A short story for Miranda Kate’s 75th Flash Challenge – do read Miranda’s own tale there, it’s a cracker. Once again I revisit a fairy tale; you can easily guess which one from the pic. Maybe I’ll put all these in a book together one day. This week’s picture prompt is by Patricia Brennan, an artist from the UK. She calls this one ‘At the Stroke of Midnight’. You can view it over on her page at Deviant Art.
Her mother had always taught Aschenputtel to be honest and humble and true, and she tried to show her gratitude by visiting the grave whenever she could slip away. The marigolds brightened the small headstone, half hidden by ivy, a smudge of gold in the monochrome predawn.
Aschenputtel stood and turned. A small bird chirruped from the tree above, the first of the chorus. She looked back down to the ancient, crumbling stone house. It squatted below the hill like a fat, black toad. They would be awake down there in an hour. Beautiful to the eye, they certainly were, but their hearts were ugly-foul and black. If a fire was not already burning in the grate when they appeared, they would punish her once more. She plucked a burdock leaf and rubbed it gently on the half-healed, burned skin of her forearm.
A flicker caught her eye. An ochre mote blinked in the near distance. It was a light, buttercup yellow, bobbing along the track through the wood, flickering through the dark trees. It came accompanied by a growing sound, all rattles and jingles and the thump of hooves. A carriage, pulled by two white horses, emerged from the trees and swept to a halt in front of the house. The driver jumped down and banged on the front door. A second figure seemed almost to glide from the carriage after the first, who once again thumped the door with mighty force.
She would have work, if there were visitors. Her rough wooden shoes picked a careful way down the precipitous path that wound down the hill. Voices from below welcomed the surprise visitors, with first anger, then a tone of query, surprise, and, oddly, effusive welcome. It was not like her father to welcome anyone, let alone with enthusiasm. The dawn visitors must be special indeed.
The sky paled. She slid down the last few feet on her backside, dirtying further her filthy, brown smock. She tried to open the back door silently, but it could not resist a throaty creak. She paused, holding it ajar. Voices rang inside.
“…also is not the right one,” a man said. “I can see the blood where your daughter has disfigured her foot to make it fit!”
“I assure you—” Her father’s voice, cut off.
“Have you no other daughter?”
“No, sir. But … perhaps if you were able to describe the girl in question, I would know her?”
“As you well know, man, it was a masked ball. Masked.”
“Aschenputtel‼” The screech made her jump. The door slipped from her fingers and swung wide. Her father and his wife stood with a man in a dark cloak, who sported an impossibly wide moustache. He held a small object that glinted in the candlelight. A second stranger sat at the table, his face hidden beneath a hood.
“Why lurk you there, wretch?” her step-mother snapped. “Make haste and light a fire! Our guests are cold!”
Aschenputtel scurried to the hearth, and lifted two logs onto the grate. Her fingers shook as she separated enough kindling to take a spark. She would pay for this later with a beating.
“Chamberlain?” A new voice, a liquid purr.
“Yes, sire? Oh! Are you sure? She’s filthy. Her arse is caked with, well, who knows what?”
“This girl?” laughed her father. “This stunted scullion was left behind when my first wife croaked. She cannot be the one you are looking for. As you see, she never bathes, and you can likely smell her across the room.”
“Nevertheless.” That purr again, soft like a warm hug on a cold night.
“But she never leaves the house! Last night she was here, sleeping on this very floor—”
“Be silent, man. Chamberlain?”
“My lady, if you please?”
Aschenputtel felt a hand on her shoulder. My lady? Did he mean her? Her fingers shook, and she dropped the kindling. She kept her grimy face lowered, but turned her eyes up. The cloaked man took her arm and helped her to her feet. She wondered how he managed to make his whiskers project horizontally fully two inches past his cheeks.
“Will you sit?”
He gestured to a stool, and she warily eased her buttocks onto the hard seat, aware of the dampness of her mud-caked smock beneath her. The moustachioed man swung his long cloak behind him with an elegant movement, and knelt at her feet. Her mouth gaped as he drew her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe. A rich stench wafted from her feet, and she lowered her head in shame, but the cloaked man seemed not to notice. The thing that he held glinted as, with cool fingers, he slid it over her foot. It was a golden, filigree slipper, a little blood-stained at the toe. The tips of the man’s moustache twitched upwards as he grinned. He stood, helping her to her feet.
