|Posted on Sunday, June 06, 2004 - 07:05 am: |
My novella 'Strollers' has been published for the first time here:
|Posted on Sunday, September 19, 2004 - 03:56 am: |
Brand new stories. Two new blogs added here in Contents to publish brand new DFL stories for the first time:
|Posted on Saturday, September 25, 2004 - 04:32 am: |
The first item in a new thread linked to and from the gigantic
NUMINOUS MEGAZANTHUS project.
First published 'the kore' 1994
My custom was to explore secondhand bookshops at the slightest opportunity. It needed guile to shake off my wife and children - but, one day, I had a rare success in subterfuge. We were about to traipse around a toy museum near the sea front and, without giving them a chance to reply, I told them that I would be back in half an hour to conduct them onwards to the various amusements on the pier that needed coins in the slots.
I had indeed spotted a wondrous curiosity shop on the approach to the toy museum, hidden to the view of my wife and children (and of most other visitors, too). But my expert tunnel vision having picked it out down a sunless alley, I was convinced by my instinct that it would purvey a veritable trove of dusty books. And I was not mistaken. However, it proved not very different from what I imagined the toy museum to be, since in every corner there seemed to reside many ancient jacks-in-the-box, china dolls, pop-up nursery rhyme books and colourful whips and spinning-tops - but here they were for sale rather than show. If I had known, I could have killed two birds with one stone by bringing my family here.
The books themselves were a dream. First editions galore with lightly pencilled prices on the fly-leaves, some even within the range of my purse. Others, of course, not. Many were Victorian, but mostly hardbacks (with original dust-wrappers) from the twenties, thirties and forties, children's dreams and adults' fancies.
I was surprised to discover an old stamp album: full of colourful squares, oblongs and triangles (and even one trapezium from Darkest Africa), carefully affixed with sticky paper hinges. I imagined a child (now grown into an adult more long in the tooth even than myself) meticulously wielding tweezers, positioning his prize specimens at the optimum angle and sitting back sighing with pride. This boy would have eschewed even playtime in the sunshine for such a close-ordered activity.
My surprise was generated by the fact that such an article was stacked with the secondhand books, bulging as it was with well-hung stamps. Some of the stamps looked "rare", but many must have been gathered together from a lucky-dip selection which children used to obtain by sending off a coupon from the Tiger or Lion or Eagle comics. The stamps used to come "on approval". But there were some examples of stamps in this album that I had not been able to even dream about when I was that age.
I covetted that album more than anything I could recall covetting before. I held a whole childhood between my fingers. But there was no price pencilled, presumably because the fly-leaf was covered with a highly stylised map of the world. So, that was where Saar was. And Andorra, San Marino, British Honduras, Monaco and St Helena. Nobody ever seemed surprised that most of these small places had outlandishly large postage stamps. I looked round for the shop counter, fully expecting a wizened old man to be stationed behind it - one with pipe, toothbrush moustache and eyes bleary from poring over small print. But this was a day full of surprises - since a girl of surpassing beauty smiled at me from behind the counter, appearing as cool as her flowingly diaphonous dress of white.
I collected my family who were impatiently kicking their heels outside the museum. Apparently, it was a natural history exhibition. Why I had originally thought it was a toy museum, I could not now fathom. What was abundantly clear, my wife and children had been bored and decidedly crotchety at my lengthy absence from their party. I blamed it on having been cut short and the nearest convenience a fair step away on the sea front. And it had not been a particular pleasure, I assured them, standing next to all those sweaty individuals in trunks. But my family soon oozed forgiveness when I changed my remaining ten bob note for 120 pennies at the amusement arcade on the pier. The old wizened fellow who sat behind the copper towers in the change booth actually winked at me. He looked decidedly unhinged.
As I tried my luck on the fortune-wheel, which was supposed to give some inkling into one's future love life and luck, I suddenly wondered why stamp collections always used to be conducted by short-arse boys who did not have many friends with whom to go scrumping apples or building dens. I could not possibly imagine those unattainable angelic girls of my lonely childhood abandoning their china dolls and dressing-up hampers for such close-ordered activities as mounting stamps.
The fortune-wheel did not record any romance in store for me. In fact, the bad luck it indicated seemed to start with me somehow losing the stamp album soon afterwards. Like the beautiful ghost, it must have slipped through my fingers.
|Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 01:34 am: |
The second item in a new thread linked to and from the gigantic NUMINOUS MEGAZANTHUS project.
Description Of A Kitchen Event
First published 'The Bibliofantastic' 1999
Will and Murphy sensed their kitchen had ghosts. Many confirmed it after the Event.
In hindsight, ‘Event’ was a strange word to call it. In the old days, there were ‘happenings’ which students, in the name of art, wrote, painted or enacted with crazy abandon. Will and Murphy had been such sixties swingers when flower power and drugs were all the rage - And, it was with some rage that, today, they found themselves owning a house which was virtually unsaleable because of its kitchen’s gradually inferred reputation as a hive of ghosts ... unless, of course, they found two equally gullible mugs to buy it off them.
Will was a sturdy, six-foot sixty year old, still bearing the good looks of his youth. Greying at the temples. Murphy was not Murphy’s real name. It was the pet name Will had for her. Murphy’s Law - known to some as Sod’s - was a well tried and tested rule of thumb which implied if you were going to drop some toast with marmalade on, it would sure damn well drop marmalade downwards - and any such variation on a theme of always buying electrical goods that were faulty or being the only one near enough to a car that sprayed past in a rainstorm to get a big dollopful over one’s stockings. If Murphy’s law had a patron saint it was Murphy, née Jessica, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother and Will’s wife.
So, of course, Will blamed Murphy for the state of the kitchen.
“You’re a right old jinx, Murff,” he exclaimed one day, after dropping a bottle of milk fast followed by food cindered by what he called the poltergeist in the grill.
“I can’t help it if I set these things off. 1 didn’t bring them here. They were already here.” Murphy’s voice was on the brink of tears.
Both had forgotten how to apportion blame. Was the kitchen really haunted, as the recent rumours seemed to imply? Or were Will and Murphy just plain clumsy? Or did they give a false significance to the things that went wrong and to the meaningful coincidences and to the inexplicable bumps in the night, all of which were commonplace and un-noteworthy to every other couple in the country?
They shrugged everything off and decided just to flow with the tide, each good thing balancing out each bad thing, until they died or fell in with a better sense of serendipity or decided to sell the house to anybody else of a similar frame of mind or simply forgot to notice and drifted on till the universal boredom that infected other people set in with Will and Murphy, too.
Until the happening of the Event in the kitchen.
