Archive for the ‘Hugh Paxton ghost story’ Category

Train ghost story

November 14, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog finished a fine cup of coffee and felt like writing a quick, short ghost story.

I’ve not thought of a title yet.

START

“Mister Twine! Mr Twine!”

“The man’s not listening, Ma,” said Joseph.

“He’s running like the devil! Something’s up!”

Something was usually up and Joseph wasn’t in the mood. His night had been disturbed by moans and creaks as if the house was to fall down on his head and he hadn’t slept more than a cat on a coal fired grill.

“Mrs Preece! Mrs Preece!”

“She’s not listening,” said Joseph.

“Jack Stanthwaite! Jack!”

“He’s drunk,” said Joseph.

“Heard that, Jo,” said Stanthwaite and he crossed the cobbled street and came rather too close. He was a skellington of a man, always in a black coat and top hat, awry like a chimbley stack brushed aside and bothered about by a high wind.

“And yer right,” said Stanthwaite, breathing gin. “Bad luck to put a cork back into a bottle. Why’s your mother yowling?”

Joseph trembled. Too close. Stanthwaite was too close. And he had his hand on Joseph’s arm.

A skellington with fingers of terrible strength.

“Ask her,” said Joseph weakly mustering a bit of defiance .

“Don’t need to. It’s more murmurings isn’t it? More tappings? More pulsations and beatings? And more and more tappings?”

“That’s all rot,” said Joseph, feeling a little bit stronger. “There’s no such things as ghosts.”

“I don’t recall mentioning ghosts,” said Stanthwaite.

“Mister Twine! Mr Twine! Ah you’ve heard me, Mr Twine! Whatever is ado?”

“Murmurings, pulsations, beatings!” shouted Mr Twine. “Every thirty minutes! Regular as clockwork! The streets is shaking with it!”

“What has befallen us?” asked Joseph’s mother. “We are haunted!”

“Bedevilled,’ shouted Mr Twine.

“Fools,” said Stanthwaite. “They are running the first trains on the new Underground railway.”

“How do you know that?” asked Joseph. “They weren’t to do that till tomorrow”

“First hand experience boy,” said Stanthwaite, “Never trust a train schedule. And never sleep on the tracks.” His body slid into two halves – one fell left, one fell right but both twitched and then subsided. Then vanished.

From beneath everybody’s feet there were more murmurings.

“I don’t like this,” said Joseph’s Mum.

BLOG ED NOTE: All the noises described in the story were reported by Victorians new to the concept and effects of the Age of Steam. They aroused great concern – thousands gathered in a lane off the Anlaby Road in Hull to hear the “pulsations or beatings” that, to quote Mathew Sweet “thrummed in the walls of a tenement building.” It wasn’t the devil come thrumming – just a passing train shaking the place up a bit. The Industrial Revolution brought great hope but also fears – the railway ghost story expressed some of the latter and birthed a lot of urban rumour and one of the greatest ghost stories of the era – The Signalman by Charles Dickens.

Another Hugh Paxton Tale of the Supernatural: The Guest at Allthing Hall

November 17, 2011

THE GUEST AT ALLTHING HALL.

By Hugh Paxton

 

 

On a dark December morning Martha Theakstone rose at her customary hour of 5.30 and, shivering wretchedly, descended the stairs to make up the fire before her guests began to stir.

 It was very cold indeed – Radio Four the previous night had warned of temperatures well below zero – and Martha’s breath puffed frosty little clouds as she entered the sitting room.

 The sitting room was large, high ceilinged, oak paneled, paved with flagstones and filled with many armchairs. 

 There were several chipped cherry wood coffee tables. Each had magazines laid out upon it. Horse and Hounds. The Field. Reel and Line. Country Life. She had even ordered one copy of the Japan Times newspaper in case an oriental gentleman or lady (or both) might visit as paying guests at Allthing Hall. 

 Neither had yet, but Martha was a woman who liked to plan for all contingencies.

 Martha stopped abruptly, her hand still on the doorknob.

 Something was wrong.  Awry.

 She peered about the room.

 What ? What was wrong ?

 She peered at the huge fireplace. She peered at the slightly threadbare window seats. She peered at the far door which led to the entrance hall and her reception desk, then at the door in the wall to her left that led into the dining room.

Nothing seemed out of place.

But still there was something not quite right…

…something…

 …something …

 And then it came to her. There on the far wall, above the fireplace, was the musty mounted head of ared deerstag. Nothing wrong with that. There’d been a musty mountedred deer’s head there for every day of the 14 years she had slavishly and single handedly operated her husband’s hotel.

 What was wrong was the stuffedred deerhead to the left of the stuffed deer head.

 Allthing Hall had only ever had the one.

 Now, though, it had two.  

 …………………

 Martha was a woman of very fixed routines. If the Hall was not to plunge into bankruptcy, discipline and regularity of habit and procedure, she believed, were essential.

 Only when she had laid the fire (keeping a wary eye on the new deer’s head whose glass eyes seemed to gleam with an unnatural and rather knowing light) fired up the aga, and got the kettle steaming,  did she return up the stairs and ask her husband if he was responsible for the new, and not entirely welcome, decoration. 

Her husband, Harold, was a man rarely persuaded to wake and leave his bed before noon.

He had, or more accurately believed or claimed he had, contracted something called ME also known as yuppie flu. Though in Harold’s case yuppie was not a word that sprang immediately to mind.  Cantankerous, yes, valetudinarian certainly, and damn lazy were all adjectives tailor made for Harold Theakstone, but, whatever his faults Harold had never been a yuppie.

Martha woke him with difficulty.

One eye eventually and grudgingly opened.

“Did you put up the deer head ?” Martha enquired.

“Course not,” muttered the eye’s owner belligerently. “I’m a sick man, woman. I’m dying by degrees.”

“Dying or not, I want you to come and have a look at it, right this minute. There’s something very rum about it.”

‘This minute’ was a piece of calculated optimism, but Martha was one to have her way when her mind was made up – and in this instance her mind was very much made up. 

After a quarter of an hour’s cajoling and scolding, the master of the house was eventually persuaded to shuffle on his green leather slippers, wrap a muffler about his neck,  pull his night cap tightly about his ears, fasten his dressing gown secure against drafts, and venture downstairs and into the sitting room.

There was a figure seated by the fire.

It was Mr. Beetham from room three.

Unemployed and without a home (his house had been destroyed by some form of explosion; gas it was rumoured) Mr. Beetham was Martha’s least favoured guest.

He’d been placed at Allthing Hall by the DHSS and the Council and although the Council did pay his bills, Beetham lowered the tone of the place considerably.

As did Martha’s husband, in Martha’s opinion. 

Oh, how she wished she could get shot of both of them, leave Allthing Hall, the bleak unlovely moors, the eternities of dusting, the toil and grind, just chuck the lot, then move south and maybe open a nice little tea shop in Devon. Or abroad. Some where warm. Not too foreign.Greeceperhaps.

But to do that she would need money and money she had not.

Allthing Hall ate money. Simply ate it.

Her regular, if monumentally unsuccessful, attempts to win the National Lottery didn’t help either.

“What’s all this damn nonsense then, woman? Thy lost thy mind?”

“Harold, I, that is to say, I…”

Martha paused; then stopped.

Thoroughly perplexed.

There was only one deer’s head above the fireplace.

The other one was gone.

 ………………

It was curious the way he managed it, unemployed and penniless as he was, and given the remote location of Allthing Hall, but Mr. Beetham had the knack of laying his hands on strong drink.

Then drinking it.

When Martha approached Mr. Beetham,  in the interests of clarifying the situation vis a visred deerheads,  she did so with justifiable feelings of trepidation.

It was as unusual to see Mr. Beetham up at this hour as it was to see her husband out of bed, or indeed, a vanishing deer’s head.

Martha assumed that Beetham would be drunk.

“A thoroughly good morning to you,” said Mr. Beetham turning a bright smile in her direction. He had shaved. He had combed his hair. He was wearing a tie.

He looked – Martha hardly dared use the word in connection with Mr. Beetham – civilised.

“Trust you are in good health, Mrs. Theakstone ? Mr. Theakstone ?” said Mr. Beetham. “Another chilly day ahead of us, sleet perhaps, snow I’ll wager, but I find this northern climate invigorating. Most.”

This northern climate ? Invigorating ?  Most?

Mr. Beetham, to the best of Martha’s knowledge was as Cumbrian as curly sausage and heavy rainfall.  Born and bred was Beetham. Had lived here all his life. What on earth was the man talking about?

“How his eyes shine!” thought Martha inadvertently.

What she said though was, “Good morning, Mr. Beetham. A little early for you is it not?”

Then she said, “I don’t suppose that you noticed a person, or persons, removing a stuffed red deer’s head from above the fireplace at some time in the last quarter of an hour?”

“Not I, Martha, not I!”  Mr. Beetham chuckled richly.

“I’m catching me death standing around here,” broke in Harold with tremulous petulance. “Enough of this ruddy tomfoolery, woman. ‘Elp us back to bed.”

“You sicken, sir?” enquired Mr. Beetham with courteous and sympathetic curiosity.

His eyes twinkled and danced.

“You ail?”

“Ruddy well do. Me ‘ealth’s orf. Lord knows me tribulations,” said the night-capped figure turning and wobbling towards the door that led back upstairs. “I’m a martyr to me ‘ealth, a martyr.  Well come along, come along. You going to give us a hand, woman or am I going to have to climb these stairs by meself?”

………..

After she had helped her husband back up the stairs to his bed, and he, muttering imprecations had finally allowed her to make him comfortable then ordered her to turn off the lights, so he could “catch a bit of well-earned kip”, a thought struck Martha.

Perhaps Mr. Beetham had a twin.

Perhaps, while she had been preparing roast beef dinners for her eight guests in the converted dairy that abutted Allthing Hall the previous night, perhaps her husband had exerted himself, actually answered the front door, ushered in a guest and remembered to ask the guest to pay cash and sign the register.

True, it was an unlikely scenario.

Still…

She hurried down to check.

As she entered the sitting room, she was surprised to find herself nonplussed, no, disappointed,  that Mr. Beetham had left.  

She looked at the fire in the fire place. The wood crackled and snapped. Imps of flame rushed about the coals seeking purchase. It would be a good fire – Martha’s fires always were – but it would be an hour yet before its warmth would break the chill of the room.

Her hackles suddenly rose.

She looked at the windows. Sleet was swirling about the panes. It was still dark outside; very dark. The darkness of winter night seemed to press with crushing mass against the walls of Allthing Hall.

Once again she sensed that there was something wrong.

