Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s fearlessly feline friendly and glamorously gothic parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it the decimated shell of a disused fish factory where the stench of its previous occupants lingers like a putrid clarion call to every feral cat within a five mile radius, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us on this strange and calamitous Monday morning utterly overrun with cats. When we rented this place from the dashing scarecrow downstairs we did think we heard him mumble something about cats but we weren’t quite sure what it was. Now we would rather like to question him further on this point, however we’re a little nervous of disturbing him in case he asks for the rent, which of course we do not yet have.
The unhappy truth is that we have been gaining a new feline friend each morning since we moved in and, well, much as we adore their softness and purriness they are stretching our milk ration to the limit. Not to mention the fact that we are running out of names…hm? What’s that? Oh, Max says I should stop naming them and feeding them our milk ration. You know, for a Very Quiet Gentleman you can be quite cold Max. Quite, Cold.
We are listening to another Audaciously Awesome Audio tale in celebration of Poevember, this time read by Christopher Lee, and to accompany it , our nerve-settling brew this morning is Gin and tonic tea from Urban earth teas, This splendid green mate is bursting with juniper berries and complimented with a dash of citrus and mint.
Hm, you know after listening to that tale I can’t help thinking that it might be better if we could rid ourselves of these cats, you’d think that having a werewolf butler would be something of a deterrent but apparently not. Well perhaps our Oracular Cephalopterois will have some ideas…
Well I’m not sure what it thinks we can do, build a robot guard dog? Really that creature is absurd.
Ah, but now I think our tea is brewed and so there is nothing left for us to say except ‘chin chin’, we cordially invite you join us in the parlour again tomorrow for elevenses and so, until then be always,
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 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…
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…
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome, once again, to Max and Collin’s, phantasmagorically fabulous and wonderfully whimsical parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a roach-infested hovel fit only for harbouring the detritus of society, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us, on this enchanting afternoon, trying our hands at a spot of fairy catching… if the rumours are true and Lord Ashton really is going to open a portal in the aether and let fairies and Wiz-knows-what else through into our world then we really ought to be prepared!
Luckily we have found this splendid tutorial for creating a cunning fairy-trapping device, not that we are condoning cruelty to fairies of course but, you know, we need to think of the cake, there is so very precious little of it…
Splendid, so with a few of those around the place we are feeling much safer from the little winged tiffin-thieves, and we can settle ourselves back amongst the silk cushions and lemonade crates with a steaming brew of ‘Glashtyn’ rose and cinnamon tea.
Of course we could always try and blend in with the wee folk if they do decide to invade…
Well of course I have not forgotten that it is Thursday and, with our top hats dusted with glitter and our sparkly steampunk wings at the ready, we are ‘all punked up with no place to go’ so, let us peruse the society papers and see where we should be heading to this weekend….
On the 30th of October we have the Steampunk Time Fall Back Show by the British Horological Society.
St Annes are holding their annual Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball on saturday
Or if zombies are more your thing you could head for The Secret Zombie Ball
Or you could cram in an entire weekned of Victorian-themed fear at Lincoln Castle
Ah, but now I think our tea is brewed so we will wish you all a frightfully splendid Halloween weekend and see you back in one piece in the parlour on Monday. In the meantime, we hope you will join Perilous Wight for Pipe and Slippers in his lovely library tomorrow evening when he will be sharing something of ‘imaginative awesomeness’…or so he informs us…hopefully it isn’t his eulogy again…
So until then! Be always,
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome, once again, to Max and Collin’s, fabulously funky and yet still succulently sweet parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a slimy cesspool, filled with festering detritus but we have sent those people packing with a barrage of rotten fruit.
Today you find us still wallowing in apples and we are now using them to tell fortunes – yes that’s right, I have been unceremoniously forced into a dress and turban and decorated with jingling gold coins and Max is diligently trying to lure young women into the parlour with promises that we will, with our magic apples, reveal their romantic destiny.
We have not, so far, had any takers… which is a shame because we were hoping to raise enough money to pay our rent next month and avoid another violent landlordian outburst.
If you’d like to try our little trick for yourselves, simply peel an apple, trying to keep the entire peel in one piece, then toss the peel over your shoulder and try to decipher what letter/ s it most resembles. These are the initials of your future love.
