Monthly Archives: December 2013

Of Things That May Be

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… that Scrooge saw in the knocker, without it’s undergoing any immediate process of change – not a knocker, but Marley’s face .

“Scroooooge,” moaned the apparition.

Scrooge stared at it in horror, then did what most of us would have done.

He ran.

Marley’s mouthed dropped open in astonishment, which when you’re Jacob Marley isn’t just a turn of phrase. He went back into Scrooge’s house, and the other three looked at him.

“Where is he?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“He ran off,” said Marley.

The Ghost of Christmas Present laughed. He had a big, uproarious laugh, the kind that is usually accompanied by a hearty slap on your back just as you are taking a mouthful of beer.

His laugh drove the others mad.

“So he ran off, did he?” he boomed. “Good for him.”

“Where did he go?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

One bony hand appeared from the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come’s robe, and a long finger pointed.

“I think he’s saying he went to the pub,” said Marley. “Honestly, I wish he’d learn to speak, it’s like trying to have a conversation with Lassie.”

“What’ll we do?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“We’d better find him,” said Marley. He hurled his chain around his neck like a scarf, and headed towards the door.

“Hang on,” said the Ghost of Christmas Present, “isn’t the chain supposed to be heavy?”

“It’s the ghost of a chain,” said Marley. “How heavy can it be?”

They headed off on an unintended Christmas pub crawl. Scrooge wasn’t in the King’s Head, the Queen’s Arms or the Prince’s Bowel. He wasn’t in the Cat and Canary, The Fox and Hound or the Baboon and Hamster. In each pub they visited, the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkled good cheer upon the occupants, which in most cases wasn’t necessary, though it did stop three bar brawls and one drunken rendition of Mistletoe and Wine.

They eventually found Scrooge in the Poor and Workhouses, where he was sitting at the bar and warning the innkeeper, repeatedly, about the hallucinogenic properties of undigested beef.  The innkeeper turned away from him in relief when he heard new customers approaching, though he blanched a little when he saw them.

“Ah, fancy dress,” he said. He looked at the Ghost of Christmas Present, who seemed to be wearing two small children as shoes. “Er, very festive,” he went on.

“We’ll have four pints of your best ale,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“Four pints of Thunderbelch coming right up,” said the Innkeeper. “Possibly literally, later,” he muttered.

“How do you know what we will have?” Marley asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“Yes, well I looked back to what we wanted when we came in, then guessed that we’ll still want it now. It’s not rocket-science.”

“What’s rocket-science?”

“Don’t ask me,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past. “It’s something in the future.”

They went over to Scrooge. “Ah, there you are,” boomed the Ghost of Christmas Present, laughing uproariously and thumping him merrily on the back.

“Please,” whimpered Scrooge, after he had wiped the beer off his face, “leave me alone.”

“Hoy,” said the innkeeper, picking up the cudgel that he kept under the counter in case customers asked for credit, “are you harassing this gentleman?”

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come looked at him and pointed a ghostly finger towards the cellar. “Er, I think I’ll just go down and check the barrels,” said the innkeeper.

“Come, Scrooge,” said Marley. They lifted him off his bar-stool. Visions appeared at the end of the bar – men singing in lighthouses, a girl breaking off an engagement, a crutch propped up in a corner, carefully preserved. They were moving toward the visions when suddenly they heard a voice.

“Leave him alone,” said Bob Cratchit, walking across the pub toward them.

Scrooge and the others stared at him in amazement. “Bob?” said Scrooge, “you’d stand up for me?”

“Christmas Day, Mr Scrooge,” said Bob simply. “Christmas Day.”

Scrooge stared at him for a long time, then defiantly sat back on his stool. “If you all don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like this man to join me in a bowl of steaming bishop.”

The Spirits turned to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, who seemed, as far as they could tell, to be thinking. Eventually he nodded, and the five of them left. Bob sat down beside Scrooge, who called for the innkeeper.

At the end of the bar, the crutch slowly faded away.

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Knocked Off His Perch

The prompt at our writers’ group tonight was to write a piece beginning with the line “It was the first time I killed a man”…..

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It was the first time I killed a man. I’d fought villains for years, of course, wrestling with the Penguin, struggling with the Joker, grappling with Catwoman.

And I’d fought their henchmen. With Robin by my side I had engaged in many a punch-up, filling the air both audibly and visibly with “Pow!”s, “Thwack!”s, and “Shit, that really hurt!”s.

But no-one ever died. The henchmen ended up in a pile, the villains ended up in a cell, and the Batpistol ended up unused in the Bat Utility Belt.

Then came that awful night. You could argue, of course, that I didn’t actually kill him. The Batsignal lit up in the night sky, Robin rushed into my room to tell me about it, and I hastily pulled up the sheets to cover my modesty and the fact that I was once again grappling with Catwoman.

Robin stepped onto the rubber suit that I had discarded on the floor, slid halfway across the room, tripped over the pair of pyramids presented by Catwoman’s equally discarded outfit, and shot out of the window.

I’m not sure why we had picked Robin as a name for him, but it certainly wasn’t because he could fly.