“Dear heavens!” she gasped. 

The second deer head wasn’t back.

But where there had been one copy of The Japan Times newspaper on the coffee table in the corner, now there were two.

“Poseidon In Industrial Dispute AGAIN,” read the headlines. The sub header ran “Obstinate And Miserly Sea God Refuses Wage Raise, The Cod-Faced Fool”.

…………

The reception desk was unobtrusive. No credit card machine, no cash register, just one vase of flowers,  one large visitors book and one leather bound log in which she entered reservations and accounts. 

It was this latter that she opened.

Most of her guests were long term residents, the exception being Basil Twithby in room 12. Twithby was a traveler in wines. He would stay at Allthing Hall from time to time but never for more than a day or two.  

“December 13th,” murmured Martha turning the pages. “Yes, here we are. How rum!”

Sure enough there was an entry for the previous day; but it was not in her husband’s quavery hand writing, nor was it in her own.

In blue ink someone had written “Check in date:  December 13.

Name:   “Proteus Esq.”       

Address: “Variable. Times past usuallyGreece. Here at the moment.”

Occupation: “Prophet and former seal tender.”

In the check out date section, the person had written, “That very much depends.”

“What on earth,” said Martha, “is going on?” 

She noted bleakly that whatever else Proteus Esq. had done he had not paid cash. The accounts column was empty.

There was nothing in the kitty.

………….

At eight o’clock, it was clear that the day was going to be dreadful. Low dark clouds sat heavily on the moors that surrounded Allthing Hall. The sleet had become snow; thick driving gusts that swirled and turned the landscape into one of ghosts.

Seven of Martha’s eight guests had assembled for breakfast. There were Miss Neasden and Miss Dorringden, two spinsters in their eighties who had been at the Hall for years.

There were the Beasly twins, again spinsters of advanced years. There was Twithby, looking nervous, clearly worried about snow drifts and ice on the roads. There was the Reverend Badcock, a retired Church of England cleric from Borhem.  The final person at the table was Albert Dordoran.

He was a spoiled, half witted, weak chinned, wall-eyed individual in his mid-thirties, the son of wealthy jet-setting parents who had placed him permanently at Allthing to avoid social embarrassment.  Albert rarely spoke. He enjoyed the music of Oasis.    

Absent, as usual, was Mr. Beetham. 

And so was Proteus Esq, whoever on earth he was.

“Has anybody seen a gentleman fromGreece?” Martha enquired brightly as she brought in toast and home-made preserves. She didn’t feel bright. There was a clogged claustrophobic quality to the hall this morning.  The weather, perhaps.

“Funny you should mention it, but yes I have. Rather a quantity of them, if I recall,” said the Reverend Badcock cracking his boiled egg with his spoon.  “It was some years ago. I was inAthensat the time attending a theological conference so perhaps the encounter was not particularly remarkable.”

Martha could feel the beginnings of a headache.

“I meant, has anybody seen a Greek gentleman in the hotel.”

“We saw one, didn’t we ?” said Miss Neasden. “An artist. Charming man by the name of Joachim Pupkewitz. That was back in 1995. Or was it 1996? ”

“He wasn’t Greek. He was Polish,” said Miss Dorringden.

“He was Greek!”

“Did anybody see a Greek gentleman yesterday?” Martha slogged on. “I wondered whether any of you checked him in. Or had seen him?”

The guests shook their heads.

Martha withdrew to the kitchen. After breakfast, she decided, she would check all the untenanted rooms.

If there was one thing she did not like, it was a mystery.

…………..

Approaching the stairs, Martha noted that the second copy of the Japan Times had vanished.

As she mounted the stairs she wondered if Jeremy Beadle had installed hidden cameras at Allthing Hall. Would she shortly be asked if she was Game For A Laugh?

She wondered whether someone else was playing pranks. Her husband perhaps? No, an impossibility. One of her idiotic guests? Not a chance.

So. Jeremy Beadle. 

It seemed unlikely but no other conclusion seemed to answer the circumstances.

How awful.

A consoling thought struck her. At least she could find his hidden camera and throw the damn thing out into the blizzard.

As she reached the landing Martha paused. Once again there was something wrong. This time however she didn’t need to spend long seconds in careful scrutiny of the view.

Standing, where nothing had stood before, in a niche in the wall, was a set of poker and tongs.

“Right, you,” said Martha advancing grimly. “Game for a laugh? No!  I am not! I have worked, I have toiled, I have slaved to keep this hotel afloat!  I have sacrificed much and you my cunningly hidden little secret camera are destined for…”

At her approach the poker and tongs reared back in alarm, then fled clanking up the stairs and vanished around a corner. She could hear their rattling flight along the corridor that linked rooms one to four, then there was silence save for the wind which moaned without the walls and the soft tap of snow at the casement.

Jeremy Beadle was no longer a possibility, Martha realised.

Animated ironmongery!

Was she going mad?

……………

The morning passed in the following fashion. After a large glass of restorative apple wine Martha checked every room. Mr. Beetham answered his door looking disheveled and bleary. He had, since she’d met him earlier that morning, managed to lose his tie and grow a stubbly beard. He smelled dreadful.

So far everything seemed normal.

None of the other rooms were occupied. Proteus Esq. was nowhere in evidence.

At a little before noon she encountered Albert on the back stairs. He was whistling brightly. It wasn’t a tune by Oasis. Rather it was a jolly, folksy sort of melody. For no reason that she could pin down, Martha suddenly had an image of olives and rabbit stew and boats with eyes on them. Herbs on dry hillsides, a Cyclops leering from a cave..

“Gosh!” said Martha.

The ‘Gosh’ wasn’t induced by the fleeting vision of a leering Cyclops. It was a stranger thing than that.

Albert was carrying a book.  

It was a leather-bound book with gold inlay and was old; part of the library that had come with Allthing Hall.

“I didn’t know you could read, Albert,” said Martha.

Albert looked a trifle shifty.

“Oh yes,” he said with a gleam in his eye.

He passed her by and as he did so she glanced at the title. She couldn’t read it for one simple reason; it was in Greek. 

……………

Some people are capable of rising rapidly to suit changing circumstances. Of shaping themselves to the environment and the times.  Of swiftly adapting. While Harold was not such a person, Martha was.

So, Martha began to suspect, was Proteus Esq.

December 13th waxed and waned and December 14th was born. The new day offered weather every bit as foul as that which had blighted its predecessor. Mr. Twithby announced his intention of leaving for Whitehaven but obviously changed his mind for he turned up for dinner along with the other guests.

“Not gone to Whitehaven, Mr. Twithby?”

Mr. Twithby shook his head firmly. “Too near the sea. I’ve done with all that. Keep them himself, he can. I’ll not be keeping them. Smelly brutes! ”

December 15th duly arrived. And with it the realisation on the part of Martha that while Mr. Twithby was still gracing Allthing Hall with his presence, his car was not. Twithby’s Ford Fiesta had gone.

Martha pondered on that. Then spent time in the library.

There was a thing on doppelgangers but it seemed to be missing the point, Martha thought. Her gaze was drawn to the higher shelves. The Classics. Before she could find a ladder, however, the bell rang meaning that Harold required attention. A hot water bottle, or pillows in need of plumping no doubt.

Something urgent. 

On her way to minister to the sick she noticed a wild boar leaping and rolling in the snow outside the converted dairy. It appeared to be enjoying itself immensely.

On her way back to the library after having hitched up the counterpane Martha was not surprised to see that the boar had gone. 

She was  surprised to see the younger of the Neasden twins clinging to the ceiling of the kitchen like a gecko.

But she wasn’t as surprised as she would have been had the encounter taken place before the arrival of Proteus Esq.

The Neasden twin scuttled off with alacrity when it realised that its location had been observed.

The 16th of December turned up and the meteorology of the moors took a turn for the even worse. 

Martha made her guests their breakfast, watched them eat and fuss over it with barely suppressed impatience then as soon as the last of the wittering fools had left, hurried for the library. 

“Doppelgangers be damned!” thought Martha. “This is in quite a different league indeed!”

She concentrated on the Classics shelves, pointedly ignored the service bell when it tinkled in an attempt to summon her upstairs to minister to Harold and eventually from the library emerged with a look of considerable satisfaction on her face.

She marched across the sitting room past Mr. Twithby and entered a rarely visited wing of the Hall. In the games room she found what she needed.

A large shrimping net.

She returned to the sitting room.  Twithby’s head was clearly visible in the chair by the fire – the same chair that Mr. Beetham had sat in. He appeared to be bent over the coffee table writing a note.

Martha’s aspect changed. No longer was she a fifty-ish, rotund hotelier. Every sense was honed. Every muscle taut.  A grey hound, a leopard was coiled, poised and determined to pounce.

Devonwas in her sights. Cream teas. An end to Harold and to her slavish subservience to Allthing Hall.

Silent as snow, she stalked across the floor, net poised for the strike.

Twenty feet…fifteen…ten…

Then the door opened and in wandered the Reverend Badcock  .

“Lunch ready?” he asked.  

Mr. Twithby turned at the sound, took one look at her shrimping net, threw Martha a reproachful glance and vanished.

………..

Dear Sir, (the note read)

I have considered your renewed offer carefully but regret to inform you that the remuneration you propose remains sadly inadequate and does not reflect the current weakness of the drachma or the current Greek debt scenario.

It is my intention not to resume work in the Aegean but to reside here in this desolate hotel which I have selected with care because it is situated as far from your watery domain as is possible in this country.  I have chosenBritainas domicile because I have had my fill of Greeks. Ferries sinking all over the place, Olympics,Greeceis a disgrace!   Here in the brisker climes of the north I will consult my health and relax.  

I have left the company car, as well as the fishes and two-legged steeds that draw it, near Xakynthos.

I might add that as a mode of transport it is increasingly unreliable and antiquated.  Had you been a more courteous and modern employer you might have issued me with a miniature submarine or some other form of transport that reflects technological developments. But no, not you! 

There is no point in your appealing my decision nor will sending harpies weaken my resolve. My days of counting and tending your seals are …

(And here the note ended).

 Martha replaced it on the desk. Desolate hotel, indeed!  The nerve of the man!  Though he was right about Allthing Hall’s location. It was, by chance, located as far away from the sea as was possible. At least inCumbria.  

 “Right, buster!” Martha resolved, “Time we had a chat!”

 She scoured the room for excess items or fixtures, found none, and then advanced into reception.  Fourteen years of single-handedly maintaining Allthing Hall had resulted in an intimate familiarity with all its features.

Most would have missed the fact that the front door now had a letter box. Not Martha. 

