Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “halloween

#MythpunkMonday: Monstrous Punk

Happy #MythpunkMonday! And happy Halloween / Samhain / Candyfest, whatever you happen to be celebrating at this time! In my house we use this time to remember our dead, to explore liminality and, of course, to stuff ourselves silly with sweet treats! We’re lucky enough now to live in a community where the whole neighbourhood hypes-up for trick or treating and everyone decorates their houses and gardens and opens their doors to the little goblins and witches who drop by to wish each family the best of the season – it’s like carol singing with a ghoulish twist!

So here is a little snippet from Mahrime, the title piece of my mythpunk collection ‘Mahrime – mythpunk for monsters’ . In this part a city girl makes a pact to save a nearby forest, each night she lets a scarlet cord down from her window for the monsters who live within it to climb up and they reward her in an unusual way…

 

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 Del 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 dikhlo?

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.

 

If you enjoyed this snippet you can read the whole story here on Vocal…

https://poets.media/mahrime

And if you’d like to buy me a brew to help fuel my next outpouring of mischievous mythpunkery you can find me on Ko-Fi

https://ko-fi.com/pennyblake

 

Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday and do feel free to join in and share your own / others mythpunk creations either using the hashtag or in the comments here!

 

 


#FridayFilk: Banned From Hogwarts

What the hell, it’s cold outside, the days are dark here so I thought I’d bring back the old Friday Filk posts for a while – a series of silly songs perfect for getting you kicked out of your local pub, library, place of worship or geography lesson. Mostly old stuff, just for a laugh, but maybe some new things will raise their heads as well, let’s see.

Not sure what Filk is? Well, thanks to a typo in a magazine waaaaaayyyyyy back, ‘Filk Music’ is the folk music of the geek community. Legend has it that it started at a con with WGGL (We’re Going to Get Lynched for doing this!) and now has spread world wide. There are many respected Filk artists from Leslie Fish and Heather Alexander to Not Literally and Random Encounters.

 

You know Leslie Fish’s Banned From Argo? Of course you do. If you don’t, it’s here:

 

So, here’s my HP version 😉

 

Banned from Hogwarts

 

When we pulled into Hogsmead station on the red express 

Bushy tailed and bright eyed in our robes dressed to impress

We had high expectations of the things we would achieve

But poor Hogwarts was not prepared for wizards such as we 

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

 

We are the Weasley twins there is no trick that we won’t try

To make filch pull his hair out or to make old Umbridge cry

Our skiving snacks, of which we’re proud, are famed throughout the school

And with our fireworks as well we’ve flouted every rule 

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

 

We’ve fought snakes, spiders, trolls, dragons and we think we’re pretty cool

There’s not a rule together we’ve not broken in this school

We crashed a flying car into an ancient willow tree

And there’s no point in doing homework coz we’ve got Hermione

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

 

I really cannot see that I have done anything wrong

Alright I served the dark lord, but it wasn’t for that long

I may have let a few death eaters in through a secret door

And set a few classrooms ablaze and threatened Dumbledore

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

I really didn’t think that it would end this way it’s true 

I think the trouble all began the day I started SPEW 

And then I formed a secret army to defeat the ministry

Now I’m on the run stuck in a tent with Ron and Harry 

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

 

It’s Remus’ fault if he’d not been a werewolf we would not

Have become animagi all and added to this plot

Although we always would have made Snape’s life a misery

And showed the world his underpants so James could have Lilly 

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

 

My name is Tom but I prefer The Dark Lord, that’s more cool

You amateurs can’t match the things that I’ve done in this school

Killed mudbloods with a basilisk, let it out through a porthole

And murdered to make horcruxes and become immortal 

 

But now we’re banned from Hogwarts every one 

Banned from Hogwarts just for having a little fun 

We did our best to fit in there and please old Dumbledore 

But Hogwarts doesn’t want us anymore 

 

 

 


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.’ 

old-library-1571043.jpg

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


Morning Cuppa: Boston Metaphysical Society

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to Max and Collin’s fabulously fangtastic parlour located somewhere along the seasonably chilled spine of the splendidly scenic city of Steampunk’d Lancaster.

