Digital Ischemia

02/08/2020

Vanishing Mythnight 3/3 Satyrs in the Wood of Cypress

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation… begins at part 1

Being bound by the wench is simultaneously thrilling and repugnant – I still suspect she has been sub-lagoon. I glance at the gilt-lacquered Venk: he gives a magnificent ham performance of dismay at finding himself similarly restricted about the wrists. I actually— I admit, for once I’m glad he’s here. I have every confidence in his total preparedness for any eventuality. Infuriating as it is at every other juncture. But the evil wench is speaking again.

She’s doing the tedious megalomaniac explanation of all her motives thing.
“It was me who knocked over the second statue!”
“I suppose you shat by the third one too? Heavy lunch of grass?”
Her expression becomes irate. I can tell, even in the gloom, because there is a sudden sizzling warmth. But I’m unforgivably tied up in a folly; I am fully justified in being foolish. My foul fingers have been forced against my filthy, dung-encrusted body. She paces as she prattles on.

When the wench recedes, Venk whispers, “have you learnt nothing?” As an afterthought he adds, “sir.”
If his character’s circumscription is crumbling we must be approaching the thrilling denouement. I hiss an arbitrary pretentious literary reference.
“Gogol considers the most profound sleep to come ‘only to such fortunate folk as are troubled neither with mosquitoes nor fleas nor excessive activity of brain.’ I see which one is my problem, but which is yours?”

The wench continues to wander the misererium as she witters about her sacrifices for the quest… blah blah… conquering the lagoon… blah blah… The moment she faces away from us, the torch’s glimmer on Venk’s face shows him jerking his head repeatedly at her and mouthing, “key!”

Our intellectual tête-á-tête is interrupted by a tapping on the window.
An unholy voice rasps “Venk! Venk! Are you in there?”
The evil wench freezes. I seize my chance and lunge my foot at her. I don’t know if it is the prospect of discovery or a fear of the undead, but, just as I reach her ankle, our captor bolts. She does not trip and fall. However, a girly post–exertion whimper escapes my lips. Hopefully she didn’t notice that on her way out.

I re-group and hear a tinkle on the floor. Metallic, not terrified. My toes seem to have caught something. A familiar adversary. I squirm, trying to prehensilise my phalanges. Venk goes one better: he has already untied himself and is now releasing me. I’m astonished, despite myself.
“For the love of pastry, Venk!”

Venk airily admits to being an amateur ventriloquist as well as an escapologist. As well as the mythical salvation thing. Clad in nothing but skilfully–applied gilt paint. I suppose he has had some time over the centuries to master such leisure pursuits. Certainly after seven hundred years he knows the estate quite well, for example when a gust of wind is likely to cause a branch to tap the window.
“Jolly well done, Venk.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I shan’t forget this.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Sorry?” But he is already on his way up the stair. With the torch. Grabbing a butterfly key from the floor.

I leap, well, lunge, well, lurch after him. His sprightliness has never surprised me; it has been a fact for my entire existence. However, I think this is the first time I have tried to keep up with him: his turn of speed is impressive. Of course, I’m handicapped by my several injuries.
I bleat, “bags me unlocking the first statue!” How immature.

By the time I reach the statues, the first two are already wobbling about, emitting rusty neighs. Venk is anally-liberating the third.
He calls cheerily, “clockwork! A butterfly key up the arse and off it goes.”

The third statue approaches me with curiosity and vomits. I feel my ankles sizzling. He whinnies regretfully.
Venk scurries up. “I do apologise. I’ll get that rinsed off with haste.” Had I thought much about it, I would expect lithified mythif— mythological creatures to have pretty corrosive stomach acid.
“Thank you. I wouldn’t bother you, but I think lagoon… juice would merely aggravate the problem.”

The statue glances over his shoulder at the source of increasing rowdiness among the trees.
“Venkeslav is remarkably resourceful – what a party!”
Venk is indeed astonishing: he is the centre of bawdy antics. He has a coven of reanimated satyrs, centaurs or suchlike gyrating hypnotically. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about my rinsewater. Meanwhile, I need no invitation; I am Hrabê Nula!— “ONE STEP, YOU GHASTLY WORM, AND—” Quiet, Mother. I am going to enjoy myself.

I think this qualifies as a ‘good party’. Very Bohemian. No, the other one… Bacchanalian. I smile at my masterful articulation. Woven among the trees are even railings with skulls and crossbones. I enquire incoherently of one of my fellow revellers, a whirling wych-elm.
“Warning of what?”
“Well, death.”
“Yes, but from what?”
“Plants.”
I receive my first ligneous sneer.

I need no invitation; I am Hrabê Nula! No, I’ve done that already, haven’t I? No matter. My physique is sufficiently— “SCRAWNY!” — Quiet, Mother. I am sufficiently lean and lithe to slip between the railings, with little damage. What rich colours and glossy leaves. What a deliciously heady atmosphere! I inhale deeply. My senses overload: white vision, white noise, diffuse fuzzy feeling, lack of gravity, then the ground gently but firmly hits me on the side.

Faintly I hear Venk. “Sir, you seem to be having some trouble with your fly.”
As usual, he has put his tactful finger right on— “I was! There were dryads and nyads and… plyads— Where have they gone?!”
“Evaporated.”
“Where am I?”
“In the garden, sir.”
“I don’t recognise—”
“The Poison Garden, sir. Your mother, RIP, kept a quadrant segregated for your father’s…”
“Intixo— ontox—?” There is another collision in my mind: this time of half-baked notions with poison-induced anxiety, but still Venk-oriented. I splutter for good measure.
“Traitor! Imposter! Methuselah!”
This is slurred beyond translation, but he nods patronisingly.

When I next regain consciousness, I am in my bed. It seems a long time since I was last in repose. All is peaceful, quiet. And sore.
“Venk?”
“Sir.”
“You fixed the pipes?”
He nods affirmation.
“Damn.”
“Sorry, sir?”
“It was all a poison dream, wasn’t it?”

Sheepishly he unlocks the door of a small, ancient cabinet. “I did keep one glass, sir.”
“Mouse piss?”
“One last trip, sir? That’s all it would be, I’m afraid. Can’t have you going the same way as—”
Before he lapses into his obsessional neurosis about my genetic predispositions, I split the glass into another and offer it to him as a dare.
“Exactly how old are you, Venk?”
“Millennia, sir. Drink up.”

Venk downs his dose and strides out; I choke mine down and stumble from my bed. I’m less fussed about the role reversal now, just keen to get to the action. We hear it before we see it. The reanimated statues seem to be having a philosophical altercation.
“Has the old tyrant finally died?”
“Which one?”
“There’s always another one.”
“Why is there no lava?”
“Where’s the blood?”
“Am I a centaur or a satyr?”
“Let me look at your ears, then.”

