It’s HALLOWEEN / SAMHAIN / ALL HALLOWS whatever you wish to dub it 😀 and we are obviously going potty for Gena Rumple’s Steampunk Pumpkins (again!)

And to add to the festive feeling here in the parlour we are enjoying some spooktacular tea of our own evil Tea-Punk devising. We call it ‘Fire and Spice’ and you can make it in your own parlour like this:

2 tbsp of pureed pumpkin (you can by this in a can or make your own)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 pinch of cloves

1 tbsp grated root ginger

Seeds from 1 pod of vanilla

1 tsp cayenne pepper (or dried chillies if your aunt is visiting)

Soft light brown sugar to taste

Creamer of your choice (we’re using condensed milk because we have no sense of propriety)

4 – 6 tsp of your favourite black tea (we are using Lapsang but Darjeeling or Oolong would work as well. We cannot bring ourselves to recommend Assam, but perhaps you are made of stronger mettle than we..)

 

Put all your ingredients into a jug (except the creamer of course) and give it all a good mix before pouring the lot into your fabulous teapot and filling said pot with boiling water. Leave it alone for about 5 mins while you settle down with a good book. Strain through your usual straining equipment into your gold gilt edged teacup (and now you can cream-up to your heart’s content) and enjoy!

Now you may have noticed we are  a little late rising in the parlour this morning, that is because last night we visited something called a ‘motion picture show’ at The Garish. Of course the thing is bound to be outlawed soon and so we wanted to at least have seen one before they are forced underground like everything else that is jolly around here (except Peril of course, he is by no means jolly and yet very underground..)

So we do not have a book to recommend to you this morning but rather a ‘motion picture’ and it is this…

 

We cannot express adequately the rapture this film induced – Mr Darcy’s coat alone was worth the entrance fee. Admitedly the acting from the younger ‘stars’ was somewhat vacant, to the extent that at one point Max was forced to stand on a chair and cry “Act More Pant Less!” at the lead…which ended in us both being ejected from the theatre and forced to re-enter by a side door wearing fake moustaches and capes so as to avoid attention. (We were later told that the actress couldn’t have heard us anyway so the whole escapade was futile.) But, panting aside, the brighter stars in the supporting roles carried the whole thing admirably, the concept was so adorable and the strength of the feminine characters who effortlessly sat beside the male – not competing, just comfortably equal to – combined with the fabulous saqueal-worthy costuming (did we mention the coat?) and Lady Catherine’s re-imagining as an eye-patch sporting Misstress of the Blade… all made for an excellent evening all round.

So excellent a evening in fact that we completely forgot the Lacaster Curfew and had to run for our lives (not an easy thing when one is an octopus full of absinth) from the flesh eating Liver Birds which Lord Ashton employs to keep the streets free of vagrants. We made it back by the skin of our tail coats but now we are utterly exhausted so we will just sling our tentacles up here on the table and see what our Oracular Cephalopterois has to show us this morning…

 

Hm, listening to ghosts eh? Well if it’s ghosts they want to listen to they should go and visit our own Perilous Wight in his lovely library on Friday, now there’s a ghost that won’t stop talking even when we ask him politely…

As for Max and myself we are going to prepare some trick…I mean treats, of course… for any urchins silly enough to knock on the parlour door in the next 24 hours but we will be back tomorrow with something completely different so, until then

Be always, Utterly Yourself.

 


Pipe And Slippers:

 

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 lending library! 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 be so easily lead down the garden path by tales of fairies! There are certainly no fairies at the bottom of this garden;  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? A Green Fairy? Oh…. well, green fairies are always welcome I suppose, 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,

MAHRIME

It will take months for the bones to heal.

For the blood to entirely cease / For the light to come and illuminate them/

And they will mend badly, leaving the limbs gnarled and awkward.

Mushrooms grow and in creep flies, things that will stomach both

and things that scurry and / things that gnaw at other meat / that howl and suck out the marrow /

The floor is a carpet of bones; who knows how deep?

Somewhere, too high above, the rain finds an in-road and slides down the obsidian

The carnelian walls / The ivory walls like / The red cedar wood / The diamond-ice walls / Papyrus / The malachite walls like the drool of something hungry / Like the tears of something lonely /Like the blood of something wounded /

Walls like silver sweat.

I am not the first to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last/

The words spiral upwards from beneath the millennia of bones, scratched into the black

The white/ red / white /red / white / green/

Walls with what? The blood stains will leave you guessing. What will you do? Start with your finger nails,

 your talons/ your claws / teeth / fangs / beak/

carving your agony until all that is left are bloody stumps of splintered flesh? Frail wafers of bone to melt like sacraments against the wall’s hot tongue? Ah but wait, you are impatient. There is no space for your story, the lives carved here spiral up out of the scope of your vision, too many to read in the short spaces of light, too high to reach even if you stood on the tips of your scaled and broken toes. But begin to read, regardless of the futility; there is nothing else you can do. Eat the words because there is nothing else to sustain you. Eat before the dark comes again to swallow them and you are alone and being swallowed up too.

I am not the first to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last. Whatever the case I am the last of my tribe, the last tear to fall from my grandmother’s eye. While our grandfather Sky wept the oceans in his grief, Puv’s tears were wiser and greener. My sisters and I, twelve of us in all, slipped out of her great tear ducts and we became the tree clans that covered the earth for a while; the red woods, pines and giddy scented cedars, the slender birches and sweet sweet maples, The berry-bearers, rose, cherry, bullace, elder, haw and sloe, oak and ivy, skipping hand in hand, Nut-bearers, hazel, beech and chestnut, .. we fell from her eye and stood, naked on the earth and we shook with fear in the breeze, plunged our fingers back down deep to coil round grnadmother’s hand, we did not want to let go, and we sucked up Ravnos’s tears, drank up all that cyan sadness and offered it back with our arms, back up to heaven. We clung to our grandmother and our hair grew long and wild and sinewed until it formed the great forests that once covered the land. We sucked up the grief water so that the land could be seen and we clothed it with our hair and so many creatures came and sheltered in us, finding sustenance and comfort inside our warm wet creases.

There were no cities back then but I remember the first little queens to come walking out of the foothills of the north. There were seven of them and with their little silver aexes they came and severed our umbilicus, our life link to our Baba Puv. Of course we screamed.

Of course we bled.

Our sap boiled and in desperation we threw out barbs, thorns; made sabers and shuriken of own wounded flesh. We grew hard and gnarled. We grew wizened, if you know what that means. No longer child-like we wrenched our fingers from grandmother’s earth-grip and we thrust with greed and hate into Sheol, that land of the dead where there is only decay, and we sucked up venom to fill our veins.

It did no good.

I watched my sisters fall, screaming into grandmother’s helpless arms as their limbs were torn away to make these seven cities for these seven little queens, a thousand lances for a thousand ladies; knights in armour smelted in the heat of a thousand burning bodies; child-sisters severed and sacrificed on their alter of industry.