True some have called it a dreadful place inhabited  by frightful fiends and plagued by the occasional bad tempered Wight, but we consider that such people are merely getting a little carried away with their seasonal shenanigans.

You find us this morning in haste, our paper bags empty, our turnips carved and our faces painted with… stuff… because it is never really too early to begin trick or treating is it? Certainly we were attacked by a group of urchins over the  weekend dressed in panda masks and donkey heads and demanding sustenance and shelter and illegal sugar laden treats. So we are off now to see if we can score something for ourselves on that front…

But before we do, there is (always) just about time to kick our tentacles up on the table for  a moment and enjoy a festival-fuelling brew of Hershel’s Tonic and some seaonally spooky and splendidly steampunkish fiction, which we fortunately happen to have right here…

 

This is the prequel to Madeleine Holly-Rosing’s series of graphic novels, Boston Metaphysical Society. It is our first foray into this series and we are now absolutely hooked and ready to follow these characters and their fascinating world through whatever paranormal encounters and mysterious adventures await them in the next few books.

The set of seven individual short stories includes The Secret, The Devil Within (which was our favourite) , The Demons Of Liberty Row, The Secret Of Kage House, Steampunk Rat, The Clockwork Man and The Way Home. All are set in a re-imagined Steampunk America where the paranormal is… ah… normal! … and it is the primary purpose of society’s commoners to ensure these ghostly goings on do not interrupt the peaceful existence of the wealthy elite.

There are plenty of thrills, mysteries and intrigues inside this rather delightfully gothic-feeling collection; historical references aplenty for those of you who, like us, just go gooey over mash-ups and hat-tips and the like, and it will certainly appeal to anyone who likes the focus of their Steampunk to be on the everyday working classes rather than the upper.

What attracted us most though was the obvious depth and heart pervading each tale and we really felt that if we could fall in love with the characters in such small glimpses, then following them on through the rest of their adventures was absolutely obligatory – we’re very excited to see where life will take them all next!

If you have already read and enjoyed the comics / graphic novels in this series then we are willing to bet you will love these short stories which will no doubt add colour and depth to both the characters and world you already know. If, like us, this is your first encounter with the series, then this little collection is a lovely introduction and, as it has a nice little preface to set the scene before you dive in, it is a perfect place to begin.

 

Now then, we must delay no longer, the candy calls, as they say – do they say that? Possibly, either way we wish you a splendiferously spooky build up to the big bad treat-fest (whatever you call it in your dimension) and until we see you again,

Please remain always

Utterly Yourself


Soup Kitchen: Steampunk in Stroud with Hopeless, Maine

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!

But this morning the urchins and I are popping on our knitted gloves and woolly mittens, straddling my emergency-extendable-mini-bus-broom  and with a little bit of magic and aether-net-technology we will take you with us on a very special Halloweenish expedition to Stroud where Nimue and Tom Brown, the evil geniuses behind the creation of our favourite Gothic Island – Hopeless, Maine – have been slaving away to bring together the most splendiferous display of arts and crafts inspired by life on a small gothic island…

 

 

Oh how marvellous! Thankyou so much to Mr Brown, our tour guide, for showing us around!

The exhibition is on in The Gallery at Lansdown Hall , Stroud until the 5th of November if you are able to pop in and say hello and culminates with the ‘Strange Soiree’ a chance to “meet the residents of Hopeless Maine, a fictional island off the coast of Maine and the setting of a graphic novel by Tom and Nimue Brown. Be prepared for an evening of gothic fantasy with a twist of steampunk and unruly magic, which aims to surprise, bemuse and enchant. There will be readings from local authors who have joined the project and songs from this strange island.”

 

A very happy Halloween / Samhain to you all from myself and all of us in Lancaster!

Blessings on your brew my dears!


Elevenses: Novel Tea

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s gloriously ghoulish and curiously cat infested  parlour located somewhere within the alimentary canal of that splendidly scenic city of Lancaster.