Maybe it’s having had only half a dose this time, but the vista is so much clearer.
“Satyrs, Venk? This is so much more than my effort!”
He seems diffidently pleased. “Would you excuse me for a moment, sir?”
I make an expansive gesture of goodwill.
He calls over his shoulder, “I leave you my daughter.”
Daughter? What withered crone would this be? I’m not delirious enough to get entangled in another barnacle-like family member. This night is for fun. I stare hard at a couple of trees, willing them to give up their spirits. To my astonished delight, that old wych-elm shimmers promisingly. Something is detaching from the trunk… No! Of all the rotten luck.

I greet her as an old friend.
“You nymph of Nizhny Novgorod!”
“You don’t even know where that is!”
“It’s east, north-east actually!”
The wench explodes with scornful laughter.
I continue to protest. “You wouldn’t have found the key without me!”
Venk runs past in hot pursuit of a satyr and throws out an attempt to mollify us en route.
“Children, please. I can’t wait another generation! I had hoped to expedite matters.”
The wench is still sniggering.
I spit back, “what ‘matters’?!”
“The world is disintegrating! You seem to need a shove.” Fair enough. For one horrible moment I had thought he was trying to arrange a marriage.

The wench acquiesces. “Sorry for the tying you up and running off thing. When I saw my—” She breaks off, seemingly overcome with awe, or perhaps something less respectful. “—Saviour glowing gold I panicked a bit.”
I am gracious. “Quite understandable. What’s your name?”
“Venčova.” This time both halves of my brain collide.
“You’re related?”
“You can call me Nitka.”
“Short for?”
“Infinitia.” Of course. Everything I am not.
The whole thing has been a contrived pantomime. Entertain the inchoate nobility. Disappointing.

While we have been playing more nicely—I am much dispirited—Venk has boarded one of the statues, which he now coaxes around a cypress.
“Absolutely the best retirement present, sir! My very own herd!”
The satyr looks less than happy, having two heads and a spine unwilling to be ridden. I turn to Ms Venčova.
“What have I unleashed? The hooves of hell?”
“The seven horsemen of the apocalypse?”
“Horsemen – very good.”

Venk vents a thundering call to arms. After a couple of seconds of revelry-lag, the other satyrs wince and stagger into a loose coalescence. They collectively gallup into the copse, altercate with several trees, then emerge beyond, with unimpeded momentum, despite two facing the wrong way. As this salvation vanguard passes out of sight, we continue to follow their progress.
“Listen!”
A mighty splashing and churning, as if a dam has failed.
“They’ve reached the river.”
Distant roars of civil alarm. Massive masonry destruction.
“They’ve reached the town.”

The wench yawns. She doesn’t start fondling me in distracting ways, but then I am still sporting a crust of manure. She sinks on to the grass beside an old oak and curls up drowsily.

Starlings are waking. Their rasps sounds like peeling potatoes. Time to start planning the new world. Starting with a full map and inventory of this estate. Really quite urgently. Before I forget everything. And I must figure out how to make hot water in the bath.

End

Inspired by Bohuslav Martinů’s Vanishing Midnight in its three movements: Satyrs in the Wood of Cyprus, The Blue Hour, and Shadows. Backward. As in Natas Pishrowers.
I often have insomnia, often hypoglycaemic. Unfortunately I don’t have battlements, but I enjoy wandering through the hallucinations.

cypress sunrise orange sky

01/08/2020

Vanishing Mythnight 2/3 The Blue Hour

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation… begins at part 1

I return to my course, destination: misererium. The second statue is behind this cypress. As it reveals itself, all silky muscle contours, it is still but not still: it seems to be quivering. That’s the night light again: my brain trying to resolve puzzling images. I press my hand on its flank. Peculiarly warm, like the stone of the parapet. I imagine a pulse, a fasciculation.

I snatch my hand away. Another of my mother’s injunctions—”KEEP YOUR FILTHY PAWS—” But I seem to be fighting back. She’s not here; I’m quite grown-up now. I know there’s no danger from a statue. I press on toward the next. I fancy I hear a muffled whinny. That’s my mind trying to recognise the quiet sounds usually drowned out by daytime noise.

My soothing inner voice is shattered by a mighty crash. My head snaps around: the second statue lies on its side by its plinth. Its legs stick out stiffly, but it appears unbroken. Perhaps I was a little hasty in asserting the total safety of statues.

I wind along the path through a few more cypresses. The dark mass of the wood presses at my side. I hear wheezing. This time I am ready.
“Venk. Please desist from following me.”
“But, sir, I heard a tremendous noise. I imagined you hurt.” A reasonable assumption. He scans my body with medical interest. Then disappointment.
“How did you find me?”
“Well, sir, there was the tremendous crash.”
“I didn’t do anything! I was just walking past when it fell!”
“Of course, sir.” He glances at my trail. Curse my shin.

Out here my drippings show as violet. In the vicinity of the third statue I approach a hum. I expect to meet undead bees swarming up my blood runway to attempt to pollinate my— Drat. Just as the fantasy is rather pleasantly taking my mind off my throbbing shin, Venk has interrupted.
“—turd, sir.”
“I know this is the third!” Wheech, splat. Flies, not bees.
This feels like the daft kind of adventure where everything has to come around thrice. Except Venk; he is apparently an infinite loop, curse him.

I pride myself on my resilience and agility so I roll immediately out of the dung. Just the tiniest of winces. The shortest route to safety from any chance of falling sculpture seems to be through the excrement itself.
“Please stand aside.”
Venk has read my intention and is already stepping back.

I want a closer look from a safe distance at the source of this steaming pile of mythical manure. Venk follows indiscreetly, like a manic dog.
“Why are you looking up its arse, sir?”
“Er… I’m just fascinated by how sculptors from times gone by sort of glossed over certain anatomical…”
“Glossed? It has a hole. What more do you want?”
“Yes, but what an interesting shape: like an inverted keyhole…”

But I must not let myself be distracted: I will get to the… bottom… of this.
“Right!”
I stalk past the remaining four statues, oblivious to further incident, and on up to the fated misererium. Again the flitting white wisp. Just in case, I walk carefully with both hands limply before me. None of the great vaulted gateways are fitted with glass, pier or otherwise. The vaulting seems sufficient inexplicable ostentation for a folly, without doubling everything in reflections. Especially since the above-ground portion is merely misdirection.

The descent into the actual subterranean misererium is predictably dark, wet, and fetid. Shards of pale blue moonlight slice jaggedly between the ill-fitting masonry and only serve to make the rest more impenetrable. A papery rustling suggests mummified corpses or centuries of human dust heaped in dunes. A small crunch under my foot: probably a toenail. Not mine. I reach the cavern.