One day, when Will was out working out his worries, Murphy decided to put into words what she felt about the kitchen, just finally to get the whole thing out of her system. A purge, a catharsis, whatever. Anyway, she found an old school exercise book - a red glossy one with old-fashioned weights and measures listed on the back cover, one which had long since suffered her childish scribble at the beginning - and, with painstaking neatness, she wrote out the title on the first clean page -
DESCRIPTION OF A KITCHEN
by Jessica Johnson
The rest is history. Or was. Will came home, sweaty from some indeterminate physical activity, to find Murphy slumped at the kitchen table, pen still pressed to the tail-end of the word “Event” written in huge infantile scrawl under the title.
The fridge-freezer was found to have juddered to a halt with the food inside already rank with decay. The washing-machine churned with loud clanking noises, the clothes inside torn to ribbons. The unfit grill was fast gassing the room...
It was a remarkable tableau which, if encapsulated, would have made a remarkable ending to this story. A true artistic Happening. But, as for Will, he realised that the law of averages was not an average law which either made sense of there now being a reliable ghost added to those who finally told him the kitchen was haunted or it didn’t.
|Posted on Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - 09:42 am: |
Thread for re-publishing DF Lewis stories: their titles being added to the increasingly massive contents list in the second half of this site: http://www.weirdmonger.com
Traffic to and fro pleasingly gathers pace in geometrical progression. Here's another story:-
THE ULTERIOR'S MOTIVE
First published 'Beyond The Moon' 1994
The building, once a skyrise block, now sprawled along the horizon. Its central manse prodded the clouds with the short temper of a bed-ridden schoolmistress, whilst its outhouses and stables crept window- and entrance-less from either side, curving gently to fulfil an ancient ambition of the shellac snake swallowing its own masonic tail.
Knowing at once that this was the only part of the city which had been made independent of reality during one of the Tangential Wars, Glock had clambered here through stilted, stunted avenues of trees. Being participants in the Second Suburban civilisation, the inhabitants were glued to screens, screens which reflected only fuller versions of themselves. He need not bother them. He took no pleasure in surprising the unsurprisable. Time travel was to them only second nature in the fictional worlds they now thought they lived through. Yet Glock remained a hero in search of his heroism, even if this particular area of history was merely a way-station for other less insignificant, more heroic times.
"Who are you?"
He was startled by the brightness in the abrupt feminine voice. Wishing that he had managed to be the first to bring the same question to bear, he surveyed the questioner's face: a wanton, pointed vixen-like animal with shirley-temple curls, and loins so thickly bushed, he wondered whether the voice had caused him to jump to conclusions.
"I am Glock," he answered. He would have added, "Glock, an Ulterior who has been commissioned by the Future to de-haunt that building", if he had not already learned the big lessons in life: say as little as possible: and don't tempt synchronicity. She looked unaccountably relieved.
He pointed to the conjoined crescent building, now etched in marquetry against the most stage-struck sunset he had ever seen. The edge of the sky was almost audible amid its various interfaces of tertiary colours. Not one single sun, but several, dipped together as a well-drilled chorus line, gradually silting into the dewy-eyed pastels and oils that this particular universe had seen fit to massage into its moving parts. These suns eventually came together as one, to take the curtain-call of night, their overall consistency fast changing from raw jam to wild honey. Finally, with a magnificent feat of prestidigitation, the now combined sun wore a black top hat which was courteously doffed for the final bow and, more quickly than Glock anticipated, became as big as the whole sky's bowl.
"Pretty, weren't it?"
He nodded. He had not wanted to enter the building during darkness but now it seemed there was no option. Other than untested options.
"You will come with me?" he stated, rather than asked.
"To help clean it?"
He nodded again, knowing what she meant.
She took his hand into her slenderly fingered paw and led him along an unmarked path. Her sparkling eyes told him that she could see better at night than him. His friends, who worked for the Future in the past, had obviously primed her and planted her here as his guide, and he was truly thankful for such sweet mercies.
The building had once been a large stately house. It was now unusual in one respect, something he had indeed already noticed but not sufficiently weighed. The side stables had no apertures of their own, which meant that they could only be reached via the main central manse itself. He imagined wicket gates leading from the grand entrance hallway into the bestrawn areas, where whatever unlikely beasts were reared did nuzzle and feed, hinnying gently to lull the other inhabitants towards sleep. The livestock was taken in and out via the ornate central doorway, since they had no stable doors to call their own. The marble staircases and costly parquetry must be peppered with their droppings. All surmise, yet surmise based on the Future's map of hindsight in his possession.
Glock had indeed learnt, before embarking on this mission, that he was due to reach a cross-section of reality which was entirely independent of history itself. Unscarred by the Tangential Wars, it was thus teeming with such refugees and dossers that could not bear the brunt of chronology. It supplied haven of hindsight, even, for those who could not gain purchase upon any credulity elsewhere: for those whose outlandish exteriors were denied existence within most healthy precincts of time, since nobody really wanted to believe in nightmares. It was Glock's job to visit such pockets of resistance and rid them of any wrong-headed creatures inhabiting them.
He had no illusions. He was not brave. Knowing that hindsight was fighting from his corner, how could he possibly be defeated? Furthermore, he had a few old school-tie contacts amid the corporate machinery of FUTURE (Fate's United Timekeepers & Ulterior Reality Erasers). .
"I've got a key."
He could have hugged her. She knew her lines very well.
The double-doors swung wide open even before she could insert the key. Things were working out almost too well (despite the inopportune sunset). He was cruising upon a clockwork of well-oiled domino ratchets.
They stepped amid the candleflames that might have been lit to welcome them. The stench inside was quite unbearable: a heady ripeness which they could almost see hanging in the waxlight like honeycombs rotted right through. The dynastic oil paintings queuing up the winding gone-with-the-wind staircase dripped with a phlegmy-green pigment, particularly from the mouths and snouts of the depicted subjects.
"How do we get to the stables?" he asked, ever eager to get on with the job in hand.
She darted towards an antechamber and, by the time he had caught up, he found her scrabbling in the maw of a tall fireplace. The lizard-skinned ashes, he could just see, were sticky, and some dead flames were clinging to her behind like boiled sweets. He had always imagined corpse-fire to be more like flowers. This was the first time he'd seen it. Hindsight had never been able to deal with such impossibilities as cold fire.
With a teeth-grinding noise, she removed the back of the engorged chimney. Giving him her tail to hold, he followed into what he now took to be the stables. There were snorts and snuffles from every quarter: lambent eyes played peeky-boo with each other: feelers tickled his face as if he were on an old-fashioned ghost funround. How was he to see in such darkness, how cope with the exorcism of mutant reality with merely the sense of touch at his disposal?
"Are we in the stables, now?" he whispered.
"No, these are where the pets are kept. The wildstock is further into the side sheds."
He knew for a fact that he was not here to obliterate household pets. But he was now unsure whether she had learnt her lines correctly. Unaccountably, he half-mistrusted her.