True our psychotic landlord may have banished us to this dank and dingy dungeon, but anyone who would be crest fallen by such a turn of events has obviously never stood in their night dress fighting off flesh eating Liver Birds with nothing but a teapot and a book of mostly awful poetry.

Hm? Yes I have a night dress…. well how the hell do you imagine an octopus can fit into trousers? Really! A-hem….

You find us this morning in outrage because our puppet mistress, Penny, is keeping a very dark and dirty secret. At least she thinks she is. But we know what is going on. Having been very loudly and vociferously against the notion of National Novel Writing Month since its inception, she has decided to turn traitor on us and sign up for this year’s event. She has told no one. She is hiding her evil nano-notebook inside a waterproof zip lock bag inside the toilet cistern, ready to fake daily bouts of dysentery in order to complete her ridiculous writing goals in secret. But she is fooling no one. Least of all us.

We should state that our collective objections thus far have been that, while there is no harm in a person trying to have a bit of fun and create something fabulous along the way,  to stipulate what a novel can and can’t be is to cut a huge number of people out of the novel creating and consuming world. So why is she doing this? She has obviously gone mad through lack of tea.

Max has optimistically suggested that she is only trying a splash of espionage and has cunningly infiltrated the machine to bring it crumbling to the ground from within. But personally I consider even such a move to be highly treacherous, traitorous, untrustworthy and utterly unacceptable and I for one cannot bring myself to look her in the eye. Which is making the whole morning routine very difficult indeed.

But never fear! We in the parlour remain stoic to the cause and so, to combat this fever of driving oneself into an early tomb trying to write 50,000 words or more in a month, we will instead be exploring and celebrating absinthlutely everything that a novel can and should be other than a book of 50,000 words or so. 

A lot of our time this month will be spent working with urchins who process audio and visual information differently from most other people, and helping them to explore and celebrate their own writing and story crafting, so we will be posting activities that are inclusive and open the world of ‘novel writing’ to a much wider field of participant and audience.

So to kick us off on our Nano-free-November, we give you ….

TEA BAG NOVELS

(didn’t see that coming now did you?)

 

These are teeny weeny tight little tales that can be stapled into a book using tea bags as pages (or if you are very clever, a single tea bag!) Dry out your used tea bags on a plate (different teas will give you a variety of coloured pages, strawberry -red, blueberry – purple, Matcha – green, Redbush – orange, apple – grey, turmeric – yellow)

When dry, cut along one edge with a pair of scissors, then carefully scrape out the dried tea inside.

Write your novel in fine line ink pen or ball point, being careful to use the perforated edge as a margin.

When you have finished, pile your pages on top of each other in the correct order and stitch or staple your book together along the margin edge.

Voila! Will be ding this today with our little Lancastrian urchins and so here is our ‘one we did earlier’ example…

img_6471-e1509439251433.jpg

And in case you can’t read the awful tentacular scrawl, here is the text…

Frogs’ Legs  

We met under a gut-punched sky, the raindrops racing down the tight screen of slipped out breath that caught in the space between our two neon egos – spitting sparks in the downpour.

Through a fudge of boiled rice conversation, I reached inside your brine and found the chalk of you ; graffiti-scarred myself, in fingernail wounds, into your smoothness and laughed .

“Give me back my soul,” I said, “I dropped it into the amber jewel pool of your eyes, while I was playing with your innards.”

“That’s not your soul,” you said, “that is only the sun, a bright gold ball reflected.”

I called you, “Toad,” and ran. The grass, like bottle glass, cut my feet and you, Hunter, licked up that garnet trail all the slow way to my door.

You dined on my defeat. Delivered up on plates of gold: pomegranate, passion, fig all patulous ; ‘Cuisses de Nymphe a l’Aurore’.

Ever after then, you bound me in a forest of words, so that I lie now: Ophelia and inked-over by your own tongue.

I blink out, through the black-string bars of a story that I refuse, still, to claim and reach for each new princess as if, through her, I could regain a purchase on the world and stand again – under that bruised sky; a spectrum of spilled blood, pooling under porcelain…

If, then I would make my order quick – ‘Cuisses de grenouille’ – end you with a finger lick.