As quoth Mutual Friend Eugene Wrayburn, “invisible insects of diabolical activity swarm in this place.” Plus an ethereal wench. In a white nightshirt or smock or whatever is the appropriate term for female garmentage. All my manners are instantly sucked swirling down the plughole of my confusion. I blurt.
“Are you sleepwalking?”
“No, you are.” Her phlegmy voice suggests she’s been gargling lagoon water. Perhaps the drifting manoeuvre failed at some point and she fell in. I make a mental note not to touch her.
She continues, with incisive tact. “You are injured.”
“A mere graze.”

My eyes adjust to this darker shade of dark, and discern less dark shapes. The papery rustling may actually be paper. Papers. The wench sits in a pile of them.
“I was reading.”
“I doubt that.”
“I extinguished the torch when I heard you blundering this way.”
That would be how she identified my injury. Not concern.

A taper flares. From the papers leaps a cacophony of blurry hieroglyphs. I grab a handful and scan them eruditely.
“Where did you get these?”
Her glance slices through me, like a warmed rapier through wax. She throws a wispy arm toward the cesspit. I let the papers fall. I make a mental note not to pick my nose.

I step carefully around her. The wench sniffs deprecatingly. Another piece of vicious masonry grates my toes. As I suck my teeth again, I reflect that it is no wonder this place is rustling with toenails. As her taper flickers, her face seems to momentarily reflect that viciousness. Wait…
“You’re rubbing the stones.” My usual marker has helpfully smeared into a series of regular indentations, highlighting their contours in crimson ink.
“Your father… reused some local… monuments.”
The old cadaver! “Was he disturbing ancient graves?!”
“Not exactly: stone tablets.”
“Oh, like runes?”
She grudges an equivocal head wobble.

I have not impressed. Shame and regret lead to petulance.
“Give me that.” I snatch. All my mother’s training out the window. “I am Hrabě Nula!”
“That sounds about right.” I ignore her barb.
“What do the scritchy scratches mean then?”
She is reluctant to share her treasure. “Well, an army of knights… asleep underground…”
“Dead, you mean?”
“No…”
“Are you going to dig them up? Re-animate them?” My head wobble is taunting.
She collectively gestures the sheets. “It’s not clear how that will happen.”

Uncannily I feel my super power forehead ring fire up. The hieroglyphs shimmer and squirm then start to convey something.
“It’s hard to read: all smeary. ‘They will awake and, under the command of Chief Satyr Wensey—, will come to the aid of the Smudgy People—”
“Smudgy people?”
“Ink blot. Or something off my thumb. This torch isn’t helping.”
She recoils then carefully cranes over to peer down the page.
“… In their time of need.”
But there’s a gap. Does she think I can’t read it or can she not read it? I can’t read it… completely, but the sense seems to be about what actually triggers the awakening, the unfreezing, the unlocking…

I feel a surge of intellectual, or possibly egoic, titillation. This is the apocalyptic stuff Venk has me reading about. This could be where I insert myself nobly. Er.
“Just how dreadful do human affairs have to get before these somnolent heroes stir into action? And who is Wensil—”
Our reading light gutters with an irreverent hiss. She licks her finger and prods the wick. This is simultaneously arousing and annoying. I’ve been training for months to put my hand through— Now the wench is speaking.
“I think it’s pronounced ‘Vench—'”
Is she reading my mind?? Oh, she means that ‘Wensey—’ word. Wait!

I snatch the recovering torch and thrust it to light the one by the steps. I tread heavily on another cold, sharp piece of debris. Unsettled concepts in my mind collide with acute discomfort.
“Arsehole! Does this torch holder look remarkably like Venk?”
“Who?”
“A sort of staff gentleman who refuses to leave.”
She nods, nonplussed. She has noticed my leg recoil and, although obviously she can’t offer any direct nursing to my shit-splattered foot, she feels around the floor to remove the injurious item.
“It’s not him, is it?” I give the brass some firm palpitation. It reminds me of the statue. I realise that if this is Venk dressed in nothing but gilt paint I will be traumatised for the rest of my life over how I am touching him. I stop abruptly.

Luckily the vench—wench does not suffer my sensitivities.
“What exquisite workmanship… despite the subject.”
“Thank you, madam.”
We both gasp. Still annoying when you know fine well what’s coming.
Venk continues, “sorry, sir. Perhaps you wanted to be alone with—?”
“Thank you, Venk!”
“—but you will keep wandering off without a light, leaving blood everywhere, and it saves time if I get at it straight away.”

My dear mother always said—”pull yourself together, YOU DAMP BLOT!”—I should be assertive.
“Venk: what is your full name?”
“Classified, sir.”
“Nonsense. Is it by any chance Vince? Winsey—Winky—?”
“Oh, please desist, sir. It’s Venkeslav.”
“That’s not as interesting as I expected.” I lie.

Venk seems to have just admitted to being a legend destined to lead mythical forces to save humanity. Or something like that. I must protect myself from any potential adverse side-effects of the discovery by feigning ignorance.

However, the wench blurts out her disagreement. I forgive her for not reading my frantic facial expressions in the gloom.
“I think it is rather int—” She is suddenly muffled.
“Venk. Unhand my companion. Dismiss.”
“Sir.”
“You’re still here.”
“Yes, sir. Like I say, when you get going with the… lady I want a head start on the mopping and repairs.”
“Dismiss. Avaunt. Clear off.”
“Sir, your poor mother said to me—” “lash him in cask and float him out to sea!” “—to look after you.”
The wench interjects, “he could hold the torch.” Very droll.

The wench physically positions Venk to our best advantage, rather piquing my envy. She turns her attention to me.
“Why are you holding your hands behind you? Is it because you’re an irretrievable, entitled, elitist Tally?” Another point to her.
My self-consciousness short-circuits my self-preservation. “Swamp water. Mustn’t pick my—” Drat.
She sniggers. “I can sort that for you.” She springs behind me. I feel a sensuous touch glide over my arms, a soft cloth and a sudden tight bind. Curses.

…continues at part 3

31/07/2020

Vanishing Mythnight 1/3 Shadows

A short farce where an anachronistic entitled young hero unravels his inheritance and unleashes mythical world salvation

Something wakes in my head around 3AM. There’s no hint of daylight yet, just the summer midnight blue. I wander about the crenellations, imagining myself a hero in an as yet unexposited drama. Always I am poised on the verge of glory; world salvation calls but my dozy brain has yet to figure out which way. Still, the masonry remains comfortingly warm from yesterday’s sun. After an hour my legs tire and I return to bed to complete my slumber.

But not tonight. Tonight the murk gives up an ethereal wisp. At the far end of this opulently long and wide corridor there sways a pale figure. As I see it, it seems to see me; we both halt and hold our breaths. I watch its suspended stillness. Involuntarily I move toward it; simultaneously it sways toward me.

What a dolt. My reflection. My white nightshirt. I wave. Within a moment, the apparition responds. I laugh sardonically. I turn about, thinking of it setting off similarly in its mirror world, as I tread another hall toward another rampart.

