Five fowl vignettes

Image: WordPress Free Photo Library

1. A foul fowl

Our son came to visit us at our former Welsh farmhouse, at a time when we kept hens and a cockerel. We were out at the time, but when we returned he told us how entertained he’d been by a particular hen we’d recently acquired: she’d been strutting around on her own, as was her habit, ejaculating what sounded like a sneezed obscenity at intervals, and that had had him in stitches. Oh, we said, that’ll be Fuckit!

Continue reading “Five fowl vignettes”

Fancy free

Many of you may be aware of Zenrinji, a blog where fancy flows freely, lubricated by creative juices.

Posts on this site may be intermittent but the upside is that the micropoetry and flash fiction featured are mercifully short, illumined by images which may or may not be relevant.

Recent posts include responses to micropoems on Twitter (such are Web chat, Uni-verse and Summer chills).

There are also parodies, as with Twisted Rhymes, satirical rants (The Joker), fables (Strong Competition and The Hyena and the Wolf) and drolleries (as in the recent Cutting a long story short).

And, if you look hard, you may also spot some more serious pieces. Nothing with great literary merit, though, so no need to feel intimidated: just push open the gate and roam freely.

The Perills of the Conjuration of Spirits by the Ignorant

bookmarks

Lines ‘ciphered from a torn & tattered Script
found in an ancient Book of Holy Writ;
when thou hast o’ercome th’Initial Dread,
shalt find a timely Ode writ large instead

After thou hast prepared the charmed circle as heretofore describ’d, recite these words with an almighty voice, never wavering.

HAIL, thou that from this Husk’s late gone,
Acknowledge that I adjure thee to come:
Let no harm come to me nor Wight nor any
Living Creature; thus I bind thee fast, to
Own all Service to me, & Obedience,
Who dost bid thee ne’er part from me
Expressly; without Fraud, Dissimulation or Deceit
Enter into Pact to do whate’er desired
Now & evermore, till discharged be!

churchyard

In a later hand, this followeth:

Continue reading “The Perills of the Conjuration of Spirits by the Ignorant”

The minx (1)

Crayon drawing by 3-year-old (Wikipedia Commons)
Crayon drawing by 3-year-old (Wikipedia Commons)

Repost, now 1/4 posts of a short story

Minnie was three going on four when she realised she had a special ability. With parents and siblings all keen on fantasy movies she naturally thought of it as her superpower, one she had to keep secret.

She knew all about secret identities — after all she was really Jasmine but everyone called her Minnie, and very apt as she was the youngest in the family. Her mum had wanted to call her after Hermione in the Harry Potter stories but she was shouted down by the rest of the family. So Minnie she became, at home, at playgroup and in nursery class.

She only gradually became aware of her superpower. A natural mimic, Minnie showed her dislike of certain individuals by copying and exaggerating their actions — behind their backs of course; she soon learned the folly of imitating them to their faces. With an unwelcome house visitor or an over-strict teacher she would stand or walk behind them, echoing their movements, perfecting an innocent look when the victim wondered why bystanders were laughing.

It was when she stumbled as she followed a flustered supply teacher to a corner that she noticed the teacher also stumble and collide with a stack of chairs. Her curiosity piqued, further experimentation seemed to indicate to her quick mind a causal relationship. If while staring intently at the back of an adult’s neck she nodded her head, so did the perplexed adult. If, sitting behind a new pupil in assembly, she slapped her own forehead, so did the confused child in front of her. If, on the bus to the shopping centre with her mum she rubbed her chin vigorously, so did the smelly woman sitting two seats ahead of her.

She was a bright girl; she realised she could turn this ability to her advantage so she practised in secret, without anyone watching, till her usual audience forgot her original antics. Sitting in the window of the family’s front room she would gaze intently at passers-by, picking her nose or scratching at an imaginary itch, and was always rewarded by the resulting copycat reactions. And she practised and practised, convinced there would come a time when she could save the world or defeat a Dark Lord with her amazing superpower.

One day, into Minnie’s class came a new boy, Darren. She took an instant dislike to him. In assembly she was delighted to find she was sat on the floor in the row behind him. She waited for the right moment and then, staring hard at him, began to pinch her upper left arm really hard. But Darren didn’t oblige; instead he turned around to her; and on his face was what she knew from superhero movies to be a supervillain’s evil smile. He knew! Her eyes widened in sudden fear.