 

 

We wish you a fiendishly festive Halloween / Samhain / All Saints / Souls / Day / Night / Thing whatever it is you humans are celebrating right now (so confusing) and hope you survive the night and will join Mrs B in her soup kitchen tomorrow, until then

Please be always

Utterly Yourself

 


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 …

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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: Loli Phabay!

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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!

Now then, my dears, you may have heard of our new government health scheme here in Ire, whereby the Wizards are dumping barrels full of ‘perfectly imperfect’ fruit on the street corners of areas of social and economic deprivation, such as ours, and indicating that consuming these rat-and-fly-magnets would be beneficial to the poor street urchins’ health.

Subsiding on purple seaweed and government-issued tinned tomato soup is the best our poor Lancastrian urchins can hope for in life, so I thought I would pep up these maggot-ridden and sadly rather rancid ‘gifts’ by turning them into the traditional Rromani autumnal treat ‘Loli Phabay’ – or as most of you may know it ‘Toffee Apples.’

“Loli Phabay” translates to English as ‘Red Apple’ and during the early 1900s, (and perhaps even before) Rromani street sellers could be found throughout the autumn and winter with baskets and barrows full of these sticky toffee covered apples on sticks. The cry of “Loli Phabay!” (which is pronounced ‘Lol – ee – pab – eye’ ) soon turned to ‘Loli Pub’ and is where we get the term ‘Lolly Pop’ for the round red candy treats on sticks which look so similar.

Back in those days cinnamon was used to colour the candy mixture red. History doesn’t tell us for certain who invented the toffee apple, or precisely when – I suspect it was some ‘historically insignificant’ mother or baker in her kitchen, or by her cooking fire and we will never know her name – but William W. Kolb, a New York candy maker, was certainly selling red candy apples in 1908.

I am going to use red food colouring to colour my apple candy and, if you’d like to join me, here is Penny’s family recipe which I will be using…

  1. Pour half a large bag of sugar into a medium saucepan with enough water to cover it.
  2. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add a little bottle of glycerine and bring to a rapid boil. Put a glass of water in the fridge or freezer.
  4. Continue to boil rapidly until a tsp of the mixture dropped into the cold water forms brittle strands that crack easily. (This will take a very long while and you must be extremely careful as burns from the boiling sugar can be extremely serious.)
  5. When the toffee has reached this ‘hard crack’ stage, turn off the heat and allow it to cool for a moment before stirring in 1-4 tsp of liquid red food colour.
  6. Insert wooden skewers (or inverted dessert spoons if you have no skewers to hand) into each apple and dip them into the toffee, being very careful not to burn yourself on the hot toffee. Transfer the apples to a cold plate or tray and pour more toffee over the top to coat them.
  7. Allow the Loli Phabay to cool completely and harden before you serve them!
  8. Be sure to instruct your little urchins NOT to use the apples as missiles to terrorise innocent Octopi and their Very Quiet Gentlemen Friends once they have nibbled all the candy off.

 

And if you’d like to add a more modern twist to your apples you can try dipping them in chopped nuts or sugar strands before they harden, using green or black food colouring or even edible glitter, or coating them in melted chocolate instead… (yes, that is a spoon, they are much safer than skewers if your urchins are very little!)

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Enjoy your autumnal celebrations,whatever shape or form they take,

Blessings on your brew my dears!

 

Andro verdan drukos nane
Man pirani shukar nane
Loli phabay precinava
Hop, hop, hop
Jekvash tuke, jekvash mange
Hop, hop, hop.

 


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!


Tea @ Three: Winging it…

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,

Utterly Yourself.

 

 

 


Elevenses: Fairly Fragile

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 cloak, hang up your fangs and make yourselves at home  in  Max and Collin’s veritably verve and queasily quixotic  parlour, located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.