Max got a C and a B and is definitely not amused.
Never mind, enough of this unfortuitous fruity nonsense because It is Thursday afternoon and, once I get out of this dress and into some fetching tweeds, we will be ‘all punked up with no place to go’ so, while we drown our sorrows in a steaming cup of Hairy Crab Oolong from TTime Organics, let us peruse the society papers and see where we should be heading to this weekend….
The League of Splendid’s ‘Splendid Day Out’ is here at last! It’s in Morecambe, Lancashire so if you are in the area, pop along and stock up on steampunk treats from the artisan market, indulge in a spot of tea duelling or tap your tentacles to tunes from Cauda Pavonis, Professor Elemental and more.
Or, looking further ahead, on the 24th of October the monthly Newark Steampunk Meet are holding their Halloween Event as well , while on the 30th of October we have the Steampunk Time Fall Back Show by the British Horological Society so, a very ‘timely’ thing to look forward to, eh?
Ah, but now I think our tea is brewed so we will wish you all a perfectly punktastic weekend
And see you in the parlour on Monday. In the meantime, we hope you will join Perilous Wight for Pipe and Slippers in his lovely library tomorrow evening when he will be sharing something of ‘extreme prodigiousness’…or so he informs us…hopefully it isn’t his tailoring bill…
So until then! Be always,
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is steampunk and fantasy author, Karen J Carlisle, writer of ‘Doctor Jack’ which Max and Collin recommended to us all on Monday. Good morning Karen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Tell me, have you brought along some soup to share with us?
“Thank you, Mrs Baker. I’ve got our version of homemade leek and potato soup. I grew the leeks myself. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 leeks (pale section) – thinly sliced
- 4 celery sticks – halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 4 zucchinis – quartered and thinly sliced
- 700g potatoes – peeled and cut into 1.5cm squares
- 1.5 L (6 cups) salt reduced chicken stock
- Handful of spring onions – chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan on low to medium heat. Add leek, celery and zucchini and cook until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes). Add potatoes and stock. Cover and heat on med to high heat, until boiling. Reduce to simmer and cook, partly covered, until the potatoes are soft (about 15 minutes).
You can feed a hungry horde of eight.”
Mmm, it smells delicious, and how wonderful that you grew the leeks yourself! Here in Lancaster, Lord Ashton is apparently building a sky-garden so that every resident can have their own vegetable plot so perhaps I will try my hand at leek growing too! Now then, while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about the heroine of your book series, Viola Stewart?
“Viola is an intelligent woman living in a man’s world. She studied, in Edinburgh, to become a doctor but was refused registration because of her sex. After her husband died, she became an optician. She is also an inventor, amateur detective and avid reader.”
Doctor Jack is based on the well-known London mystery of Jack The Ripper, however you manage to take the reader on an exciting and unexpected journey as Viola investigates, what inspired you to put a new twist on this famous tale?
“I was watching a documentary on Jack the Ripper and wondered what would happen if my recurring villains, The Society (aka the Men in Grey), tried to use him in their plans – and what if he had plans of his own? Of course, even the villain has a past – old acquaintances and a family. Perhaps he and Viola had already met? During my research I discovered little tit bits suggesting various alternatives to the traditional narrative.
I love ‘what ifs’.”
Ah, the old ‘what-if-itis’ … I believe it is the curse of every true steampunk! Now,the cover art and presentation of your books is absolutely beautiful, do you design the covers yourself?
“Yes, I do. After high school, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a writer, a photographer/cinematographer, an artist/designer, an astronaut, or the Doctor’s next companion. I wanted to do it all. I chose the safe option and finished a Bachelor of Applied Science in optometry. I recently changed careers (long story) and now I get to do photography, design, make book trailers as well as write. Perhaps I am trying to make up for lost time?”
My goodness you certainly have a lot of strings to your bow! And do you have any more mysteries for Viola to solve in the near future?
“Oh, yes. I’ve just published a second journal of Viola’s adventures, Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales, with a second set of short stories and a new novella. There’s mummies and curses and madness. I’ve already started working on the third book in the series.”
As well as writing wonderful books you are also a talented artist have you brought any of your work to show us today?