She rushed at it with her net.

The letter box dissolved, dropped to the floor of reception and became a hare which bolted between Martha’s legs and back into the sitting room.

Martha gave chase.

…….

By mid-afternoon, the guests at Allthing Hall – even Albert and Mr. Beetham – were aware that something was amiss.

They gathered in the sitting room to discuss the developments of the day.

“I saw her wrestling with a milk churn out in the kitchen garden. Snow falling! Wind howling! Yet there she was wrestling with the milk churn and shouting ‘Tell me the number of this Saturday’s national lottery!’ It was awful!” 

“I was just dozing in front of the fire, dozing away quite happily, and then all of a sudden there was a sort of …shrimping net brought down over my head and there was Mrs. Theakstone shouting at me, ‘I know who you are!’”

“Nets, eh?” said Reverend Badcock.

Albert muttered, “She like told me to stop pretending I was a morin.”

 “Moron,” corrected the Revd Badcock.  “Not morin.  She called you a moron.”

 “Oh.”

 “But Albert has a point. It’s true. She burst out of the broom cupboard, fetched him a blow to the head with an old steam iron and told him to stop pretending to be a half witted, wall-eyed, slack-jawed moron when she knew that he was really the divine off-spring of Aegyptus and Argyphia. It was very odd.” 

 “I was caught in some sort of man trap,” said Miss Dorringden. “It suspended me head first from the ceiling for the better part of an hour. During that time I witnessed a Grandfather clock hopping along the corridor chiming most strangely and Mrs. Theakstone in pursuit.”

 There was a trip wire across the top of the stairs wasn’t there Mr. Beetham?”

 Mr. Beetham did not respond, but the bandage around his head and his two black eyes spoke eloquent confirmation of the trip wire incident.

 “And there hasn’t been any lunch,” quavered the elder Beasly.

 At that point the discussion was interrupted by the door from the dining room bursting open.

 “Stop that blue flame! ” yelled Martha as a glowing ball the size of a goldfish bowl rushed through the sitting room  and vanished up the chimney.  

 “Useless fools!” explained Martha. “To think that I’ve been waiting on you hand and foot in some cases for years and you can’t even arrest a fleeing Greek demi-God that’s on strike and which is in the guise of a blue ball of flame! Must I do everything myself?”    

 “When’s lunch?” asked the older Beasly whose sight and hearing weren’t the best.

 “Lunch? Lunch? Eat snow!  There’s enough of it about the walls!”  With a wild laugh, the manager of Allthing Hall whirled away and rushed back into the dining room.

 …………

 At a quarter to five that afternoon the front door bell rang. Martha opened it to see a tall figure wrapped in a blue cloak. There was a strong smell of sardines.

 “Come in,” Martha said.

 “Thank you,” said Poseidon. “Don’t mind if I do. There’s a fearful wind.” His skin was blue. Martha wondered if that was his natural hue or simply a result of the cold.

 Martha led Poseidon into the sitting room and asked if he would like a drink.

 “Bouillabaisse, if you’ve got it,” said Poseidon.

 “I haven’t,” said Martha. “Tea?”

 “Please. With plenty of salt. Four spoons.” 

 When the drink had been served, Poseidon got down to business.

 “You have a guest staying with you.”

 “Indeed I have and he’s led me a merry dance I can tell you. I’m at my wits end how to catch him and make him tell me this Saturday’s National lottery number.”

Poseidon shook his head sympathetically. “He cannot abide telling the future. That’s always been the problem with Proteus. All times are one to him, past present and future but will he share his knowledge? No he won’t. At least he won’t unless you can catch him. And no-one can catch him. At least no-one can catch him without divine assistance.”

“I see,” said Martha glumly. The prospect of continuing to run Allthing Hall with a habitual and compulsive shape shifter loose on the premises was not enticing.  Three days of deer heads, balls of blue fire and leaping clocks were bad enough, but Proteus Esq. might stay for weeks. Months. Years!   

“Menelaus caught him by disguising himself as one of my seals,” said Poseidon thoughtfully. “That wouldn’t work here, of course. A seal would look completely out of place. Perhaps I could disguise you as a leather backed arm chair?” 

“Could you?” asked Martha with sudden hope.

“Certainly,” confirmed Poseidon. “Then when he sits on you, you hold on tight. I’ll give you this rope cunningly fashioned from the tentacles of a poulpe to aid you.   Don’t let go.”

“I won’t,” said Martha grimly.

……….

At a little past eight Proteus Esq. tired of simulating an onyx egg in a cabinet on the second floor and assuming the form of Twithby – he’d experimented with the forms of all the guests but found Twithby’s guise most comfortable – strolled downstairs in search of dinner.  

Dinner was there none. Neither were there any guests. They’d all packed their bags, ordered a taxi and fled after the ball of blue flame affair.

There was however a merry fire in the hearth and on a coffee table near the fire (and near an enticing chair) someone had laid out a glass of what looked like dry sherry and a bowl of twiglets.

“Oho!” thought Proteus. “Just the job!”

……….

Thirty minutes of violent struggle later a chastened demi-God provided Martha with six numbers. Despite all the shiftings of Proteus, Martha with the help of Poseidon and the poulpe rope had prevailed.

27   3  5  47 48 50.

Martha thanked him.Devonwas as good as in the bag. Poseidon had obligingly turned Harold into a lobster. Life was looking up.

“Thank you ever so much,” said Martha, 

Proteus, clearly annoyed, ignored her.

“Right,” Poseidon announced. “There’s been more than enough horsing around from you. My seals need tending and you’re the one that’ll be doing the tending. Zeus himself is insisting on it.”

“Blah,” said Proteus.

At trident point Poseidon marched him from the premises and in the direction of the coast.

 

END.

 

 

A Hugh Paxton Short Story of the Supernatural: The Rise and Fall of Young Foster

October 3, 2011

THE RISE AND FALL OF YOUNG FOSTER

 

By Hugh Paxton.

 

THE PRINCIPAL’S STUDY:

“The whole thing started when young Foster’s father moved East,” the head master waved the poker in a morose circle. “Of course we all expected that it would have some effect on the boy – any family upheaval does in our experience, especially one involving foreign travel, but I don’t think anyone had any inkling of what was to happen when the lad turned up that first Sunday of term…”

“Monday,” said Phelps from his nest in the sofa.

“I beg your pardon Phelps?”

“It was a Monday,” said the helpful Phelps, “You’re confusing it with the time Prothero Major went mad and…”

“I’m doing nothing of the sort, Phelps. And for Heaven’s sake stop fiddling with your horns. You look perfectly ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, Principal, “mumbled the abject Phelps,” It’s just that I haven’t got used to them yet and they itch terribly.”

“If you’ve quite finished? I’m sure that the constable doesn’t want to hear about your personal problems.”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t constable. Now where was I?”

“It was a Sunday.” said the constable emphatically.

“So it was. Pass the chestnuts, there’s a good fellow. I think that the fire has reached the appropriate stage. My thanks. Yes, it was a Sunday and the Dickens of a wind was blowing from the East. Snow had been forecast and there was even some talk of cancelling the impending Colts match. We’re rather exposed here as no doubt you’ve observed, and snow can play merry hell with the fixtures. There’s only the one road in and, well, I hardly need to remind a local man such as yourself of the problems.”

“No, sir. That you don’t,” confirmed the constable with a somber shake of his head.

“The boys were all here by tea-time save a lad from Rhodesia whose plane had hit a mountain somewhere in France and young Foster, who was delivered a little after six by an aunt. He was rather brown if I remember correctly and had brought two trunks as opposed to the customary one, but other than that nothing seemed amiss. Matron…”

“That would be Mrs. Morden?” interrupted the constable fishing hastily for his notebook.

“The late Mrs. Morden, yes. Matron commented on the second trunk – we have strict rules regarding such matters. Let the little things pass and it isn’t long before the whole shooting match goes up, I always say.” The principal banged the hearth emphatically with the poker, chipping the marble and upsetting the chestnut dish. Impishly the contents skittered into the glowing ash. Ominous sputtering ensued. The principal forged on.

“However in this case there didn’t seem much that we could do about it. Hardly worth sending the thing back to Brazil.”

“Borneo.”

“Are you sure Phelps?”

“Quite sure, principal. Borneo. Why, I could even find it for you on the map.”

“I should hope so, Phelps. You are after all a geography teacher.”

“History, principal.”

“Whatever.” With a wave of his hand he dismissed the matter. There was a muted thud as the poker struck Phelps, who then rolled off the sofa. The principal sheepishly replaced the poker in its rack. The bone china tea set followed Phelps to the floor and shattered expensively. The prinicipal eyed the debris with mounting irritation.  

“Anyway,” he said rather loudly, “the term got underway and everything proceeded as usual. What little I heard of young Foster was good. Erstwhile he had been a very retiring young man but it seemed that he was finally coming out of his shell. Adolescence is a difficult time for boys. Yes – a difficult time. Some of them find it hard to cope, to-er-adjust if you get my meaning. I had feared young Foster to have been one of this breed. It is with mixed feelings that I now admit to having been wrong.”

“Urgh! My horns!” groaned Phelps struggling back onto the sofa with his tail between his legs.

“I think the first sign of trouble in store was the death of Pendennis,” said the principle vigorously ignoring the pain filled struggle to his left.

“Pendennis?” said the constable. He thoughtfully began to clean his left ear with his pencil.

“The school bully,” explained Phelps bravely. He spat out a tooth, then, abashed, tried to find it in the shattered china.

“Phelps find it later. I’m trying to explain. I return to Pendennis. Our school bully.  Bit of a rough I agree, but a promising prop forward. We, that is Mr. Partridge, found him behind the bike sheds. Someone had made off with the head – you know what boys are like – but the rest was in good condition.”

“The first sign you say,” said the constable “And what sir, was the second?” He sucked on his pencil cunningly then grimaced. He replaced it in his ear.

“The second was the death of Mr. Partridge. We found most of him in a pear tree but it emerged in the subsequent investigation that this was not the original scene of the crime.”

“I saw the coroner’s report.” said the constable with an official expression. “Some person, or persons, unknown had moved the deceased three or four hours after he deceded.”

“Probably someone’s idea of a joke.” hazarded Phelps. A chestnut exploded in the grate showering the carpet with glowing fragments. Phelps stamped them out with his hoof.

“In a nutshell, constable.” applauded the principal ignoring Phelps. Encouraged, the constable narrowed his eyes. “And what led you to suspect Foster?”