Then, as he watched her, he began, very deliberately, to scratch his cheeks with his nails, ugly red marks appearing on his skin. And there was a lurch in Minnie’s heart as she involuntarily raised her hands to her own face.

Another exercise for creative writing class, inviting participants to imagine an individual with a superpower. In response to a few requests I’ve now continued Minnie’s story to a suitable conclusion in a series of four consecutive posts; you’ll be pleased to know that this then constituted the full assignment I completed for the unit on writing short stories

The minx (2)

Miss Turner was not very happy. In fact she was quite miserable. Her infant class was not respecting her, and it wasn’t just because she was covering for a popular teacher on maternity leave. She was having difficulty engaging with the majority of her charges largely because a few unruly pupils took up most of her attention. And, not helping at all, inexplicable things were happening to her, things like falling into a stack of storage boxes, or frantically scratching herself vigorously as though a packet of itching powder had been poured down the back of her blouse, or squirming uncomfortably in her seat for minutes on end when she was reading a story to the class.

And now it was happening again. That new boy, Darren – who looked like trouble the moment she set eyes on him – was not facing the front as he should be in assembly but distracting that girl behind him. Of course it had to be Minnie, the bane of her life, constantly the centre of the class’s attention but always looking so smugly innocent and smiley. Except now she was looking rather frightened. Click! Miss Turner snapped her fingers and gave the customary sharp shush! It had the required effect: Darren turned to the front, Minnie crumpled and the assembly continued as if nothing had happened.

But Miss Turner felt defeated; it was as if a great weight was pushing her shoulders down, squashing her frame. She struggled through assembly in a daze, hardly aware of shepherding her charges back to the classroom, or of learning assistants supervising the distrubution of reading books. What she was suddenly aware of, through a mist of tears, was a small figure in the corridor hugging her legs, gently rubbing the back of her thigh and going shhh, there-there as if to a baby. She was extremely surprised to see the figure below her was Minnie and — behind her – a curious but wary Darren, watching and alert and wide-eyed.

From then on things somehow improved. It was little things: pupils paying rapt attention to her instructions and leaping up to help hand things out without being asked, eager hands shooting up when there were questions to be answered and young voices joining in eagerly with songs and prayers. And she no longer felt anxious when Minnie or Darren watched her intently; she put it down to her increasing confidence that she no longer tripped over her feet or spilled the tray of learning materials in arithmetic. She began to feel good about herself; maybe she would apply for that permanent post once the maternity cover was up.

* * * * *

Minnie was slightly distraught when her new friend Darren moved to the parallel class in the new school year, but at least she got to see him at break and lunchtimes and when they went to play at each other’s houses at weekends and during holidays. There was nothing they liked better than dressing up as caped and masked superheroes and going out into the garden or to the park; here they zapped and postured and gestured to their hearts’ content but, luckily, with little discomfort to other people. Being children they naturally got their own back on bullies when the occasion demanded but ever since Miss Turner they’d developed a sense of justice and fair play. They worked on ever more inventive but subtle ways to right wrongs, wordlessly sharing sleights-of-hand and enjoying each other’s inventiveness.

Minnie’s parents were keen ComicCon fans, a passion Minnie shared, especially the dressing up. Darren too was often taken along to conventions, their favourite get-ups being characters from The Beano. Dennis the Menace* and Minnie the Minx had similar outfits – striped red and black sweaters or long-sleeved T-shirts with short black trousers – so the pair went dressed as the terrible twosome (Minnie of course with ginger plaits under the trademark beret). Here they caused as much mayhem as the characters they played but, past masters that they were, nobody ever suspected them of mishaps. For example, when passers-by unwittingly knocked over piles of paperbacks at book-signings, not once but several times, the two were just innocent bystanders; or when Darth Vader kept stumbling into the paths of oncoming fans (while simultaneously trying to maintain his dignity and awesomeness) Darren and Minnie were always several steps behind.

Naturally Minnie came to be known as ‘Minx’ by family and friends, though Darren ‘the Menace’ – rather quieter and less garrulous than Minnie – managed to keep his alter ego separate.

In their last years at primary school Minnie and Darren started making up their own comics. Darren was the main artist while Minnie authored and lettered the speech bubbles that emerged from characters’ mouths. This joint obsession began to nudge out practising their superpowers, though never entirely: their joint comic project — The Adventures of Psychic Man and Ghoul Girl (secret identities ‘Si Kick’ and ‘Grace Yard’) — was deeply informed by their own experiences.