I should introduce myself. I am Hrabě Nula – Count Zero. Following the Roman tradition, my father planned to number his children, but my mother took one look at me and decided to stop before she started. I’ve lived here all my life; it is the only place I have known, yet all I know is that I don’t know all… That’s quite good, actually; I should write that down.

I relish glancing over the semi-familiar shapes in the grounds below: efflorescences of darker dark; geometrical puzzles that tantalise and surprise as I—
Thwack.
I suck my teeth.
“Venk!” My voice quavers.
“Yes, sir.”
I gasp at his ubiquitous proximity. Venk has been my family’s retainer for about seven hundred years. He has the physique of a leather kite.
I whimper. “The masonry is protruding again.”
“I have the file.”
“It was that second column after the—”
“Yes, sir. I see your usual marker on the balustrade. May I blot your shin?”
“Don’t fuss.”
“Right, sir. I’ll follow with the mop.”
“Leave it; it makes the battlements look authentic.”
“Yes, sir.”

I take this opportunity to be gracious.
“You really needn’t address me as ‘sir’, Venk; you wiped my bum as a baby!”
“I most certainly did not, sir! I am a butler; I don’t do crevices.”
“Well, perhaps it was a turn of phrase of my fath—”
“I did not under any circumstances perform any such or related services for your father, RIP.”
“Not even when he was floating drunk?”
“Never.”
As I hobble on, the rasp of Venk’s metal file recedes.

I don’t ask Venk to do anything. I pay him what I believe is a decent pension, and more besides, as reparation for his centuries of torment. However, he still likes my perfunctory opinion on certain matters of estate and domestic management, so I try not to be too imbecilic.

Recently Venk has had me studying a ‘news’ circular from the city after meals. It’s frightening stuff. I don’t think it can all be genuine; some must be a literary in-joke. He says it will ‘broaden my horizons’, the blighter.

My cogitations are interrupted by a dainty scuffling among the gargoyles. Not an ethereal wisp. Not Venk. I call back to him, trying to sound authoritative.
“Scuffling, Venk; animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“As yet, sir, not fully determined.” He has no idea.
“We’ll attribute it to Od, pro tem.”
“Have you been at the pig Latin again, sir?”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Ixnay, ogday, and suchlike, sir.”
“I was twelve, Venk! It was a fad during my pseudo-intelligentsia epoch.”
“I see. So it’s not odgay?”
“Absolutely not. It’s a placeholder for unexplained natural causes and scientific phenomena, coined in the 19th century.”
“That’s an entirely different and wholly appropriate matter, sir. I apologise.”
“I don’t know where you get to these preposterous notions, Venk.”

Feeling still entirely untired, I limp toward one of the flights of stairs, which is wide enough to serve as an amphitheatre. My father was a considerable narcissist. Emphasis on ‘arse’. To be precise: short-arse. Each step is barely a heel’s depth and as polished as the day, or the day after, it was installed. Just to add excitement, some of the steps are not horizontal. That skittering is the sound of my inappropriate footwear losing traction and further polishing said non-horizontal steps.

Fear not: as I said, the steps are shallow, so the descent is little more than the feeling of a back massage with a washboard. The problem is that my father liked to survey his estate, while my mother disliked the Baltic breeze whistling up the stairwell. Plus my inability to maintain a feet-first position as I cross the floor below. You can imagine the sound as my forehead connects with the glass partition door.

I push myself up to sit but I’m too dizzy to move further. The pain radiates sparks through my vision. Yet I can make out a small boy standing beyond the glass. He seems about five years old and remarkably composed with his hands clasped neatly before his belly. I recognise him: he’s the one rumoured to have been recruited by some clandestine organisation because he has super-mental powers.

He steps toward the glass, our faces level. He raises one arm, his forefinger outstretched, to precisely touch my forehead as it appears in the glass on his side. I lift my finger to meet it on my side. He recognises my forehead energy ring as a sign of similar super-mental powers. I gaze at his face as his forehead lights up with a small red ring. I feel the strangest, wondrous, intense sensation in my own forehead.

Initially we test each other with tricks. The boy wanders to the village and waves to me from the church. I focus my special forehead vision and proceed to pan and zoom as if viewing from a bird’s eye. I’m confident that the church is north from here so I move in that direction by intention. However, this is hard work as I’m too close range so it’s difficult to make out features. Eventually I hit indistinguishable grey blobs and conclude I’ve found the church roof.

About this point Venk ruins my connection to this extraordinary skill by throwing a glass of cold water over me and expressing his untender concern for my welfare.
“That’s an angry red ring on your forehead, sir. Shall I prepare a poultice?”
I swat him away. Something is not right in my head. Apart from the throbbing bruise and frayed blood vessels. The glass… There isn’t any glass on the parapet.

I grab the glass from Venk’s hand and down the remaining measure. He seems momentarily appalled but regroups admirably. Clawing my way up his shiny buttons, I haul myself up to a swaying stand.

I retrace my steps: straightforward as there is a convenient red dotted line. Intrepidly I step Beyond the Red Line. I yelp. The ever-solicitous Venk leaps out from an alcove, a threadbare dressing draped over his shoulder, a crucible of noxious excreta in his hand.
“Please let me attend to your wound, sir.”
In my excitement I flap him away from my shin.
“There was a girl— There was someone here.”
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
I stumble away with horrible visions of this exquisite ethereal wisp manacled to a slimy wall.

The misererium is an often overlooked feature of Roman architecture, and thus of mock-Roman, faux-ancient, ego-indulgent edifices.
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
Venk’s words echo through my frantic mind. They also echo through the stone corridors; as well as Baltic wind funnels, my father was unintentionally successful in creating the most bone-powdering auditory effects.
“I put her in the misererium, sir.”
“What do you mean ‘put’?!”
“She is awaiting your convenience, sir.”
“To restore her to health? To one piece? I’m not a sorcerer!”
Venk glances critically at my bare legs, and their cross-hatched archaeology of injuries. “Indeed, sir.”
“Why? Why there?”
“She seemed melancholy, sir.”
“Sadist.”

The misererium of my acquaintance is situated on the far side of the lagoon – a stagnant, algae-glazed, joy-sapping puddle. It is dangerously close to the wood. My mother forbade me from exploring—”If I catch you in that wood, I’ll remove your testicles with this fork.”—that feature with her characteristic firmness. I feel shivers developing into shudders at the mere glimpse of it.

But first I must divert Venk.
“What’s that infernal scritchy scratchy scuffling?”
“Mice, sir.” He’s guessing.
“Mice?! Poison them!”
“I am effecting every method of dissuasion, sir.”
“What sort of cowardly—?!”
“Unfortunately they’re in the gubbins, sir.”
“So?”
“They would die horribly in your water supply.”
“Whereas now they’re just shitting in it?”
“I’m training Beetles to penetrate—”
“Beetles?!”
“The cat, sir. You named her.”
“I was four! Is she still going?!”
“With a sniff of mouse at one end and a sharp stick at the other.”
“So there’s ancient cat piss in the waterworks as well.”
“We are well supplied with… alternative beverages, sir.”
“Father’s fifth circle of cellar?” This is desperate. “Please sort it forthwith.”
“Yes, sir.”