“I’m participating in Inktober again this year. Inktober is a concept, created by Jake Parker: 31 days, 31 inks. The aim of the project is to practice and improve my ink work and drawing skills. I post to my Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook pages.
This year I started with some characters you may recognise:
Viola Stewart and dear Doctor Henry Collins and Doctor Jack…”
“I’ve just released the Doctor Jack design as a t-shirt on my Redbubble store.“
Those really are amazing, Karen, and a t-shirt with Doctor Jack on the front sounds like a very splendid thing indeed, especially for Halloween! And do you have any new releases, workshops or events planned over the next few months?
“My short story, All that Glitters, is being published in an upcoming steampunk anthology, Den of Antiquity. It’s a story set in nineteenth century South Australia. I’m also attending a few local events: a local ‘mini comic con’ over the Halloween weekend – featuring local Adelaide writers, artists and comic book creators, and I have a table in the Artist Alley at Adelaide Supanova’s pop culture event, next month.”
Wonderful, so that is lots of places where fans can catch up with you! And now the all important question, I’ve heard that you are rather passionate about tea, but what is your favourite brew and how do you take it?
Max and Colin will be glad to hear you take your tea black! (or ‘neat’ as I think they term it.) you know, for an octopus, Collin has very strong opinions on adding milk to hot beverages.
Well now, here is your tea and thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Karen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you! Your home made soup smells delicious and I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?
“Definitely. And thanks for sharing your kitchen.”
A pleasure! Max and Collin will of course be ‘all punked up with no place to go’ tomorrow if you would care to join them in the parlour, and of course Peril will be sharing some fabulous fiction on Friday from his lovely library. I will be back next week with musician and youtuber Bellabeth giving me a hand to dish up the soup.
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope we are all feeling extremely eleven o’clockish because the time is, indeed, 11’o clock. So, step inside, take off your hat, hang up your parasol and make yourselves at home in Max and Collin’s perfectly polished and chichi-to-the-core parlour, located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some people have called it a rattling death wagon filled with bad apples and other forbidden fruit but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us this morning going dippy over apples – yesterday our afternoon stroll was intercepted by a band of oiks who thought it would be great sport to pelt us with the rock-like rounds of a nearby tree.
Never go up against myself and Max in a hurling match.
Of any description.
The cowards soon fled for their lives, dropping their fruity load, which we gathered up and are now having enormous amounts of fun dipping them into every sweet or sticky substance we can get our hands on.
If you find yourself the sudden owner of superfluous fruit and need some inspiration check out the link below, we really don’t think life holds greater pleasure than a plate full of huge glittery pink apples.
And whilst we wait for those beauties to dry and our delicious pumpkin pasty tea to brew – All that is needed now is some eleven o’clockish music to tap our tentacles to as we tuck in, No Lodging For The Mad? That seems appropriate, still, not for the faint heart ed perhaps…
Ah, awesomely audacious audios to usher in the afternoon! We wish you have a very sweet and sticky one, filled only with the very best apples, and hope you will join our dear witchy friend Mrs Albert Baker and the marvellous Karen J Carlisle in the soup kitchen tomorrow. Myself and Max will be back on Thursday with some tantalising Tea @ Three so, until then
Be always, Utterly Yourself.
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s predominately pristine and excessively existential parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a nightmarish landscape of unsavoury fancies and tasteless chinaware, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us on this, dark and sinister, Monday morning playing the knife game – which is a lot easier for Max than it is for me (five fingers, of course, being far easier to negotiate than eight tentacles). Of course we are using our beautiful new skull spoon from Wild and Violet instead of an actual dagger – daggers being horribly dangerous and un-gentlemanly things to go throwing about the tea table, all the same, a slip with a spoon can also cause the need for a doctor, and luckily we have one in the house today! (Albeit a rather deadly, knife-wielding one)
If you are not sure what the knife game is you can watch Bellabeth sing a lovely version of it here, also with spoons…
Bella will be joining our darling Kitchen Witch on the 26th October so there is a splendid thing to look forward to!
And speaking of things to look forward to, I cannot wait to get my tentacles into our book this morning…
Karen J Carlisle has created a captivating steampunk series with her heroine, Viola Stewart – a widowed optician with a talent for detecting.