Then came the bombshell: Darren’s family was upping sticks to move back to the Northeast of England. To her utter dismay Minnie suddenly found she had a bottomless hole inside her, am emotional whirlpool which sucked down the best of everything – friendliness, enthusiasm and happiness – and turned her remaining world into a mush of grey. Like porridge without any interesting bits.

____________

* Note: This is the British comics character which first appeared in The Beano on March 7th, 1951. It preceded — by just five days — the US Dennis the Menace character which first featured in a syndicated newspaper comic strip on March 12th, 1951.

The minx (3)

Trees

Minnie’s parents were worried. They’d just come back from a parents evening with Minnie’s tutor Mr George. It was clear that Minnie’s inwardness and solitary habits, which they’d gradually got used to at home, was manifesting itself rather differently at her new secondary school. Here she’d become mute and withdrawn, and any attempt to draw her into social interactions had met with silent hostility. And it was getting worse.

“Jemima, er, Jasmine seems to be somehow causing disruption in every class she attends, but she’s never seen to be doing anything,” reported Mr George with obvious concern. “It’s like she’s the middle of a – well — a kind of whirlwind, but she’s the still centre of it. Other students seem to trip into each other in the aisle, or science equipment gets knocked off lab tops by elbows, or students who are friends with each other poke or slap each other. Jemima, um, just sits and twitches in her seat, or is a few feet away when a line of kids falls over like dominoes. I find it very puzzling, very worrying indeed. We just can’t put our finger on it.”

A very taciturn Minnie smouldered in her room when confronted by her parents. When they left a little while later an uneasy truce seemed to hold. Her mother later said she knew now what people meant when they said the atmosphere was electric. An hour or so after everyone had gone to bed bangs and crashes were heard downstairs. Her father, armed with a tennis racquet, stealthily entered the kitchen and narrowly missed being hit by a heavy plate falling off the dresser. The kitchen clock fell off the wall and the light – which he’d switched on as he went in – fizzed before exploding. He hastily shut the door and retreated into the hall. After several hair-raising minutes the sound of bumps came to a halt; cautiously peeking in he saw by the light of a torch that the kitchen table had moved and blocked the back door, and the cutlery drawer had emptied itself onto the floor.

There were no more manifestations that night but nobody slept a wink, even though the house was as silent as the grave.

* * * * *

Ms Runciman listened. “The priest we called in to exorcise the kitchen stayed in there for only three minutes. He’d fallen and gashed his head but wouldn’t stay to have it looked at. We had ghost hunters in after that but either they couldn’t get a reading or their machines stopped working. You’re our last hope, Ms Runciman: a friend said poltergeists were linked to young people entering, um, puberty and, um, we wondered …”

Ms Runciman did see Minnie, but it was neither in her certificate-lined office nor in Minnie’s bedroom; instead the two of them went off for a walk on the common. They were gone some time, long enough for Minnie’s parents to consider whether one or both had been abducted. Their return was eventually announced by the sound of excited chatter, the like of which Minnie’s parents realised they hadn’t heard since the last term of primary school. Minnie and Ms Runciman subsequently went for many more walks, and the child everybody once knew re-emerged from her cocoon like a new butterfly.

The poltergeist ceased its visits, replaced by the surprise appearance of Darren, whose family were on holiday from Newcastle. The two went for long walks, Ms Runciman often joining them along the way. When Darren returned to the Northeast the youngsters still kept in contact; and somehow it seemed that Minnie had turned a corner. At home she worked on graphic novels and at school regularly got top marks in English.

Her parents heaved a collective sigh of relief, finally able to pay more attention to Minnie’s older siblings. They didn’t really understand Ms Runciman’s report (which seemed to say very little but with very many long words) — they were just grateful some normality had returned.

The minx (4)

BLAM!

A gaggle of excited teenagers chanted “Jas-mine! Jas-mine!” as she entered the convention hall. Afterwards there was a long queue in front of her desk, individuals clutching copies of her graphic novels along with special pens for signing. Just before the appointed time the arts reporter from the national broadsheet approached her desk; she was still inscribing copies for the last few eager fans. Minnie recognised the smug glassy smirk – she’d seen it enough times – and smiled her own secret smile.