In repairing to the forbidding misererium, I must negotiate other characters. My father littered the grounds with marble and stone and bronze statues; he never could decide which was the most ostentatious. Yet oddly none of them were intended to resemble himself. They are creatures of mythology: human-beast chimeras. On second thoughts, perhaps they were very good likenesses. I make a mental note to research the distinction between centaurs and satyrs, more for a false feeling of mental control than any genuine practical application.

The midnight blue gives the statues an eerie luminescence, a looming essence from behind trees. Involuntarily I gasp. Despite knowing exactly where each one is, my primitive brain sparks to make me start anyway. This is annoying. Yet without an overhead light this first one seems to wear a smirk.

I glance across the water—or whatever is beneath that fetid crust—to steady my nerves. In this deceptive non-light its coating looks like an oil slick. I get a further jolt: the ethereal wisp drifts over the far side of the toxic swamp. It could not be one of the marble statues: they are not that well polished and reflective. Nor could they balance upon that noxious veneer. There would be a chthonic crack and plunge.

I vacillate between relief that Venk has failed to constrain her and further anxiety that she is still abroad. The first statue sneers at my discomfiture.

…continues at part 2

24/08/2019

A Manifesto, by the Omphaloskeptic Party

As we were waiting on the stair,
For a chance that wasn’t there,
We saw a wolf and then a bear,
And third a pregnant mountain hare.

These things have disappeared from our biotically denuded, cartridge case-littered isle. Also apparently under threat is the pregnant human. The honourable member for Waitrose Helensburgh raised the concern that Britain is shrivelling – that is, the human population thereof. Not himself personally, of course, for he is deliberately concentrating all his energy into the head end, ahem, and what becomes of the rest is unimportant. But if the falling reproductive rate of females – currently around 1.8 children per female – continues, ultimately the British will cease to exist as a race. This is not a personal exhortation, of course; all tacitly accept that my eggs are quite addled.

The Party’s broad sweep over social issues includes views on abortion. Although there are strong arguments pro, the venerable patron of Paisley Podiatrix would not like to ‘undertake’ the procedure himself. This is just as well, since his current inventory of surgical implements comprises a dazzling array of sugar-encrusted kitchen utensils and a pair of pliers for stubborn fastenings.

Next the Marks & Spencer-moccasined member asserted that single parents are on the rise. This is simple statistics: as a nation we are losing interest in breeding. Completely missing the point, I countered that people will not stop having sex; life is hard enough. Opinions have changed little since the 60s, when any of Hrabal’s young beauties would tell you you might as well be buried alive if the man in your life has a faulty fandangle, which sounds even more, er, galvanising in Czech.

We swivelled our bradawl-like intellects to the ethics of childminders. Mothers are under pressure from the backwash of the suffragette movement to exercise every single one of their hard-won rights. They must return to work full-time as soon as possible. No matter that gender parity is a hormonal beast. Women are entitled to work as long as men, just not for the same pay.

However, women are currently entitled to longer maternity leave. And to wrangle to their heart’s delight with the Dostoyevskian dilemma of flexible working patterns. Anything less than full-time remains an admission of inferiority. A lack of professional commitment. So they grasp ‘compressed hours’ – full-time hours over fewer days. Leaving them a longer ‘weekend’ to engage in ‘compressed hours’ full-time parenting. Because if you’re working in order to pay somebody to look after your children, like every stage in any process of value conversion, something gets lost.

Consequently, with unanimous support, we propose to introduce both parity of paternity leave, and parity of pressure on fathers to reduce their working hours commensurate with their partners to at most seventy-five percent. Thus, by equally sharing the professional shame of being a parent, we can accelerate the depopulation of Britain, and allow its recolonisation by more intelligent mammals.

Quoth Beethaven “Leonore!”, lightning to strike thrice, and that concludes this manifesto on behalf of the Omphaloskeptic Party, brought to you in dysfunction with powdered fresh ginkgo biloba leaves.

23/06/2019

Fossoway Flora and the Croits: a sonata in A manor -r

Relationship counselling with three incarnations of the Kreutzer Sonata – radio script
(Other episodes in the Fossoway Flora series)

 

CAST LIST

FLORA (30s): Scottish, Female, Ecologist

LEO (60s): Russian, Male, Psychotherapist

ROD (30s): Scottish, Male, Music Promoter

SCENE (1) INT HALL

FX: DOOR SHUTS, ECHOEY

FLORA

We’re definitely in the right place: A Manor – Relationship Counselling.

ROD

Nobody here.

FLORA

I need to pee.

ROD

Aye, you disappear, then someone appears.

FX: RECEDING STEPS, RUFFLING MAGAZINES

ROD (CONT’D)

‘Romantic gardening’?!

FX: APPROACHING STEPS

FLORA

There’s an old Russian master in the toilet.

ROD

How do you ken he’s Russian?

FLORA

Apart from the accent? He’s fondling a samovar.

SCENE (2) INT TOILET

FX: BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA NO.9 IN A MAJOR KREUTZER OP.47 EXCERPT; DOOR CREAK, SAMOVAR LID CLANG

LEO

(WAIL) How can they play that first presto in front of ladies? It’s irresponsible.

ROD

(LOUD, STILTED)

Do you know where the therapist is?

FLORA

(CLOSE) He is the therapist! This is Leo Tallstory! He has the ‘croits’.

ROD

(CLOSE) Well, he’s in the best place.

LEO

My complaint is caused by deletions made by literary executors.

ROD

Ouch.

LEO

Come to my consulting room.

SCENE (3) INT CONSULTING ROOM

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG

LEO

Flora. Rodney. We must begin with the social conditions in which amorous young people are forced, like cucumbers in a hot-bed!

ROD

Cucumbers?!

FLORA

This is exactly why we’re here, Mr Tallstory. We rather rushed—

LEO

Call me Leo. Our super-abundance of food, coupled with physical idleness, simply pushes us to the next biological need: food, shelter, etcetera, reproduction. Every day we consume huge quantities of meat and pastry and drinks of sugar. Where does all this energy go?

ROD

Er…

LEO

Into excesses of sensuality.

ROD

Is it hot in here?

FLORA

I did try fruitarianism.

LEO

It is a good start. Rod, do you admit to knowing pieces of music that make you feel happy or salad?

ROD

Is this a crime—? Wait: “salad”?

LEO

Somebody perhaps calls in to a radio show to share the piece of music that triggered them to propose marriage to their partner.

LEO (CONT’D)

This seems like a joyful story, yes? But this person says it was the worst mistake of their life and blames it on a false feeling incited by the music.

FLORA

Ooh! We really don’t understand how music affects our moods, choices—

ROD

That’s basically sympathising with state censorship of music!