“Nothing at that stage. It was only when I went to break the news to the boys that I began to get wind of what was going on. Death, constable, death is a very distressing subject for the young adolescent mind. It must be dealt with tactfully. Inevitably rumours had begun to spread but I was determined to play things down. I assembled the boys in the chapel and…”

THE ASSEMBLY:

“Attention boys! May I have your attention! You boy! What’s your name?”

“Pillius, sir.” shouted a pimply third year. Too much chocolate no doubt.

“Pillock, sir.” shouted a choir boy. It was nice that someone was prepared to be helpful.

“Well Pillock, I’ve had enough of your nonsense! Sit down and be quiet!” I had decided that it was time to be firm. Paternal, but firm.

“My name’s Pillius!” Would the wretch never desist?

“Pillius..Pillock. Who the devil cares which name is yours. They’re both equally ridiculous! Boys! An unspeakable tragedy has struck us! Mr. Partridge and Godolphin Pendennis will not be in school tomorrow.”

“They weren’t at school today!” shouted an obnoxious boy named Felch.

“That hardly invalidates that which I have just said, now does it Felch?” Defeat them with reason. It never fails. “They will not be here tomorrow,” I resumed quickly, “because they have gone away!” At that the chapel filled with groans. “Yes I sense your dismay and it does you all credit. Now I have a couple of questions for you and I want you all to think very hard before you answer them.” I had them now. Total silence.

“The first question. Has anybody got a head in his locker? It’s very important that you think now. A head.”

“Think ahead!” shouted the loathsome Felch.            

“Very droll,” I said pityingly. That always does the trick.

“What does the head look like?” That was Pillock. Maybe I’d misjudged the boy, I thought.

“It looks a little bit like Mr. Partridge but it might not be too dissimilar from Pendennis.”

“It’s Foster!” shrieked Pillock, “He’s shrunk ‘em. And he’s been doing voodoo in the changing rooms!”

“Sneak!” hissed Foster.

“Warlock!” yelled Pillock.

“Well that was that! Chaos. Recriminations. Shouting. I could hardly hear myself ask the second question.”

BACK IN THE STUDY:

“And what was the second question?”

“Oh, I forget now. Something to do with signing up for High Tea. Some of the boys were putting up bogus names – Goliath, Fu Manchu, Atterxerxes – you know the sort of thing. Causing chaos in the kitchens I can tell you. ”

“Hmm.” said the constable and made a number or entries in his notebook. Silence fell, punctuated only by the arthritic ticking of the clock and the muted patter of rain at the casement.

Mrs. Wiggins arrived with a new set of teacups and a scowl.

“When am I to be paid?” she demanded without preamble.

“Tomorrow,” said the principal decisively. “Goodbye Mrs. Wiggins.” With a derisive snort she cruised majestically out of the study slamming the door.

“What happened then?” asked the constable, helping himself to a chocolate finger from the biscuit tin.

“It took about three weeks for all the gossip and the head related jokes to fizzle out. Some stupidities still persisted..”

“Especially that one about the head master.” Phelps repressed a giggle.

“But,” said the principal loudly, “we are an adaptable lot. Resilience is the backbone of old England and we won’t be affected by rumour and gutter humour. Will we Phelps? No, we most certainly won’t! Ahem. Things soon returned to normal.”

“Apart from the Cresswell affair,” added Phelps.

“Cresswell affair?” asked the constable, reaching for another chocolate finger.

“Nothing to it we thought at the time.”

“Could you be a bit more specific sir?”

“Well, there was some sort of dispute between Cresswell and young Foster regarding the ownership of a pair of fellwalking boots. I got wind of it and gave them both a dressing down. Told them to sort it out like gentlemen.”

“And did they?” asked the constable, licking his thumb.

“Didn’t have time. Cresswell was struck by a meteorite shortly after leaving my study. Anyway, there were a few other odd occurrences over the following weeks but it wasn’t until the History department began to turn into goats that I really began to pay attention to the stories.”

“Understandable, under the circumstances, sarr.”

“Sarr?”

“Baa,” bleated the constable, He soughed. “Sorry. Frog in my throat.”

The principal regarded the constable suspiciously for a moment then resumed speaking.

“Thereafter things snowballed somewhat. There was a very welcome lull for about a week and then matron spontaneously combusted during morning surgery. Apparently where had been strong words exchanged pertaining to the large amount of distasteful paraphernalia that was accumulating in young Foster’s locker. Then the clocks began to run backwards and to cap it all the Colts were defeated 84 – 0 by Preswick. It was then that I decided to speak to Pillock. I called him into my study and..”

PILLOCK:

“Sit down, Pillock. Have a scone boy. Relax. I said have a scone. Good. I want to ask you a few questions. I take it that by now it is common knowledge that Mrs. Morden will not be in school tomorrow?”

“Well, everything seemed to be progressing nicely and then I noticed that he was wearing jewelry. This is one thing that I will not tolerate and I told him so. “Come on boy. All of it..and the crucifixes, You’re not a papist are you?” I joked. A joke usually does the trick but in this case it fell among thieves. Caterwauling frightfully he fled from the room. I must confess that I was somewhere at a loss. Two hours later Pillock was found glued to the library ceiling. It took us half an hour to find ladders long enough to reach him. Even then we had to send for crowbars to prise the wretch loose. Ron Todd, the Physics master said it was as if Pillock was an iron filling and the ceiling a magnet and though I can’t claim matters scientific as my field, I do believe that the analogy stands up to scrutiny. We had to replaster the ceiling too, but that is by the by. By the time we got the boy down he was hysterical wreck and we had to send him home.

BACK IN THE STUDY:

“Most of the staff left the very next day apart from Ron Todd who had managed to contract bubonic plague during the night. And of course the history department who couldn’t operate their cars with hooves. Couldn’t pick up their car keys for one thing and gear changes were quite out of the question. Not surprisingly no one was too keen to offer them a lift.

“Why just the History staff?” asked the constable brightly.

“It was all Phelps’ fault. He refused to give young Foster a merit mark after a dissertation on the Norman Conquest.”

“I wasn’t satisfied with his synopsis.” said Phelps defensively.

“Well I hope that you are satisfied now!” said the principal cuttingly.

“If we could stick to the matter in hand?” suggested the constable. He hazarded a joke. “Or in hoof?”

The principal laughed heartily. Phelps laughed too.

“What happened then?”

“Well, I was about to send all the boys home when the first demand arrived.”

“Demand, sir?”

“Demand, constable. A scrap of malodorous parchment – written if I am not mistaken, in blood.”

“Aha! What was the demand?”

“I have no idea. It was written in some obscure language. The Divinity master took it away for analysis but he has been unable to decipher it. Though he has been able to develop a small trunk. Quite involuntarily apparently.”

“He looks like a tapir.” giggled Phelps.

“You aren’t in a particular strong position to start criticizing your colleagues’ physiogamies,” interjected the principal, “But to return to business. The second demand arrived late yesterday.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” exclaimed the constable looking excited, “How did it arrive?”

“It had been slipped between two muffins and Mrs. Wiggins brought it, and them, in for tea.”

“Do you have this second note?” pursued the constable.

“Unfortunately…” began Phelps, nervously rubbing his hooves together.

“Phelps ate most of it.”

“I didn’t realize..” stuttered the miserable Phelps.

“But we do at least have part of the second parchment, this time thankfully, written in English. It demands that we cease teaching the doctrines of Christianity and convert the chapel in a shrine for the reverence of, and I quote, “the Great Papa Delplunkett. All tremble at the mention of His Name.””

“And what does the Divinity master make of that?”

“Oh, he’s all for it. Thinks it sounds rather fun. The man’s a fool of course.”

“Of course,” agreed Phelps hastily, “A fool.”

“Anything else?” asked the constable scribbling frantically in his notebook.

“Yes. Two annual scholarships to be made available to the tribe pygmies of the Yagod swamp. In acknowledgement of services rendered.”

“What services?”

“Ask young Foster!”

“Hmm. No demands for money? That’s usual in these cases,” guessed the constable.

“Not directly but 250 ologs are to be paid annually to the scholars from the Yagod swamp as part of the programme.”

“What’s an olog?”

“A polished cuttle fish beak according to the Divinity master.”

“It’s probably in Borneo.” said Phelps making a bee-line for the bookcase.

“What is?” asked the principal waspishly.

“The Yagod swamp.”

“The location is immaterial, Phelps. Swamp people are swamp people, whether they’re from the lower Yangtsee or the Norfolk Broads.”

“Ah, there’s truth in that,” asserted the constable picking up a decanter from the coffee table. “Beer?” he enquired mildly.

“Port. Help yourself and pour me a glass while you’re about it.”

“I don’t normally partake of port on duty,” said the constable filling his teacup, “But as this is something of an unusual case I’ll make an exception to the rule.”

“Yes, yes,” snapped the principal, “Phelps, bring me the crystals from the cabinet. Oh, and bring a tankard for the constable..and ring Mrs. Wiggins. We’ll need some beer.”

“Oh, don’t mind the beer,” said the constable expansively, “I’m rather partial to this. A local brew?”

“Not exactly.”

“Thought not. You can tell from the bottle you know.”

“Really? How fascinating. Now constable, if we might return to the matter in hand?”

“I take it that this has a grape base,” said the constable refilling his teacup, “Not barley or berry? The color is..how can I say…”

“Red?”

“Red would do. Yes, red would do very nicely,” he gave a cunning smile, “for the time being.” He tapped his notebook.

“Since receiving the second demand I have been sent three more. Each more extravagant that the last.”

“Hmm,” said the constable refilling his cup and reaching for the last chocolate finger.

“I spoke to the head of house and asked his opinion but unfortunately he seemed unable to open his mouth for the duration of the interview.”

“Should have told him to write his answers,” said the constable through a mouthful of crumbs.

“I thought of that,” lied the principal.

“I’d a done that straight off,” asserted the constable, renewing his assault on the dwindling decanter.

“Got it.” cried Phelps triumphantly from the bookcase. “Yagod swamp – on an island twenty miles south of Borneo – home to er pygmy mystics and er Fabrilis Tambrilaya.”

“What the devil’s that?”

“It’s er a kind of wood wasp.. found only in the Yagod swamp and Bogota.. it has a lifespan of 28 minutes – that could be months – there’s a stain..”

“Are you being useful, Phelps? Or are you deliberately wasting my time?”

“He’s wasting time in my opinion.” said the constable, “the way I see it you ought to talk to Fobster.”

“Foster.”

“Him too. Find out where he is, what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.”

“How he’s doing it might be rather interesting too,” said Phelps with a speculative gleam in his eye.

“Phelps, we need moral support,” barked the principal “Where is the rest of the History department ?”

