A short story for @Crowmogh, who introduced me to the legend of the Owlman, & for @MrsTrevithick, for being the inspiration for, well, Mrs. Trevithick. The illustration is a drawing by someone who claimed to have seen the Owlman in 1976.
The sound was a howl of ancient evil; the despairing moan of an old, dying race.
“Th’piskies are abroad,” said Mrs. Trevithick. She frowned at the empty cup before her, as the noise rose and fell, like the ghost of a long-dead smuggler.
“It’s only that warped window,” Kirsten said. “It whistles that way when the wind is coming straight in off the sea. Pour yourself a cup of tea. I’ll just get some sticky tape and close the gap.”
“Thank ‘ee,” said Mrs. Trevithick. She poured tea from the warm pot into the floral cup on the small table at her side. “You might want to try blue tack.”
“Good idea. The tape does leave horrible marks.”
“Of course, stopping th’hole won’t keep pobol vean out. They have ways.”
“It’s not the little people I worry about.”
“You should. Kernow is special. There are secrets here that no-one can fathom. And while humans go about their little lives, so sure that this world belongs to them, shadowed creatures of legend are hiding in plain sight.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Kirsten said, taking a ball of blue tack from the bureau. She moulded it between her fingers, softening it with her warmth. “Last week I went to Gwennap Pit. A troubled place, I felt. There was a whole pig’s leg left out on the stones. I’ve felt … haunted, ever since.”
“How do you mean, dear?” Mrs. Trevithick sipped from her cup and twisted her mouth.
“I don’t know – certainly I’ve had nothing but bad luck since then. It’s…” she looked at Mrs. Trevithick, who gave her a small nod of encouragement. “It’s as if an ancient malevolence was dogging me. So yes, I do believe, somewhere in the core of me, that there is true magic here – but the little people don’t concern me.”
Mrs. Trevithick allowed unswallowed tea to dribble back from her mouth into the cup. “No?” she said.
Kirsten pushed the putty into the warped window frame. Outside, the leafless oak swayed like a skeleton scratched onto the furious sky by some dark god. Behind the tree, the slate sea was veined by froth whipped up by the same wind that was making her window cry.
“No,” she said. “The thing that puts the willies up me is a much larger creature indeed.”
“Jan Tregeagle, th’howling demon?”
Kirsten shook her head as she stood up. Her efforts had made little difference to the banshee-howl from her window. Behind her Mrs. Trevithick emptied her cup into the pot-plant on the table.
“As far as I know,” Kirsten said, “Jan Tregeagle doesn’t kill folk so much as play tricks on them. No, the creature that terrifies me is said to live close by where we met today.”
“Indeed. It is a pretty village, but I’m gripped with fear whenever I pass the church. Do you know the story of the Owlman?”
“A monstrous owl-like creature, the size of a man, with clawed wings, dark and ragged. Its eyes glow red even in the golden light of a Cornish afternoon. Its legs and body are as a human’s, though swathed in feathers the colour of charcoal, and its beak is cruelly curved, as are the claws that adorn its feet. They do say as it carries people off in those mighty talons.”
“Off to where, though? And what becomes of them?” Kirsten drew in a shaky breath.
“Legend do say the Owlman carries its prey to the top of th’church tower, where it eats their faces, so it can mimic their appearance and walk amongst us.”
Kirsten shuddered and poured herself a cup of tea. “Above the church porch it says ‘Da thymi nesse the Dhu’,” she said.
“It is good to draw nigh to th’Lord,” Mrs. Trevithick said.
“Yes. Does that sound a bit like a threat to you? Sort of implying that death will find you soon, and you were a fool to go anywhere near the place?”
“Well, now, I thought ‘ee looked a little shaky, dear. No wonder, if you’ve been having those kinds of thoughts.”
“Is there any prospect so unnerving as becoming the very thing that terrifies you?” Kirsten said. “I was proper shook up today. Thank you for walking home with me. I appreciated the company.”
“Oh, the Owlman is quite the other way round, dear,” Mrs. Trevithick said. “In his case, he – th’thing that terrifies – becomes you.”
Mrs. Trevithick stood. Her body seemed to undulate and shake. Kirsten rubbed her eyes.
“You just, well, die,” Mrs. Trevithick continued. “I mean, if you’ve had your face eaten off, that’s going to happen, ent it?”
Mrs’ Trevithick lifted her arms, and they became wings, clawed, dark and ragged. Her eyes widened and glowed red. Her tweed skirt and silk blouse shifted and became instead charcoal-coloured feathers.