FLORA

We’re just having a conversation!

ROD

So you say, then once again I’m the victim of mission creep.

LEO

What is your mission, Rodney?

ROD

Actually it’s Rodolphe.

LEO

The Kreutz! (SCREAM)

FX: SAMOVAR LID GRINDS, BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA EXCERPT

LEO (CONT’D)

So sorry about that. He was the original dedicatee, you see – Rodolphe Kreutzer. He refused it.

ROD

And yet here it is.

LEO

Fate! What is your profession, Mr Kreutzer?

ROD

Music industry executive.

FLORA

(SNORT)

LEO

What do you do?

FLORA

Yes, what exactly?

ROD

Never mind your disrespecting! I promote bands, get them gigs, recording contracts… new strings.

LEO

Which ensembles are these?

ROD

Well, er, right now it’s mostly this band, you’ve maybe heard of them, er, this indie electro rock band, er, The Wankers?

FLORA

(SPLUTTER)

LEO

You produce them?

ROD

Aye! Respect at last!

LEO

You make them into a product to sell to as many people as possible, giving these ‘consumers’ unpredictable emotional stimulation, to generate profit for yourself?

ROD

Er, no, that’s not—

LEO

The machine of commercial production grinds and grinds to deliver more and more products for human consumption: the instant gratification of ever fainter desires. Millions of oppressed workers are drained to husks by soulless industry, predicated upon the fallacy of infinite economic growth, merely to satisfy woman’s caprice.

ROD

Ken how they feel.

FLORA

I only changed my mind once: when I met Rod I thought he was funny but now I realise it’s all just smut.

LEO

We must play the Kreutzer Sonata.

ROD

Is this one of your mind games?

FX: SAMOVAR LID GRINDS, BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA EXCERPT

ROD (CONT’D)

Is that a wee radio you have in your sam-over?

LEO

It is an echo-chamber. Flora. How do you respond to music?

FLORA

Music transports me immediately into the emotional state of the composer.

FX: GLASS DISH DRAG

LEO

Correct. Would you like a lollipop? These are ants trapped in chocolate.

FLORA

Absolutely not. This is a macabre metaphor for the oppressed workers.

FX: CELLOPHANE SQUEAKS

LEO

But they taste of honey. And all these males sacrifice their entire existence for the queen.

ROD

Don’t get any ideas.

FLORA

They milk aphids for honeydew.

ROD

Milk?

FLORA

When the aphids are gorging on plant sap, the ants stroke the aphids’ abdomens until they excrete—

ROD

(AROUSED MOAN)

LEO

Rod! Who wrote the Kreutzer Sonata?

ROD

(TETCHY)

Doctor Bunsen Honeydew.

FLORA

Muppet.

LEO

Both wrong. Beethoven knew exactly why he was in that emotional state. That state drove the form of the music, which therefore had deep meaning for him. But for me it is inappropriate.

ROD

And me. Can I have one of your wee honeydew sweeties?

LEO

No.

ROD

Why?

LEO

Because, like the music, just the idea of this honeydew causes directly in you a surge of energy and emotion that is inappropriate to this time and place. And furthermore must have an outlet which can only be harmful.

ROD

I’ll just bottle it up then.

FLORA

I’m not sure—

LEO

Flora. How do you feel after hearing this music?

FLORA

I do feel that rush of extreme emotion: as if I’ve been betrayed and I want vengeance… but I’m constrained?

LEO

Exactly. I must pursue this man who seduces my wife! But I am not dressed! It is ridiculous to run after my wife’s lover wearing only socks. I do not wish to appear ridiculous but terrifying!

ROD

(SNIGGER)

FLORA

Should we consider the wife’s—?

FX: CD CASE SLIDES ACROSS TABLE

LEO

Your homework. This has been helpful. I see you next week.

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG

Library issue slip showing due dates in 1984, 1995, 2018

Popular book

SCENE (4) EXT DRIVEWAY

FX: STEPS CRUNCH GRAVEL

ROD

How does he get away with that?

FLORA

Some of his ideas really resonate.

ROD

Aye, great wee thing, that sam-over.

FLORA

Do you still have anything that plays CDs?

SCENE (5) INT FLAT

FX: POOR QUALITY PIANO CONCERTO EXCERPT

ROD

Did they forget to take the microphone out its case?

FLORA

Bit ‘soft focus’, isn’t it? And how do you end up missing sixteen bars? Did they lose a page from the score?

ROD

Could they just not fit it all on the one seventy-eight? How old is this?

FX: CD CASE CLICKS

FLORA

You’re right: was it not played or was it deleted?

FX: CD CASE DISINTEGRATES

FLORA (CONT’D)

Thanks for dismantling it.

ROD

Oh, that address is in Prague. I could ask when I’m there. Next again week. Since I’ll be in Prague to interview record company representatives.

FLORA

Still hawking your wares?

ROD

Offering them the chance to be part of global domination by The Wankers.

FLORA

They may have some experience with that.

SCENE (6) EXT GARDEN

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG, BG BIRDS, STEPS THROUGH GRASS

LEO

I extemporise best in my garden, and my clients seem to find it easier to reconnect with their own natures here.

FLORA

Does the nature have to be so… tamed?

LEO

Tamed… constrained… mutilated… Ah! I find myself paralysed in the greenhouse, my hand on an enormous Savoy cabbage. I feel its mesh of tiny ridges and gullies. I flex my fingertips to take in all the textural detail, but it’s smooth now: it has a hairline. It’s my best friend, Pavel.

ROD

(CLOSE) Do you think that gate’s locked?

LEO

He has a head of cabbage. (CHUCKLE)

FLORA

(CLOSE) Pay attention. This is costing fifty quid an hour.

SCENE (7) INT GREENHOUSE

FX: JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET NO.1 KREUTZER SONATA EXCERPT; GREENHOUSE DOOR RATTLE

ROD

(CLOSE) There’s no cabbages!

LEO

Flora. The code is in the music. Pavel is the musician. He plays pianos with ridiculous talent. He completely feels that poor woman: tormented, run down.

ROD

(CLOSE) There’s no pianos!

FX: PENCIL SCRIBBLES

FLORA

(CLOSE) Pavel… Krrzhzhpostulov! On that CD!

LEO

Pavel plays Beethoven and Janáček; he stops time. We’re squatting in a villa in Brno. Why? Because it has a piano, of course. Also a sinkhole in the kitchen floor – a casualty of the last explosion. I thought the cellar would be good shelter…

But it seems abandoned. Pavel says he won’t go down there until the piano does. He goes where the music goes, with his cabbage-like skull.

FX: SAMOVAR LID CLANG

LEO (CONT’D)

I always have Pavel with me.

ROD

(CLOSE) Shite, it’s an urn, isn’t it?!

LEO

I see you next week.