Creatures poured out from their shelter like blood from gaping wounds, ran shrieking under the wings of a weeping Sky God and I spread my arms to them, gathered them in my hair, tore myself from the ground and towered to meet them, scooping the wolf clans, the bush birds and the hotchi witchies, the wild Gry and the drummers, all the grass chewers and the climbers and the hunters of flesh. I gathered them and devoured them into my dark sap self, my body howled and squirmed with their many wild voices all crying their terror and their loss

“no home, no home, no grandmother, no shelter, no rest, no hair to hide us, no tears to feed us, no home, no place, no home” was their cry. This is how I came to the seven cities, this is how I came, howling and stomping and writhing to tear down the thrones of those seven little queens who had raised their empire by the bones of my beloveds.

They wore our blood like jewels, how could I stand? They circled me with fire and brought me down with ropes of my own severed hair, they cut the wild creatures from my belly like babes.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers; obsidian, carnelian, ivory, papyrus scrolls, malachite, cedar wood, diamond. Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here, this tower is full of bones and there are stories and lives buried beneath that will never come to light. That light drips in sour pearls like milk from the berks of a starving mother who can barely feed herself much less her dying child. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, pressing my bark-back against the obsidian curvature and bracing my limbs so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case I am the last of my tribe, the last of the wolf clans, the last acolyte of the seed temple. I am the last because I ran. I ran from the knights with their silver blades and their bright fire, cut free from my mother’s tree-womb with a sacred store of snatched up seeds tight hidden in my drooling maw, I ran into the hollow shadows left by the slicing of the flames and I spun through tunnels of twilight thought in the mind of Baba Puv until I came to her limestone skull periphery and there I clawed out a new grotto, a sanctuary for those stolen seeds. I panted, sweltered and I bled and wept there in the dark. In truth I was lost; were those lichens, hanging down all silver-grey, the tendrils of her ancient hair? Was the water that trickled and pooled for me to lap with my parched pink tongue the sweat that slid off her wrinkled brow? Was I serving her, here, a saint whispering viridian vespers into the fissures of my secret chapel? My days were not filled with hope but fear; fear that my devotions fell only on cold stone, fear that I was a fraud and that cowardice, not love, had brought me here and held me in its thrawl. The seeds I had carried so tenderly all those many miles of running could not grow here in the gloom, draft and dank. I nestled them into the rock wrinkles of her cheeks and watered them with trickles of cave water but they sprouted pale and grew thin and wan, corkscrewing in dizzy circles, roots and stems flailing as they searched for the fingers of their grandmother to clasp and coil around, for Kam’s bright face to shine down on them and give them life. I had carved a space for the dead and all I could do was sit vigil with them as they passed away.

I do not know how many moons I sat there, how many times Kam chased his sister Shon around the earth before their children remembered me and came searching, searching for the last wolf, searching for the lost seeds, searching for the chapel in the green… there was a queen, they said – ah there is always a queen isn’t there? – a queen with a baby and the baby was sick and no doctor in the land could find her a cure. Every knight was sent riding in shining gold parade, out from the cities, across the land and sea, to the highest peaks and lowest caverns, to the high pate of Ravnos, to Puv’s own toenail and so, in the end, down they came to find me; monster in the dark with my seeds. The knight who stepped so boldly, her armour clanging like a cattle bell where no voice had e’re been raised above a whisper, told me the tale and she did not beg my assistance or offer any reward but her expectation that I would help her was all the persuasion I needed. I must help, and so I did, I gave her the seeds of the plant that would heal the child and she took them without thanks and was gone. Foolish knight. Foolish queen. Or was I the fool after all? The seeds worked swift, healed the child of her humanity in a heartbeat and when they had done with their screaming and casting out and banishing of the beast that used to be their daughter, they sought me out again, this time with fire and rope. I was easy to find, I had not run, and when I heard them coming, I was not afraid.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers; obsidian, carnelian, ivory, papyrus scrolls, malachite, cedar wood, diamond. Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here, this tower is full of bones and there are stories and lives buried beneath that will never come to light. That light drips in sour pearls like milk from the berks of a starving mother. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, pressing my splintering claws against the obsidian curvature and bracing my limbs so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case, I am the last of my kind, the last Smithsonian Sister of the Serpent Forge, the last daughter of Shon. Some say she is made of stone, you know, still others say she is made of cheese, imagine that! But I know my mother as the milk white swan, born out of the belly of Baba Puv and shot like a silver bullet up into the sky. Mother Shon laid her eggs upon Baba earth’s back and when we hatched we crawled out into grandmother’s arms. But it was cold back then in the early days, her smooth skin was pale and cold; sheets of ice and feather soft snow. My sisters and I shivered in our scaly skins and we came together to make a child of our own, a child who would warm the earth and be bright and comforting and a joy to us all. So we pressed our bodies together, one sliding over the other back and forth, back and forth until the friction between our scales created the tiny spark that is needed for life. Little Yag was born and he was all we had wished for – bright and cunning and quick, flamboyant and frolicsome, warm and more than warm the child gave off such heat we could bask in his glow eternally. Of course, like all children, our little Yag soon grew and began to grow wild and unruly, his hunger was insatiable and his manners a disgrace. ‘You must put him to work at once’ Grandmother said ‘or he will soon be beyond your control.’ So we built The Forge and we set Yag the task of melting the metal to make it pliable so that we could shape it into cups and cooking pots and horse shoes, farm tools and the like. With work to do our little lad soon settled into his role in life and was happy and we sisters were happy too as the snow and ice began to melt and folk began to come into the valley of the forge, they saw our work and they wanted to buy until at last we had become quite famous as the best blacksmiths in the land.

Then one day we saw a river come flowing out from the seven cities, one tributary from each hall, and they joined on the crest of the far off hills and came flowing down, a torrent of pale riders, into our valley. The knights approached our forge without dismounting and demanded that we make for them armour and weapons, lances, swords, spear heads, tools of war. When my first sister bowed her head and explained that we were a peaceful tribe who did not know how to make the weapons they desired they cut of her head with their silver axes. When my second sister pleaded with them to think of our child, our little Yag, and the impression this would leave on his young soul they dealt her the same deadly blow. So this went on, and on and on, each sister refusing or pleading or defying them until eleven beautiful serpent heads lay dirtied in the dust with their grandfather’s tears raining down over them and only I stood, trembling in my scales before these ladies on horseback, arguing with each other now what they were going to say to their queen if I too refused and there were no serpents left to work the forge. It is true that I was afraid, also you can imagine that I was angry and desperate for a way to avenge the brutal death of my beloved sisters but a snake is cool blooded and calculating in her wrath, I did not shout or make threats or spit hexes at them as others might, instead I keep staring at the horses with their feet on the hot sandy ground. “Listen” I said at last “I am now the last of my kind, you have utterly destroyed my clan and I know that I alone cannot stand against you so I will do as you ask and make these toys for you and your little queens and I will make shoes for your horses too.”

