Here’s a short story I wrote for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 56, inspired by the picture on the right there.
A shadow crossed the cave mouth. Wolf raised his immense head and eyed the newcomer. A boy, draped in the red cloak of a supplicant. Wolf gave a low growl, and the boy stepped forward. Wolf nodded his permission for him to speak.
“I am looking for a painless death, Uncle Wolf,” he said, eyes downcast, looking at the sandy ground.
“Ain’t no such thing, sweet boy,” said Wolf, his voice deeper than summer thunder. “All death causes pain, even if that pain ain’t your own. How would your ma feel?”
“She died bringing me into this world.”
“Your friends then?”
“My knife is my friend.”
“Well, then, me? It always hurts me when one of my subjects dies. What of my pain?”
The boy looked him in the eye, a brave move. “If the pain is not my own, then I do not care.”
Wolf smiled at the temerity of the lad. “Well, now, there’s a selfish point of view.”
“You say that as though selfishness is a bad thing.”
“Oh, I make no judgements, sweet boy,” Wolf said. “I ain’t a creature worthy to set his self above others. If those same others choose to lift me above ‘em, who am I to argue? But don’t ignore what I’m saying here – death is pain. That’s its … what’s the word, now … essence.”
“Pain is my friend.”
“That’s told plain by the scars that criss-cross your arms. But you’ve named two friends, now. Knife and pain are …” Wolf’s low rumble quietened as the boy’s grey eyes glared angrily at him. It would be a pity to waste such furious passion. The boy’s rage, if harnessed in the correct way, had the capability to do great good. Of course, such refinement would take time. Wolf sighed, a sound like a dying hurricane.
“Yes, you’re right,” he said. “Metaphorical friends don’t figure. Tell me then, why do you now seek oblivion, rather than, as you have before, the exquisite release of slicing your own flesh?”
“There’s no point.”
“To any of it. To existence. Or at least, if there is a point, it is to gain pleasure from the things we do, for as long as we breathe the air.”
“And now you gain no pleasure? Not even from cutting yourself?”
“None. I enjoy nothing. I do not laugh. I do not smile.”
“Does the warm sunshine not make you glad?”
“No. And before you ask, a spring breeze is nothing to me, nor the laughter of girls. All the world is empty and dying.”
“Then, sweet boy, I pity you. And … I grant you your pain-free end.”
The boy smiled, and bowed his head to await a killing blow from Uncle Wolf’s massive paw.
“My decision pleases you?” The boy nodded. “Then you can still feel pleasure. Yes, I grant you a painless death … when you are ninety-seven years old.”
The Joy of One Star – a new strand in which I enjoy 1-star review comments left on Amazon about various popular items.
Bad reviews tend to fall into two categories – reviews of the thing itself, be that a film, book or whatever, and others that review either Amazon or the postal service, like this one for Thor-Ragnarok – “I have yet to watch this movie. This is a review about the physical blu-ray case.” Really? You’re reviewing a case? Well … OK, why not, I guess? But at least have the decency to give the film itself 3-stars while you’re at it. After all, one should never judge a DVD by its case, should one? Others of this ilk include “Don’t buy this does not play.” and “Disc broken.” Why are these people telling us, rather than sending it back for a replacement?
There are those who really don’t like the film, of course. “Bollox” says evabraun (no relation, surely?). I’m not sure whether that’s a criticism or a request for a future porn version. (Thor:Ragnabollox). Reviewer EMJAY is on some sort of misogynistic crusade – “PC culture being implemented to appease a minority … male characters are feminised, and female characters are shown as the champions of the day? A piss take too far”. S J Thorpe sums up the disappointment of all of us who went to see the film for a treatise in Nordic mythology – “the plot was nothing like the tale from the Edda from the Nordic folklore.”
I’ll leave you with my favourite review. “One word – really disappointed.”
It was a little bit of a shaky start as people got used to the idea of a summer without sausages, but the excitement grew as the day went on, and those who had correctly predicted the number of whoopsie-daisy pies realised how much fun it was to steal opponent’s wickets. #SausageLeague Champion @jayalay was an immediate target, and is already down to one wicket.
Your early front runner is @captain_doodle, who with 8 for 3 got BOTH of his guesses (total and whoopsie-daisies) correct, and therefore takes a maximum 7 points. Hot on his heels are @crowmogh, @moorseyl, @thatnuttyfanboy and @happymouffetard, although this last pair have both lost a wicket.