SCENE (8) EXT DRIVEWAY

FX: STEPS CRUNCH GRAVEL

ROD

Will you miss me? When I’m away to Prague? Next week?

FLORA

I miss… We’ve missed… All the great composers, the great writers, great artists, that we know of; they’re just the tiny minority who had the right talent in the right place at the right time to be recognised and perpetuated. What about all the others? Some of them were just as great, but due to some misfortune their work was not recognised, or was lost, or their lives were so short that they never got to share anything. All that lost talent! Lost effort!

ROD

This Pavel boy of Leo’s was one of the composers that nobody’s heard of?

FLORA

Who knows?

Library notice inside book cover stating lending rules

The Sanitary Inspector and other stories by Leo Tolstoy is also available

SCENE (9) INT FLAT

FX: JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET EXCERPT

ROD

(DISTORT) About the missing bars. They’re just two nerds in a basement with an eight-track.

FLORA

Thanks for trying.

ROD

(DISTORT) But! They Fourier-analysed the sound at the break. They showed me the graph of the harmonics. Each instrument has its own signature sound shape, but you only see it at the start of each note, just the first fraction of a second, after that it becomes a cleaner sound that doesn’t really identify the instrument.

FLORA

Ah! So the sounds immediately after the break…?

ROD

(DISTORT) Some are the start of notes but some aren’t. The recording was cut; it wasn’t performed that way.

FLORA

That’s really interesting. So why cut it?

ROD

(DISTORT) They thought those bits were plagiarised. Maybe I’ll find out in Brno tomorrow.

FLORA

Um, be careful.

SCENE (10) INT FLAT

FX: JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET EXCERPT

ROD

(DISTORT) I’m in this villa on Girasolov Street – I’m sure it’s the one Tallstory stayed in. It’s just a ruined shell. I’m in the cellar! I can see the bricks!

FLORA

What?!

ROD

(DISTORT) Where the cellar space turns a corner into a passage: the bricks are chalked white like a vertical piano keyboard. Pavel brought the piano to him.

FLORA

That’s actually quite touching.

ROD

(DISTORT) That’s not the best bit: wedged in cracks between the bricks are scraps of paper, wrappers, bits of paper bag, envelopes, all with music written on! Fences with beetles!

FX: PAPER CRACKLES

FLORA

Did you take them? No, you shouldn’t have. But that could be the missing—

ROD

(DISTORT) I know! I think I should get points for this: I photographed them!

FLORA

That’s brilliant!

ROD

(DISTORT) Er, OK.

SCENE (11) INT CONSULTING ROOM

FX: BEETHOVEN VIOLIN SONATA EXCERPT; SAMOVAR LID CLANG

FLORA

Old cabbage-head didn’t die. That was just an echo-chamber of your low self-esteem type thing.

ROD

He works delivering vegetables. His hair’s stripy white now – like piano keys!

LEO

You see him?!

ROD

I heard him. From the shed in his garden. He plays just for himself. A small crowd gathers. Very quietly in the shrubs.

LEO

(SOB)

FLORA

Maybe you need a nice bit of samovar?

FX: SAMOVAR LID SLIDE, JANÁČEK STRING QUARTET EXCERPT

ROD

(CLOSE) Are we, er, croitsed?

FLORA

(CLOSE) You can take it too far, can’t you?

FIN

05/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 12/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

I was fizzing with excitement as I approached Svendsen’s glasshouse. My hand floated to the door handle of its own accord. It was a turner, but so slack as to be redundant. The shiny, worn push-plate above it had survived better. I adored these and the missing paint from the edges. Carried away by the romance, I expected to be greeted like an old friend, a favourite customer or a revered benefactor. No-one made eye-contact.

That is to say all eye-contact was with the near end of assorted binoculars and telescopes. All focus was on the ridge of small hills. Ah, the birds. A party of twitchers? No cakes, then.

I tentatively enquired, “what have you got?” Then a final inspiration struck: “Dunlins?”

Drumhaugh’s dunlins?! I really was too excited. “Twelve?”

“Naw. Drumlins.”

I hadn’t seen that coming. And yet I had seen every single one of them coming. Every single one of the twelve of them, lining the blasted glen, as I came up the road: ‘mounds or small hills in a group.’

We, that is to say, they watched the small hills for a considerable time. I sniffed among the neglected foliage: I was prepared to lick a tropical flower if it tasted of vanilla.

Eventually I pinpointed the rear of Svendsen’s head and casually enquired about the provenance of the nimps.

“They kindae go with the territory.”

“Because it’s such a wonderful wilderness?”

Svendsen turned to look at me like I was half-baked with bodged icing.

“Because you’re living in a hag’s hoose?”

I stuttered, “It’s a fishing hut!”

Another ornithological obsessive cried, “crone’s cottage!”

I continued bleating. “It’s called ‘ha’e grouse’ or something…!?”

“Hag house.”

Obvious now. Rotten, crooked… ‘h’ becomes ‘r’. “I’m leaving tomorrow anyway.”

“Dinnae think so.” I didn’t know which of them said this, or rather mumbled into the recesses of the opticals.

“Who’s going to stop me?! Imaginary creatures twelve centimetres tall?!”

Svendsen quietly muttered, “try them.” At some unseen signal he continued, “but first, try this.”

There followed the smack and shudder of a door over-opening, an angry rustle of foliage, and a small group cheer of self-congratulation at disaster averted. An enormous celebratory meal of a cake, with several courses served in several articulated constructions, lurched into view, borne upon several pairs of very small legs. Woohoo!

On the twelve days of Christmas my new hov-el gave to me…? I’ll get back to you.

END

For two SPs.

04/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 11/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

My advent aviary and I enjoyed our afternoon sleigh rides so much that we have continued our daily strolls along the glen tracks since the snow melted. Not very far initially, what with inappropriate footgear and, well, feet. Consequently I exhumed a pallet and filched a couple pairs of ladder wheels from the shed emporium. We now have a wheeled sleigh with more comfy straw and we trundle until I get tired of the rattling. I pull the affair with a length of twine. I like the walk and have no desire to sit in bird shit as the nine of us free-wheel into a bog.

We headed downstream.

Bad choice. Error. There were probably only one or two, but they sounded like a whole herd of rabid cats in heat. Nimps banishing the last vestiges of their hangovers with the absolute worst tiny bagpipe-playing.

I had a nauseating vision of the laddies troupe reeling to this cacophony. Yet they would need to be going about the place pretty soon to prepare their grand finale. Santa, the hens, the collared doves and I about-turned and instead made a small foray in the opposite direction.

We found ourselves on the road, as the sound seemed to carry along the water like Sirens wailing. Before long we reached the limit of Svendsen’s estate. His sign was in much better condition: Drumshaugh. Drums, eh? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

We wandered in, curious about our new-found favourite neighbour’s activities the day before the party. It all looked quite different coming from the other side, and what I thought was the mill turned out to be a bakery, but on a scale of stupendous proportions. The smell had us all salivating; me for the vanilla; them for the grain.