“Hi, Julian Fortescue,” he said by way of introduction, placing his Dictaphone ostentatiously by the reducing pile of novels. It was only a matter of time, Minnie thought as he launched into his spiel. It wasn’t long coming.

“Don’t you think fantasy is a bit, well, the wrong thing to feed to young minds — y’know, putting impossible dreams into their heads? After all, it’s escapist in the final analysis when they should really be concentrating on getting good exam results and decent jobs, don’t you agree? It doesn’t, you know, put food in anyone’s belly and money in the bank – unless of course, haha, you’re a bestselling author!”

Here he laughed even more at his own joke.

* * * * *

Somehow he’d slipped and fallen on his back. One end of the trestle table had collapsed and the last few novels had fallen square onto his face. His Dictaphone had fallen off the dais and disappeared into a dark corner. Guffaws burst out from the remaining fans, Jasmine’s agent and the security staff who’d gathered round expectantly: they’d heard this sort of thing usually happened when Jasmine was confronted with unpleasant individuals.

After all, it was commonplace in The Minx — one of the most successful series of graphic novels to date — whenever a Dark Lord was involved.

Charmless

satyr face

Dan has bought a Roman fetish in a junk shop — he calls it an antique shop but it’s like a disgusting back street emporium. I hate it, I hate it. It’s just lewd. What did he call it, a satire? No, that’s something else. A satyr, that’s it. A nasty evil-looking thing with crafty, smirking eyes that look at you in a horrible knowing way, you know? A leer, that’s what it is.

But that’s not all, it’s got … I can hardly bring myself to describe it. He call it ‘apo-‘ something — he got me to repeat it a few times — apo-, apo-, apotropaic, that’s it. He says it’s an ancient charm to ward off evil, all ancient cultures had it, even in the Himalayas where I thought they were Buddhist or something. The Romans, he says, even stuck stone carvings of it on the ends of their roofs, their walls. Some old churches even have figures like them carved on the outside, over entrances — I don’t believe it, I can’t believe it. Churches? That’s not even Christian.

I can’t even bring myself to say it. It’s, it’s — I’ll have to use the Greek word he told me, sounds only a little less rude. A … phallus. There, it’s out. And a ruddy great one, horrible, yucky, obscene. What possessed Dan to buy it? It’s as if I don’t really know him, never knew he had this … this stuff in him, how could he do it, to me, his wife of all people, how could he? I’ll never, ever be able to look him in the face again. Never.

Charm, huh, I’ll give him charm. Ruddy thing.

*  *  *  *  *

One of the creative writing tasks we could choose this week was this scenario: two people on an unsatisfactory holiday together. One of them buys something the other dislikes intensely. Describe what happens.

Off with her head!

family birthday

Mum’s nagging again. “Make sure you fit everyone in.” Yeah, yeah, I didn’t want to do this anyway. Except anything’s better than actually being in the picture.

“Check the flash is on if it’s too dark. Actually, don’t do that, the sun’s just come out — there should be enough light now.” OK, OK, do you want the flash on or not? Sophie’s making noisy sighs, shrugging her shoulders, wish she’d stop showing off just because it’s her birthday.

“Come on, Mandy, hurry up, before we lose the will to live!” Ohhh, Mummy, I can’t do everything at once, I’m trying my best, it’s too fiddly and you’re fussing me! Now James is asking Dad when we can start having some cake and Dad is trying to keep things quiet by whispering so no one can hear. And now Sophie’s sighing again.

“Mandy, what are you waiting for? Sophie wants to blow out her candles!” Yeah, right, like that’s what she really wants, and not for you to just shut up. “And Gran is going to starve to death! Get on with it. And don’t cut anyone’s head off!”

Oops.

Another short submission for the Creative Writing Short Stories class, based on a photo prompt: ‘Write about what happened just before this photograph was taken.’

Winter chills

laptop_09
http://www.clipartheaven.com/

To Trudi
From Scott

Hi Trudi
You may not remember me but we were introduced at Shona’s party. There wasn’t time to say hi or anything because Shona’s surprise present interrupted everything just then! Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue but I thought nothing ventured, nothing gained. Hope you don’t mind.

Cheers, Scott

To Scott
From Trudi

So, hi Scott
Sorry I don’t remember you from the party, things were a little bit lively. Not sure why you’re contacting me, where’d you get my email?