The knights seemed relieved and so I set to work, feeding my son so much that was abhorrent to me, to all my kind, so that he could make and be and do what the cities demanded, but all the while I worked I whispered, songs of righteous rage, songs of our story of sorrow, songs to make his red blood boil and his yellow bile burn.

The metal that we worked that day was forged in hate and we imbued it with such heat that even when I took the tongs and dipped each piece carefully into the cooling vat of water, it was only the surface that was cooled while the white hot core still burned and thirsted to exact our vengeance upon human flesh. “Patience” I whispered to each plate of armour as I strapped it onto each waiting arm or leg or bosom, “Patience” I whispered to each horse shoe as I nailed them onto a hundred hooves or more. Then we bowed, little Yag and I, and stepped back and waited and watched as the shimmering golden river of knights began to ripple and set its course back to the seven cities.

Breathless, we waited.

The rear guard shifted in her saddle, twitched her shoulder, adjusted her boot strap. Her horse stamped and snorted. A ripple of seemingly inconsequential motion shook ruffled the feathers of the troop. And then it began.

The riders began to scream.

And their steeds began to dance.

They danced and pranced and bucked, they pirouetted and waltzed and writhed all over the sandy floor of the Valley Of The Forge as the heat within their horseshoes finally began to penetrate their hooves and shoot its venom through their muscles and sinews in waves of exquisite agony.

Riders fell, squirming like fat overfed worms, too bloated to break free of their burning chrysalises.

The scent of burning flesh and the shrieks of horse and rider filled the air and we savoured it all like sweet Madya, like wild quail, like honey from the comb or salmon from the smoke huts.

Revenge is sweet but like all sweet things it does not last. I do not know how many moons had passed after our small victory but the earth on my sisters’ graves was still fresh when they came, bringing the wrath of their little queens, seeking their own retribution for the little scars and humiliation we had struggled to inflict upon them. The came screaming ‘Nahuatl’ , ‘Fire Serpent’ , ‘Bold Destroyer.’ They came in fear, with nets made from the hair of other martyrs.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers. Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, throbbing my coiling bulk against the obsidian curvature so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case I am the last of my kind, the last human child to be born inside the seven cities, before they decided that human flesh was just too frail to sustain itself and instead began forging children from iron and steel. Certainly my own flesh was frail, they gave me every medicine under Kam’s bright disc until, at last they brought the seeds. The seeds knew. Somehow they knew the monster that was inside me, they knew the form my frail flesh could not hold, with gentle coiling and twisting they pushed away the meat and the fat, the blood and pith and all those vile pulsing organs and they drew out like flax what was inside my marrow; the black, the wonderous, the many-limbed, the beautiful. I stalked out of my old ivory shell, Sara La Kali on eight fine strong legs and stretched myself amongst their screaming. So small, so small, their tiny voices were like hail against my hide and their cities stifled me, I took their screams and wove them into tapestries with my hands, their fear and spun it into prayer shawls, I took my grandfather’s grief and crocheted dream catchers, mandalas from Shon’s silver light, pashminas from the river waters, swift flowing hair of Sister Pani. Everything I made I ate, and the more I ate the bigger, the more marvellous, the more terrifying I became. I travelled far, kneading stories into bread, pressing the steps of the sun dancers into wine as syrupy as blood, I took the yellow dust of the road as my warp and the cries of hatred and terror as my weft and upon my loom they became strong canvas for my tent.

I do not know how many moons I danced along the drom, how many times Kam chased his sister Shon around the earth before their children plucked the courage to come after me. They came with fire as they always do, pretending it is light, pretending it is cleansing and righteousness and Brother Yag dances and spits his delight, he is only hunger and no belly and his ‘purification’ is a death-kiss with no promises. Salivating like a Cur he held their sacred circle for them as they came with their ceremonial axes and cut off my hands.

Then it was those little knights who ran mewling back to the skirts of their city-mothers, the mothers of stone they had built for themselves. They ran back in fear at what they had done, in fear perhaps of what I would do. But I could do nothing. No more spinning, no more weaving, no more kneading and pressing, no more making at all. I howled alone in the darkness but I was not destroyed, only maimed and I determined that this would by no means be the end of me. So I bandaged up my bleeding stumps and , though the going was painful and slow, I carried on my way along the drom.

After many moons I came to the place they call The Valley Of The Forge, but the forge is long gone cold they say and the Serpent Sisters who gave birth to fire are just a myth that is only half remembered. There was no fire when I came, weary and lost, into the valley, instead there was a cave and a well of silver water and a withered snake skin cast off and abandoned nearby. I do not know what made me do it, perhaps something called or whispered in my ear below my consciousness, perhaps the heat was toying with my wits a little, whatever the reason or madness I cannot say but I was filled with a sudden urgency to put the snakeskin into the well. It was a futile and meaningless act but I went to it with every fibre of resolve that I had left to summon. It is like that sometimes, when we can do nothing useful we throw every last scrap of energy into doing something utterly pointless instead.

With the last of my strength I heaved that old snake skin into the well and felt instantly satisfied and stupid and presently very much afraid – The water in the well began to roil and out from the waters rose a silver serpent, spectral and magnificent and gleaming in the sunlight. I fell to my knees and begged her not to devour me, pouring out my story with my tears like libations upon the yellow earth. The serpent listened with her head on one side and presently I felt her tongue, rough and warm against my cheek and heard her lisping voice inside my head “I name myself Drábaneysapa, medicine-snake. They who are sick will look on me and be healed because I have crossed the great river of death and come back again. You have done me a service little sister, let me give you some advice, dip your arms there into this water and see what happens, this well is so refreshing.” And with a wink she slid out over the rim and away across the sands.

I had come so far and through so much pain I hardly dared to hope in all that I had seen and heard but I forced myself to trust the snake and, trembling with agony and fear at what might or might not happen, I removed the filthy crusted bandages from my mutilated limbs and I lowered one trembling arm into the magic well. Nothing. I felt absolutely nothing except the excruciating sting of ice cold water on my wounds and so you can imagine how I wept, how I howled, how I laughed for joy when I pulled out my arm and on the end of it had grown a spectral hand, silver and splendid and a thousand times more dextrous and beautiful than my fingers had ever been! One by one I dipped my eight broken, bloodied limbs into the well and one by one I drew out my eight new beautiful silver hands.