With no warning, even to himself, he took his Lewis-gun and sprayed a splatter of ectoplasmic pellets in all directions of the sane compass, willy-nilly. The gnawing purrs and drowsing undergrunts became squawks and squeals of outright terror. The eyes extinguished one by one, each with a gut-wrenching sob. The noise screeched on: it could almost be seen as great swathes of darkness billowing like black flames of shadow: then tattering: finally silence. It turned out, more by Fate than Future, that he had managed not to hit his guide. But he could tell from the yellow wells that were her eyes rising up before him, that she was stricken with unconscious grief.
He felt her tail tug him on. Now she was not speaking. A female stoniness had settled on their relationship ... at least for a while, he assumed. More by Luck than Judgement, they reached the outmost stables by daybreak, tired and hungry. A silvery light filtered through the cracks of the wooden walls.
"But there's nothing here ... "
Only straw and a small empty manger, he noticed.
As he spoke, he swung his arms in unison, like a love-shy schoolboy. She stared at him fixedly. Her cunning-looking features snickered. She tweedled her whiskery snout: the saucy minx needed her rump smacking, he thought. Abruptly, with a flash of her flanks, she leapt upon him, scrambled up his uniform (using the silver buttons as gains of purchase), wrapped him round the chest with her pulsing limbs and forced her snout into his mouth, with the fever of some passion he could not comprehend.
Glock, with an Ulterior's body, wielded a vast crosspult, one loaded with a chunky lump of frozen ghost-vaccine: sprung upon a band of elastic spiritfire - and several bodily hair-triggers ready-cocked. Whether he was snooked accidentally into judder-recoil or, whether, indeed, he himself tipped the balance in all conscious righteousness of motive, he did not, nor want to, know. Less by Fuck than Fudge, Glock's grapeshot ricocheted beyond reality's range and brought, if temporarily, cross-concertinas of event into play...
He placed her in the single manger, where she flopped lifelessly, the maw in her furry belly having flooded with what looked like raw jam. Reluctant tears gleaming in his dark eyes, he curled himself up in the straw nearby ... waiting, waiting, waiting for the Future to send another less human Glock to rescue him from these trammels of out-history.
Tenderly, he shuffled some straw over the were's body in the manger.
|Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 03:36 am: |
Tsarina's Wintercoat - a well known early story of mine now presented here as the 4th item on this 2nd Night Shade thread - part and parcel of the enormous contents list of the project shown in the bottom half of this site's only page:
The Tsarina's Wintercoat
First published 'Nightfall' 1990
The woman stood on the windswept platform with two children either side of her, both
clasping her hands, it seemed, for dear life. Occasionally, she lowered her head to listen to their words which would otherwise be lost to the wind, or to exchange with them her own choice of words, in evident mutual encouragement.
The children knew they waited for a train: more likely to spot its smoke first, snaking above the nearby hills, even in advance of the hooting whistle being conveyed to them, even now, upon the driving wind. They also retained a beady eye for scrutinising the silver runners of the track for any telltale sign of the clacking’s coming.
From behind the derelict station house, I approached the solitary threesome (guessing that such a few could sometimes feel more solitary than being truly alone as one). I could see the woman’s wintercoat was weatherworn, but a bright yellow scarf at her neck relieved the dowdy appearance somewhat. She wore a large silver brooch depicting, I thought, a lizard, which secured the scarf against the cold’s onset. The small children were dressed in khaki jerkins, tangled laddered stockings and threadbare berets with bobbles of hair poking through. They shivered visibly. They failed to see me, since I now crouched in the old ticket collector’s booth, untenanted for decades - yet I could still sense the reek of that ticket collector’s rank shag doing its best to conceal the ripeness of his soiled undergarments. Scattered around me were a number of clipped platform tickets, among which I had long since ascertained were no residue of used journeys from far off Leng, Samarkand and St Pancras. Yet, who’d ever disembark at this railway halt’s neck of the woods? Surely, nobody.
The wind, in the interim, had died down to allow me to catch a good share of the threesome’s words together.
“We’ll be there before you can say ‘Knife’. A roaring fire right up the chimney and you’ll toast your hands - with Nanny’s stories all stocked up, just waiting to be told...”
“Shall Nanny be pleased to see us?”
“She’ll be so pleased, she’ll dance a jig of joy and give you both big kisses on your rosy apple cheeks.”
“And shall we stay there...to live for ever and ever and ever?”
“We’ll live there so long into the future that the end will always be too far away to worry about.”
“Look, I think I see black ghosts in the air.”
“That’s from the train’s funnel. An ancient train by the look of the dark smoke it’s giving off, but a warm one, with an endless corridor.”
“I can’t hear it yet. Is it really coming?”
“Yes, it’ll be all darkness inside and those passengers in the Third Class will just have the reddening ends of their ciggies to watch.”
Listening to them, I smiled to myself. I had feared that life outside my little world had not subsisted, ever since they closed the station waiting-room, the steamy buffet and the dark dripping Necessarium. I had been solitary for too long and the vision of such happiness was a tonic to my old heart. It was a pity that trains never stopped at this particular halt any more.
Momentarily losing interest in the threesome, I nibbled at one of the discarded tickets with my teeth, the taste of rich train smoke seeping to my lowest tongue of all. I slumped back in some meditative trance which was more than a little self-indulgent, because, by the time I looked from the web-choked cubicle again, the platform was deserted. Since I needed to keep exercising my limbs, I scuttled to where the threesome had stood. The wind was filling its own cheeks, I sensed, to fetch the tuggiest gust.
I picked up the lizard brooch that the woman must have accidentally dislodged from her scarf as she hustled her charges aboard before the train slid past them into the trundling echoes of darkness. The brooch wriggled and its tongue flickered quicker than any eye could see. Not a lizard brooch at all, but a large glistening insect the like of which I’d never seen before, slugged out by the sudden arrival of winter. I forthwith popped it between my jaws to allow its flavour to wash through me.
Nanny, awaiting the children’s arrival, sewed long stitches into a battered wintercoat - listening to the wind howling the length of the chimney. Or was it the sound of those spiny creatures with sticky wings that haunted her dreams, now attempting to reach her in real life down that very flue? She was pleased that she had the fire roaring in the grate, serving both to warm the room and to keep such unwelcome chimney visitors at bay. Still hemming, she moithered over mythic miscegenations, versions of competing history, regal heirs and graces playing Russian Roulette with Fate, tentacular monsters who, in the same way as human beings, had insect-pests with which to contend - and, if only in her mind, she plucked unwanted fruit off the well-mulched family-tree. The clock pendulum swung idly to and fro in rhythm to her stitches. She still heard the mothballs clacking in the wintercoat’s lining where she’d sewn them, but Nanny didn’t know that I watched her from behind the clockcase, whereto I’d scuttled, black as coal, before she’d ignited the fire.