“Er.. frolicking in Ashmeadow. They seem to have lost interest in things since they lost the power of speech.”

“Understandable I suppose,” conceded the principal “Why is it that only your head and legs have gone goat, Phelps?”

“Late developer,” said the constable with a wink.

“Well come along then,” said the principal briskly, rising to his feet, “We talk to Foster. Coming Phelps? Constable?”

The constable evinced reluctance when it came to parting with the decanter and compromised by bringing it along as evidence.

YOUNG FOSTER:

The trio arrived to find the door to Big Dorm daubed with a sticky black substance, reminiscent of tar and shot with white fatty specks.

“Black pudding,” asserted the constable testing it with a finger “School black pudding,” he amended hastily after sampling a fragment.

“Black pudding,” gasped the Principal, still recovering from the four floor climb.

Without warning the door swang open. It revealed the sort of scene that the Divinity master would have described as “ethnic”.

“Come in,” giggled young Foster from behind his altar. “Come to talk terms?”

“You giggle like a girl,” observed the principal diplomatically “Stop this nonsense now and.. um.. Phelps will give you your merit mark.”

“Cor, that’s decent of you, Phelps,” smirked young Foster.

“Phelps is a very decent chap,” declared the principal grandly sensing victory. “And that is why he has agreed to give you two… no, three merit marks!”

“Oh for Delplunkett’s sake,” shrilled young Foster, “I don’t want merit marks.”

“What do you want then?” pursued the principal “Toast privileges? Exemption from the Cross country? A school cap?”

“Power.” said young Foster.

“Power.” said the constable “Do you think that I could borrow a pencil? I think I’ve left mine in the study.”

“Why do you want power?” demanded the principal “When I was your age I hadn’t a thought for things like power. All I wanted was to play for the first XV.”

“There is one big difference between your case and mine,” observed young Foster loftily.

“And what is that?”

“I am not a moron.”

There was a pause.

“I beg your pardon, Foster?” bellowed the principal “This has gone far enough. I’m going to write a very stiff letter to your parents about this.”

“Save yourself a stamp. They’re not in Borneo anymore.”

“Where are they, son?” asked the constable.

“In the pickle jar, over there by the lizard skin gong,” said young Foster airily. “You may find it hard to believe but they objected quite strenuously to my developing relationships with Papa Delplunkett so in the end I decided to bring them with me. I do so dislike loose ends, don’t you?”

“It’s not a very big pickle jar,” observed Phelps.

“I had to shrink them first of course.”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s go back to my study. Perhaps when young Foster has calmed down we will be able to resume this discussion,” raged the principal.

“Don’t be too long. Your deadline runs out at midnight.”

“Deadline?” squawked the principal. “You made no mention of a deadline in your preposterous catalogue of demands.”

“Au contraire,” smiled the demonic Foster “It was in my second letter.”

“The one that Phelps ate. Typical.” exploded the principal. With Herculaen effort he controlled himself. “You know you won’t get away with this Foster. You’re not in Bonga Bonga..”

“Borneo.” clarified Phelps.

“.. now. We have laws here – mortality – justice – standards. We have…”

“You have until midnight. Now run along – I’m rather busy” said young Foster. He smiled kindly and went back to the study of a thick tome that rested on his knees.

“It’s books that done it,” observed the constable, stifling a belch, “Never touch ‘em myself.”

“Idiot,” explained the principal storming from the room.

BACK IN THE STUDY:

It was ten o’clock and the study was thick with smoke. It had been drifting out of the constable’s ears for the better part of an hour in slow curls that looped greasily downwards and settled about eighteen inches from the carpet. The steady flow was punctuated occasionally by a more vigorous puff. The smell was acrid and faintly reminiscent of burning seaweed.

“If young Foster hopes to force our hand be means of this ridiculous display he is wasting his time,” said the principal from his chair “I will not be intimidated. I am resolved on that.”

“A smoke ring,” bleated Phelps excitedly.

“Are you listening to me Phelps?”

“Yes, often,” said Phelps.

“Powerful good grog, this,” slurred the constable, “Not beer if you get my meaning.”

“Brandy,” said the principal “It’s Brandy. And don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

“It reminds me of a song I used to know,” smirked the constable.

“Spare us.”

“What intrigues me,” said Phelps, folding his hooves under him to avoid the rising fogbank, “What intrigues me is how young Foster learned to do all this. If I remember correctly his father was a quite a mild sort of chap. A gerkhin importer or something.”

“Impossible,” said the constable belligerently. “Can’t grow ‘em in Borneo. Too much sand.”

“It was all in the third message,” sighed the principal wearily “The house servant seemed mainly responsible. Oh, the whole thing is too irksome. Phelps, time is running out. Midnight will be on us in a matter of hours. We must do something.”

“Mother Mangle.” bellowed the constable leaping to his feet and upsetting the coffee table. “She’s the one.”

“And who, or what is mother Mangle?” queried the principal with a disdainful glance at the lambent red nose that wobbled unsteadily in front of him.

“The village midwife,” offered Phelps.

“She has the Power. Fight fire with fire as my mother used to say. She’ll sort Fobster out an’ no mistake.”

“It might be worth a shot,” said Phelps, “after all there doesn’t seem much else that we can do.”

“It’s absurd,” said the principal, “If the governers ever got wind of it I’d be out of a job I can tell you.”

“But principal, it is at least a chance. And to cite the old adage, beggars can’t be choosers”

“Alright, Phelps. We’ll try it. Where does this mother Mangle live?”

“Belchmeadow – out on t’ moors.”

“Ridiculous,” said the principal, fishing in his pocket for the car keys.

MOTHER MANGLE:

The hovel sagged atmospherically on the lip of an abandoned slate quarry and swayed perceptibly with every gust of wind. A wooden sign was nailed to the door.

“‘Tresspassers will be turned into puddys’,” read Phelps as the principal began to belabour the door with the handle of his umbrella. After a minute of this treatment the door swung open creaking hideously and a wizened face peered out suspiciously. It had forgotten to put in its teeth.

“Mother Mangle, I presume,” said the principal grandly.

“You’re right there. You do presume – it’s nearly midnight. Be off with you afore I turn you into a puddy!”

“Madame, I have no time to waste on these tedious border formalities.”

“Ello Ma Mangle!”

“Oh it’s you Josh Potter. What do you mean by this?”

“There’s trouble at school. Witch doctor trouble,” he added happily.

“Well in that case you’d better come in and tell me all about it.” The Mangle cackled briefly and ushered them into a small warm room pungent with the smell of onions. She scurried off to unearth a kettle.

“You sit by the chimbley, Josh Potter and here are two toadstools for your ears.”

“What do I do with them?”

“Use ‘em as plugs – I’m not having you smoke up my living room. Here’s your tea gentlemen.”

“It’s a rather funny colour,” remarked the principal politely.

“There wouldn’t be a nip of something to go with it?” enquired the constable hopefully.

“No there wouldn’t,” asserted the principal.

“Well?” demanded the Mangle lowering her creaking physique into a decrepit rocking chair. “What’s what?”

“It all started when young Foster’s father moved East….”

….

“…. laughed at me,” concluded the principal “Oh, and Phelps here is turning into a goat.”

“So I see. Hush up now, I’m thinking.”

Ten minutes passed. Phelps stared morosely at his hooves and the principal fiddled savagely with his umbrella. The constable went out to get some air and returned with a small black flask. The old crone sat hunched in her chair, eyes closed, an expression of serene calm on her desiccated face.

“What the devil is she doing?” muttered the principal.

“Contemplatin’.” asserted the constable after removing a toadstool from one ear.

“Contemplating what?”

“Things is what she’s contemplatin’,” said the constable darkly.

“Things.”

Time passed. A low snore came from the rocking chair.

“She’s asleep!” exploded the principal. The Mangle erupted from her roost with an alarming shout.

“Come on,” she cried, “There’s no time to be lost! You must drive me to Toad Hollow at once!”

“Why?” demanded the principal truculently.

“To pick stenchberry,” explained Mother Mangle with an unbecoming leer.

BACK IN THE STUDY:

It was a quarter to twelve. The principal, Mother Mangle the Constable and Phelps were assembled back in the study regarding a large pile of “hingredients” that sat on the bureau. Phelps was standing by with a checklist.

“Hog moss…spudfurrow…hennis root..a sprig of gimlet…..hagwither..five newts..and a green pepper. Yes it’s all here.”

“Good boy,” chuckled Mother Mangle rubbing her twig thin fingers with ferocious glee “Now to show the young monkey we mean business.”

“And what in God’s name do we do with all this revolting stuff now that we’ve got it?” asked the principal with a sniff.

“Do with it?” chuckled the irrepressible Mangle, “We eat it of course. It’s to strengthen our fluences.”

With a sigh the principal motioned to Phelps. “Ring for Mrs. Wiggins. Instruct her to bring Tabasco.”

“Here’s your newt,” smiled Mother Mangle.

BIG DORM:

The door to Big Dorm was still besmeared with black pudding.

“Clever little monkey,” cackled the Mangle.

“I don’t see that spreading breakfast over school property is particularly clever,” began the principal.

“Blood!” boomed the midwife “It’s the main hingredient. It strengthens his fluence!”

“I stand corrected,” sighed the principal and opened the door.

“Welcome.” called a figure sporting a loincloth and an immense wooden mask. It bowed theatrically.

“Is that you in there, young Foster?” demanded the principal.

“Of course. Who were you expecting? Plato?” the figure capered and twirled.

“We are here to offer you terms of surrender,” declared the principal magnanimously. “They are unconditional.”

“A comedian to the last,” sighed young Foster reaching for his wand.

“The joke’s on you this time, young Foster. Meet Mother Mangle!”

“Delighted I’m sure,” sneered young Foster “Who is this decrepit coffin-dodger?”

“Mother Mangle is a witch,” explained Phelps.

“Power,” asserted the constable with drunken solemnity, “Power, Fobster, is the word.”

“Do you surrender?” demanded the principal.

“No.”

“Then let battle commence,” cackled Mother Mangle advancing on the altar, arms raised, eyes blazing.

“Now we’ll see somat,” grinned the constable “Belchmeadow takes on Borneo. Watch yersel’ Fobster.”

“Barsa nagh speckl speckl tang,” intoned the Mangle. Smoke began to pour from her ears.

“Toadle Woadle grak.” chanted Mother Mangle as she began to rise from the floor and drift towards the window.

“Heg peg SLEBBERY GROO!” she shouted as the window obligingly opened to let her pass.

“Slebbery groo,” she repeated defiantly as the window closed behind her with a snap. A faint shriek echoed around old quad as the Mangle began her descent.