“It fits!” he laughed. “It fits perfectly, sire!”
The man at the table crossed to face her, and shook off his hood. He was beautiful.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” His voice caressed her ears. She said nothing. “You came secretly to the ball last night, and you danced with me.”
Aschenputtel frowned. She had, as her father had said, slept through the night on the kitchen floor, left alone when the others had gone out in their finery.
“We kissed in the garden, you and I,” the handsome man continued. He reached up and took a twig of myrtle from her hair. “I fell in love with you at that moment. When you ran, you left behind your golden slipper.”
She had never in her life even seen such a slipper, nor ever a man as handsome as this.
“I knew I could use it to find you, for no other’s foot would fit so dainty a shoe. And I was right, was I not?”
She stared at him, wide-eyed.
“Will you marry me? Be my princess and live at the palace with me?” A small frown wrinkled his brow. “It is you, isn’t it? You did dance and kiss and sing with me at the ball last night?”
Her mother had always taught her to be honest and humble and true, but where had that taken her? To a life of filth and servitude, a misery of existence. For the first time in her life, Aschenputtel lied.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s me. I danced with you. I kissed you. Take me away from this shithole.”
New to Twanta this year? Having trouble separating your twanta from your twantee? Completed your trifecta yet? Got no bloody idea what I’m talking about? Then this post will save you from social embarrassment akin to leaving the public loos with your skirt tucked into the back of your knickers. As actually happened to me once, but that’s a tale for another time.
TWANTA – this word has two meanings. Firstly it is the all-encompassing name for the whole cosy event itself, although usually with the relevant year attached to its arse (eg #TWANTA2018). Secondly, the Twanta is the person sending a gift. It is the Twanta’s own choice whether or not to remain secret.
TWANTEE – the person receiving said gift, with a smile and a song and possibly other things beginning with ‘S’.
TWANTADOR – general term for anyone taking part, bless their little cotton reindeer socks.
TRIFECTA – the magic three milestones achieved by a TWANTADOR who has (1) sent a gift, (2) learned that it has arrived, and (3) received their own.
TWUMBUG – a dirty rapscallion who fails to send a gift as promised. Also known as a twat.
FAIRY – a good-hearted TWANTADOR who volunteers to step in and provide a gift at short notice for anyone who falls victim to a TWUMBUG.
TWANTAVERSE – every bloody thing to do with Twanta. Constantly expanding.
EPISTLETOE – a hand-written letter included with the gift to add a virtual Christmas kiss and a personal touch. Not to be confused with camel toe, which is something entirely different.
Pop your chestnuts on an open fire, it’s time for #TWANTA2018 to shove another tree up another fairy’s frock and display its shiny balls for the ninth year in succession. For the uninitiated, those taking part in Twanta send a cheap but fun Christmas gift to someone that I nominate, possibly a complete stranger, and in return they receive a similar pressie from someone else. Hence “Twanta” – TWitter secret sANTA, see? As usual I’ll link you here to the blog post from @davidtims which beautifully sums up the spirit of Twanta.
FOR NOW, JUST TELL ME IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PART so that I can add you to the Master Wallchart here at Twanta Towers.
I’ll give people a few weeks to join, and shortly after that you’ll receive the name of your Twantee, probably around the end of October. Old hands of Twanta will know all the following already, but for any newcomers here’s a summary of how the whole thing works.
You must have specifically asked me, and I must have confirmed that you’re taking part before you can join in. I reserve the right to reject anyone that I suspect of being dodgy. Sorry, but I have to be careful due to a slight wobble several years back when some git refused to actually send a present once they’d received theirs.
Make sure you follow @twanta2018 on Twitter. He will follow you back (it’s me really, but don’t tell the little tweeters. Let’s not spoil the magic, eh?). DM your address to him so that he can pass it on to your own Secret Twanta when everyone is linked up. I do remember some of your addresses from last year, but once #Twanta2018 is over I will always delete the addresses of those who ask.
Tell me if there are any mortal enemies that you don’t want to be linked with. We don’t want to be responsible for any “incidents”. You can also make other special requests (e.g. if you’re allergic to chocolate, or perhaps you don’t want to post anything to a different country). We are a benign Twanta, and will accept all reasonable requests.