The two children watched the wreaths of black smoke billowing past the train window, as the wheels churned them through a wintering dusk. The leather strap that was used for raising and lowering the carriage window swayed gently with the clack-clack of bogies over runners. They knew the woman sat between them, still in wintercoat and yellow scarf, for the cold would have seeped otherwise into her every bone. I could have informed her charges that if she had doffed such impervious garb, she would have allowed the cold to seep out again. A mature woman, at least, should show some semblance of common sense. The children felt her shudder in tune with the train. On either side, they had their hands tightened within hers. If they let go, they sensed they’d never see her again. Or was I sensing it on their behalf?
The train entered the darkest tunnel. I lit a cigarette, so that they could see I was there. There was no corridor, only autonomous carriages - so I knew for sure they were still there. The train hadn’t stopped since they boarded it in the middle of nowhere.
I knew exactly how long the train would take to pass through the tunnel, having been on this journey, one way or another, for as long as I could remember. But they were new to its foibles. I listened to the children speaking, despite the surging tunnel.
“Why don’t they have lights on trains?”
“Is Nanny still expecting us? Won’t her fire have gone out?”
“Why don’t you answer?”
The train emerged into light, too quickly for a blink, and revealed the answer. The two children were hand in hand, the wintercoat lying like an empty rhinoceros skin between them. I had scuttled to the window where, with jaws clacking, I pressed my suckers to the stained glass to keep myself steady, as I stubbed my ciggie on the ‘out’ of ‘don’t lean out of the window’ and stropped my beetle pincers on the door’s leather tongue.
With its heart of fire driving steam-power towards the almost prehensile pistons, the Victoria-Vienna-Moscow-Kadath Express screamed through the bewintered bewildered heritage of history: into another horizontal chimney of smokes and spooks, this time, so far, an endless one.
|Posted on Monday, October 18, 2004 - 10:10 am: |
Below is the next item to be linked to and from the contents list of previously print-published Wordonymous stories (now available for free), the list being at:
where, also, if I may remind you, are the new submission guidelines for the paying market of Nemonymous~5.
A DISOWNED SPONTANEITY
First published 'Voyage' 1998
I fended off my own sleep as I watched Prince snoozing peacefully by the crackly embers of the fire. His customary contortions were a calming sight because I needed such routines as a security system.
On many previous occasions, the ensuing scene had been enacted. The knock on the door. The same number of beats to its unmusical rhythm. The entrance of a woman in a bustle, a woman who was as mysterious to me as I was, probably, to her. The routine words:
“How are you tonight, Sir?”
She stroked Prince absentmindedly, whilst performing a strange frozen curtsy.
“Still a little tired, despite dozing all afternoon,” I replied.
Prince stirred as the fire burst into fitful life - a roar of flame that indicated imminent extinguishment rather than reinvigoration of its wavering warmth or faltering light. The woman winced as she straightened her stance, closely examining the palm of her hand for dog hairs.
“Well, we’ll bring in your night nibbles, shortly,” she announced. “Anything special you fancy, Sir?”
There was no point in asking me this question, with there being traditionally only one choice available. Warm ox-tongues on the bone weltering in tomato purée. Tepid raspberry tea that bore all the signs of having once been scalding hot. Rare-cooked cervelle. Heavily fruited cakes, with oozing clotted cream.
A lower grade servant from the household’s hinterland, more thin-lipped and squeeze-eyed than the first woman, would be entrusted with the task of delivering the night nibbles. But a rigorous routine was not expected from her, because such a downbeat servant tended to say anything that first came into her head, although, by pure fluke, she would often repeat herself - an act of clumsiness rather than compassion.
I managed to prop myself further up in the bed. The bolsters were sometimes lumpy; they had things inside left over from my nightmares as a child. I needed these pillows smoothed and then plumped up.
My mother had been both plump and smooth. The fumes of her kitchen were still in my nose, even now. The large bosom leaning over to stir the steaming copper. The ironed out contours of her apron. Yet the smile was gashed straight across her face, offset by her sweet dimples, dimples which were so deep, I suspected her own mother of having trained them into existence with nightly probing of a knitting-needle. And such memories of childhood were the only dreams I allowed myself.
The door opened and the trayful was planted on my lap by a snag-toothed girl, one who did not have a smile for anybody, not even for herself.
“Thank you, my dear - it all looks too gorgeous to eat - but you’ve forgotten the tea-strainer,” I said.
Heaven forbid, but I had nearly forgotten to remember that well-rehearsed tail-end complaint about the tea-strainer. The snag-toothed girl scowled, drawing her eyes together like mating sea-creatures. She knew it was the lemon-squeezer she had forgotten.
Prince was by now fully awake, his doleful eyes mooning straight at me. The fire had become even darker than the rest of the room, despite an inner glow that was more a belief system than a fact. His tongue lolled like the contents of one of my sandwiches. No crumpets, after all. Nor those eagerly anticipated damsons and custard. There was, furthermore, only a mean pickling for the cheesy bits. And - horror! - the snag-toothed girl had left the room without saying the correct words: the almost religious response to to my own recital of complaint. She had also forgotten to check the curtains. She needed a severe scolding.
I fully expected - with a sudden unexpected dread - the first woman’s return: to force down my food and, if routine could countenace the slightest hope, to lean over me with her large bosom and plump up my pillows...
Prince padded closer to my bed - his tail sweeping the carpet with echoes of his body’s swaying counter-rhythms - but his dog-bark croaks could hardly articulate familiar rituals, pitifully trying, as he did, to mimic the snag-toothed girls’ high-pitched whining sneer. Nevertheless, I was comforted by this nod by him towards a retrievable routine for making things better for the bed-ridden.
When Prince pounced on me with his licking, loving tongue, surely, surely, it was a mad spontaneity that made me punish him for his own simple dog-fangs sadly failing to compare with those huge jagged ones which I recalled poking from the servant girl’s mouth - even though, finally, he did successfully manage to mimic the words she should have said: “I’ll fetch the bloody strainer and squeeze your privates through it, if you don’t look out, Mister!”
|Posted on Monday, October 18, 2004 - 01:06 pm: |
Painting With Water
First published 'Noir Stories' 1993
The pendulum of darkness swung from side to side.
My eyes could hardly take in the extremes of the cinemascopic night, as blinding rain drove itself into my face. The streaks of street lighting oscillated with the pulsing of the deep gloom. I might have found the effects mind-blowing, if it were not for the knowledge that everything stemmed from my swaying walk, the hood of my overcoat extended forwards to ease the stinging torrents. Thus blinkered, I could only follow my eyes in their near drunken rite of passage.
I felt I might be in an old Hollywood film, where some editor had splodged various shades of streaky yellow into the shuttling celluloid monochrome, making the rain appear more like blood than if he had used proper red instead.