This book has the same comforting familiarity of picking up a Conan Doyle or an Agatha Christie but enough uniqueness in terms of plot and character to keep us on the edge of our leather armchairs throughout – you know by the end of the second page that you are both ‘in safe hands’ and ‘in for a thrilling ride’ – Most of us have heard the tales of Jack The Ripper but this new version goes beyond the common knowledge to reveal a chilling world of Grey-clad conspirators in which Viola must keep her wits about her if she is going to uncover the truth and survive.
Karen will be helping in The Soup Kitchen on Wednesday so make sure you drop by for a taste of her lovely home cooking and to hear more about Viola and her adventures…
But for now, just while our marvellous teapot is brewing us a nerve-settling sup of Monkey Picked Oolong by the Kent Tea And Coffee Company, (gosh, what are they playing at getting monkeys to pick tea? Reminds me of all that hard labour harvesting seaweed in The Sunken City) let us carefully place our oracular cephalopterois into his cup of hot water and see what futuristic fantasies it has to show us this morning…
Well, that is a little worrying to say the least…let’s hope that we never have such problems here in The New World, can’t have the tea plantations put into jeopardy! And think of the wheat! No wheat – no cake… now that is a spine-chilling thought!
But enough morbidity for now, 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 perfectly perilous morning dusted with dastardly delights, and we invite you back to join us in the parlour tomorrow for elevenses so until then
Be always, utterly yourself
Good evening and welcome to my alluring athenaeum of litigious librettos…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have blundered in here on the ill-advice of a cross-dressing witch and her soup-slurping orphans, let me assure you that you will find no noodle-ish nonsense or brothly behaviour here!
Here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!
But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? La fée verte? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something; the day has, after all, been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,
like this perhaps…
This story is taken from the folk tale anthology Gather Around The Flame, the profits from which are donated to the homeless charity, Shelter. It is based on a ghost story from Windsor Forest, Berkshire.
Once upon a wood, this wood in fact, this very wood we breathe into ourselves this eve. Its heavy vapours wind their fingers through our cords, into our minds, green and bronze, dripping with deer scent and dew, the divine musk of fern and mould-rich earth.
Ease into the night, friends, its cool breath a cloak to cradle us, breathe in its riches, deep into your soul.
Once upon this wood, there was a tree. A tree of terrors and angels, they say, monstrous giants and fantastical beasts. The essence of all the worlds, they say (the old ones, who would remember), is spun like moth silk through its branches.
A mythical tree, perhaps. And yet here it stands. Its branches upholding the weight of the evening sky; the mauving fabric of a tent above our heads. Feel that it is real, friends. Press your palms against its rough skin, deeply burst open with the glut of memories it strains to hold. Circle your arms around its trunk, press ear and cheek and hear the thrumming veins – up from the well of life, out from the marrow of the earth’s great bones it sucks the blood of warrior and priest, martyr and maiden and every other that has watered the ground with the crimson ink of their history and ever, ever will.
A mythical tree, perhaps. But here it stands. And you sit beneath it, very patiently, waiting for its story. For your story. Well, and so here it is, a story of hoof and horn for these darkling days of satellite and silicone.
Once upon this wood, upon this tree, there hung a man.
Ah, but as I’m sure you know, every tale that begins with a man on a tree must end with a woman. Or else it may be the other way around, right? Such is the way of our island stories, though other nations may mock us for it I’m sure. Still, there it is.
But let us start this tale at the beginning, as I say, with this particular man. And his name, my friends, is Herne.
Richard Horne was a gamekeeper, here in this wood, the greatest gamekeeper the wood has ever seen, so they say. But it wasn’t always like that, oh no. When Richard was a lad, of just around sixteen years, or so I’m told, he was here a-poaching. Not pheasant or hare as his friends would, oh no, Richard had his sights on greater game, and not for his pot but for his pride he walked the forest floor one night, in what he thought was silence at that time, stalking the scent of a young stag. But just as he had the creature in his sights, a hand he feels upon his shoulder, ah-ah! And young Richard quails, for young Richard is now caught and he knows what fate must have in store for him.