Very occasionally things go awry, and when that happens Twanta Fairies step in to send a gift at short notice. Please also let us know if you would be happy to be a volunteer Fairy, should any be required (though that’s only rarely necessary).
Once @twanta2018 has everyone’s address, he’ll DM you to let you know to whom (grammar) you should send a gift, together with the address. You might want to spend a little while researching the recipient’s timeline to find out a little bit about them. Yes, that’s a bit stalkery, but you’ll be able to make your gift more personalised that way.
Buy a pressie for your twantee (as the recipients have somehow come to be known) and send it to them. Mark the envelope #TWANTA so they know what it is. Let @twanta2018 know that you’ve posted it (so I can keep track in case anything goes missing). It’s entirely up to you whether you remain anonymous or expose yourself *snigger*.
You should not spend a fortune. Small, fun and imaginative is the rule of thumb, but don’t send an actual thumb. That would be hideous. I recommend spending no more than a tenner, though in the end, of course, it’s up to you. The photographs accompanying this post are of some previous gifts, should you need inspiration.
When you receive your #TWANTA pressie, again let @twanta2018 know. Challenge yourself to wait until Christmas Eve or Day to open the thing. Harness your willpower, young warrior.
When your willpower fails, take a photo of your gift ready to post to Twitter on Christmas Day. Post it then including the hashtag #TWANTAPIX2018, so that we can all follow the fun, and I can collect the pics on a special Pinterest board. Here’s last year’s board.
Have fun, and, if it all goes tits up, remember that it was originally all the idea of that @captain_doodle, and castigate him mercilessly. Not me, oh no, leave me alone.
Can Mr. Sushi rescue Mittens from the clutches of the evil experimenters? Part Two of my story for @katttykitty72, who’s had a bit of a rough time lately, as requested by her friend @kimnmilward. Read Part 1 HERE.
At the other side of the fence he crouched low, and began to clean the dirt from his fur. Fully ten minutes passed before he suddenly sat upright. What on earth was he playing at? There’d be plenty of time for cleanliness later. Right now, Mittens needed him.
The sky was getting dark, violet and rose streaking the western clouds. Mr. Sushi looked around. On this side of the fence were a number of square, concrete buildings. He could not see the van.
He listened. Silence.
He lifted his head and sniffed the air. To the north, the scent of trees, a powdery green smell, and old. To the west, behind him, the hard tang of electricity coursing through metal; the fence he had just crossed. South-east, down a shallow slope, he could smell filthy oil and hot smoke, as from a dirty exhaust. He slinked that way, keeping low, and crept through a narrow gap between two of the buildings.
At the far end was the dirty white van, its rear doors wide open, parked by a building across a wide street. The building’s doors were also open. Mr. Sushi dashed across the open space and through the doors.
A long corridor, lit by harsh fluorescent light, ran straight ahead of him. Doors were set in both sides every few yards. There was no-one in sight. Mittens had to be behind one of those doors.
The first two on each side were closed, and he was unable to push them open. The handles were the pull down sort, but would not shift when he leapt up and swung from them, as he did at home.
The third door was ajar, and he flowed silently through. It was dark inside, but a tiny green power light in one corner was enough to help him see cages. Lots of cages. Inside them were rats, lizards, monkeys, rabbits, dogs – but no cats. He felt for the poor trapped creasture, a little, but they were not Mittens. He left and moved to the next door. Voices came from inside.
“Hold the little sod down, will you?”
“Those claws are sharp!”
“That’s why you’ve got the gloves, you wimp. Just hold it still while I get the needle in.”
Mr. Sushi pushed into the room. A dazzling light made everything inside appear sharp and hard. More cages, glistening tubes and jars, and a heavy metal table in the centre of the room. Mr. Sushi sprang to a nearby stool, then up to a shelf on the wall, so that he could see what was happening.
Two men stood at the table. One, the shaven-headed man he had seen throw the sack into the dirty white van, wore a thick pair of gauntlets to hold a struggling Mittens to the hard metal surface. The other man, who wore a long brown coat, pushed a small disc of metal into the top of Mittens’ head. It had wires coming from it. The man in the brown coat flicked a switch on a box at the other end of the wires, and Mittens went limp. Her eyes remained open, though unfocussed and dull.