There were indeed stock figures in those old films, mysterious threatening hoods roaming empty backstreets, but I did not feel mysterious nor threatening. I realised, however, that those peering out of ill-curtained windows would think otherwise about me. Perhaps all villains were innocent, merely wending their way between run-of-the-mill assignations (like taking their mother to hospital), never dreaming that their own dark shapes, hunched up against the encroaching storm, were viewed as evil and horrific.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
No doubt this would be the real villain of the piece: a young lady, perhaps, unsuitably dressed for the weather, with chiselled smile and cleavage. She, with her winsome walk, would tempt me to accompany her...
I turned to face out the demon sex eye to eye. It was a policeman with as friendly a smile as ever was seen in Dock Green.
“Are you all right, sir?”
He squinted closer to see my face properly. But I could clearly discern his egg-shaped face below the back helmet. Residues of my swinging gait made him seem like the policeman dummy guffawing imbecilically at the end of Southend Pier, just for the price of an old penny in the slot. His loving family no doubt waited eagerly by the banked-up fire for his shift to end. The beacons of humanity which shone out from his face were a comfort indeed, until...
“Want me to give you a good time, Mister?” he said with a wink.
No Norman Bates I.
It was not me, surely, who slid so easily the tirelessly honed firepoker between the narrowing ribs above his cringing belly, just missing the silver buttons and other more natural obstacles to his heart...by means of a prestidigitation perfected over centuries of dark memory.
It was not me. It was not me.
I waddled down back-doubles of the city, each gloomy landmark individually daubed with its own personal colour, unblending, unblurring. I had even forgotten I was taking my mother to hospital.
I was no longer me, I was convinced: rather something else masquerading as me, with frighteningly clearer, freshly angled shots of everything.
|Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2004 - 02:41 am: |
Daughters, a brief story from the Dagon DF Lewis Special in 1989 below.
This is the next item on the ever-increasingly noticed project that I started some months ago. The lengthening contents lists (including a story of the week link) here:
which also holds the Guidelines for Nemonymous Five (as before £45 per story (500-5500 words).
First published 'Dagon DF Lewis Special' 1989
There was a wooden tree at the bottom of his garden. He could see it from his bedroom window, just where a painter would have placed it to set off the perfect balance and perspective of the landscape. The sunset was in oils, too, bright oranges and reds streaked across the bottom of the darkening sky.
His daughter was still outside rolling her hoop around the tree. She was only eleven. His elder daughter, showing signs of her age, remained in the shadow of the toolshed, whilst the one with the hoop glowed with the last of the day’s sunshine. He could hardly see what Melissa was doing in the wedge of darkness thrown out by the side of the shed. Spinning her large wooden top, it seemed, with a whip far too long and wild for its purpose.
Alison had by now fitted the hoop around her waist and was snaking her torso to make it spin like the golden ring of Saturn.
Gradually, the colours in the lower sky faded, such as a painted canvas would if left too long in direct sunlight. A wispy splodge of white in another part of the heavens hinted at the whereabouts of the moon.
He opened the window with a sash cord and called to his daughters that they should get their skates on: the dinner gong was about to go. They waved at him, Melissa having now come out upon the open lawn of closed daisies. The whip trailed behind her, a vestigial tail. Alison’s hoop dropped from her tiny waist to the ground, as she smoothed down the front of her frock. Both girls now turned cartwheels across the lawn towards the house, their limbs glistening in that sweat-light with which a summer’s enduring dusk is often imbued.
He’d not been far off the mark with his timing, for he heard from far below the gong’s characteristic resonance: the number of strikes was meant to indicate tonight’s menu: one for rare roasts of meat, twice for Royal Salad and High Tea, three for fish stew and, once in a blue moon, four for ... Chef’s special, it was called: and the ingredients were as secret and mysterious as the half-darknesses upon each descent and landing of the winding staircase.
As he tapped his way down, he could hear the girls squabbling in the downstairs bathroom: their mother burnishing their faces with unperfumed soaps. Melissa was far too much a real madam for this treatment: she should have flannel and tuck towel of her own. Alison was still too young to be left to her own devices, he conceded, her cheeks often bearing the grimy skidmarks left by an endless summer evening of play.
He knew the way by heart: as he unfalteringly made his entrance into the dining-room, he felt the perfunctory kisses of his daughter’s greeting. They loved him, of course, but girls being girls they had other thoughts on their minds. He . .. well, he painted with his mind. How else could he have borne the onset of blindness? He lowered himself into the chair at the head of the table.
He heard knees creeping across the Persian carpet towards him ... under the long table. Then he could feel nuzzling mouths beginning to nibble upon his finger-ends that he naïvely laid on his lap.
|Posted on Sunday, November 07, 2004 - 01:07 pm: |
First published 'Shorts From Surrey' 1993
Hector spent most of his waking hours doing jigsaw puzzles. It never crossed his mind that he might be wasting his life, for he found the whole activity relaxing, absorbing, generally civilised and, yes, cathartic.
He became so expert, he speedily progressed from the large chunky pieces designed for the short-witted, towards those that numbered their pieces in thousands. Then there were the ones with bits bearing malformed joints and appendages. He even had puzzles which eventually formed pictures in scales of life to life and larger...
As the carriage clock on the mantelpiece kept the silence in rigorous shape and, with the heavy-duty curtains half-pulled across the net-choked window, he propped the huge purpose-built board upon his spreading middle-aged beer-belly of a lap, emptied the contents of a wickedly difficult jigsaw into the cracked china chamber-pot beside him and proceeded to fit the whole affair together... without recourse to the picture on the box-lid and working from the middle outwards. Years of experience had made him a dab hand, as wily as a snake.
He purchased spanking new boxes from the Dickensian toy shop nearby with the big bay window. There were always stacks of them on the shelves - in fact, the place seemed to sell little else. The toothbrush-moustached shopkeeper knew Hector’s little foibles very well and chose the next puzzle for him, so that Hector need not look at the box-lid. The shopkeeper was indeed one of those rare breeds who believed the customer was always right…even when he was wrong. He knew that the time was approaching when Hector would be entirely dissatisfied with straightforward jigsaws. One had to be cruel to be kind, even if it meant tempting Hector beyond the edge.
Back home, Hector excitedly stripped off the cellophane with blunt fingernails, whilst keeping his eyes tightly averted, and poured the contents with a sensuous jiggling noise into the freshened chamber-pot.
One day, he was particularly pleased, because the shopkeeper had told him that the new puzzle had a picture that was really awe-inspiring. Something about Eve and the Tree of Knowledge. Always pleased with religious themes, Hector was bound to be satisfied with the end result. And the box contained more pieces than any other that the shopkeeper had ever seen in his experience. No two pieces the same shape. More than life size, he wouldn’t mind betting.