By now the moon was rising and as I looked up at her I knew what I had to do; surely it had been Shon’s silver moonlight, trapped and almost forgotten inside the dark depths of that well, which had allowed these miraculous transformations to take place. I would use my new gifts to make a gift in return; I would fashion for Shon a daughter, a daughter to replace all her lost serpents, a daughter so terrible in her beauty that no man or woman would be able to set eyes on her without turning to stone. All night I worked, all I had was the memory of my pain and loneliness and so that is what I used as my warp and for my weft the joy and gratitude at being made whole again. So I wove a daughter for Shon, I gave her wings so that she could fly far, far, far away from the seven cities, up to the arms of her mother where she would be safe. I set in her heart a compass that would steer her, always towards her mother’s light so that she would never become lost or trapped as I had been. I called her Wéshimúlo and I set her free at daybreak so that she might follow her mother over the horizon and away.

I never saw Wéshimúlo again but I stayed, self appointed guardian of the healing well. I slept in the cave like a hermit, carving intricate instruments of many pipes and strings from the atoms of the air with my new spectral hands. After a while, folk started to come. They heard my songs of praise to Shon, they came to be renewed by the silver waters, some were broken, close to death, others barely seemed to hurt at all but they all dipped hands, faces, legs, hair, into the well and were made whole again and their wholeness was not as it was before; it was Shon’s own memory, the blueprint of themselves as they should be and this far exceeded whatever it was they had grown into within the confines of the city walls.

I cannot say how many moons I kept vigil there in my cave beside the well, how many thousands of praises and adorations had poured from my lips before they came for me. Folk had been pouring out of the city and returning with strange new ways of knowing and being, ways which didn’t fit, ways which were cunning and weird and magical and just plain wrong. They came screaming ‘witchcraft’, ‘demon’, ‘devil’ and still I do not know why Shon did not hear my pleas for help, or come to my aid.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers; Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, pressing my spindling legs against the obsidian curvature and bracing my limbs so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case I am the last of my kind, the last child ever to have played under the scarlet canopy of The Great Forest, the last to have felt the pine needles between her toes, the last to caress the naked wax bark of the white birches, the last to embrace the wrinkled oak, the last to play with the wolf clans and the hotchi witchies, the last to ride the wild Gry.

“Come away!” my mother would scold me “come away inside child, while they cut it down! Trees are for burning and the monsters will eat you up!”

I lay in my bed. Our house was one cut into the wall of the great city and my window looked out over the countryside that was now forbidden but I had made a pact with those trees, a promise with those monsters, to let down a red cord every night from my window and every night they came for me, panting and hungry in the dark. I smelled the rain on them, the moss on their paws, the salt in their eyes, the blood on their breath, I reached through the bars of my window and ran my fingers through their wet pelts and pricked my thumbs against their fangs swearing sweet oaths to save them all if only I ever could get away. Every night they brought me a wild raven’s egg, a gift from grandfather Ravnos. You would think I cracked the treasure case open and sucked out the gold, but I was afraid, afraid of stains and questions, afraid my mother would find out about these secret midnight monster feasts. So instead I opened my mouth up wide and carefully carefully swallowed each egg down whole.

Whole, the eggs of Ravnos came into my warm belly and my flesh cradled them like a bowl of olive wood, my womb knit around them like latticed ligaments of vine; safe, warm, nourished… it should have been no surprise when they hatched out, the fledglings scraping my tissue raw as the forced their blind passage up through my vocal tubes and tore out of my horror-stricken mouth to flop, drenched and heaving onto the breakfast table.

In front of my mother, these fledgling crow-gods scrambled from my mouth and I could not hold them back. But mothers are used to these things. She narrowed her eyes at me, did I not think she had been young once? Did I not think she too had longed for trees and monsters and given birth to sky-gods in her time? And had not my grandmother done as she would now, stuff her daughter’s mouth with wormwood and gilead, with nightshade and mandrake and bind it shut tight with ribbons torn from her own scarlet diklo?

All this she did and then she cut the red cord.

I slept, falling in my dreams through the barbed gullet of a beast that was a city that was my mother that was seven little queens with seven little axes all hacking, hacking at my scarlet life line, all trying to sever me from my beloved monsters. But I laughed as I spun through their loathly innards because even in sleep I felt them; my little ravens, my little gods, pecking away at their human-girl prison, gorging and scraping at all the cumbersome weight that held us all pressed into this room, this house, this city on a hill.

Peck. Peck. Peck.

I felt the breeze stir through me, the flutter of their strong, soft wings striving through my rib cage, the thrust of bills chiselling against my teeth and I woke to find myself cleaned of all my superfluous flesh, gleaming in my bones, seeing with a thousand yellow crow eyes. Still they scrabbled and flapped and pushed the boundaries of all that I still was until they carried me up, up the chimney and out into the sky above.

Arrows rained up at us, fired from the bows of a thousand knights in golden armour, and grandfather’s tears rained down. It should have ended there, and it did, but it should have ended differently.

Instead they brought us down with their own beasts; leather-winged sky-chariots they had built for themselves from blueprints stolen from Ravnos’ own work bench.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, flapping and struggling inch by inch, so that I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, that space is so high up now that when I peer down into the darkness below I can barely see the bones of all the wretched monsters who were here before me. I have found the place where the rain creeps in, If you are reading this then you will have found it too. Did it give you hope the first time you realised what it was? Or did you not dare to let that spark kindle inside your breast and quicken your heart to a flutter? A glimmer of light, a window? Yes. Big enough? Big enough… and up and up and up… did you climb as I did, forgetting to read any more in your blind excitment? And use the last of your strength to heave yourself up onto that sill? And will you, as I have, bother to come back and carve the last words of your story here with the last of your blood and the last of your bone?

I am laughing and crying for us both.

I am laughing and crying and sweating and bleeding for every monster who has made it this far up the tower, who has seen the hopeful light, heaved themselves up with the last of all they have been to sit upon that vast window sill and look out over the view spread out below them.

If you have not yet accepted that his is where you die, you will accept it now.

You will look at that precipice, flagged by a thousand shards of razor rock on every side, so deep it seems to have no end, a grim maw waiting to drink the last drop of you out of the world so that you might be, at last, forgotten, and all hope and faith will fly away, taunting you because, even if you once had wings, you know you will never fly again.

What will you do? Will you feed yourself to the beast? That is obviously what they are hoping. Will obligation or self-indulgence haul you back down here to scrawl your last words? Or do you think enough futile and miserable lives have been catalogued here already? I myself will sit upon the wide ledge a while, and let my blood and sweat and tears fall as my offering down into the pit below, my offering to you and to every monster who has ended here and when I end my bones will fall back down to the floor and become lost amongst the others and if you are reading this, then I suppose yours will too.

I am not the last of my kind, I have a sister. A sister whose body was once the harp on which our mother played her most beautiful hymns to the moon while I sat and listened to their songs and marvelled at the sound they made when I could only manage a strangled screech.