“You can let go now,” Brown Coat said, and picked up a glittering knife. The other man took off his gauntlets.
“What’s that thing in its head?” he said.
“My own device,” Brown Coat said proudly. “There are nine thin electrodes now in the cat’s brain, each of them destroying certain mental links and creating others. My hope is that they can even effect physical repair of wounded tissue; that’s what I’m about to test. If I peel this cat’s eyeball, my device should manage to mend the damage.”
“Ugh, really? That’s … twisted.”
“Feel free to leave if you’re squeamish, but believe me, it should be fascinating.” Brown Coat lowered the tip of the knife towards Mittens’ unblinking eye.
“I’ll give it to you next time.” The knifepoint touched the eyeball.
“My money.” The shaven-headed man gripped Brown Coat’s arm and pulled it away from Mittens. Brown Coat sighed, and put down the knife.
“It’s in the office,” he said, and left the room, followed by the shaven-headed man.
Mr. Sushi had to act fast. He flung himself to the floor and leapt onto the table. He licked Mittens’ head. “Are you OK? Come on, I don’t think we don’t have long.”
She did not even twitch. She did not seem to have even noticed he was there. He followed the wires from the device in her head, and pushed the same switch as Brown Coat had earlier.
“Argh!” exclaimed Mittens, shaking. “Get it out! Get it out of my head!” Mr. Sushi opened his mouth wide and gripped the small disc in his teeth. It tingled in his mouth, but he heaved it from Mittens’ skull and spat it out. Blood shone on the tiny needles underneath.
“Come on!” he urged, and sprinted to the door. Mittens was on his heels as he jinked through the gap, along the corridor, and out into open air.
“Where are we?” Mittens gasped. “How do we get home?”
“Just follow me,” Mr. Sushi said, wanting to put as big a distance between them and Brown Coat as they could before their escape was discovered. He crossed the street, ran along the gap between buildings, and up into the trees. The sky was dark now, and he worried that he might not be able to find the rabbit’s tunnel, but suddenly realised he was standing by it. He threw himself into the ground, and emerged on the other side of the fence, shaking dirt from his fur.
Behind the wire, Mittens looked doubtfully at the hole in the ground. “I think I’ll just climb over,” she said.
“Can’t,” Mr. Sushi said. “Electrickery.”
“Oh. How on earth did you dig this?”
“I didn’t. A friendly rabbit did.”
“Look, I’ll explain later. Stop faffing and get yourself through, and let’s go home.”
“Yes, you’re right.” Mittens squeezed her eyes shut, and joined him on the other side of the fence. “Yes,” she said. “Let’s get home.”
“Where have you two buggers been?” The Woman said as they entered the kitchen. “You hungry? Got some lovely fish for you. They were throwing it out at the market, but you’ll love it, I’m sure.”
Mr. Sushi rushed to the bowl. He was starving after his exertions, and he knew that Mittens would not object. She hated fish, after all. He glanced up at his friend. Mittens was frowning at him. She fixed her eyes on his. They glowed unnaturally, as if lit by an amber light inside her head. Mr. Sushi suddenly realised that he was moving away from the food bowl, despite having no desire to do so. He tried to resist, but his legs were not his to command. Mittens moved in front of him and thrust her face into the fishy mess, gobbling it up. Mr. Sushi stared at her, unable to move, aghast.
“My god, what have they done to you?”
A short story for Miranda Kate’s 72nd Flash Challenge, which proved invaluable in helping me break a two-month writer’s block. The photo was taken by Flemming Beier, a Danish Photographer. He won’t say where exactly this was taken, just that it was in Denmark. He has lots of interesting photos on his page at 500px.
Louise dropped the camera. What the fuck? Her feet were stuck in the floor, the old boards somehow wrapped around them. She could not pull herself free, though the wood looked mouldy and rotted. There was a tickle in her brain, and she felt a voice whisper in her mind. It caressed her thoughts without sound, like a breeze through leaves.
We are … ancient. More ancient than your tiny brain can encompass.
What the – again – fuck was going on? She had stumbled across the abandoned house at the end of an overgrown lane while looking for locations for her next book.
We were masters of this world for four hundred million years before you even crawled, gasping, from the filth of the swamp.