As the innards of the clock gave out an uncharacteristic whirring, jarring noise, Hector began to pick out bits one by one from the chamber-pot. His ultimate knack was to be lucky with the first few samples. Then he built up the picture, detail by minute detail, gradually obtaining an overview of the subject-matter, colours blending, form from form, shapes born, evolving, extruding...
Today was a dark day. The sky lugubrious. The street lamps lit earlier than usual. At first, he couldn’t believe the outline which was emerging upon the lap board. Snake scales. Mottled hide. Winding coils of microscopically diamond-quartered skin. Hooked teeth, whiter than he could ever credit a jigsaw reproducing. As he headed out towards the straight bits, he felt sickness constricting his throat. He couldn’t account for his feelings. But, then, horror-struck, he realised there were no straight bits... and the chamber-pot was nearly empty.
He desperately searched for the box-lid in the gloom, finally discovering it in the coal scuttle. He barely discerned a rather picturesque view of St Paul’s Cathedral, a majestic landlocked square-rigger set against the bluest sky that could only be seen in picture-books.
The contents had obviously been stashed in the wrong box.
Hector rushed over to the chamber-pot to be violently sick.
There was merely a pause for tension.
As he began to sense the pulsing spirals of slime slide up his bare leg, he remembered he had forgotten to switch on the light in his puzzle-solving haste. However, he could see that his skin was a mosaic of green scales, wet to the eye, but dry to the forked flicker of his own tongue.
He fled to the mirror... but his by now could only reflect its own darkness. He thought he must have become a monster that had only managed to escape because there were no straight bits forming the jigsaw’s margins to keep it in. He spun back across the parlour on this one-leg tail and instinctively planted his fangs into his own belly, grateful that he was sufficiently double-jointed to recycle the venom.
'Green Twist' was presented in conjunction with projects at www.weirdmonger.com
|Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - 10:32 am: |
'Lexophony' below is presented in conjunction with projects at www.weirdmonger.com and linked from there to this thread.
Written 1967. Published somewhere - currently under investigation.
six o'lantern policemen in church dome hats said I had lucifer in my chest six laughing policemen bluebottle eggcups updown side on their heads said I was the devil as I was for he burnt my bones the pervasive singe the intrinsic monkey-man six dancing policemen arrested me for perversion took me to the pisky nick down by the cornish shore squeezed me so hard that out popped my soul stained with satan six policepeople domed me blessed me sainted me desataned me and gave me luncheon from a truncheon now I am nice nice is a nice word nice nurses nuzzled and nestled in the bend of my meat and said I must never be nasty again but nice and nicer the hostage of a sausage now I sieve spice in policeland down by the goblin shore where sprouting policemen with eggy hats grow tall and straight see their beaming plant-like fuzz-faces and noddy heads this the site for the medecine and the mending but satan is returning burning and sniffing within the gristle of my skull and knuckles see him mouldering and mewing in my eyes he is churning niceness from the umbrella of my genitals a black cage of black ribs with a bald spider inside tears dropping red from his noddy head the town is totally built on Burnt Hill down by the bingo tree where milly moth sits beside the verminous vulture. 'may I frog your throat?' questioned the moth. 'if I can leap your love, my love' ventured the vulture. Burnt Hill is the land of the loping. satanmeat sits red on butchers' slabs behind grinny windows. 'may I quote your silence?' murmured the metal mouse to milly moth. 'if I can silence your throat, rusty rodent' answered the moth. amid the town fumble mothers childless and careless as liana. through the turning alleys of the twisty town move shapes and flaps in the silent sky. 'vole?' enquired the vulture. 'no, I am a shape that shuts, a shuttering flap' returned the myth moth. the town is buildings and in one folds a shadow to the turning night. it is the bird-doctor, the only comma that punctuates compunction. a bird featherbrained as a thunderstorm in a squirl of blood roosts in the black bingo tree. it has breasts of budding puberty. the moss of its heart is broken and drips sadly to the bracken beneath. the town turns on its fulcrum. the moth and vulture fondle the other and move toward a bliss. the doctor damned by a devil in his coughing chest sucks a pigeon's nipple. moth moss merges in the midnight of his sorrow and doom. the tall town on Burnt Hill down by the bingo tree is totally libido entirely endocrine and the kissing kingdom is hospital to the oversexed. 'may I lose this bread?' asked the moss to the vole. 'voluptuous mother, mend me, make me music' volunteered the vole. doctor, doctor, devil-doctor, of dark house lane, the town's in pain! dob dob dob clown clown clown his one eye sunk in his knotty forehead red and gnawed by dim disease monoday but his stereoactive mind cannot be bothered with this insipid evealuation lucy locket lost her pocket kitty fisher found it not a penny was there in it but streaks of blood around it his stereosoul fullbodied as an island with crags overhanging the casting-sea and fertile forests dripping dawn dew over spice and sand yankee doodle came to town riding on a pony he stuck spaghetti in his cap and called it macaroni over the spice and the sand bounds the steep doctor who said he owned the whole isle hi and fi tanas was he called and coughing was his ill dob dob dob clown clown clown our one-eyed hero steeped and dipped in deep blood put his ear to his chest and heard the doctor in there jack and jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water jack fell down and broke his crown and jill came tumbling after then up he got and home did trot as fast as he could caper to old dame dob who patched his nob with macaroni and brown paper this hospital site as clean and bright as mrs dob could keep it the hospital site where bird-doctors prowl as red as she could steep it the clown died stereoptic policemen recorded his dying gasp the nursery nurse the nice nursery nurse robbed old dob of the last rhyme clown clown clown dead dead dead his mouth is red and his one eye is mercifully shut
|Posted on Sunday, November 28, 2004 - 02:58 am: |
'Ashley Lime' below is presented in conjunction with projects at www.weirdmonger.com and linked from there to this thread.
Published 'Odyssey' 1993
Ashley Lime worked in an insurance company and arrived daily in the office mausoleum at precisely seven a.m., early enough to catch the batting-lady still passing a feather duster over the desks. She topped and tailed the loose ends, freshened up the jotters, primed the blotters, stirred the pots of correcting-fluid, laid out the virgin sheets of carbon paper...
Ashley's parents had been surprised at his arrival, since all their astrologers, clairvoyants, mediums, marriage guidance counsellors, radio phone-in experts, agony sister-in-laws, social workers and old friends had all said that, in the circumstances, Mrs Lime’s pregnancy was not even a possibility.
"Morning, Mr Lime, I'm just off now, back to me ol' hubbie,” said the batting-lady. “Have a nice day, love."
Ashley sat down at his own personal desk, dealt out the insurance documents for the day like clock patience and, lastly, while resting his chin on the bridge of his hands, he kept a weather eye open for the bustling arrival of his colleagues.