Controversy simmered when @purplequeennl questioned the referee’s judgement as to the number of pies. This is the sort of thing that we can well do without in #PieCricket, Geoff, and she was lucky to escape receiving the first ever #PieCricket yellow card, and a summary spanking with a well-oiled bat.
With 7 points on offer every week, and the ability to prevent your opponents scoring at all, there’s plenty to play for, and once you all get used to the Pie Standard at Mans 2000, I expect this summer to be really EXPIETING. See what I did there? God I’m funny.
Basically #SausageLeague with pies, but with an added twist, #PieCricket runs on Twitter on Fridays, between the end of one #SausageLeague season and the start of the next. The current run of #PieCricket began on 11th May, and the final day will be 27th July. It’s based on pie-guessery, and here’s all you need to know in order to WIN WIN WIN!
You predict two numbers – the total number of pies on display, and how many of those will be upside-down (a “whoopsie-daisy”).
You score points depending on how close you are to the total pie number: 5 minus the difference.
If you’re spot-on with the total, you get a bonus point. If you ALSO guess correctly the number of whoopsie-daisies, you get another bonus point.
But wait, there’s more! Correctly guessing the number of whoopsie-daisies allows you to take an opponent’s wicket, regardless of whether you got the TOTAL prediction right.
You start with 3 wickets. If they drop to zero, you’ll score no points at all the following week UNLESS you get a spot-on with the total, when you’ll get the usual. Then your wickets will bob back up to 3.
A year or so ago, when I first idly photographed the goodies on display in the hot cabinet of my local takeaway, I little realised what magnificence I was unleashing. One or two followers on Twitter began to guess how many sausages there would be, then each week a few more would join in. It became a beautifully silly oasis in a desert of depressing world news. Eventually I realised that you lot needed some sort of reward for your enthusiasm for the ridiculous, and the league itself was born.
The final table for the inaugural season is over there on the right. I doubt you’ll manage to read it without clicking to see the larger version. @MoorseyL’s thrilling run of four spot-ons and a 4-pointer in the final five games saw her surge from 19th to within a chipolata of the top. She just failed, however, to overcome the mighty @Jayalay’s long-standing lead, built on a consistent closeness to actual sausage presence.
Perhaps @MoorseyL’s disappointment on just missing the glittering prize will be eased by the news that she topped the averages table. Both @MoorseyL and @Jayalay win an actual prize for their sausage expertise, and can choose any of my pocketbooks, which I’ll sign so that it’s worth more when I cock me clogs.
Other stats: @MoorseyL scored the most spot-ons during the campaign, five – just one more than hot-and-cold, injury-prone performer @ekctafc. My most consistent predictor was the luscious @kjcollard, whose “one lonely sausage” did not miss a single week.
My most disappointing moment? That no-one drew me a sausage beast after this @magentakoru tweet. And so the #SausageLeague season draws to a close. It will be back after the summer break, when EFL2 kicks off next year. During the close season, we will be playing Pie Cricket, which is nothing at all like cricket but that’s what folk play in the summer.
Finally, thank you all so very much for being as daft as brushes, and making #SausageLeague such a ridiculous success.
Basically #SausageLeague with pies, but with an added twist. In #PieCricket you have to predict the number of pies that will be on display at the takeaway (so far, so much-the-same), and will score points just as with the sausages. However, should you also successfully guess how many of these pies will be upside down, you get to take an opponent’s wicket. Each player starts with three wickets, and if they drop to zero will score NO points the following week UNLESS they get a spot-on. Then they’ll bob back up to three wickets, obv. I have ZERO idea how/whether this will work well, but it’s only for a few weeks until the sausages start again, so let’s see, shall we?
Nah then, sexpots. The Sixth YSP Tweetup will take place on Saturday 21st July 2018 at (colour me surprised) Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Come and meet a fat old wombat and his beautiful consort for art, countryside, sexy rabbits, picnics, shiny balls and sociability. And if that isn’t enough to get your sap rising, you will also be able to meet our SPECIAL GUESTS, all the way over from Canadiadiadia, Aven @avensarah & Mark @alliterative. Woo, and a healthy does of hoo, eh? Here’s a few things you might want to know about #YSPtweetup2018.