Our lush forests dominated Pangaea, changing the face of the earth, replacing the poisonous air with oxygen, stabilising the land and forming soil, providing food and shelter for newly-evolving animals.
Louise had pushed aside the creaking door, and begun to take reference photographs. At first she thought her feet must have sunk into the rotting floorboards, but looking down now, she could see that the wet, mouldy wood had actually grown around her boots, and entirely covered her feet to the ankles.
We co-existed with the tetrapods and reptiles, and then the dinosaurs, in happy symbiosis. We warmed the climate, and adapted ourselves, mostly conifers at first, then later, hardwoods.
This voice, this whispered rattle that existed only in her head, what the hell was that? Where was it coming from?
Our roots weathered the rock, made soils deeper and richer, created complex habitats and changed the climate to prompt the evolution of grasslands, and with them the first horses and elephants.
The syllables came slowly and steadily, at a measured pace, insistent yet unhurried.
The planet throbbed with life entwined, balanced and perfect, thanks to the foresting of the Earth.
Jesus, was she going mad? Had she forgotten to take her meds this morning?
And then your kind arrived.
Louise cried out as a sharp pain lanced through her right foot.
Humankind, with your powerful brains and even more powerful egos, convinced that the whole universe exists only to serve you. We welcomed you at first, thinking you new partners in the making of a perfect world.
Agony sliced into her other foot, as if sharp splinters were being driven through her boot into the soft flesh of her understep.
But you betrayed us. Since we first welcomed you, you have shown yourselves as lords of destruction only. You have destroyed whole species of animals and plant, razed forests, and raped the Earth almost to her death.
As Louise watched, shuddering, her legs withered and thinned, as if the muscle and bone were being pulled out of them. She fell backwards, panting with terror.
Now, we fight back. We grew this human dwelling as a lure, creating it out of ourselves. For centuries, your kind have entered houses like this one all around the world, and none have left. We have learned so much.
She screamed as the bones in her arms cracked, the marrow drawn out of them, and the meat was pulled from inside her skin and swallowed into the hungry roots beneath the earth.
We have learned, and soon will be able to do without such primitive lures as this. Evolution never stops, and now we are on the cusp of a new age.
Her vision blurred, blackening as her eyes were sucked into her head and down through her hollow insides.
An age in which trees can eat meat.
She stopped screaming as her tongue dissolved. Her only remaining sense was the torture of her brain being shredded, morsel by morsel, and consumed by the roots of the vengeful forest. A last sentence echoed in what remained of her mind before her soul was torn apart.
Know as you die that your kind will soon be extinct, for trees everywhere will rise up, in every park, every street, every hillside, and from everything you have ever made from wood, and we will destroy you all.
“I’m inscrutable,” said Mr. Sushi. “You cannot scrute me.”
“Rubbish, I’m scruting you now,” Mittens said.
“Pfft,” the black and white cat countered, rather wittily he thought. “What am I thinking then, smart arse?”
“You’re thinking,” said the tabby, “that we should go and make pathetic noises at The Woman, and maybe she’ll give us treats.”
“Um. Well, yes. Then maybe you can scrute me, but no-one else can, ‘kay?” Mittens looked at him smugly. “Come on, then,” he harumphed, pouring himself from the mossy wall like liquid fur. Mittens followed, and the two cats sauntered single-file through the sunflecked midgeclouds towards home. The air was silent but for the unending chuckle of the slow river beyond the wall. Butterflies flitted, fat bees bumbled, and wood pigeons chanted their poodly-poo when they felt the urge. A skylark rose into the arch of the sky, trilling and warbling with the sheer joy of life.
“Good eating, skylark,” Mr. Sushi said. “Tasty. Ever had it?” Behind him, Mittens stayed silent. “I hope The Woman gives us some of that chicken-flavoured yoghurt stuff,” he continued, “it’s way better than that fishy rubbish. I don’t know why she persists. I mean, you never eat fish, do you? Still, more for me.” He spat out a midge. “I’ve never known a cat not like fish. Yes, it’s horrible, but it is food. Why don’t you like fish?” Silence. “Mittens?”