But when the poor lad turns to look his apprehender in the face he sees, not the keeper, nor one of his groundsmen, but a lady. A Lady of the Wood, or so she must be he thinks, for her skin is the green-gold of opening ferns, her hair is soft oak grey and birch silver and her eyes are dark and moon-licked like pools that collect in the folds of roots and earth. On her head she wears the curling antlers of a great stag and her clothes are laced up animal skins, scraped clean, worn soft and bleached pale.
“Leave him, Horne.” she whispers, her voice like rain in honey comb, secret and sweet. “Leave him go and I will teach thee something. Men eat deer flesh and they think this way they will become the beast. But they become only more themselves, more and more man. Come with me, Man, and I will show thee how to become Him. How to become the beast. Then you will hunt for me and your quarry will be man-flesh. Come with me, Richard Horne, and I will give thee a new name, and a crown and I shall be thy Lady.”
Well, what should young Richard do? What would any man do I ask you? He jumped to his feet and, cap in hand, he followed the green lady into the wood.
Well now, a time or two and a half went by and by again and there came a vacancy for the post of park keeper over there, up at the old lodge, you know, and the days became weeks and the weeks became a month and still no one was found who was able enough to take the post on. Meanwhile of course the lodge keeper was at his wits end, even as the poachers were in their element, and he vowed most earnestly to accept the very next applicant for the post, be he who it please God, he did not care.
Well then, close to the dusk of a day not unlike the one that we have just had, there came a man. He was dressed head to foot in animal hides, crudely laced together, worn soft and bleached pale. His skin was the puckered gold of walnuts after the frosts have bitten them brown and pinched them up and his eyes were the silver grey of island sky and rock and rain. On his feet he wore great boots of shaggy brown fur and from out his head of long wiry hair, two massive antlers curled like a warrior’s crown.
The lodge keeper was assuredly taken aback by the stranger’s appearance but, in some doubt of the man’s sanity, he refrained from conveying his astonishment and, being by now in desperate need, he agreed to give the man a trial of one week. If he could rid the park of its plague of, now flagrant, poachers, he could keep the job.
But when he tried to show the man his lodgings, outfit him with his uniform and acquaint him with the various traps and weapons he might employ to carry out his duties, the stranger quietly declined all that was offered, stating simply that he would have no use for them. Feeling now both bemused and intrigued, the lodge keeper shrugged and asked the man if he wouldn’t at least give his name?
“Herne.” was the reply. And with it the stranger walked with quiet confidence out into the gathering shades of night.
The lodge keeper scratched his head and damned himself for being an old fool in allowing a simple minded man to walk out to his certain death at the hands of the merciless poachers, with nothing to protect himself but a comical piece of headwear. Then he turned to his stove and his kettle and his pipe for an hour and, when no screams were heard or ill news brought up to him, he scratched his head again and went to bed.
The next morning the lodge keeper awoke and, curious to know what had befallen the new game keeper (for he was certain it could be nothing good), he took up his flask of brandy and his stoutest staff and strolled out into the dew-jewelled grounds, all hung about with a soft white veil of mist that was rising away fast to reveal the tender glow of a buttermilk sun in the soft grey sky.
He had not gone far when his curiosity was slaked for there, striding through the tall white grasses of the grazing land, was Herne himself. Well, you can be sure the lodge keeper was both amazed and relieved and he hailed the new gamekeeper at once and asked him how he had passed the night.
“Well enough.” was the reply “I met with ten who had no rightful business here, to one I dealt justice as the law of the wood decrees, perhaps only nine will come tonight.”
The lodge keeper was impressed and he scratched his head and said so. “And now” he continued “I suppose you are wanting your meat and your bed and well, it seems to me, you deserve it.”
But Herne merely shook his head “All the meat and rest I require” he said quietly “I have already taken.” and with that he nodded his great antlered head and continued his pace across the grass. The lodge keeper watched him go, until he was swallowed up by the curve of a high- brackened mound, and then he scratched his head and went about his own business for the rest of the day.
Well, the days that followed passed in an almost identical fashion, each morning the lodge keeper would take his constitutional before beginning his day’s work, each day he would, at some point, meet with Herne, and each day the game keeper’s remarks would be the same.