Mrs Lime's belly had been as flat as a pancake, her body-clock as regular as Uncle Tom's fob watch and, in any event, she had often been sick in the mornings since that summer camp with the girl guides when they force-fed eveybody's bacon and eggs down her gullet simply for the sake of a silly joke.
Ashley's father had put his arm around her and said, never mind, all children are the cruellest beasts that God ever created and, furthermore, it is no good harbouring resentments against your own body.
She had bitten her tongue, before not saying that she felt like chopping off his whatsit and putting that in the cot instead.
Ashley should give home a tinkle to tell his wife that he had arrived safely at the office. No doubt, there had been some holcaust on the railway that morning, simulcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and she would be worried about his being mixed up with it somewhere along the line.
The relentless telephone tone jabbed his brain like the needle of a slow motion Singer sewing-machine.
There was no answer!
So, when a living thing did arrive, against all the odds, Mrs Lime called it Ashley and cradled it in her arms, trying, from time to time, to adminster the kiss of life. She then plunged what she thought was its face against her dry pap - but, eventually, she gave up and went to the bathroom to wash off all this pre- and after-birth that had erupted from her body with no sign of a real baby amongst it.
Had he dialled the correct number? She always picked the phone up after the third ring. Dial again, Lime! And he did - but still no answer.
Today was suddenly taking an untidy tangent and, to cap it all, colleagues had by now started trooping into the open-plan office, gabbling about the day's disasters. Thousands killed here, thousands (different ones) killed there. A nuclear meltdown a day keeps the doctor away.
My name, I think, is Ashley Lime.
The world is all around me like a mystic vision. I try to learn from the senses, but my eyes, ears, nose and fingers simply belie the evidence of their own reality.
He dialled home all day, even questioning the integrity of the whole telephone system with Directory Enquiries. They gave him an alternative number, but that only ended him up on some damnable radio phone-in where he was expected to comment intelligently on a local epidemic.
When the tea-lady came round, whom he usually knew under the name Gladys, she pretended to be a complete stranger, saying that it was more than her job was worth to pass the time of day with the likes of Ashley.
Am I monster? Or, at worst, man? I wonder if God, were He alive, would He recognise the likes of me. I doubtless fall short of his ideals. Nevertheless, what more can I do to match them? I've done enough, surely, to rest assured.
And death, if nothing else, is assured.
The batting-lady arrived to find him still in the office, the last one to go as usual. She "did" around him and then helped him stack up his index cards in a neat pile. At least SHE was familiar.
He asked her to drain the inkwells and remove the sediments to the Ladies. She did not care for this job - worse than stomach-pumping Gladys' tea urn or scraping out the waste bins - and she gave Lime an old-fashioned look fit to set him reeling back on the balls of his feet. But she had a certain fondness for him, and no mistake.
So, I seek only one thing: a sign of myself: because my original parents have denied me birth, have slaughtered me before I was old enough to stop them, even before they forgot about me by first changing the past itself.
He travelled home, heart in mouth, fearing what might face him in the shape of his wife.
But she was there as usual, puckered lips as ever raised to greet him. Then he noticed a blemish on her left cheek, like a wen. It was not worth making a fuss about, as there was only one stiff hair sprouting from it. But, that was not all, her arm hung pathetically shrivelled by her side like a shameful part.
No wonder he had got a wrong number that morning, in view of such evident dis-figurement.
At the sea's bottom, the lissom weeds sway in a slow dance with darting colourfish and, among them, Ashley crawls, crab-like, dragging the disease-riddled foetus of his twin brother.
He put his wife to bed, in the hope she would improve by morning. He kept vigil the night through, tending to the weeping sores that broke out around her front-loader.
He must have dozed off, because following the dream of the sea creature, he saw the bald head of a vile bird forcing itself through the bedroom wall, as if from a giant cuckoo-clock. Its neck was long, indeed, but before it could reach out to give Ashley a peck, its snapping beak abruptly hinged back on itself and swallowed whole the wattled head whence it came.
Ashley glanced at his wife who was at that moment tossing in the bed - and she cried out in evident desperation to what had become a blurred image of her husband: "Ashley, everything in me is coming free and flopping about..."
Ashley Lime shrugged - he put it all down to what he called “things he couldn’t possibly understand”. He would ask the batting-lady about it first thing in the morning.
And if death is the most certain thing in one's life, the natural conclusion is that everything else is more uncertain - even the fact of one's birth.
But the next morning, there were many insurance documents awaiting Ashley Lime's urgent attention, so all such thoughts fled quickly from his mind. No impulse, then, of course, to ask the batting-lady whether blood is God’s correcting-fluid.
There should be a piping hot carton of tea at precisely eleven a.m. and Gladys, the tea-lady, might ask if Ashley’s wife was well, as she often did. THEN, he should be able to get to the bottom of some things - to the bottom of body-clocks or what might not live amongst the dead tea-leaves in Gladys' huge slopping tea-urn. He’d even fathom why most memories are false, but when faced with the only true memory which is death, then why had he no need of it? Why is the only connection between people an interruption?
|Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 01:03 pm: |
Another previously published story (the last to appear on this particular thread) as linked from the full contents list here:
Nobody has been able to read them all!
There's More to Bellini Than Norma
First published 'Zine Zone' 1998
Berghaus had his own armchair in the alcove. Mr and Mrs Swindon had become so accustomed to his presence in the parlour - following a dozen exhausted rent-books - they almost forgot he was a lodger. His face, after all, owned a generous brow teased by the tousled ends of his hair. A real gentleman, they conjectured, despite his intermittent designer stubble. There were even dimples which seemed to sink to the bone in his most lightsome moments.
Berghaus did not need to say anything to radiate his feelings, sad or otherwise. Mr and Mrs Swindon treated him as their own son, or at least a son-in-law. He possessed pride of place under the standard lamp, with an open Dickens on his lap. Wearing a pair of heavy-duty headphones on his ears, he tried to ignore the flickering images on the TV screen that the bleary-eyed Swindons found time to watch so avidly.
He had tried to interest the old couple in one of his passions: Grand Opera and, despite being set in their ways, they had at first sat patiently, closely attending to his views on this rarified subject ... until they realised it was all about raucous noises that only riled rats.
“I prefer the stylised beauty of Mozart to the more overt gothicism of Wagner or even Puccini.”
The couple nodded in unison, whilst pretending to keep close examination of his lips and at least one eye upon the silent screen and its teletext subtitles for the deaf.
“And I’ve always thought that there was more to Bellini than Norma.”
Again the couple’s studied aknowledgement and mutual humouring.