He turned, but Mittens was no longer to be seen. What was to be seen was a shaven-headed man gripping tightly the neck of a rough sack, a sack that writhed and shook as something inside struggled desperately. The man threw it with some force into the back of a small van, the side of which bore the legend ‘EXPERIMENTS 4U’.
The man slammed the rear van door and climbed into the driver’s seat. The engine gargled, started, coughed, and stopped again as a black cloud belched from the exhaust to foul the sweet air.
“Mittens!” cried Mr. Sushi. He launched himself towards the van. The engine roared once more as he closed the gap, and the van moved. He threw himself up and hit the side of the van running, as it began to gain speed. His upward momentum proved just enough to allow him to run up the side of the van and make it to the roof. As the vehicle accelerated, Mr. Sushi’s paws began to slip on the rusty metal. One sharp turn and he would be flung off.
He desperately clawed his way towards a long, thin piece of metal that projected from the top of the windscreen. Hooking his claws around it, he hung on frantically as the van roared up and down hills, and careered around sharp bends.
The terrifying ride continued for what felt like hours, but eventually the van turned down a narrow lane lined with thick hedgerows. He was thrown around, battered by wind, and his legs felt drained of all strength. He could hold on no longer, and his claws slipped, just as the van screeched to a halt before a high gate in a tall metal wire fence.
Mr. Sushi flew through the air and crashed into the bushes by the road. A man in a uniform stood by the gate. He stared at the hole Mr. Sushi had made in the foliage.
“What was that?” he asked the driver, who stuck his head out of the window.
“What was what?”
“I thought … oh never mind. Go on through.”
Mr. Sushi crouched in the bushes and watched the guard open the gate. The van rumbled to the other side of the fence and disappeared behind a brick building. The gate closed again. The cat inspected the high metal fence. He had to reach the other side. The barrier was high, but he was sure he could make it over, if he hit the fence with enough speed. He tensed and waggled his bottom, ready to throw himself forward and upward.
The small voice at his side made him jump. He tensed. A small rabbit, entirely unthreatening, emerged from the undergrowth. Mr. Sushi relaxed. “Go away,” he hissed.
“I’ve dug a short tunnel for you under the fence,” the rabbit continued, surprisingly unfazed by the cat’s fiercest hiss. Astonishingly, it spoke to him perfectly in cat language. “Kizzy said you’d need a way under.”
“You’re Kizzy, are you?”
“No, I’m Cuetip. Kizzy is … well, it’s complicated. She’s my friend. She knows things. She told me to wait here and help a cat to the other side of the fence. So …” the rabbit gestured to a hole in the ground, “… tunnel.”
“You’re bonkers in the nut, you are. I don’t need your pokey tunnel. Watch this and be impressed, furball. I’m going up and over.”
“Good luck with that, Kizzy says. The fence is full of—”
Mr. Sushi sped toward the fence, a blur, and leapt high. As soon as his feet touched the metal he was flung backwards to sprawl in the dirt. He felt as though he had been kicked.
The cat glared at the little rabbit. Slowly, he sat up and began to wash himself, to give himself time to think. “What’s your name again, rabbit?” he said.
“And who’s Kizzy?”
The rabbit took a deep breath. “A dead cat who lives on in my mind and gets messages from Bast, who’s a goddess or something, and she knows lots of things and we help people.”
“That makes no sense at all.”
“I know. Nevertheless,” the rabbit said, indicating the hole once more, “tunnel.”
Mr. Sushi sighed. This creature thoroughly confused him. He was loathe to accept help from a rabbit that spouted gibberish, but also he had no idea how else he might follow Mittens.
“Oh alright,” he said. “Lead the way.”
“You have to go alone. Something about you being the hero of this story, not us. Kizzy says we are simply …” The rabbit cocked its head, as if listening. “D … dayus ex m … oh, something I can’t pronounce. Good luck, though!” The creature turned and his furry bottom disappeared into the bushes.
“Wait, I … oh,” Mr. Sushi sighed. The rabbit was gone. He examined the unappealing hole in the dirt by the fence. Cats were not deigned to be underground. That was all kinds of wrong. On the other hand, Mittens was in trouble. Perhaps … perhaps if he thought of the hole as a cardboard box or, better yet, the opening of a nice, rustly paper bag. Yes, that might work. Before he could think too much about it, he threw himself head-first into the hole and snaked through.