You could argue, of course, that I didn’t actually kill him, that it was an accident, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t succumbed to Catwoman’s womanly wiles. It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t strewn our clothes all over a polished wooden floor. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d given Commissioner Gordon my mobile number, so that he didn’t have to use that stupid Batsignal.

I raced down the five flights of stairs and out the front door of Wayne Manor. Robin lay sprawled on the gravel drive, surrounded by five letters spelling out the word “splat”.

You could argue, of course, that I didn’t actually kill him, because he wasn’t dead. This was Gotham City, after all, so as I stood looking sadly down at him he suddenly sat up and said “Holy High Dive, Batman!”

I hated it when he came out with crap like that, so I hit him. With a bat.

You could argue, of course, that I did actually kill him, except that being hit with what’s essentially a winged hamster doesn’t do a lot of harm, so fear not, the Boy Wonder will still be stunning our enemies with his fists, and our audience with his clichés next week at the same Bat-time, on the same Bat-channel.

Marked Absent

Miss Robertson's School Room 1913

Miss Robertson’s School Room 1913

She had been so sure she could do it. Her empty desk, right in the front row, was a sad testament to just how wrong she had been.

The star pupil had had that starlight flicked out, like a candle hissing softly between licked fingers.

She had been so sure she could spit her chewing-gum furtively into the waste-paper basket under the desk next to hers. Now she stood forlornly at the back of the class, where she had been sent to Think About What She Had Done.

Miss Robertson, meanwhile, was in the Ladies’ Room, trying to get chewing-gum off a blue gingham dress.

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This was written, to the above prompt, for the Flash! Friday micro-fiction contest.

The photo is from the National Archives Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A Word’s Worth

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“I’ve told you I was sorry,” said Dorothy.

“Well, that’s no good,” said William Wordsworth. “I’m a laughing stock.”

And he was. He had written “Daffodils” a month earlier. Since his handwriting looked as if a spider staggering home from the pub had left a trail of sick across the page, his sister Dorothy used to re-write his poems, using calligraphy that she had learnt at Miss Havistock’s School of Talents That Young Ladies Will Need Until They Can Find Themselves A Husband.

She had written “Daffodils” out and had sent it to the publishers.

The poem had appeared this week in the Times Literary Gazette. The opening line read “I wandered lovely as a cloud”.

The rest of journalism, who normally reported on poetry as often as they reported on the Under-11 Division 3  Lacrosse Championships, had been quick to react. Punch had featured a cartoon of Wordsworth wearing a ribbon bearing the words “Mr Universe 1802”. The Mail On Sunday had written a scathing piece under the headline “who’s a pretty boy, then?”. The Male On Sunday, a very different publication, had offered him a surprising amount of money to appear as their November Hunk Of The Month.

“What were you thinking?” asked Wordsworth.

You can see her point

“Well, it’s your handwriting,” said Dorothy. “I couldn’t tell whether the word was “lonely” or “lovely”. I went to ask you, but you were on your couch in vacant or in pensive mood, ie, fast asleep after your Sunday dinner, so I picked the more likely option.”

“More likely? The option where I said a cloud was lovely? What’s lovely about a cloud?”

“Some of them are really lovely. I’ve seen one that looked like a sheep -”

“They all look like sheep.”

“Ok, bad example. I’ve seen one that looked like a bunny rabbit, one that looked like the face of Disraeli, even one that looked like a combine-harvester, and I don’t even know what that is.”

“But why would I have written that I was lovely? I sound like Byron, thinking that I’m God’s gift to women.”

He didn’t notice Dorothy blush. She had never told her brother that she and Byron lay oft upon a couch themselves.

“Well, why would it have said “lonely”?” she said. “Clouds are never lonely, they tend to arrive in a crowd. A host, even. And then they combine to drop four days of rain on you in two hours. This place isn’t called the Lake District for nothing.”

“It makes more sense than “lovely”. This was to be my masterpiece, and you’ve ruined it.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” snapped Dorothy, “it’s a poem about bloody flowers. It’s only one step up from “roses are red, violets are blue”.”

There was a shocked silence after this. Dorothy was as shocked as William at what she had said, but there was no way of unsaying it. She looked into William’s eyes and saw them filled not with anger but with hurt, which was much worse.

William left the room. Dorothy thought for a while, then realised what she had to do.

She didn’t just transcribe William’s poetry, she did it for her lover Byron too. And although she loved Byron and hated what she was planning, she consoled herself with her growing suspicion that she was not the only wench in receipt of his wenching.

Besides, William was her brother, and that meant more.

A week later she returned from the village to find William surrounded by the Times Literary Gazette and other newspapers. He was laughing heartily.

“What is it, William?” she asked.

“I’m off the hook,” said Wordsworth. “They’re picking on Byron now.”

Dorothy raised her eyebrows. “Really?” she said. “Why, my dear?”

“Because,” said Wordsworth, “he’s just written a poem with the opening line “She walks in bootees, like the night”.”

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This was written for Sidey’s Weekly Theme, which this week is “opening lines”.

The picture is from Wikipedia, and is of a manuscript in the British Library.