“Legend do not say what the Owlman does with th’corpses he collects, but I see no reason not to tell ‘ee now. I eats ’em, bones and all. I reckon you’ll last about a week.”
Mrs. Trevithick’s face was gone, the transformation complete, the beak in the now-feathered owl face was cruelly curved, as were the claws that protruded from the creature’s feet.
Kirsten finally broke out of her horrified stupor and scrambled towards the door. The Owlman descended upon her, tearing and ripping at her flesh, and gripped her in its sharp claws. It smashed through lamenting window, and rose into the grey sky towards Mawnan Smith. Kirsten’s last sight was of her life pouring from her and tumbling like red rain to the distant earth.
Disturbing yuletide tales for grown-ups. The perfect stocking filler for the reader in your life. Available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1076599419
Pop your chestnuts on an open fire, me hearties, it’s time for #TWANTA2019 to shove another tree up another fairy’s frock and display its shiny balls for the tenth 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. Those who send the gifts can choose to remain anonymous, 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 Twantathonix19 master computer here at Twanta Towers.
I’ll give people a few weeks to join, and shortly after that (probably around the end of October) you’ll receive the name of your Twantee. Old hands of Twanta will know all the following already, but for any newcomers here’s a summary of how the whole thing works. Terms and conditions apply. Steep hills may go down as well as up.
You must have specifically asked @twanta_hohoho (or @wombat37, the puppetmaster) to take part, and I must have confirmed that you’re accepted before you can join in. I reserve the right to reject anyone that I suspect of being dodgy – this is due to a slight wobble in the past when some git refused to actually send a present once they’d received theirs. If you are unknown to me, you can still join in and be welcomed enthusiastically, but I may ask you to post a selfie of yourself raising your right hand and swearing fealty to the Twanta Code.
Make sure you follow @twanta_hohoho 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 #Twanta2019 is over I will 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, therefore, 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 @twanta_hohoho has everyone’s address, he’ll DM you to let you know to whom (grammar) you should send a gift, together with their 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 @twanta_hohoho 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 own #TWANTA pressie, again let @twanta_hohoho 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 #TWANTA2019, so that we can all follow the fun, and I’ll reveal each person’s gift-giver, unless specifically asked not to.
Don’t worry – I know this seems a lot, but I’ll hold all your hands throughout. Have fun, and, if it all goes tits up, remember that it was originally all the idea of that @captain_doodle, and have a go at him. Not me, oh no, leave me alone.
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 section 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 #TWANTA2019). 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.
Since #BuryFC got thrown out of the league an unexpected thing has happened – I’ve lost interest in football altogether. I’d imagined that after a week or two I’d maybe pop along to Accy, or maybe Rochdale, just to watch a match – but I just don’t care any more. I used to look forward to the EFL highlights on Saturday evening, but now even Colin Murray has lost his allure.
I don’t even look at the results any longer, and I have no idea who tops any table, or languishes at the bottom. It’s as if football itself has kicked me right in the bollocks and my mind has just gone “Well fuck you, then”. I hope my love of the game returns when (if) The Shakers do, but for now it seems that I was a Bury fan more than a football fan.
What are those five stages of grief again? Oh yes, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and being kicked in the bollocks by football.
My recent heart scare gave me a worrying few days in an environment full of beeps and scurry. I’m chuffed to be back home & healthy, but still, there are a few things I miss from those few days.
1. The tea and toast trolley at 9.30pm.
2. Ticking the lunch and supper lists at breakfast.
3. Lounging about in a robe all day.
4. Seriously tasty chickpea curry.
5. The friendly professionalism of doctors and nurses.
6. Hiding from the world & seeing no news.
7. Mid-day naps.
8. A nurse applying arse ointment.
My beloved Shakers are dead, after 134 years, killed by a succession of stupid men, greedy men, and finally one downright immoral, bullying, despicable, arrogant parasite. Also culpable in the ‘murder’ is the ineffectual English Football League itself, who allowed such chancers to take over without having to undergo the EFL’s much-vaunted “Fit & Proper Person” tests. Others will examine the obscene imbalance of finances in English football that is at the root of all this. Here, I just want to put down a few words about what Bury FC have meant to me.