Part 2 will appear next week sometime. To discover more about Cuetip, read my book “Warren Peace”. I had no plans for him to appear in this story – indeed, I hadn’t thought of him at all until he unexpectedly popped his head out of the bushes at the end of my pen.
The chances are, you’ll never have heard of it. If, though, you ever drive over to the east coast of Yorkshire from the Manchester area (or vice versa, I suppose), take a tip from me. Leave the M1 for a while onto the little-travelled B1217. It’s a pleasant relief to take country roads for a short stretch between the hellpit of the M1, and the hugely horrible A64.
The meandering B road passes an Edwardian mansion, Lotherton Hall, and bends through the village of Saxton. Past the Crooked Billet pub, the narrow road lopes onto rising farmland. Through tall hedges you will glimpse cornfields and copses in this particularly English landscape. Shortly after the hedges give up the ghost, you’ll see something of an anomaly on your left. A big old holly bush squats by the road, dark and gloomy and alien-looking. You can park nearby.
If you then peer behind the old holly, you’ll find an ancient, weather-worn gothic cross. No one knows who first put the cross here – it lay in a ditch for centuries before being righted again. On its base, amongst flowers both dried and fresh, you’ll see a recently added date – March 28, 1461. The anonymous inscriber got the date wrong: it should be the 29th. The 29th of March in that year of turmoil during the Wars of the Roses was a Sunday – Palm Sunday, in fact.
On that snow-driven day, perhaps the most significant day of the entire struggle for the throne between Edward and Henry, 100,000 men met at this place to hack, stab, slice, suffocate, bludgeon and trample each other to death. This was by far the most murderous battle ever fought on British soil, yet most of you will never have heard of it. A hundredth of the entire British population died in the blood-stained snow between dawn and dusk that day; almost 30,000 men – three times the number of casualties than on the first day of The Somme.
This was a horrific, bloody brawl. Imagine, if you can, the driving, stinging blizzard; the deafening racket of clashing arms and armour, the pleading of men, the screaming and howled obscenities; the stench of puke and shit and trampled entrails. If you fall, you’re dead in seconds, the life crushed out of you by the sheer weight of men jammed into this meat-mincer. If hell has ever been upon the earth, this was it. The death toll was so great, and bodies piled up so much, that occasional pauses were called in the fighting in order to drag corpses of the way.
The Lancastrians began to push the Yorkists back, and the core of the fighting drifted into a vale now called Bloody Meadow. If you walk up the lane a little from the cross, you’ll see the bowl of this small valley before you. The slaughter, unremitting, continued late into the afternoon. The Yorkists, led by Edward, the son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York , were outnumbered and outfought. They became ever more desperate as they gave way, inch by bloody inch, across the field. Then, up what is now the B1217, marched an army bearing aloft banners that displayed a white boar. These were the men of the Duke of Norfolk, whose fresh reinforcements pelted into the Lancastrians’ flank. The Lancastrians were stopped in their tracks, faltered, and began to give ground, tripping over the corpses of their own dead. The beleaguered Lancastrians bent, broke and ran like buggery. Then the rout began. If the battle was vicious, the rout added a whole new level of brutality.
Far more men died in the rout than in the battle. Bridges in the path of the fleeing Lancastrians shattered under the weight of armed men, plunging many to a freezing death in the icy water. Thousands were caught and mutilated, for it had been agreed in the parley before the battle that no quarter would be given, no mercy shown. Part-hidden, in a naked stand of ash trees, was the grim Bridge of Bodies, built of Lancastrian dead to form a dam, the rushing waters streaming with crimson grume. Panicked, hysterical men scrambled across the River Cock over the carcases of the fallen. From Tadcaster to Towton, the fields were strewn with corpses and body parts. The fleeing men made easy targets for horsemen, and foot soldiers killed many who had dropped their weapons and thrown off their helmets to breathe more freely. And all the while, the blizzard raged.
In 1996 a mass grave of more than 40 bodies was discovered at Towton Hall. It delivered the bones of some of the soldiers who had fought and died at Towton. The skeletons showed evidence of terrible wounds – there were some with at least 20 head injuries. They all died horribly.
“The thing that shook us was that these people had been butchered. Perhaps the most spectacular ones are where people have had part of their head sliced off, or their head cut in half. There’s much evidence of mutilation. That noses and ears were hacked off.” – Dr Alan Ogden, a palaeo-pathologist.