“Hush now me chavvie me love me Weshimulo there” my mother would croon as she rocked my tears away in her eight strong black arms “I never had time to furnish you with the gift of song, but look, just look at your reflection there in the well my owlet, look at those white feathers as soft as those of Shon herself, look at your beauty little sweet one, you have no need for song. I have made you so beautiful little Weshimulo, so beautiful and you will fly up, up, up and away from us all. You will fly up to the heavens and be in the arms of our blessed Mother Moon because that is what you were made for, your very birth was an act of worship, child and I have set a compass in your heart that will guide you, always guide you back to your blessed Mother’s light.”

All her words danced around me like a breeze, I tried to snatch at them with my beak and swallow them down, I tried to sit on them like eggs that might hatch into some magnificent and monstrous truth, but in the end they all blew away from me and all that sank down into my pneumatised bones, filling them up like the weight of mammalian marrow, was that simple fact – I could not sing – and while I felt the vague tug of something at my heart strings nagging me towards some place half remembered from nursery tales, when my mother kissed my wings and told to fly I could not feel the instruction of this compass she had wittered about, only the disorientating heat of my own desperate lust to make some other noise than ‘screech.’

Under the sun’s disapproving and judgemental scowl I flew, my thoughts turned inward like berry barbs, until it became dark and then of course I remembered The Moon my mother had prattled about, and I looked into that vast velvet void and could I see her? I could not. And it may sound strange but I was grimly satisfied to find her silver face not there and anger and triumph blossoming in my breast like blood from a wound, staining my white feathers claret.

I do not know how long I floated aimlessly amoungst the shards of cloud that were busy cutting the night sky into ribbons but I do not think it was all that long before I heard them – tiny wee voices winging joyful, loud and shrill; “We go to the moon, up to Shon, blessed mother, moon, moon, up we go, up to silver shon…” and then, swooping lower down below the clouds, I saw them – hundreds of tiny tiny little dancers, silver wings painted with black henna, hands of hamsa, signs against evil, I was bewitched. I joined the dance, these wee folki they knew, they must know, where we should fly and how we should go they painted my wings with black henna that scorched and stung but looked so beautiful it must be right.

“Follow the light, follow the light, follow the light and up we go…”

There are many lights in the night sky, perhaps you know this already and can see how foolish such a mantra can be. We followed the light that burned the brightest and it lead us into the city, into its vile heart, into the arms of brother Yag (by choice or no, he is now the servant of the city folk and has forgotten who he is and where he came from, all he feels is hunger and his appetite is never satisfied). My little dancers were all burnt up in a mouthful, their intricate tattoos did not protect them. Their Mother Moon did not appear to save them. In a whisper and a crackle they were gone.

I was burnt too; burnt, stunned, disorientated and alone. But not destroyed. Not yet. The knights in golden armour, wolf pelts slung around their shoulders, bright jewels of tree blood set into their breast plates, snake skin sword sheaths flapping against their thighs, out they came from the palace of their queen and one by one I turned them all to stone.

I did not mean to.

I did not know how I did it.

They only had to look at me and their hearts in their chests of flesh became granite, cold and hard as steel – no love, no compassion, no empathy at all, just unyielding rock against which I must break. It was my own fault I know, my mother had told me this would happen, but I did not understand, I thought she meant…well, it does not matter now.

With hearts of stone, they came and broke me. The highest mountain range in this land is crowned with seven dreadful towers and the stories here are beyond reckoning; I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read and now I will do as so many have done before me / as so many have done before /so many have done/ many have done / have done /done before/ before/ and  sit upon the wide ledge here a while, and let my blood and sweat and tears fall as my offering down into the pit below, my offering to you and to every monster who has ended here and when I end my bones will fall back down to the floor and become lost amongst the others and if you are reading this, then I suppose yours will too.

We do not know if there are, or have ever been, any more like us. We were once the last of our kind, that much is true. It is also true that we are now the first of our kind. This then is the story of how we ended, and how we became again, and how we will end and we think it is very fitting that ours should be the last story carved inside this tower, there is no space left, although we know that others will come, we have always been oracular that way.

There has always been one monster the knights of the seven cities could not capture or tame or destroy. Her name is always changing, always lengthening, but we now call her Bujo and to us she will always be Bujo, not that it matters anymore. There is only one thing a queen can do with a monster she cannot be rid of, and that is placate it so that it stays below the surface of the water and never rises up to destroy all that hard work of wall building that goes into hoisting up a city. The seven queens of the seven cities chose us to be sacrificed to Bujo and that makes us laugh, now, now in this tomb we laugh until our spines and teeth and bones and scales and tusks and claws and feathers all rattle together. But we did not laugh back then, no.

We trembled in our frail flesh, each the last of her own wild clan, each cut raw from our tree-mother’s belly and back bound, back to back against the great sacrificial sandstone pillar that stands on the tide line. We trembled and we waited for Bujo to come and devour us. And we tried not to think about how the devouring would feel.

But she did not come.

The tide came in and the tide came out and it crashed gnashed against the sandstone with its little teeth of shell, but still Bujo did not come.

We have no idea how many moons we waited there, bound back to back, waiting for Bujo, waiting for death, waiting for anything but the relentless ebbing and flowing of the tide, but one morning the sun rose up out of the arms of the sea, where he had been carousing all night, and once he had had done with all the eye-rubbing and shivering and chanting of ‘nevermore’ and deigned to throw an armful of light beams in our direction, we realised that we were not as we had once been.

The sea had entirely eaten away the pillar to which we had all been bound but instead of leaving us free, it had left us ‘grown together.’ Skin and muscle and sinew and bone and prickles and spines and fur and feathers had all become one and we were no longer seven maids, but one enormous, monstrous beast and once we realised our rebirth, we also realised the vast emptiness of our seven-fold belly, our seven-fold womb, our seven-fold heart and our-seven-fold mouth. We sniffed at the salt sea air with our seven-fold nostrils, vast as underground caverns, and we reared upon our seven-fold haunches and howled in the direction of the cities because we smelled, from there, meat.

With fire from our belly and nets of our own hair we came for them, those who had created us. We laughed because they trembled at a sea monster who was not there, we wept because we could see, far away, more maidens being prepared for this ludicrous pantomime, we howled because our hunger made us howl and we stormed into the city and we meant to devour it.

All our intensions, you see, were good and noble. You will not find fault with us, we are sure. We did devour much but, in the end, we became sick and weary of devouring. Our seven-fold belly was never filled, our seven-fold womb was never filled, our seven-fold heart was never filled and our-seven-fold mouth was only a vast hole down which the whole world would eventually slip, and still we would not be satisfied.

And so we grew wise. We stopped. We lay down to rest.

And that is when they came for us.

The highest mountain range in this land is crowned with seven dreadful towers and the stories here are beyond reckoning; we are not the first to be entombed here. Still we have been here long and long and we have read all there is to read and had our hopes raised and smashed and raised and smashed again. We have clawed our way up as you have, devouring the words, the stories, the wisdom of others, and it has done us as little good as it has done you to devour them. But now we will do as so many have done before us / as so many have done before /so many have done/ many have done / have done /done before/ before/ and  climb upon the wide ledge here and look out over the vast, vast ocean of blood and sweat and tears that was their offering. Their offering to us, their offering to you and to every monster who has ended here.