YSP is just off the M1 at junction 38. The best postcode for your satnav is WF4 4JX. The 96 bus comes directly to YSP from Barnsley or Wakefield. Visit wymetro.com for bus timetables. The last bus from YSP to Wakefield is at 4:30pm, and to Barnsley at 5:30pm.
What time are we meeting?
Meet between 10 and 10:30 near the main car park, by the entrance to the main building. If it’s chucking it down, you could always pop inside. If you’re a bit late, we might already have wandered down to the picnic area. Check the map below, where both places are highlighted. Or should that be ‘highlit’? Nah, I was right first time.
Admission to YSP (a charity) is free. The parking fees keep the place going. Car Parking is £10 for the day. You can pay online in advance (or up to a week after your visit), or use the machine that takes cards or cash and asks for your car registration number. Motorbikes are free. The car park is HUGE and everyone will fit in.
Bring picnic food & drink, for we will PICNIC, BABY! And I want to taste your goodies, obv. Alternatively, there’s both a restaurant and a café. Tap water is always available free.
What if it rains?
We’ll get wet.
Will you sign my boobs?
Oh books. Oh … yeah, OK then, bring them along. If you want to order a signed book that I can bring on the day, DM me.
Is there anything else?
As usual, dogs and kids are more than welcome – it’d be nice to keep up the tradition of kids climbing on that sculpture that no-one’s supposed to climb on. YSP like dogs to be kept on a lead, please, to keep the wandering wildlife safe. Otherwise, the agenda is mostly the having of fun. We usually manage that without much effort. We don’t have to stick together the whole day, of course, but I hope we can at least get a big team photo of the whole company as on previous occasions.
Here you go. Click it to see a much larger version.
And CLICK HERE to visit the YSP site – there’s more information there than you could possibly need.
You’ve heard the expression “raining cats and dogs”, right? Here’s a little thing I wrote for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 51, inspired by the picture on the right there. The cat’s real name is Willow, and the dog is Lily, but I think Abigail and William work better for the story.
<the light tattoo of rain on glass>
“Go on, then.”
“In that storm? No. You go on, then.”
“Nuh-uh. I’m a cat. Cats don’t do rain.”
“Cats don’t do anything.”
“We do! We do sunshine and warm laps and high places.”
“Don’t forget selfishness, you’re the best at that. Cats don’t do anything useful.”
“Tell me, of the two creatures here, which one can work the window latch?”
“Which one, William?”
“I can’t hear you.”
“You can, Abigail. It’s you, OK?”
“Then we are agreed. My job is to open the window. Your job is to go out in the rain.”
“And get soaked.”
“One job each, William. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
“Hmph. I suppose.”
“Oh don’t sulk. Let’s get this over with. There, the window’s open. Off you pop.”
“I don’t think I can carry both bags of treats. I only have a little mouth.”
“Then fetch mine and go back for yours. Then we can work on opening them.”
“That’s two trips, Abigail! I’ll get even wetter!”
“Once you’re wet, you’re wet. And you can shake yourself dry. Dogs are good at that.”
“We are, aren’t we? Dogs are good at stuff just as much as cats.”
“They’re certainly good at being gullible. Off you pop, William.”
<the hiss of rain on the path between greenhouse and kitchen>
“I’m back! Here’s yours, Abigail. I’ll just pop back and get mine.”
“Take your time, William, take your time.”
“Gosh, this rain’s cold.”
<the cadence of rainfall and a soft click>
“Abigail! Abigail! Abigail!”
“You’ve shut the window again. Let me in, I’m soaked!”
“Not a chance. It is cold. And who wants to eat with the stink of wet dog in the air?”
“That’s not fair!”
“You said it yourself, William. Cats are the best at selfishness.”
A short story inspired by Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge No. 49.
“The lid of your jar.” He jabbed his finger against the thick glass, pointing above my head. “He’s forgotten to latch it. You could push it off!”
I reached up and ran my fingers across the perforated lid. The giant removed it occasionally to drench us with water, or to poke us with sharp objects, or to drop fire into the jar to make us dance. He secured the lid afterwards by snapping a metal catch, but perhaps this time…
I pressed upward gently; the lid lifted. A simple push and it fell to the side. I sprang to the thin, glass lip of the opening and unfurled my wings, stretching them wide, luxuriating in the caress of air on membranes that had been too long folded against my body in the cramped jar. By the trees, that felt good.