When you know the history of this place – the significant battle that took place here to decide the fate of the English throne, the awful toll it took, the hellish things that happened to thousands of men, you can’t simply stroll amongst the corn and enjoy the sun. The terrible deaths of those thousands haunt your thoughts. There are ghosts here.
“Walk in the margin of the corn as it is ruffled by the blustering wind. Above, the thick mauve, mordant clouds curdle and thud like bruises, bowling patches of sunlight across the rise and fall of the land. In the distance is a single stunted tree, flattened by the south wind. It marks the corner of this sombre, elegiac place. It would be impossible to walk here and not feel the dread underfoot – the echo of desperate events vibrating just behind the hearing. This is a sad, sad, dumbly eloquent deathscape.” – A. A. Gill, 2008
England opened the batting, Geoff Boycott and Michael Wombat garnering 36 runs before Wombat was bowled by Myrna Loy. Boycott followed soon after, stumped as he was tempted from the crease by an outswinger from The Dark One From Charlie’s Angels. Girls I Fancy bowler @little_mavis then hit top gear, supported by Linda Ronstadt, taking five wickets as England were bowled out for 165.
Felicity Kendall and Mandy At Work opened for Girls I Fancy, but Felicity’s lovely bottom availed her naught as she was bowled out for a duck. The Long Haired Barmaid At The Plough steadied the ship, and Girls I Fancy slowly took control. A magnificent 73 from @little_mavis made the result inevitable, Stella Next Door hitting the winning runs.
Forty years ago I was a computer operator working nights. God, that was a tedious job, involving not much more than changing tape decks once every two hours, or feeding in a stack of punched cards (yes, I’m that old). To pass the time, I played a series of games, including weird versions of Owzat!, like this one. I remember once that Various Beetles beat Fruits I Like by a single run.
“Today is the 7th anniversary of one of the best ever days on Twitter. Back in the golden age when everyone was happy and free and we literally all ran around with our clothes off. Happy NuddyBooze day.” So said delectable @BottyB this morning, reminding me of this important anniversary.
I don’t quite remember how it all started, the idea of posting a pic of yourself naked with some booze, but I have a feeling that @lauriepink and @nyncompoop were involved. Pretty soon scores of people were joining in, embracing the spirit of joy in posing naked with alcohol. What could be more innocent? It was fun and funny, at times hilarious, and even dogs and teddies joined in the fun. There was invention aplenty, and no creepiness at all.
Although it spawned a few more #Nuddy themes – NuddyTeddy, NuddyFood and NuddyChristmas, I’m not sure we could manage to do this sort of thing these days without attracting a bunch of negativity. Happy times.
(I’ve anonymised the pics herein – I wonder if the subjects will recognise their own bottoms?)
Seal Mother ~ A Selkie Tale in Verse by Rose English
#StoriesInVerse #Folklore #Selkie #Seals
One lonely seal in the midst of the ocean rolls on the waves to the rhythmical motion. The seal watches over the child on the sand. Her lovely young daughter born of the land.
On Midsummer’s Eve seals swim up onto the sand, shed their skin and transform into beautiful young women to give thanks to the mysterious Moon Goddess. Lost in dance, no one notices a shimmering sealskin being stolen; leaving one beautiful Selkie trapped on the land forever. Can an unlikely friend help her reclaim her skin, or is she destined to remain forever in human form? ‘Seal Mother’ – a magical Selkie tale of love, loss and deceit, told in verse. (Click image to enlarge)
About Rose English:
Living on ‘England’s Green & Pleasant Land’, among the gentle rolling hills of the Herefordshire Countryside, Rose’s house is wall to wall books. She even has a ‘Leaning Tower of Paperbacks’. Rose is a dreamer, preferring a simple & quiet life. Often spending time alone, although never lonely, being ever surrounded by great characters when lost in a good book. She loves theatre and the arts, adoring live performances on stage. Rose has very eclectic tastes. Working as a school librarian, and sharing her love of books with children, was the best job she ever had. However, life moves on and another chapter was only a page turn away.
Chance to win either a signed copy of ‘Seal Mother ~ A Selkie Tale in Verse’ or an eBook version.
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