We will add our own offering to this and then we will take the boat which we have fashioned from some of those very many old bones and we will lower it onto the red-gold surface of the sea and we will leave this tower behind. We do not say we will be free, where is there for us to go? Round and round perhaps upon a sea of blood and sweat and tears? Will we risk clambering over the edge of this enormous basin? Risk what is left of our tissue on the jagged mountain’s jaws? We do not know what will do. We do not know what will become of us, but we think, we hope, we guess there may be other monsters out there too – there were seven towers after all – perhaps they, like us, like you, have clawed their way up through a tunnel of tales, through a long dark night, through small spaces of light and through much, much pain and loneliness, and perhaps, out there, we will be together. Perhaps we will not be free, perhaps we will not be home or healed or happy or any of the things we dreamed we ought to be (once upon a time) but we will at least be together and if you are reading this /and if you are reading this/if you are reading this/are reading this/reading this/ if / you are reading this, then perhaps you will be too.

 

Yes, yes well enough of that sentimental clap trap I have work to be getting on with so go on, out with you all now, don’t you all have parties or something to go to? Hm? What’s that? You’d rather stay here if that’s allright and shelter from the flesh-eating Liver Birds? Certainly not! You should have worn a protective suit or something, GOOD NIGHT!


Morning cuppa: Fairies at the bottom of the… teacup?

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s delightfully delinquent and ruthlessly rebellious parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.

True, perhaps, some have called it a treasure trove for the Freudian Sleuth, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

You find us on this, boisterously bright and cheerful, Monday morning absolutely apple-free and wondering about fairies. Are they real? There seems to be unnecessary amounts of hubbub in the town of Lancaster at present surrounding the subject and, against our better judgement, we have been ‘drawn in.’

Of course there are those who say that there used to be fairies in The New World, before Wiz arrived and stole all the tea, cake and magic, but those people are mostly witches and you should never trust a witch should you? (don’t tell Mrs Baker we said that).

Well at least there’s one fairy we know is real (she’s green and old Peril is very fond of her) and look at this little treasure we have unearthed…

http://www.teaandabsinthe.com/who-is-tea-absinthe/

Tea and Absinth? TEA AND ABSINTH? Oh I don’t think my tentacles can take it I’m all of a quiver..

Luckily we have a nerve settling Wuyi rock water fairy puerh tea from music city tea shop steeping as we speak… hm, fairies everywhere this morning, even in the teapot…well it must be because the book we are about to enjoy with our morning cuppa is none other than

steampunk-fairy-tales

If you were enchanted by volume one of steampunk fairy tales, well, be prepared to be enchanted again. The eagerly awaited second volume is filled with enough whimsy, magic and imagination to satisfy even our appetites for adventure…

The tales featured include an electric gingerbread house, a clockwork cabinet, a fairy samurai and many more but our favourite was Vasilisa and the Mechanical Matryoshka by Heather White which puts a fabulous steampunk twist on this awesome ancient tale! And Heather has kindly agreed to help our lovely Mrs Baker in her soup kitchen soon, so that is something to look forward to!

But  before we commence our tea , let’s just see  what our oracular cephalopterois has to show us this morning…

https://youtu.be/KqL-w3sQhEU

 

Good grief that has done absolutely nothing to settle my nerves, perhaps we should steer clear of fairies from now on, whatever their colour! Ah, thankfully, the tea is brewed and it is time for us to say  ‘chin chin pass the tin open the book and let’s begin…’ We wish you all a very green and luscious morning, filled with magic and wishes-granted, and we invite you back to join us in the parlour tomorrow for elevenses so until then

Be always, utterly yourself


Pipe and Slippers:

Good evening and welcome to my magnificently macabre miscellanea of tantalising tomes…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

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…

naturally-twisted-2-1499288

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!

 

 


Pipe and Slippers: Herne’s Lady

Good evening and welcome to my alluring athenaeum of litigious librettos…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043.jpg

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…

horns-1175375.jpg

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.

HERNE’S LADY 

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

 

 


Soup of the day: With Charity Tahmaseb

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:”

http://www.drabblecast.org/2016/01/01/drabblecast-375-ghost-coffee-machine/

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…

https://www.amazon.com/Coffee-Ghosts-Complete-Season-Seasons-ebook/dp/B015VOROGM

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/coffee-and-ghosts-charity-tahmaseb/1122728290

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/coffee-and-ghosts-the-complete-first-season

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/coffee-ghosts-complete-first/id1151183045

 


Elevenses:Frightfully good

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…

Happy-Little-Ghost-Sugar-Cookies-01C-SM2.jpg

…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.

 


Morning Cuppa: Haunting Beauty

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…

raven teapot.jpg

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:

coffee-and-ghosts

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


Pipe and Slippers: The Child and The Crow

Good evening and welcome to my pulchritudinous plethora of accumulated antiquities…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 ‘lending library’; if you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a ludicrous Tea Fiend and their rampant octopus, let me assure you that you will find no frivolous fancies or biscuit-based buffoonery 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 say? Late Bottled Vintage Port? Ten years eh?…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something to fight off the chill. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps…

THE CROW AND THE CHILD

If you take the leg bone of any creature that dwells on this earth and slice it open, there in the marrow you will find a wondrous land populated with castles and citadels, golden-leafed forests and wide open wilds far more fantastic than mortal minds alone can conceive.

 

In this land, if you look closely, you will see there is a little gathering of dwellings, each one barely enough to be called a house, and even altogether barely enough to be called a village. Just a little gathering, then. A little huddle of souls. And in the skies above this huddle, one particular star-winked night, a stork was sailing.

 

His wide white wings caught the moonshine like a silk sheet and for a moment he glowed silver against the indigo sky before tilting his tips to spiral down and down and down, through the tunnels of air and shadow, to alight upon a thatched rooftop. And there he stopped and considered himself for a moment.

 

Side stepping awkwardly on his long jointed legs, he approached the chimney stack and was about to peer inside when he suddenly remembered the bundle in his beak. So he stopped. Paused. Thought about it some.

 

A crow, who had been waiting on the rooftop since sundown, tilted its head and regarded the stork with curiosity.

 

After a while, the stork laid the bundle down carefully beside him on the rooftop and then proceeded to stick his long, inquisitive beak down the chimney. He withdrew it immediately with a squawk of alarm. This is what he had seen:

 

In the single room of the dwelling below, a man and woman lay in peaceful slumber, wrapped in each other’s arms, and, in a rocking chair beside the hearth, an old woman likewise lay with eyes closed and her mouth fallen softly ajar. From the breast of each silent figure there flowed a river of blood. It slicked their skin and matted their hair, soaked their sheets and clothing and, in the light of the dying embers, the floor shone red like a vast pool.