The interior of the crate that held the jars was dim, but I could make out some shapes. Above my head was the heavy cover. There would be no shifting that. I might be strong for my kind, but was still too small to budge such a substantial sheet of metal. There were a dozen jars in the crate, each with a sprung metal clasp to hold down the lid, each holding a prisoner. Their pale faces watched me as I perched on the rim of my jar, no doubt envious of my escape.
Down to my left, Rimbaud watched too, a grin on his pretty face. He blew me a kiss, and gestured to the side of the container, to the pale glow of an opening that we guessed was to allow air to reach us. My eyes widened. The metal clasp on his jar was also loose. The giant had been careless on his last visit.
It took me but a few moments to free Rimbaud, and we moved to the opening in the wall, mouthing our apologies to the other prisoners. Holding hands, we entered the passageway beyond. It was entirely circular, the walls and floor smooth, hard, and allowing a translucent glow.
“It’s good to touch you again,” Rimbaud said, squeezing my hand. “I’m scared. Are you scared?” I did not answer. “Are we doing the right thing? Death may await us along this path. At least in captivity we live, and our love endures.”
“Love without freedom is like wings without flight.” I closed my fingers on his, briefly, but my mind was on things other than reassurance. We could hope that this air tunnel led to freedom, but it seemed unlikely, given all that we had endured since our capture. Starvation and torture had taken me to the end of my sanity. Even the smallest chance of escape was worth grasping, and if this air-tube did not lead us to freedom after all, I would take my own life. I had suffered enough. We are not made for captivity, our kind.
The passageway ahead forked. Rimbaud and I looked at each other.
“There are two ways,” he said. “Which shall we follow? Perhaps one leads to escape, and the other to danger?”
“Let us each follow one. That way we will know the right path. Walk for five hundred heartbeats. If you have discovered nothing by then, turn around. We meet back here and compare findings.”
“Very well,” he said. His wing-tips caressed mine. “Be careful.”
I took the passage on the right. I have been walking for five hundred heartbeats now, but I do not turn around. I am close to open air. I can sense it. I smell leaves and grass, sunshine and summer breeze. Ahead of me an opening appears – I see trees against a blue sky. I almost run out of the opening.
I stand on a flat circle of earth, blinking in bright sunshine. All around me are breeze-blown birch, but between me and the trees is a wire fence that surrounds the bare circle. It extends above, too, a net across the blue sky. Behind the fence, staring at me, are giants. Scores of them, grinning, drooling, eating and laughing. I clutch my ears as a deafening voice booms, putting small birds to flight from the trees above.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fairy Wars!”
The giants cheer, a horrifying thunder. Across the circle of earth, I notice a second entrance set in the wire. Another of my kind stumbles into the light. It is Rimbaud.
“Two creatures enter!” the voice bellows again. “But only one will leave!”
Rimbaud’s eyes brim with tears. He looks directly at me, and I can sense the love he holds for me, rooted deep within his soul. Those wide, innocent, beautiful eyes are now haunted by despair at the sudden ripping away of freedom’s promise.
“Bids are now being taken for the corpse of the loser!”
Rimbaud shakes his head, slowly, and collapses to his knees, wings handing limply around him.
“Which of these magical creatures will earn their freedom today, and which will die? Place your bets now!”
I bare my teeth. By the trees, if this is what it takes to earn my freedom, so be it. I will not – I cannot – return to captivity, torture, and life in a jar. Rimbaud looks startled as I unsheathe my claws and launch myself at him with a scream.
Sensual. Serious. Slow to trust. Taciturn. Brusque. When her mother was murdered for being different, 11-year-old Jenifry was taken captive, beaten, raped, and bled regularly into a silver bowl. Eight years later she has escaped, and has returned to her secluded home, a large oak tree in the middle of the forest.
Why has she lured our hero, John the Minstrel, there? What does she know of his wife’s death? What plans does she have for him? And how, since her legs are broken, is she able to move so quickly from place to place?
“Dark of hair she was, and dark of eye, her gaze the depth of a star-spattered night. She peered up at John from beneath lowered brows, and crawled up his body. Her full breasts brushed his thighs, teasing upwards as she moved her weight from arm to arm. Her gaze never left his as she slowed her advance. John was unable to move. He was held captive, shackled by her glittering eyes as a moth beguiled by the moon.”
The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available for Kindle and in paperback (with free postage, in the UK at least) here.
Other character posts (click to read):