“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.
Click HERE to enter the Giveaway
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A short story for Miranda Kate’s sixtieth Flash Challenge, which this time does me great honour by using one of my own photos.
Georgiana Harvey sat outside the Cove Cafe, sipping lukewarm, watery tea, and watching the sunlight flicker across the wide waves. The tide was going out, slowly revealing wet sand, shining pebbles, tiny scuttling crabs, and the giant metal shell that sat on the beach near the cafe: a spiral, steel sculpture large enough to climb into. Twice daily it was swamped by the tide, water spurting from a blow-hole as the water rose, before the shell became completely submerged. At low tide it became completely visible.
Georgie did not need to check her watch – it would not be long now before she could walk down to the beach and clamber into the structure, as she did every day. She would, as usual, listen to the sounds of the sea from outside, and read the words that the artist had etched into the metal. The time she spent in the shell was precious. In there, she could forget, for a beautiful moment, her life of drudgery, and instead imagine faraway worlds, and dream of escape to a life of adventure. It was as if the shell was imbued with an unusual, hidden, power. She believed that without her daily tryst with the steel shell on the beach, she might go insane.
Georgie’s reverie was interrupted by a woman sitting down heavily beside her. She was short, with a shock of pink hair, and wore a uniform of dark blue. Georgie did not recognise the insignia on her shoulder.
“You have to run,” the woman hissed. “She’s coming for you.”
“I beg your pardon?” Georgie snapped. She was not pleased to have her fanciful musings interrupted.
“Run, you fool!” The woman whipped her head to the left. “Shit! She’s here!” She jumped to her feet, knocking her chair backwards. “RUN!” she shouted, and took to her heels.
There was a sharp sound, PFIZZ, and Georgie’s teacup exploded, shattering in her hand. She jumped up, bewildered. Had that been a shot? She looked to the left, eyes wide, heart thumping. A dark figure in a wide-brimmed hat stood by the sea wall, pointing a glowing blue tube at her. The figure’s hand twitched and a thin line of sapphire light speared from the tube. PFIZZ. The teapot on the table shattered. A sharp shard of china flew across Georgie’s cheek, slicing open a deep cut.
In panic, she twisted and took to her heels. A blue line flew over her shoulder and hit the ballustrade in front of her, sending fragments of stone flying. She swerved towards the beach, taking the steps two at a time. The cut on her face hurt, and she felt warm blood mixing with salt tears of fear and running to her chin. She sobbed, and jumped the last few steps.
As her feet sank into the wet sand she turned left. PFIZZ. The mud and pebbles by her feet exploded. She squealed, and twisted the other way, towards the shell. That was it. She could hide there. Her shell would protect her.
Sand and small rocks flew from her feet as the sprinted towards the metal spiral. One of her sandals flew off, but she dare not stop to retrieve it. Her heart pounded, her breath tore at her burning lungs. She flung herself inside the wide mouth of the shell and collapsed. As she lay, panting, on the cold, wet metal, she looked back at the entrance, fearing the arrival of the figure in the hat. Instead, the pink-haired woman’s face appeared.
“Sorry about this,” she said, then spoke into her wrist. “Activate.”
The inside of the shell began to glow, then in a blinding, impossibly- white flash Georgie was gone. The shell was empty, wind whistling coldly through the metal. A person in a broad-brimmed hat walked up to the pink-haired woman.
“So,” she greeted the newcomer with a salute. “That’s how you got to the future, Commander?”
“Yes, Sergeant Lolo. Thank you for your help.” The Commander put down her plasma-rifle and ran her fingertip down the old scar on her cheek. “God, that young girl is so terrified right now.”
“Time Force wouldn’t exist without her, though.”
“I know. This day is sewn into the alpha timeline, but still, I hated doing that to myself.”
“Tempus fugit tardius,” Sergeant Lolo quoted the Time Force motto. “What’s next, Commander Harvey?”
My thanks to @mistressboom and @pariahsickkid for the use of their names. Cafe Cove exists, in Cleveleys, close to the Mary’s Shell sculpture on the beach. It’s by Stephen Broadbent, and is totally worth a visit, as is his Sea Ogre nearby.
Spurred on by my desire to move away from Lulu’s ridiculous P&P charges for people buying my paperbacks, I’ve been re-editing Warren Peace prior to moving it to a new home. I’ve been amazed at how much there is to change. When I first wrote it I thought it pretty good (and 100% of reviewers clearly agreed, giving 4- and 5-star ratings), but I’ve learned so much in the ten years since I wrote it that I shudder to look at it with my now-wizened author-eyes.
The punctuation is Naff City, baby. That’s the first thing to clear up. Also, the pacing at times lags woefully, becoming leisurely when it should be frantic: I’ll be fixing all that too, while removing a few clichés and instances of head-hopping.
What might interest you most, though, is that I’ll be writing the long-planned sequel, Bunny Prince Charlie, and publishing it NOT as a standalone book, but as an extension of the re-edited version of the original novel. Is this a good idea? Who can say, but it makes sense to wombats.
Oh, and the image there is not the final cover. That will be a LOT snazzier.
The Joy of One Star – a new strand in which I enjoy 1-star review comments left on Amazon about various popular items. Click here for No.1 – Thor:Ragnarok.
According to Amazon, this is The Holy Bible “by King James (author)”, although to be fair the product description does say it contains the words of God. Reviewer vine voice is not impressed: “if God wrote this, as the product page asserts, why is it 99 cents?”, while sactomike complains that God “blows up my Kindle every time I re-load this bible.”
Others are similarly unimpressed. Charlotte Gresham, bless her, takes time out of her busy day to tell us that she has “never order this or received it. So it should not receive any stars.” That’ll teach King James. Amazon Customer makes no sense by telling us “This dosent make sense where is the triple 6 at.” (sic), while enchantress6274 is fuming. “This version is blasphemy!” she rants. “I was ashamed! I am trying to be a wonderful and loyal wife to Christ but this book takes his title of deity from him!”
There are a few more considered, literary criticisms. Tatiana Vain says “If the writer was going for the avangarde and a post modernity, then he failed as well.” And here’s Amazon Customer again (although now I think of it probably not the same one) – “Probably more than 31 million murders in this over the top book. To make it worse, the mysogony is way over the top and the glorification of owning slaves makes this an unbearable travisty. Skip this one! You will be happy you did.” Consider me warned, Mr. Customer. Kiyura Good is concerned that “the main character didnt feature until halfway through the book and was far to predicable as the ‘nice guy — (goody to shoes)’”. Stupid, predictable do-gooder Jesus.
As usual, I’ll leave you with my favourite review, from a Jeremy Dinsel – “Where’s the dinosaurs?”