“Borneo has it,” remarked the constable subsiding into a chair.

“Alright, Foster, a joke’s a joke. There was no need for that.” snapped the principal. “That was just spiteful.”

“English witchcraft,” remarked the masked figure conversationally. “Rather overrated I’ve always thought. Anyway I’m glad we’ve got the formalities out of the way. Are you prepared to accede to my demands?”

“Under the circumstances it might perhaps be wise to,” began Phelps.

“Never.” said the principal “I’d sooner hang!”

“I aim to please” said young Foster ambling over to the window to inspect his handiwork. He gestured briefly.

“Gruurgh.” said the principal from the end of his rope. The constable regarded the kicking feet for a moment and then began to snore loudly.

“What a mess,” said young Foster as he peered through the glass.

Phelps decide that it was time for action. With fluid, goaty grace he lowered his horns and charged. Young Foster, alerted to his nemesis by the pounding of hooves, turned from the window and scrabbled for his engraved thighbone. Alas, too late. The impact of the charge flung the boy backwards and with a despairing wail young Foster sailed off in the direct direction of the window. There was a lively crash as the glass bowed to the inevitable. Young Foster’s feet flashed whitely in the moonlight then plunged from sight.

The constable applauded briefly in a desultory fashion then resumed snoring. A satisfyingly final thud curtailed the downward journey of young Foster and then there was silence.

Phelps, rather pleased with his performance and smiling, approached the altar. Ignoring the faint croaking from the end of the rope he fingered the big black book. It was open at page thirteen so he read a little bit. Smoke began to trickle from the headmaster’s ears.

“Get me down from here,” managed the dangling figure “I’m choking.”

“All in good time,” murmured Phelps tucking the book under his jacket and pocketing the thighbone.

“Perhaps this might be an appropriate time to discuss my salary?” suggested Phelps mildly.

“Guurgh” said the figure from its rope.

“And a few more little things, hmmm?”

The End.

The Testing of Orpheus Groke: Another Hugh Paxton short story of the supernatural.

October 2, 2011

 

Hugh Paxton Blog is proud to present yet another tale of the supernatural. In this particular case we see Heaven and Hell in competition for a human soul.  

THE TESTING OF ORPHEUS GROKE

 

By Hugh Paxton

 

 

The World.

Orpheus Groke rose from the satin sheets of his bed and padded over the rich piling of the Turkoman to the bedroom window. It was a fresh, delightful morning with sunlight and birdsong and the smell of devilled breakfast kidneys in the air. Orpheus threw back the curtains, stretched and surveyed the modest elegance of his garden. It was a study in balance – smooth lawns lapping about rock gardens and gently clipped hedges, splashes of bright flowers on the rich brown earth of weedless beds, discreet sculptures wearing soft beards of ivy. A treasure of a garden, a gnomeless work of the gardener’s art. Some fifteen minutes later, prayers complete, he dressed and made his way downstairs for breakfast.

Hell.

Whirligig rose early too. He writhed uncomfortably on his pallet for some moments before kicking away the flayed skins with his hoof and rolling onto the floor. His mood was not improved by the acrid stench of chemicals. The roof was leaking again and several thin streams of an acidic substance had dribbled onto his pillow. Scrofulous had obviously been taking his work home again. Under normal circumstances he would have gone upstairs and had a fight but today he had more on his mind. Today, accounts were due and his books were distinctly off-kilter. Whirligig’s cell was draped with colorful strands of intestine and there were several sinners nailed to his door. He’d had them installed to shriek and divert him but this morning they failed completely. He slouched outside and peered bleakly over the parapet into Hell. The views were normally exhilarating, especially from the higher altitudes where the favoured demons dwelt, but today the fumes from the boiling seas obscured Hell’s magnificence. Behind him one of his sinners began moaning. Whirligig thought about his ledgers and began to moan too. It seemed the only viable alternative to ineffectual forgery.

Heaven.

Theodoric rose a little later than his opposite number. Pastel shades and the muted strains of harpsichord music met him on his doorstep. The air was painted with a thousand scents. Theodoric smiled beatifically, adjusted his raiment and fluttered his wings experimentally before launching himself into the gentle mists of Paradise. The Saxon monastery and the Viking horde that had furnished his martyrdom were a world away and he felt sure that this day, like all those that had preceded it, would be blissful.

Hell.

“Stand forward, Scrofulous!” bellowed the Clerk. The Clerk, clad in motley and bearing his staff of office, glanced sternly up from his ledger. Borne on the scalding breeze of Hell the distant shrieks of the tormented played like low music throughout the council hall. Whirligig fiddled nervously with his horn as Scrofulous stepped confidently forward. Scrofulous could afford to look confident – his field of jurisdiction was Politics and as ever it had yielded rich fruit. Whirligig, whose own field of jurisdiction was “The happily well to do”, suppressed a curse. To say that it had been a lean year soulwise would be to say that the Pond of Infinite Blisters was rather warm. And the Powers were not noted for their clemency.

“Stand forward, Whirligig!” bellowed the clerk banging his staff. Whirligig did so, then abased himself before the throne and its infernal occupant.

The voice, when it came, was disturbingly gentle but no-one was deceived – the rages of Moloch when crossed were legendary. Whirligig prepared to play his only card.

“And how many have you snared this year, my loathsome little slave?” enquired the gentle voice adding a musical titter as punctuation.

“My liege, if I might make so bold…” There was a barely perceptible nod. “I have a book here that you might find of some interest.” He proffered his bible with a deferential bow and the abomination on the throne leaned forwards to glance at the title.

“We’ve seen it before. It didn’t amuse us then – why should it amuse us now?”

The Powers looked annoyed.

“I have come across a neglected section, my liege. It might divert you.”

“You are not come before us to discuss fantasy fiction. You are here to present the year’s accounts. Do so!”

“With your indulgence, master.”

“Indulgence. Hmm.” Moloch explored the word with his tongue and did not look impressed with the flavour.

“Exalted one, the section that caught my interest is here.” He thrust the book forward, open at the appropriate page and then fell upon his face. There was a significant pause.

“Job,” muttered Moloch with a puzzled expression. There was another significant pause and when the Powers spoke again they sounded pleasantly reminiscent.

“Job, but of course! Job!”

Whirligig, well versed in the mental cruelties of Hell, did his best to remain pessimistic and it wasn’t until the clerk joined in the Powers’ laughter that he was able to urinate with relief. For the time being, at least, he was safe.

The World.

Orpheus Groke spent several minutes after breakfast reading his mail. There was a short, appallingly written card from a nephew in the Colonial Services, a reminder from the Library that three books were overdue and a letter from one of the many Charities that he supported. It was requesting monies for a prospective leper colony on the Dry Tortugas. Orpheus rose from his desk and went in search of an atlas and a cheque book.

Heaven.

Theodoric was in earnest conversation with a neighbour. Both were watching the lower spheres and in particular the morning activities of Orpheus Groke.

“You see? There he goes again!” exclaimed the neighbour with some feeling. “He’s being charitable!”

“He does it every morning,” conceded Theodoric with excusable pride, “It’s nothing to get excited about, Basil, really.”

“Oh, it isn’t is it? You’d change your tune soon enough if you had my lot to watch over, I can tell you! What is he doing now?”

“Let’s see… it’s Monday so he’ll probably be about to visit the Old People’s Home in the next valley. He normally takes along a few flowers and magazines to cheer them up before they die. Yes, I’m right. Look, he’s loading his car now.”

“Doesn’t your man ever need any help?” asked Basil after a thoughtful pause.

“Not so far. It’s been..what? Forty three years now. A few hitches in adolescence of course, but since his Confirmation – nothing! A model citizen, blessed with money, compassion, humility, tolerance, happiness…”

“You’re luckier than you know, Theo old chap. Take a peek at mine.”

The two angels bent over the crystal.

“As I thought, drunk again!”

“Who are those women?”

“You might well ask. Honestly I don’t know why I bother. I really don’t. I’ve tried, Theo, The Lord knows I have. Somehow I always seem to end up with the problem cases – rock groups, fundamentalists, cardinals. I’ve had it up to here, Theo. Do you know what my next assignment is? A group of businessmen”. Basil rolled his eyes. “Japanese businessmen.”

“I say, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it? I thought that we’d been told not to waste our time with lot.”

“Hear, hear to that say I. And we don’t normally – but it seems that this group have decided that Christianity is a better investment than Shinto and are hoping to…”

“Good Lord!”

“My sentiments exactly!”

“Did you see that? Did you see it?”

“See what?”

“There was a devil in my man’s herb garden. I saw it! A devil! By the herbs!”

“Nonsense,” said Basil.

Hell.

“And what has our scout to report?” enquired Moloch with a smile. They were no longer in the council hall but in the private chambers of the Clerk. Moloch, along among the Princes of the Seven Hells, was a stickler for hygiene and the Clerk had taken pains to set his chamber in order. Braziers burned along all eight walls and a determined effort had been made to sweep the carpet. Beating was best of course, but the Clerk had been shortsighted enough to tack it down and the carpet, like most of the carpets in Hell, was made out of sinners and was too uneven to respond well to sweeping. The Clerk, in one of his more creative phases had stitched this one himself, carefully arranging different ethnic groups to form convoluted but not unpleasing patterns, however the effect was rather diminished by the quantity of brimstone that had got into the pile. Moloch seemed too excited to notice the mess, for which the Clerk was extremely grateful. The rages of Moloch, when confronted with untidy rooms, were legendary.

The sub-devil scout was clearly proud of his effort in the upper world and laid out a number of maps and pornographic photos that he had purchased on his trip.

“Crushy, my Legion, decidedly cushy!” chattered the sub-devil.

“Elucidate,” purred Moloch.

“This Groke’s got it really good. Money, nice house, friends, the respect of the community, a flashy car..”

“And yet he is still an ardent Christian?”

“Devout.”

“And good into the bargain, you say?”

“Most definitely.”

“Hmm. He sounds a very intriguing proposition. Are these photographs in any way relevant to the business in hand?”

“Completely unconnected, my Legion,” chattered the sub-devil “They’re for my mother – a little something for her mantelpiece..”

The Clerk muttered something inaudible about keeping receipts and justifiable trip expenses but Moloch seemed uninterested and waved him to silence.

“To return to Groke. He would seem to be a tower of propriety. A shining beacon of decency. A veritable saint!”

“Perhaps we should lower our sights a trifle.. tackle someone a little more tragically flawed so to speak..” began the Clerk tentatively.

“Nonsense,” bellowed Moloch “You think he’s too good for us? Too devout? Too saintly?”