We tilted toward the first window, pressing our noses/beaks in the traditional fashion. Through the steam we could make out industrial scale conveyor belts of cakes, tarts, pies and patisseries. A collective of feathered confectioners attended the production line… with pointy ears.

What were these fellows: Turnstones? Snipe? Goblins? I’ll look it up, but what was more remarkable was how they were skilfully operating shiny chrome levers with their long, elegant toes, whilst manoeuvring shiny chrome nozzles with their long, elegant beaks, thereby producing the most enchanting rainbow of sugar-based decorations. Cakes of all sizes were being adorned with the fanciest of furls and flora. A thoroughly diabetes-inducing team icing effort.

Elven Sandpipers Piping.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas concludes at part 12

03/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 10/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

Woke up far too early. Excited. Drat. Festive spirits probably dripping through the roof. But I was confident against all probability that today would be a quiet and amusing-encounter-free day.

After fearlessly performing feeding duties, I took a wee wander around the yard; what had seemed neglected and empty to begin with was growing on me. Things I hadn’t noticed before began to seem enchantingly wild: an old oak tree trunk enmeshed in lattice of ivy stems. I peered.

Something I was definitely sure there hadn’t been: a little fold of sparkly pink paper. At a node where two ivy stems crossed, the postage stamp sized origami was carefully tucked to sit as a diamond backdrop. I admired the shapes, the lines and the weaving; the pink, grey and green. But these were all a mental smokescreen: my hand was reaching for the paper before I even admitted my curiosity.

Blank. Unfolded, flipped about, held up to the sky where the sun should be. No message.

Folded or oriented? Origami after all? Geometric puzzle? Was the message even actually intended for me? Disappointed, I furtively glanced about, then re-folded the paper and returned it to its position. I tried staring at it from different angles and distances.

From about twenty metres away the artwork was pretty fuzzy, but I caught the blur of movement. I strode back up to the trunk and practically bumped my nose into the arse of the mover. The nimp was wrestling the paper that was bigger than his arm. He muttered invectives, but these seemed less about his task and more about the halo of flies buzzing around his head. He noticed my shadow.

His head flicked around with a resentful expression that clearly said “mine.” The pink paper came free, he pressed it over his face like a flannel and inhaled. He then crumpled it into his mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed.

The nimp scurried down the ivy lattice like a sailor navigating rigging and disappeared into a root crevice. A phone was ringing.

I reached the golden mobile just before Narcisse swept it off the bunker onto the floor with her tail feathers. The fascia already looked lightly clawed; apparently not a hens-free model. Ho ho.

The caller was Svendsen inviting me to a party on Saturday. Of course he knew about the pink paper diamond. Nimps can’t read, so he communicates with them via a trail of vanilla or other bakery scents. That was some hangover to sanction eating cinnamon-doused paper.

And so it was quiet. As always follows from nimp laddies carousing.

Tender heids a-lowping.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 11

02/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 9/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

I awoke to ice crystals whisking the glass. I bravely extended one arm to open the curtain and watch the soothing swirl. Everything became transfixingly silent.

As the snowfall abated, I emerged to attend les poulets Française. A glint of movement drew my eyes straight to the pens, but it seemed to be just a snow sparkle. As I trudged nearer, there appeared very small footprints, forming a loop. Neither bird nor mammal. Reptiles unlikely to be abroad in snow.

Nicole and Narcisse were cluckling habitually. Noelle, however, was perturbed. Unsettled. I respectfully rummaged in her nest, wondering if I had accidentally introduced an uncomfortable stone or similar indignity with yesterday’s fresh straw.

A very small voice complained, “ooh-yah!”
I retrieved a warm, round, egg-sized object. Not an egg. Rather startled, I let it roll back on to the straw. There it unfolded to about twelve centimetres high, expressed its own startlement, emitted a very quiet “shite” and vanished into the woodwork.

I decided to walk the road solo as the promised convolutions would suit my cogitations. Nimps. Mysterious bird migrations? Nimps. Other random translocations? Nimps. Nimps could explain the lot. Mischief. Magic. How inevitably seasonal.

I turned back to the hut. I missed the entire scenery in reverse as well. But for the first time I noticed a rotten, crooked sign beside the rotten, crooked fence by the hut. “Hagrouse”. Bit of Scots there? Theme of country hunting? My thoughts returned to things that go whump in the night. And clatter.

If I timed this exactly right, turned off all the lights, pretended to be away to bed as usual… Tum-ti-tum… Snuck back to the kitchen door, turned the handle so very quietly… Stepped silently into the yard…

How does the verse go again?
When up on the roof there arose such a clatter,
As yon dafty nimps were aye gettin’ battered.

Something like that. And there, on the roof, in the statutory moonbeam: a ring of tiny rollicking revellers. Ice crystals whisking their glasses too. Plenty whisky-ing their glasses.

Nimp laddies dancing.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 10

01/01/2019

The Twelve Days of Twistmas part 8/12

The Christmas song twisted into a series of linked short tales, fabricated around tortuous puns. Begins at part 1.

Svendsen was a fellow feather fancier, although not as sordid as that sounds. He said he collected them. At first I thought he meant for shooting or just for having captive. But after being caught seemingly stringing some up, I tried not to jump to conclusions.

Indeed I had misunderstood: the ‘collecting’ was a sort of passive magnetism as the assorted birds arrived as refugees from neighbouring estates, and were welcomed with food and shelter. And were free to leave. I suspect some of my recent companions had wandered over from his hostelry. Annoyingly I found all this heart-warming.

In any case, we were all invited over for New Year tea; to share, not to be roasted for.

Svendsen had advised that we follow the river upstream, rather than the road, which was more circuitous. I should stress that I stuck firmly to the river bank. The gentle incline was a decent work-out and none of us were water-going.

As we passed alongside a wider, slower-moving section, three ducks—–one drake——kept pace with us, hugging the far bank, weaving in and out of the weeds and exposed tree roots. In fact, they seemed surprisingly purposeful in their speed and direction. As we wound upstream a regular splashing——bigger than any of our efforts——grew louder.

The looming of a giant wooden wheel suggested that we were approaching chez Svendsen. We pulled up to admire the renovated mill-wheel. Svendsen had created a New Lanark for the 21st century: birds of all shapes and sizes were offered not just food and shelter, but also employment as water-mill engineers. And they made flour that made very nice buns.

The vista was bird-boggling. Like one of those tedious maths puzzles where you have to work out where to place a minimum number of individuals around a building so that the number in view from any window etc. I tried to focus on ducks. Some ducks appeared to be clocking-off and heading back downstream. Our three companions appeared to be starting their shifts. Somewhere in all that milling…

Eight mallards milling? Any creaking you may hear is not the mill-wheel, but the sound of puns being stretched to the limit.

The Twelve Days of Twistmas continues at part 9

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