My first visit to Gigg Lane was in 1971, back when I was a young Rotherham fan. We stood on the Manny Road End and watched The Millers steal the points with a 1-0 victory. Years later I moved across The Pennines, saw the light and became a Shakers regular. I’ve watched the first team, youth players, and the women play at Gigg Lane. I’ve watched England Under-18s there. Over the decades I’ve watched games from every stand, but my true home was row G in the South Stand. In later years the seat next to me was home to my daughter; Gigg Lane was a refuge, a haven where for two hours we could laugh and shout and sing and connect with the community, and with each other. It was a place where we could forget the cruel vicissitudes of the outside world. I feel I should apologise to my daughter for infecting her with a love for a club that has now died after one of its finest post-war showings. In this last season the old ground has been home to the best football I’ve ever seen from a Bury side. Inspired by a charismatic manager, the spirit from players and staff was incredible, and the football a delight for the eyes and heart.
In its time of dying, Gigg Lane experienced the community of football at its absolute best. In the hope of the next game going ahead, hundreds of fans gathered at the old ground to give it a much-needed clean after a summer of neglect. Not only Bury fans turned up – supporters of other clubs came to help too in a heart-warming demonstration of the true football community coming together. Accrington, Huddersfield, Leeds, Portsmouth, Torquay, Blackpool supporters were among them, as were a number of Bolton fans, their own club also under a 5pm deadline for survival.
My Shakers memories will persist, of course. Forever in my head, with a thousand other visions, will be Efe Sodje’s mighty headers, Lowey’s late goal at Chesterfield, two nights of promotion at Tranmere, and Leon Barnett (playing for Wigan then) falling over the hoarding at Gigg. I’ll remember the crowd cheering Joe Murphy’s kids ‘scoring’ at the Manny Road end after one game. I’ll remember Schuey and Giles Coke arguing about who would take a penalty. I’ll remember Danny Mayor moving like a ghost, and I’ll remember Nicky Adams laughing his head off at Danny’s bloody nose. I’ll remember Joe Riley’s screamer at Bramhall Lane, Leon Clarke’s walk-in at Doncaster, Nicky Maynard’s overhead kick against Mansfield. I’ll remember the supporters, too – Beardy Martin, the two foul-mouthed old ladies who sat nearby, the witty lads who sat behind us, South Stand Shorts Guy, the tattooed stranger I danced with at Tranmere, and the singing section’s remarkable rendition of ‘Anarchy in the UK’.
And I’ll remember Ryan Lowe, his goals, his good humour, and the wonderfully exciting football he got us playing as manager in our final season. A Scouser who became a Bury legend – good luck to him at Plymouth, and to the remarkable players of the 2018/19 squad, wherever they find themselves. Thanks for the memories, everyone. My heart is broken.
A horrific short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker, riffing off the picture below. TW: self-harm.
“Fuck you!” she howled, and flew out of the door, a screaming rocket trailing fire. It slammed behind her. The mirror fell from the wall and smashed as it hit the tiles. I followed it to the floor and sat there, gulping for air, my eyes stinging, my cheeks wet, my head about to explode with pain.
My hand touched the mirror, as broken as my shredded heart. I ran my fingertip along one of the cracks, slicing the sensitive skin on a jagged shard. Blood beaded there, and I licked it off. I was right. It tasted of her. She was in me. In my blood. Why did she doubt that?
I eased my nails under a section of glass and teased it free. I pressed the sharp point against the thin skin of my inner arm, just below the elbow, and dragged it down towards my wrist, raising a red welt jewelled with sparkles of blood. They too, tasted of adoration.
I repeated the action, raising more crimson to the surface. Opening my skin gave me back a level of control I had lost in the roaring fury of the argument. I could choose now. I was the one in charge.
I moved to the other arm, cutting open the skin in three long strokes. Red spattered the floor tiles. The hurricane in my mind eased a little. By the third slice, the glass had become slippery red in my fingers. I wiped them on my shirt, then pulled it off.
I began the next slice at my left shoulder, parting the skin in a long line down past the nipple to my stomach. A second cut paralleled it no more than half an inch away. The pain in my head moved to my skin. I found I could handle it better there.
I cut across the two vertical wounds, running red, and eased a point of mirrorglass beneath the skin, prising up a tag of flesh. I gripped it between my fingers and pulled a sliver of tissue away. It tasted of love, as I knew it would.
I cut more at my right shoulder and down across my belly, criss-crossing my torso, releasing ever more love into the world. My mind calmed with every slice. When she came back, I would show her the blood, have her taste it herself. Then she would see. Then she would know.