 

The stork ruffled his feathers, let out another shrill shriek of near-hysteria and began side stepping a strange and agitated dance up and down the rooftop. So great was his obvious distress, that the crow thought, really, and against his own better judgement, that he ought to try to offer some assistance. He stepped out of the shadows and enquired what the matter was.

 

“The matter? The matter? You ask me what is the matter? I am supposed to deliver a new life into the loving bosom of this happy household and what do I find? ” his pitch rose, feverishly, “Dead! All Dead! Every last one of them down to the crone in the rocking chair and don’t,” he pointed an accusatory pinion at the crow, “pretend you know nothing about it! And now what am I to do? I cannot very well leave the infant on the doorstep can I? Not when there is no one to come and take it in! Stone dead within a few hours and what will be the point of that? Hm?”

 

“I think you should calm yourself at once,” the crow said, dark eyes each like a tiny galaxy, their light coming from so deep within. “Remember that none of this is our concern. You are bid here this night to bring life into the world and I am bid here to take life out of it. This is our way and always shall be and whether or not this infant is destined to spend but a few hours in the mortal realm has nothing to do with us at all. Please calm yourself my friend and do the job you were sent to do, no further responsibility is yours to claim.”

 

“But if I don’t do something…”

 

“But if you do!” The crow’s voice was suddenly stern, “If you do act, with your limited understanding as your only guide, you may do greater harm than good. Souls must pass in and out of the mortal world and you and I have neither the wit nor the wise to dictate how and when that should be so.”

 

But the stork had got himself all worked up into a frenzy by this time. Damned was he if he would leave this babe to freeze to death outside a door that was never going to open to welcome it in. Violently, he snatched up the bundle in his beak once more and, with three beats of his mighty wings, he rose again into the air. Exactly what he would do, he had not yet decided but the crow’s words about his own impotence and ineptitude for decision making had settled like a red mist around his senses and he could not think clearly. He would take the babe to some other village, some other house, a great house, a palace perhaps…

 

Fearing that he had only made the matter worse, and seeking now to correct it, the crow left his watch post on the rooftop and swept like a rag of storm-harried cloud into the sky in pursuit of the stork. “Come! Come come! Back! Back back!” he croaked, weaving this way and that around the enormous bird so that soon the stork grew so vexed and dizzy that, forgetting all that he was about, he lashed out savagely at his tormentor with his harpoon of a bill, slicing open the side of the crow’s head from beak to glittering eye and, yes that’s right, he dropped the bundle too.

 

Two tiny scraps of flailing life spiralled down through the stars to earth …

 

and landed on the doorstep of a high-turreted castle, way up in the mountains and far from anywhere. The door creaked open and a woman made all of stone leaned out, picked up the bundle in one hand and the broken crow in the other, then slid, with a grating sound that would rattle teeth, back inside the castle and shut the door.

 

The stone woman slid on a network of metal tracks that covered the flagstone floor. Down long, cold corridors she went, where tapestries fluttered briefly in her wake, depicting the glorious endeavours of the living. Through halls populated with still and silent figures like herself, through the grim, dark-vaulted castle, she continued her slow but steady progression until she came to a winding spiral slope, then up and up and upwards she wound her way to the top most tower and there she pushed open a wooden door and creaked inside.

 

The old man, bent crooked over his desk and teetering atop a high wooden stool, lifted the visor on his welding helmet and peered at her with bright reptilian eyes set deep into brown leathery tortoise skin. He did not speak. Like everything else, the woman’s ears were made of stone. She held out the bundle and the crow and the old man lifted them gently and placed them on the desk in front of him, clearing away the parts he had been working on with paternal care.

 

The white sheets in front of him were stained claret with blood. He opened the bundle carefully and frowned; bending brows of feather-white quills over those bright little eyes. On the desk lay a boy child and out from his chest, out from his heart beneath his ivory skin, blood flowed bright and shameless, staining everything it touched crimson, matting through his white blonde hair in thick unsightly clots of black.

 

The ancient gentleman shook his head. “So fragile…” he muttered softly to himself “…so delicate, so fallible. No, no, no, a child cannot go through the world with a heart that bleeds. And this child, one day, will need to be a man. But no matter, no matter eh? He has come to the right place. I will make him a heart that will last a hundred years and more.” And at once he set about the task of making the child a heart so strong that it would not be able to bleed even if it wanted to.

 

The crow, barely clinging on to its body, struggled to squawk a protest but, if he heard it, the old man did not look up from his task.  “Your turn next, birdie,” was all the muted muttering that filtered through his white moustache and, all the while, the stone woman stood in the corner and waited.

 

The old man was an inventor of some considerable skill and experience. Soon he had fashioned a marvellous heart and he carefully cut a hole in the flesh of the sleeping infant, plucked out the heart that wept so much claret over everything, and fitted in the new heart, sealing the chest cavity with a metal plate, screwed down through flesh and bone. The babe screamed and howled and the crow beside him fluttered feebly, but he could not do anything to help.

 

“Now, now my boy, what an ungrateful whelp you are eh?” the old gentleman chuckled “Don’t fuss now, don’t fuss. See this new heart will last you a hundred years and more, that one you came with would not have served you five minutes. Not in this world, certainly not. Now then,” he turned at last to the stone woman, lifted the screaming child awkwardly from the workbench and placed him into her strong, cold arms, then he turned his attention back to the bench, “alright then my little black bird, let us see what we can do to fix you now, shall we?”

 

The stone woman did not need to have ears of flesh to be told what to do with a baby. The inventor had made her plenty of stone children of her own, just as he had made her, her husband, and all the other stone figures that populated his castle. Insatiable in his desire to create, he churned out figure after figure until the castle was plagued by the grim, grey host. Still, he never once descended the tower steps to see how his creations were getting along without him.

 

The stone woman took the screaming baby to the nursery. She trundled across the wooden floor and laid him in an empty crib with silk sheets and soft wool blankets. She tucked a bottle of milk into his chubby white hands and he drank and slept. Then she turned on her tracks and trundled out of the room, leaving the baby alone, in the dark, with row after row of silent stone babies sleeping soundlessly in their cribs. Their sightless eyes did not need light. Their stone skin did not ache for the warm touch of throbbing flesh. Their carefully carved ears did not strain for the sound of comforting voice rising softly in song.

 

In those silent halls, hung with curtains of shadow and frosted breath, the baby grew to be a child. He wandered through the long vaulted corridors with their tattered tapestries and picked at the threads, wondering at the tales depicted there. He sat in the courtyards, crowded with statuesque figures who never spoke or sang but only trundled here and there along the metal rails their inventor had laid out for them.

 

Once he found a boy. Sitting with his back pressed against a bulky pillar, reading a book. But the book was made of stone as well and all the boy could do was turn a single page – back and forth – upon which was written a tiny scrap of story that his sightless stone eyes would never read.