“No..that is to say..ho! ho! Not for a minute..but..” explained the Clerk.

“You think that we can fail?”

“Ho! Ho!” babbled the Clerk.

“No, I’ve seen them all! Church goers, do-gooders, missionaries – it’s all very well being good and happy and a shining beacon of decency when everything’s going well for you. Hell fire! That’s not a problem! It’s when things go wrong that being good gets to be difficult! That’s when it hurts! Perhaps you think this challenge beyond us, Clerk? Remember Job? Remember the Israelite..“

The sub-devil decided to lighten the atmosphere with a joke.

“Which one?” he giggled good humouredly “we seem to have so many here.” At a glance from Moloch the sub-devil exploded.

“I will instruct Whirligig to deliver the challenge.” Moloch continued with a disdainful glance at the wreckage, “as you seem to have no belly for this business. Oh, and this carpet is filthy.”

The Clerk smiled sheepishly again but exploded before he could reach his broom.

Heaven.

Theodoric and Basil were still bent over their crystal when the cherub arrived. It looked pink and wholesome but for a blackening eye and a marginally dented trumpet. It fluttered in agitation, seemed upon the point of withdrawing, then, with a triumph of will over inclination, landed at their feet. It held out a blackened and malodorous parchment and in a breathy rush, the coherency of which was perilously threatened by tears, announced that there was a horror at the Gates of Dawn awaiting an answer.

“How very queer,” said Theodoric as the cherub fled.

“It appears to be some sort of challenge,” he looked up at his friend, “from Hell. They’ve got their eyes on Orpheus Groke.”

“So there really was a devil in your man’s herb garden. How strange.”

“Strange indeed. They want me to test his Faith.”

“What are the stakes?”

“A hundred of theirs if our man pulls through..”

“And if he doesn’t? Sorry, silly question. What are you going to do? Report his affair to the Three of Them or go it alone?”

“It’s quite a prize,” mused Theodoric, “Not often we have such a good opportunity…”

“How do you think your man’s up to it?”

“Quite possibly,” he scratched a wing thoughtfully “He’s one of our best. I say, if I took this thing on, would you mind helping? I don’t think I could do it alone.”

Basil shifted uncomfortably and glanced down at his own charges, all too clearly visible through the crystal. The prudent refusal that he had been about to utter, withered on his lips.

“Have they no shame?”

“Beg pardon, Basil?”

“Nothing. I accept! Come, let’s meet this demon of yours. We’ll teach him his place and save one hundred damned souls into the bargain.”

“Thank you, Basil. I know that I could rely on you. Halos on and let’s to work.”

Together they took flight for the Gates of Dawn and the horror that lurked outside.

Limbo.

“So that’s the deal,” concluded Whirligig.

“And we have your word that there will be no infernal interference?”

“It’s your show,” smirked the Imp “I’ll observe of course, but invisibly.”

“Hadn’t we better set a time limit to this thing? I don’t want it droning on for the term of his natural life..” said Theodoric.

“Three months?” suggested Whirligig “But mind you test him properly. No petty afflictions or minor inconveniences. You must stretch him to the limit.”

“Why don’t you test him then? If you doubt us?”

“Not my department, chum. It’s your lot who do all the afflicting – you always have.”

“I say, steady on. That’s not entirely fair!”

“It isn’t? Who sent that flood? And who knocked off all those first-born? Ask the Sods who they had to thank for their city alterations. Yaah! Don’t bother denying it! We get the blame but when it comes right down to it, you’re the ones who cause all the catastrophes and plagues and pillars of salt!”

“Oh, that’s very easy for you to say. If it wasn’t for your tempting and luring, we wouldn’t have to bother with any of that!”

“Oh, so you admit it?”

“I admit nothing.”

“Seems a pretty dodgy set-up that has to resort to mass murder everytime someone decides to fall from grace. And in the same breath claims to be the font from which all blessings and mercy flows.”

“You’re making the beginner’s mistake! You’re forgetting that the Old Testament and the New represent divergent philosophies! We’re in gentler times now.”

“Crusades! Pol Pot!” crackled Whirligig, “El Salvador! The Holy Inquisition!”

“And no doubt you hold us responsible for acid rain and the fluctuations on the dollar? Come off it, Imp. Freewill’s the thing.”

“Free-will? Pharaoh to that, say I!”

“I thought that we were here to discuss terms – not indulge in partisan religious squabbling,” interrupted Basil hastily, “Perhaps now that we have established the rules we ought to go our separate ways and leave the ethics of Salvation to the Higher Powers.”

“A good idea, as you two are so clearly out of your depth,” sneered the Imp, “See you later Theo”

“Damned impudence”

“He is a demon, Theodoric, old chap. You can’t expect anything better,” soothed Basil “now pull yourself together and let’s get started. The sooner this business is over the better.”

“Amen to that,” muttered Theodoric with a dark glance at the departing Whirligig.

And together they descended unto Earth and the testing began.

The World.

Two weeks later the two angels met to discuss progress in the Library of Orpheus Groke. They had taken the precaution of rendering themselves invisible as had the Demon. Though they knew he was somewhere near, neither of them had seen him since the testing had begun. The dog of the house, Grendel by name (and inclination), whose perceptive range was truly remarkable, had made their lives a misery for the past fortnight. He had howled and barked whenever they had been in the same room and on two occasions had bitten their legs. Whether the demon had been treated to a similarly hostile reception they did not know, but a fearful row in the larder the previous Sunday seemed to point in that direction. To their great relief the animal had been taken to the vet and given a course of sedatives two days ago but they both lived in fear of a servant failing to administer its daily dose. The library door was locked.

“He’s bearing up rather well, all things considered,” remarked Basil.

“Yes, though I confess I thought he was going to crack when the Stock market collapsed. To lose so much…so quickly..”

“That was a bad moment to be sure. But it didn’t seem to ruffle him too much.”

“He’s a calm one and no mistake. Didn’t bat an eyelid when his car blew up. Or when his wife ran off with the postman and his silver dinner service.”

“Hmm. What’s next?”

“Boils. Boils followed by the spontaneous combustion of his gardener.”

“I still say that we should do the dog.”

“Patience. We mustn’t overplay our hands. After all we want to come out in one piece or we’ve been wasting our time.”

“Mr. Groke, this is Daniel Philips from the Plymouth Mercury here. I’m phoning to ask if you have any comment to make about the tragic affair last Wednesday.”

“Which particular tragic affair did you have in mind? There has been such a glut of them recently that I confess I’m losing track.”

“Why, the massacre at the Garden Fete of course.” Daniel Philips sounded reproachful.

“Oh, yes. The massacre. What do you want to know?”

“Do you consider yourself in any way responsible for the escape of the anacondas?”

“We have always had Lady Babblethwaite’s anacondas at the annual fete. There has never been any trouble before. Of course I was desolated by the tragedy and as far as my position as Chairman of the Fete Committee goes, I commiserate with the parents and in deference to the bereaved.”

“Hello? Hello? Could you speak up a bit? The line’s terrible.”

“…we won’t be having the anacondas next year. Sorry, did you say something?”

“I can’t hear a blind word you’re saying. The line’s terrible.”

“I’m afraid that that’s because of the electrical storm. It’s right overhead..”

There was a muffled crack of lightning and a scream from the cook’s quarters.

“Look here, Mr. Philips, much as I’d like to chat, I’m afraid..”

“What’s that you said Mr. Groke?”

“I said, much as I’d like to talk, I’m rather tied up at the moment. Could you phone back later? You see the house is full of squatters and the pipes have just burst again.”

“What did…” The line went dead. Upstairs there was a crash as a flying slate put paid to the picture window and his collection of Roman lamps.

“Jesus,” muttered Orpheus Groke, “What in Heaven’s name is going on up there?”

“Release the hostage and come out with your hands in the air! Leave your shot-guns by the front door!”

“Go to hell, you dirty coppers!”

“Release Mr. Groke immediately! I say again, release Mr. Groke and come out with your hands in the air…”

“Mr. Groke, your account is seriously overdrawn. Until we can discuss your financial situation in depth, I regret to say that we are unable to honour any further cheques that you might try to cash. Please return your credit cards as soon as possible…”

“But Dad, I love him.”

“It’s a bit sudden isn’t it, Derek? I know your mother isn’t here at the moment but we’d always rather hoped, you know, that you might have, um, a family. Or whatnot.”

“I’m committed to him, Dad. We’re going to California for the ceremony.”

“The ceremony??”

“So our tip was on the level. Opium. In dealing quantity too!”

“I’ve never seen that package before in my life!”

“Really? I suppose it must have just walked into your chest of drawers all by its little self, eh? Or is someone trying to frame you? Is that it?”

“That must be it, officer..”

“You have the right to remain silent..”

“The prison doctor to see you, Groke! Make yourself presentable. And what the Hell are you doing on the floor?”

“I am praying.”

“Born againer, eh? You lot really make me puke! Wingeing and grovelling – didn’t stop you being a nasty criminal villain on the outside, did it?”

“I have always been a Christian, warden,” answered Orpheus Groke with simple dignity.

“When you weren’t dealing drugs. Sure! On your feet, Groke. The doc’s got something to tell you.”

“Yes, it’s leprosy, Mr. Groke. Do you have any idea how you might have contracted it?”

“How many days left?”

“Only two, Theodoric. He’s being released tomorrow on Humanitarian grounds.” Basil gazed pensively at the ruins of Groke’s house. Smoke drifted lazily from the rubble.

“I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him what’s been going on.”

“And the horrid little demon will be for it when he goes home too, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Serves him right. Punching our cherub like that..”

“One hundred souls saved from torment. Think of that! One hundred damned souls! I wonder who’ll be in charge of them?”

“We will in all probability. But let’s not count our chickens.. Groke’s got to keep the faith for another two days.”

“He’ll do it. After all what else has he got? We’ve destroyed everything. Reputation, affluence, family, good looks – the lot. He hasn’t even got a home to come back to.”

“His summer house survived the blaze,” mused Basil, “and that bloody dog’s still on the loose.”

“I wonder what that demon’s up to. I wouldn’t like to be in his hooves when Groke pulls through!”

A peasant coughed in the nearby Chase.

Orpheus Groke left prison on the thirtieth of July. Clad in a grey suit he was escorted by van to the remains of his estate and the abandoned. He hobbled painfully in the direction of his summer house, averting his eyes from the shattered ruin of his Cucumber Beds and the spiky skeleton of the Greenhouse.

Watched by an indifferent Blackbird, he left himself in and began to take inventory of his remaining possessions.