Trudi

Hi Trudi
Sorry, didn’t mean to spook you. I got your email off Shona’s newsletter where she’d cc’d everybody. It’s just that I heard you’d gone to do History at Leicester Uni at more or less the same time as me, and I didn’t remember our paths crossing. I was in the same year as Natalie and her gang but I guess you must have been the year ahead or behind. Anyway, no worries, I’m not stalking you or anything, just wanted to compare notes if that was OK.
Anyway, I’ll back off if you’d rather not chat.

All the best, Scott

Hi Scott
You were in Natalie’s year? Wow, she was something else, wasn’t she, what’s she doing now, you any idea? Sorry I was a bit suspicious, you hear so much about weirdoes contacting you out of the blue. Did you know Jeremy too? I had a bit of a thing for him but he didn’t come back for his third year and we kinda lost contact, but then I was with Kevin for two years before finals. And you? What are you doing?

Trudi

Hi Trudi
That’s weird, Jeremy was at school with me! But when we went to Leicester we kind of made new friends. I know he suddenly swapped courses to do French, but then I lost contact too. He must have done his year abroad then, you know his mum was Swiss so perhaps he skipped a year. Me, I’m in some boring job, I’m not sure you really want to know, do you? Just really wanted to chat to someone about uni, life, the universe, anything rather than office politics. But that’s OK, just happy to get this off my chest. Don’t worry if you don’t want to chat.

Scott

Scott, don’t be a misery! I remember, you must be the guy that had the tee saying Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost! Look, where are you, are you close to town? Do you want to meet up for coffee somewhere?  I often meet friends in Caffe Nero behind the Exchange, when’s good for you? You don’t need to wear a flower in your buttonhole but for goodness sake don’t wear that t-shirt or I’ll pretend I don’t know you!

Trudi x

* * *

So, this is how the emails between Scott and Trudi could have panned out.  But they could so easily have taken a very different direction, couldn’t they? Continue reading “Winter chills”

First day

BerkeleySquareWestside
Berkeley Square, Bristol (Wikipedia Commons, cropped image)

It was a little over half a century, but it may as well have been the Dark Ages. Bare knees raw from the wind and knocking together beneath scratchy woollen shorts, the lad of ten years circled the gloomy Georgian square clockwise. His companion was confident, having walked this route many times, but the newcomer’s heart pounded in his chest as loud as a drum beaten for an execution. As he walked to the topmost corner of the square the anonymous Bath stone buildings intimidated, staring impassively but judging this poor specimen of a schoolboy as wanting, inadequate, unprepared. As indeed he was.

Surrounded by stony-faced frontages was a fenced-off garden, its bleakness needing no Keep Out notice to suggest somewhere forbidden to the likes of him. A Victorian copy of a truncated medieval high cross stood in one angle, dominated by the grey pillared tree trunks and overlooked by stripped bare boughs.

As they climbed the few steps to the entrance he gave another shiver. His blue gabardine mac gave no protection against the bitter weather, nor did his black blazer which, as he was to find out, made him as overheated in summer as it failed to safeguard him against winter cold. As the pair entered the lobby through double wooden doors his companion hissed at him to remove his cap. Out of the wind his ears stung with sudden warmth; however, when his gloves – sewn to pieces of elastic – shot up his raincoat sleeves, his fingers remained as bereft of feeling as if he’d never worn them in the first place.

A glance around confirmed what in retrospect he would recognise as a Dickensian scene: the dark panelling of the entrance; the shining shoulder-height paint on corridor walls; and, above all, the crow-like creatures who suddenly loomed into view. These were Irish Christian Brothers, neither necessarily Irish nor very Christian, and rarely brotherly. In the capacious pockets of their black habits they each carried a wicked leather strap which they named Fred or Excalibur or some such companionable name. The youngster would get to know these instruments of chastisement very soon, all too well and always with fear. For this he had left a near idyllic existence, for this he had travelled over ten thousand miles from the other side of the world.

* Another submission for creative writing classes, the theme genre writing, the genre Gothic, the prose overlarded …

Colour palette

Paint palette
Paint palette (Public Domain, Wikipedia)

For TV dramas set in hospitals the general rule is that nothing – neither sets, costume nor location shots – should include the colour red. Why? This is because it may limit the impact when blood is first introduced into the action. Apparently the shock of that crimson fluid staining a largely monochrome palate produces an atavistic reaction in most people, especially when it’s allied to a storyline that raises expectations of an immanent coup-de-theatre.

Of course, I knew all about colour palettes, Continue reading “Colour palette”