Blood coursed down to my lap, soaking my shorts, so I slid them off and cast them aside. I carved a heart into the flesh of one thigh, and her initial into the other. I continued down my legs to my feet. The glass sang whenever it parted skin, a gentle ringing keen of joy, our love song. Our tune.
I lifted my penis from my thigh: the centre of physical love. Before I could slice it open, her key rattled in the front door. She had returned! I staggered to my tattered feet and slid, one foot after the other, across the bloody tiles towards the slowly-opening door, flaps of torn skin dragging on the floor behind me.
How happy she would be to see how much I loved her.
I took a deep breath, held it, and stepped through the window. It shlukked behind me, closing, and I breathed again. First thing you learn, that is: if you don’t want shredded lungs, hold your breath when you go through.
He didn’t recognise me, of course. I’m almost seventy, bald and fat, my massive beard as white as a dandelion clock. My scarecrow eyebrows sprout more hair than does the top of my head, and my eyes have gone, well, wonky. I walk slowly, with the help of an old, twisted length of hazel that I had cut long ago and fashioned into a thumbstick. If he had looked closely at the words and symbols I had carved into it over the years, his suspicions might have been aroused, but his eyes were fixed on the shadows that fluttered and whirled above the bright field.
He leaned on an old farm gate, looking out across sunsodden greengold wheat, margined brightly by hawthorn and willow-herb. Atop the far hill my familiar old windmill stood, young and unbroken, the sails turning leisurely in the summer heat.
“Owdo,” I said. “Grand day.”
“The birds seem to think so,” he nodded towards the swooping, tumbling host above the hot golden field. The dark arrows tumbled, dashing and zig-zagging, swivelling and diving, chasing invisible insects. Our sluggish eyes struggled to track them as they slalomed across the sky. They danced upon the air, innocent of the devastation that was about to be unleashed.
“Swallows,” I said.
“Yeah?” he said. “I’m never sure whether I’m looking at swallows or swifts.”
“Look close, lad. See how the lower third of their body looks bulky when they fold their long wings? That’s because the wing-tips extend to the end of their tails. Also, swifts don’t tuck in their wings at all when flying. And sithee, the tops of their wings look oddly large an’all, like …” I struggled to find a simile.
“Like epaulettes,” he said. We shared a grin.
“You know a lot about birds, then?”
“Hellfire, no. But once upon a summerday long ago, a man older than death told me the way of swallows, and it’s always stuck in my head. I love to watch them enjoying their time in the sun, dancing in a strip of sunlight for a brief summer, while the winter darkness is at an ebb.”
“Like people,” he said.
“How do you mean?”
His eyes flicked, watching the swirl of swallows. “We’re born alone, pieces of rough driftwood on the shores of an endless dark ocean, and we’ll be carried away again soon enough by the swell. But in between the ebb tides of oblivion, in a single summer of life – of dancing in a strip of sunlight, if I might steal your words – we find relationships, love, and the companionship that makes us whole. Makes us human.”
“You’re a poet, then?”
“Forester,” he grinned again. A thunder-growl tumbled across the cloudless sky. Above the wheat, the swallows suddenly gathered, weaving themselves together into a dark seething cloud, and swept away across the valley.
“Ah, look, they’ve buggered off,” I said. “It’s time. Come on, poet, we’ve got to get inside.”
“Inside? Where? Why?” He laughed.
“There’s a cave just down the path here. And why? Because your dark tide of oblivion is about to flood this earth. Humanity’s dance in the sunlight is ending. Look to the sky.”
He raised his eyes, and saw, slashed across the blue like a thousand raw wounds, the blood-red streaks that heralded the downfall of humanity.
“What the hell is that?”
“I’ll tell you in the cave,” I said.
“No offence, you seem nice enough, but I’m not interested in your cave, as you call it.”
“Look, sunshine, here’s your choice: you can either die screaming in a fiery inferno, or you can shelter with me and instead live a long life of struggle against the alien invaders, and eventually, with the aid of their stolen technology, invent a time machine.”
“Besides, you already have come into the cave. I’m proof of that.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You still haven’t recognised me, have you?”
He stared at me for a moment, frowning. Across the valley the first emerald explosion of plasma energy left the windmill a smoking ruin. Then the shock of recognition dropped his jaw and his eyes widened, reflecting more green flashes as the valley was destroyed.
“Hellfire!” he said. “Yeah, take me to your cave.”
Thanks to @alexbrightsmith for the title.