He had started work upon the Monday. On Tuesday he reported meeting “nine who had no rightful business here, to one I dealt justice, as the law of the wood decrees, perhaps only eight will come tomorrow.” By Friday eight had become six, come Monday again and the number was down to three and so, you see, the lodge keeper was well pleased, and he said so, for never had the park known such a keeper that could dwindle the number of poachers and bring them to justice so speedily and with such quiet confidence.
Well now, on Tuesday evenings ‘twas the lodge keeper’s habit of strolling out of the park grounds, down the lane to the village and a little further on to the White Hart, where he was wont to share his wages with the landlord in exchange for a fair portion of meat, a fair portion of ale and a fair portion of the gossip he had missed in the days since his last visit (for life up at the park, you must understand, was one of isolation from the comings and goings of the village itself).
On this particular Tuesday, he happened to be sharing the bar with the village constable and the lodge keeper could not resist singing the praises of his new gamekeeper, and was the constable not impressed with the regular flow of poachers this Herne was bringing his way down at the station?
To his dismay, however, the constable’s face darkened. No, he had never met this man, Herne. No, no poachers had been arrested, not his knowledge anyroad, but for the last few days his own hours had been occupied in trying to solve the mystery of a number of ‘well-known’ young men from the village who had, or so it would seem, vanished from their beds without anyone being able to say where or why they had gone.
Driven by intrigue, and a grim sense of foreboding, the two men hastily finished their drinks and, arming themselves against any possible violence, they made their way quickly to the park, hoping to tie the knot in the end of these uncanny coincidences.
The moonlit sweeps of the gently undulating parkland were, as they had expected, quiet and vacant but, as they made their way into the woods, they were struck instantly by a queer and unsettling sound. At first they took it to be the gentle knocking of the tree boughs above their heads but, as their foray took them deeper into the thickets, they were not so certain. Surely tree boughs did not sway so rhythmically, surely their resonance was not so hollow, their chime not so faintly melodic? But what, in a wood, if not tree boughs, could be knocking together to produce such an eerie symphony?
Their curiosity was soon satisfied when, to their horror, they turned the corner of a small earth mound they had been skirting and beheld the thing they had been seeking.
There sat Herne, cross legged on the bare earth, amid a small grove of dark, towering yew trees. His eyes were closed, his great antlered head was raised towards the stars and around the glade, from the boughs of every tree, hung seven human skeletons, each perfectly in-tact, stripped clean of flesh and swaying gently in the breeze like seven ghastly windchimes.
“Two walk this wood, who have no rightful business here,” Herne said softly, not bothering to open his eyes or make any other movement. “Perhaps tomorrow, there will be none.” and with that he leapt at them with gnashing teeth and a hunger in his eyes as that of a wild beast. He fell upon the lodge keeper first and his strength was immense, bowling him over into the dirt as a wolf might flaw a rabbit. But the constable was too quick for him and, drawing his cudgel, he struck the wild man across his temple, below the crown of horns. Blood spilled instantly and Herne collapsed, leaving the grateful lodge keeper trembling and breathless but unharmed.
The constable’s blow was not fatal but Richard Horne never regained his senses. They hung him from this very tree, or so I have been told, and before his breath could leave his body, a strange lady, dressed in green velvet, with a crown of gold upon her head, came and kissed his lips and drew his soul away with her, vanishing into the woods over there, from where, they say, she had first come.
Now on many a full-mooned night, such as this, Herne and his Lady walk the park and sit below this tree and talk and laugh and make merry beneath the stars. If you have business here, they will leave you to it so, let us leave them to theirs now, for it is well known in these parts that they who bring peace into a place, will find peace in it, but they who carry evil, will find evil waiting for them there with hungry eyes and sharp, sharp teeth.
Hmm? What’s that you say? Very real evil waiting for you outside in the form of flesh-eating Liver Birds? Well, you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! No I am not reading you ‘just one more’ this is not some bedtime story hour I am running here! You can tell that lunatic witch, when you see her, to stop sending people down here to bother me with their ‘special requests’ I have serious work to be getting on with. Good night.
Oh, er, leave the bottle though….
all images used with kind permission from http://www.freeimages.com
Good 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….