True, perhaps, some people have called it a mere figment of some lunatic tea-addict’s over-active imagination, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

Today you find us trembling in our boots after a night full of dreadful disturbances and utterly appalling apparitions, which we are certain has nohing to do with our over indulgence in fairies yesterday morning. Still we will be glad when this season of ghoulish ghostiness is at an end and we can settle back into the company of more everyday monsters such as psychotic scarecrow landlords and hybrid vampire squid.

Now then, we are both feeling a little delicate and thankfully our lovely werewolf butler has nosed out some dainty and delicate delightfulness to ease us into the afternoon, Betty Crocker Style…

witches broom cookies.jpg

Ah, witches, maybe they aren’t so bad after all? They’re broomsticks are certainly tasty and they seem to make good soup… which reminds me that Bellabeth will be joining our own Kitchen Witch for Soup Of The Day tomorrow, so don’t miss out on that will you? And we will be back in the parlour on Thursday with some tremendous Tea @ Three but for now let us tune in to something soul stirring while we nibble on these tasty treats,

 

Splendid! We wish you a most enchanting afternoon and until we see you again please,

be always, Utterly Yourself

 

 


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!

 

 


Tea @ Three: Fiends of Fortune

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.

Apparently.

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,

Utterly Yourself.


Soup of the day: With Karen J Carlisle

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.”

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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…”

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day-4-henry-collins-for-sharon_copyright2016karencarlisle1

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“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?

“Ah, tea! My favourite brew is Prince of Wales or T2’s Black Rose, depending on my mood. Black, no sugar, in my favourite fine china teacup, thank you.”

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!


Elevenses: Bad Apples

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.

Fools.

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.

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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.


Morning Cuppa: In need of a doctor…

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…

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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


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.

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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…

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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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tea @Three: All Punked Up With No Place To Go

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome, once again, to Max and Collin’s perpetually private and extensively exquisite parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.

True, perhaps, some have called it a Hull-spawned roach-hole unfit for human habitation which contravenes every health and safety law in the history of The New World, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

Our teatime today is plagued with slime. As an octopus, one is of course used to a certain amount of fluid seeping from one’s glands, however an octopus with a cold, as Max has quite rightly pointed out, is simply ‘not amusing.’

Fortunately our tea today is none other than ‘Kiss My Crossbow’ by Fandom Teas– a super strength oolong that should blast away all traces of this wretched cold. Our Oracular Cephalopterois (That’s a hybrid cross between a lion fish and a vampire squid…in case you were wondering) tells us we should expect a heatwave in the next few days. A heatwave? I ask you! The things that creature would have us believe…

But enough of that nonsense! It is Thursday afternoon and Max and I are ‘all punked up with no place to go’ so, while the pot is brewing, let us peruse the society papers and see where we should be heading to this weekend….

The National Tramway Museum in Critch, Derbyshire is holding a Steampunk Theme Day from 10am until 5pm on Saturday 8th October. There will be tea duelling, dancing dolls, storytelling, steampunk weapons display and beautiful market stalls selling all kinds of crafts and curiosities.

Or, looking further ahead, (always advisable where tickets have to be booked) I see that The League of Splendid are planning another Splendid Day Out–  on the 22nd of October in Morecambe, Lancashire. It looks set to be a smaller but just as marvellous event with artisan market, tea duelling and entertainment from Cauda Pavonis, Professor Elemental and more.

And on the 24th of October the monthly Newark Steampunk Meet are holding their Halloween Event as well so, all good things to look forward to.

Ah, but now I think our tea is brewed and it is time for us to recline back amongst the crates and cushions and wait for the sun to set and the hoards of flesh-eating birds to descend upon the streets of Lancaster. There’s something rather comforting about having your tentacles wrapped around a warm mug of chai, listening to the screams of all those poor unfortunate souls who tried to break their curfew… mmmm…

We will not be back in the parlour now until Monday but we hope you will join Perilous Wight for Pipe and Slippers in his lovely library tomorrow, when he will be sharing something of ‘superfluous literary magnitude’…or so he informs us…hopefully it isn’t something dreary he has penned himself…

So until then! Be always,

Utterly Yourself.