One day, the Swindons’ daughter Petula returned home, having had a hard time with someone who was fast becoming the best candidate for her first ex-husband. The Swindons, of course, bustled round her, tending to their darling’s needs, making oodles of heart-warming tea, clucking sympathies twenty-four to the dozen in their endearingly incomprehensible way, and maligning that brute of a man she had been enticed into marrying. They also flicked glances at Berghaus so that he too would try to bolster their daughter’s spirits because, despite being a lodger, he had all the duties of a family friend. So, Berghaus smiled knowingly from between the noisy ear-vice of his head-phones.
He had met Petula only once before, during her brief Christmas visit with the husband six years ago, when she had been a delight to behold with many split skirts: one for each of her moods. The husband had been all mouth and trousers, true, but was very generous with his money, giving the Swindons large Christmas presents and his wife costly jewellery. The marital problems that had now overtaken them, Berghaus guessed, were ones concerned with the source of such riches having dried up. The husband had been summarily dismissed from his employment for breaking the Data Protection Act - was what Berghaus gathered. He didn’t like the look of the barely noticeable bruise on Petula’s upper left leg. It seemed to portend more than what was on show.
A day or so later, Berghaus found her sitting in the kitchen darning one of Mr Swindon’s socks over a wooden mushroom. The old couple had gone to what they delightfully called their Doorpost Club which happened every Wednesday afternoon: a tea dance affair by all accounts.
“I’m sorry to hear that things have not been going too well, Petula.” Berghaus shuffled, embarrassed at finding himself alone with her.
“Thank you.” She looked prettier than when she had arrived in a flurry of tears and luggage. Calmer, too. More stoic and forebearing.
“Shall I make us a pot of tea?” he asked, as he inadvertently discovered a loose tooth with his tongue.
“I don’t like to drink tea any more.” She had evidently not had the heart to tell her Mum and Dad this fact, since a strong hot cup of the stuff was the first thing that had met her when arriving upon the parental doorstep. Berghaus suddenly saw a face at the kitchen window: whiskery and scowling. That was all he remembered. The moment had been very short.
Scuffing his feet by the sink and realising that Petula could not have seen the face - her back being turned to the window - Berghaus was naturally perturbed by the incident. There had been an uncanniness about it but one which he found difficult to define: marginally this side of normal: the safe side. He hastily poured himself a cold drink and left her weaving the midget loom she had already erected over the head of the wooden mushroom.
When Mr and Mrs Swindon returned from the “Doorpost Club”, they were blushing with elderly excitement. Grunts and grimaces, as they told of this and that: Marjorie had broken her ankle in the ice last week; Claudette was seeing a little too much of Mr Smith-Bobrowski; Charlie Musker had died of something strange; Dame Florence sent her kind regards to Petula and would like to see her at the club some time (men were getting younger and younger all the time the Dame had said); the brass band had not been able to get through the snow, so they’d danced to records (not quite so satisfactory, since the dance floor’s vibrations were more attuned to live music); and, by the way, Charlie Musker had left a lot of money to someone in Redditch; what’s more, Lady Dora Slight was coming round tonight to see Petula.
The brass band roaming the icy steppes of Hertfordhshire seemed an amusing concept to Berghaus, whilst Petula seemed irritable at the last piece of news regarding Lady Dora. Berghaus was then abruptly granted another glimpse of the whiskery face, followed by loud fumblings at the back door. Mr and Mrs Swindon didn’t notice, but Petula visibly blanched. There were no vocal accompaniments from the budding intruder and the door eventually came to rest on its hinges. The storm was over ... at least for a while.
Berghaus looked as sympathetically as possible at Petula. She returned his glances unalloyed. Having been told to grin and bear misfortunes all her life by suffering parents, she was now reaping the reward of such lessons. She even began to smile when Mr Swindon cracked a joke about her darning, wielding her wooden mushroom, as he did, pretending to be a conductor of one of those opera orchestras so dear to their lodger.
Berghaus decided to leave them to it and enter the security of his sound-proof ear-phones. Verdi was already on the turntable, so there was little fuss and bother. Eventually, a while later, he re-emerged from the armchair’s sanctuary, only to hear the voice of a strange woman coming from the kitchen-diner. It sounded shrill and strident as if she were rehearsing a recitative from a Rossini opera. Must be Lady Dora.
Supper was a memorable affair. Lady Dora had been invited to share the meal, together with a gentleman companion with whom she had originally arrived. He was evidently her latest beau, a portly individual with scrupulous table manners. Although his conversation lacked point, he certainly made up for this with the number of words he used to fill in the otherwise embarrassing silences. Lady Dora and Berghaus were the only ones who made fitful attempts at repartee, whilst Petula and her parents found sufficient pleasure in merely eating. Petula in particular appeared unwilling to speak even when spoken to. Berghaus kept glancing at the window in case he missed another glimpse of the chap with side chops. It was dark outside now, so it was difficult to imagine the golliwog shape that would probably indicate the chap’s return. Nevertheless, eventually, there it was, a shadow sucker upon the glass.
Berghaus stood up and pointed. Petula screamed. Lady Dora and her companion were left with silent open mouths. Mr and Mrs Swindon turned towards where Berghaus pointed ... but, too late, since the shape had disappeared. But the door’s hideous rattling resumed from late afternoon. This time, Berghaus held out no hope for the hinges as he watched them buckle. Again, however, the din subsided and there was noticeable relief upon all the faces inside the kitchen, despite the fact that some of them failed to realise what it was they were supposed to be relieved about.
Lady Dora scuttled between the two elderly Swindons, calming them, laying her hands upon the tops of their heads and purring like a big cat. Her gentleman companion stood behind Petula, his hands sliding down her shoulders towards the breasts, clucking with sympathy. Berghaus was the only one physically disconnected from at least one other. He was reminded of a sextet piece from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Or was it Bellini’s Norma? He had uncharacteristically forgotten.
He took up the discarded wooden mushroom still bearing the half-finished sock and waved it about like a magic wand. He was slightly perturbed that the window now framed a full moon, more bright than he’d ever recalled ,with markings quite different from those he recalled from his childhood astronomy book. At least, it must have stopped snowing.
In the distance he heard the sound of a brass band playing carols ... as the door imperceptibly began to revive. Berghaus yearned for the refuge of his trusty ear-phones. But nightmares woken into are more dreadful than those waken from. Petula walked to the back door and opened it. There, she kissed a wolfish man who waved his own tail about with his clawful of fingers - hugely howling, as if he wanted to scorch the lining of the throat. Or strip the skull-lining like old wall-paper.
Mr and Mrs Swindon, together with Lady Dora and her limping consort, fled past the now dissolving shape of shagginess, as if they believed staying in the cosy house was more horrific than risking the night outside. Petula turned towards Berghaus with a smile on her lips, her face webbed over with a darning of darkness and her toadstool tongue poking for a second kiss. Berghaus held one long note of baying bestiality, performing a solo at the dead stereophonic centre of his own cosy head-space. But it wasn’t his voice.