 

Still the child wandered and explored the many rooms and passageways of the castle until, at last, investigating a staircase that wound skyward up a tower which swayed back and forth in the howling mountain winds, he came across a cage.

 

The crow in the cage cocked its head on one side and regard the child with a glittering eye that seemed to hold a galaxy, its light came from so deep within. Half its head, including one eye and all of its beak, was made up of metal plates but, the child’s breath caught in his throat, the rest of the bird was feather and flesh and bone. The bird radiated the warmth of life, it moved with its own purpose and intent and, when it opened its beak, sound – the croak of a voice, rusted but not yet broken.

 

“Back! Back back!” The crow spluttered. “Back, child, you should go back! Back to the village, back to the cottage, your place is not here in this castle. No. No. Go back. Go back back!”

 

The child filled his enormous eyes with the feast of the creature before him. Tears pooled.

 

“I am not who you think I am,” he whispered. Voice a cobweb in a storm. “I did not come from any cottage or village or far away better place. My place is here. It always has been.”

“No. I am not mistaken.” The crow ruffled its feathers and flapped its wings against the bars of the cage. “You are the baby, brought by the stork, to a village far away from here. But the stork thought he knew best and delivered you to this castle instead.  I was there, I tried to stop him.” He clicked his mechanical beak crossly. “There is none so stubborn as a stork, it seems. But all is not lost, child, set me free. Set me free from this cage and I will show you the way back.”

 

The child caught his tears on his fingers . The crow’s words made sense; he had never felt he belonged in this world of stone figures. Never found a way to slide easily along the inventor’s metal tracks as they did. He longed for things he sensed were real, although he had never experienced them – warmth, touch, song and movement unprescribed. Although a secret part of him whispered that if he did not belong here in the castle, he surely did not belong anywhere, he ignored it.

 

He reached up pale fingers to the latch, opened the cage door with a snap and a swing, and the crow leapt out and perched upon his shoulder . Together they left the tower, down the spiral stair, and fled the castle forever for the long and difficult road across the windswept mountains.

 

Night was spreading his cloak over the land as the child and the crow sank down into a wooded valley. As the light dimmed to a pumpkin glow, shadows rose around them taking form from fancy and conjecture.

 

“Light! Light light! We must have light. Strike a flint child, light a flame that we can see our way through the darkness.”

 

But the child did not know how.

 

In desperation, the crow snatched up the last bright thing from the forest floor, as the sun sniggered into its sleeve and slipped away. A last pale leaf, softly luminous in the moonlight. He handed it to the child and the child clung to it, fixing his eyes upon its faint, cold glow. But it was not a flame, only an imitation of one. It gave no warmth and nothing at all was illuminated.

 

All night long, the crow and the child sat huddled amongst the trees and clinging tight to their leaf.

 

They heard things pass them in the darkness; some far off, some so close they could feel their breath. They smelt good things cooking on campfires, saw the distant dance of what might be a flame or a farmhouse. Sometimes a voice would hail them, “Hey! You there, is that somebody there? Have you lost your way then? Come with us, we will show you the path out, we have food and light over here, come out of the shadows and join us!”

 

But the crow advised the child to close his ears to all of this. It was so dark, afterall. The voices could belong to anyone. Or anything. So they clung to eachother. And their leaf. Through a night they started to believe might never end….

 

But nothing is ever as eternal as it seems when we are in it. At last a paleness began to seep slowly over everything. The night’s dense pelt teased apart into fine needles of shadow and the child and the crow heaved their cold and aching bodies up out of the dry leaves and blinked at eachother, surprised to recognise familiar form after all the liquid swell of night through their senses.

 

They saw the path. The crow remembered the way. Through the dense wood, never stopping, out of the valley and over hills which became green and spongy with succulent moss and sedge beneath their feet and whispered tales of secret underground springs and maidens and moles and other goings on beneath the soil.

 

The scent of that soil rose up like iron, bold and beautiful and life affirming and it wove  a robust rhythm with the heather and the broom that danced like gypsies wherever they pleased as the wild wind tugged playfully at their hair.

 

The child and the crow did not dance over the hills with the heather. They were too weary from their long and watchful night. Heads down, wings and shoulders hunched, they trudged. Each footstep a tiny miracle. If they had chanced to look up, they would have seen the little huddle of dwellings, each one barely enough to be called a house and even altogether, barely enough to be called a village, rising out of the landscape ahead.

 

It happened all of a sudden; the way you can be standing in a room sometimes, floating in waves of conversation that ebb and swell without conveying meaning, until someone on the far side of the room whispers your name. And you blink. And suddenly the world makes sense again.

 

The boy stopped. And blinked. His feet were wet.

 

In fact, the ground all about him was saturated with something thick and oozing. He lifted one foot, curiously, and then the other. The crow put his head on one side and then flapped excitedly off the child’s shoulder and began to circle a giddy, euphoric  spiral above his head. “Back! Back back! This is the place child, we have found the way back!”

 

But the boy wasn’t listening to the crow anymore. At that particular moment he didn’t need to.

 

He simply knew.

 

As soon as he felt the warmth of the blood between his toes, the blood that flowed down the main street of this place like a river, he knew it for the same rich, red life that pulsed through his own flesh in such abundance that it ached to be released. He sank to his knees, he washed his white flesh in it, he licked it off his wrists and arms and the taste of iron made him weep like a starveling cub.

 

Ravenous, he raised his eyes and saw people hurrying towards him, boots splashing through the flood of red that flowed, shameless, out of their breasts and into the street. They didn’t ask his name, who he was or where he had come from.

 

Perhaps they knew he was one of them.

 

Or perhaps they did not care.

 

They welcomed him, they brought him inside, fed him and clothed him and the child bathed and soaked and gorged himself on blood that seemed inexhaustible because everyone bled and fed and bled some more…

 

The child stayed in the gathering of bleeding hearts. He never found his parents because the crow could not remember the dwelling to which the stork had brought him, but that did not matter. He had found a place filled with folks that were more akin to him than any cold castle filled with stone automatons. And did it worry him that the inventor had so brazenly stolen his heart all those years ago? Well, yes, after a time it did start to bother him. It bothered him so much that one day he sought out the crow who had helped him to find the place where he belonged, and together they set off on a quest to steal back his bleeding heart… but that story is a long one, and will have to wait until another time…

 

Hmph, not that there will be another time, as I said, this is not some nursery bedtime story hour I am running here! You can tell those miscreant pot-sots, when you see them, to stop sending people down here to bother me with their remedial reading requests I have serious work to be getting on with. Now go on, out with you, shoo, no I don’t care if there is a curfew and you are worried about getting eaten by Carnivorous Liver Birds, you should have thought of that earlier. Good night.

Oh, er, leave the bottle though….