“One horse blanket..three editions of The Trout Fisher..a stool…one decoy with a missing beak..an invitation to participate in the Reader’s Digest Prize draw..my gardener’s shotgun and..twenty one shells. Hmm, not a great deal. Oh, and my Mother’s Bible.”

He sat on his stool and began to flick through a copy of The Trout Fisher.

Hell.

“What in Our Name is he doing now?” muttered Moloch angrily.

“Reading a magazine, my Legion,” answered a Cacodaemon looking up from the viewing mirror.

“His life in ruins and he sits reading a magazine! What’s wrong with the fool!”

“He’s going to beat us,” mourned the Cacodaemon, “just like Job.”

“Job didn’t beat us. We’ve got him in cell 342.”

“But it says in the Bible..”

Moloch laughed. “Don’t believe everything you read. No, Job cracked after the boils. Came right over us.”

“But..” began the Cacodaemon hesitantly. The rages of Moloch when questioned were legendary and his brow was already beginning to furrow.

“Ho. Ho.” amended the Cacodaemon.

“But nothing! They had to write that. They couldn’t very well go around admitting they’d blown it, now could they?”

The Cacodaemon agreed energetically.

“It looks very much as if we may have to assume the worst. A hundred souls was it? Very well, we’ll give Theodoric his Viking horde. It should make for a happy reunion and they’re not doing us any good here. Filthy rowdies..Mind you don’t release them one minute before six tonight.”

“Why?” questioned the Cacodaemon.

“Because that is when the contest’s over,” snorted Moloch impatiently bending over the mirror The Cacodaemon scurried for the lower depths and made arrangements for the Horde’s release and it was not until later, while relaxing with guests over a glass of Vitriol, that he exploded.

The World.

Orpheus Groke rose from his stool with a sigh. He had not eaten for hours and was feeling faint. He checked his pockets, found nothing and sorrowfully reached for the shot gun.

“One shot..” he muttered “one shell should suffice. I shouldn’t imagine that I will miss.”

Hell.

Moloch leaped to his feet with a bellow of excitement.

“Return that Horde to its cooking pot! Send word to Whirligig! Groke’s going to crack!

With two hours left to run, Groke is going to crack!”

Attending devils ran in many directions.

“Don’t miss, Groke! Don’t miss! Under the chin, Groke! Mortal Sin,” he shrieked “I love you!”

The World.

The door to the summer house swang open and Orpheus Groke emerged, blinking in the sunlight. He skirted a border of Snapdragon (now beset by locusts) and approached the Chase. The air was thick and sleepy with the murmur of wood pigeons. Despite himself he began to salivate. With a final and surreptitious look back at his garden he disappeared into the green shade of the Chase, his eyes now flicking at the web of lower branches.

“Quick! Wake up!” bellowed the Imp.

Whirligig, who had been asleep in a hammock pilfered from the Vicarage, opened an eye slowly. He had been dreaming of explosions. His interest quickened as he recognized Hell’s messenger.

“It’s Groke!” shrilled the Imp “He’s going to top himself!”

Whirligig crashed from the hammock and seized the Imp’s arm.

“Kill himself? Are you sure?”

“He’s got a gun. He’s in the Chase now!”

“Typhoon be praised! I thought he’d never crack! Quick..we must make sure of him!”

The two friends scurried from the ruins of the greenhouse and raced hell for leather for the Chase leaving the hammock to its diminishing swings.

Orpheus Groke hated the taking of life but was pragmatist enough to see that he had no choice. Effectively destitute and without a friendly Bank Manager to his name it seemed an appropriate time to switch from clay (at which he had always excelled) to the real thing. He paused, muttered a short prayer for the intended victim that preened and muttered so guilelessly above his head and was about to shoot when he heard the crash of approaching bodies.

“Why, I do believe they’re in those nettles,” muttered Orpheus Groke.

To encourage butterflies, he had sponsored a nettle bed of heroic proportions on one side of the Chase.

“I say,” he shouted “stand clear! I’m about to shoot!”

“Shoot and be damned!” came a vulgar baritone “You’ve no option!”

“Yes, shoot!” came another voice “Ow!” it added.

“Did you hear that?” Theodoric leapt to his feet in alarm “The demon. He’s trying to interfere!” The two angels leaped from their Strawberry bed and, wings whirring with frantic haste, raced for the Chase.

“Don’t shoot!” yelled Basil, swerving to avoid a tree “Don’t be a fool!”

“Hunt saboteurs?” wondered Orpheus Groke.

“Shoot!”

“Don’t!”

Orpheus lowered his gun in some confusion. He still could not see the owners of the voices but they were all undoubtedly converging on his tree.

“Hurry up n’ shoot!” cackled the Imp in a high state of excitement. “Blow yer ‘ead orf!”

“You dishonest friends! We had you oath there’d be no interference!” Theodoric was outraged.

“We weren’t interfering bird boy..”

“Shut your filthy mouth, brimstone breath..”

Orpheus watched open-mouthed as first two and then four grappling figures rolled cursing out of the nettles. Wings rose and fell, horny fists flew – the air was full of feathers. Orpheus was so surprised that he dropped the shotgun which discharged and blew his head off. The pigeon flew away.

There was a shocked silence as the four erstwhile combatants watched the headless torso of Orpheus Groke subside to the forest floor.

“Twenty two minutes to go..” breathed Whirligig.

“Nineteen,” corrected Basil mournfully “Nineteen.”

“He was going to kill himself, ” stuttered the Imp “He was.”

“No he wasn’t.”

“He was. We had it on good authority he was.”

“Prove it!”

“Prove he wasn’t!”

“I saw him through the trees. He was pointing it at a pigeon!”

“Yah,” jeered the Imp unconvincingly “A likely story!”

“Alright then. We’ll take it to higher authorities!”

“So will we!”

“Too right we will!”

“Too right!”

“Yes!”

Hell.

“Whirligig, take them the Vikings,” said Moloch, whose rages at losing competitions were legendary.

Heaven.

“Theodoric and Basil, look after them!” said his Opposite Number, whose displeasure at being left out of competitions was rumoured.

Hugh Paxton Short Ghost Story: A January Sound

September 23, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is pleased to present another short ghost story I found in my forgotten file folder. It had been typed on heat sensitive paper and was very faded but I managed to make out the words. Another few months languishing in the cobwebs the text would have completely vanished. Another story, written at about the same time, was, with the exception of the title, totally gone. A bit sad.    

A JANUARY SOUND

When summer comes to Cumbria it does it very well. The fells and moors shine with warm colour. Dry stone walls, the brooding miseries of a wet winter, throw off their greys and dress instead in lichens. The lakes glint, the skies are huge and the long evenings last forever. Same then that summer is so shy.

Winter has its moments ; becks in cold snow, icicles on old gnarled apple trees, the comfortable glow of log fires…yes, winter has its moments, especially if it still holds the promise of Christmas, but in the January of this story, Christmas is done and the summer seems a year away.

In the village of Skalton two children are preparing to go out. It is a long sprawling village that follows a sloping valley road that leads down to the sea. The houses are neat and made of local stone with slate roofs  and small but lovely gardens. In the cold months smoke rises wistfully from the chimneys and warm lights shine from windows and porches. The road to the sea is narrow, winding and makes many dips and rises and crosses several small and mysterious bridges before finally spilling out of hazel wood and into the clear flat lowland of the estuary. For a short distance the road continues indecisively , meandering uncertainly out into the tussocks of marsh grass looping through the pools and channels of a sea bound stream before finally stopping at a gate. The gate is brown with rust and will not open.

Beside it are the bones of an impossibly ancient engine; heavy and dead, with grass in its gears and the white streaked signatures of gulls splashed on its cowling. Lumped cogs and flaking wheels peer out of the ground around it like dismal, timid satellites and from the main hulk rises a peculiar, jointed funnel. The children have talked and talked about this engine. They have wondered what it did, and how it came to die by the gate. On nights when the air is still, and the thick sea mist has crept in, they have even heard it working –humming and clanking and throbbing, faint in the distance. They plan to stalk it and catch it, and see it shuddering and firing sparks from its stack up into the darkness but they have been too timid to try so far.

Beyond the gate and its guardian engine is the estuary proper; a broad, barren, muddy place, cold as the cry of gulls.

The estuary is dangerous, too. Channels change overnight and in places there is quicksand. There have been too many warnings for the children to take it lightly, though the summer tourists always do and each year a life is lost. It is has many stories. The night of the war when the drone of an engine faltered and ended and a man, big and strange, wearing flying goggles, came wading to shore to be caught by farmer Harold with a pitchfork, jailed in a barn and in the morning gone. And the plane gone, too.  Taken by the sand or tide perhaps, or were they both ghosts?  The last wolf in England died nearby, jumping from a cliff and the hounds. There was the night of the great storm and when it cleared there were whales, two of them, huge and dead on the sand and the sea was so far away that nobody could even see it, just smell it, salt heavy in the air. Those whales! Shiny back islands, white spotted with gulls and the village children went in groups to wonder and stare while the teacher watched and said “Not too close!”

When the tide turns, the moan of the bore siren rises and falls from Arnside over the water. The bore, where incoming tide meets out-flowing river, is a single wave floating up the estuary. From a distance it seems to move slowly but that is illusion. The bore wave is fast and, during high tides, deadly.

Now though the tide is out and this suits the children. Today they are going to fish. They will fish with their naked feet, tread the soft sand feeling for the squirm of flounders beneath their toes. They won’t fish for long – it’s too cold – and strictly speaking they should not be fishing at all. Their mother forbids floundering till summer. But perhaps by fishing they can hurry summer on its way and after they’ve done they’ll look for driftwood and whales.

As they make their way along the beach they can see the grey sheen of water channeled in the mud. Two oyster catchers scurry and duck, scurry and duck. As always there is a profound sense of loneliness; too much mud and too much sky and there is a flatness to them both. For as far as they can see there is emptiness. A great distance away they see the Arnside viaduct and the spike of a signal box but there is no train. From up close the viaduct is huge, bricked and awesome, as it rises on its shell crusted pillars above the sand but from where the children stand it might be a toy or a painting, it is so insubstantial.

The children have walked a mile and have found no flounders when they reach the bay. It is an inlet really, flanked by two spurs of land and is less than a quarter of a mile across, but to their eyes it is a bay. The solid weight of Skalton Fell throws complex shadow patterns over the sand making it appear to ripple and shift.  

They have just begun to skirt it when they hear the noise. For a moment they do not even know they hear it, and stand uncertain, dwarfs in a winter landscape. Their smiles fade and they move closer together, instinctively linking their hands. The noise continues – a soft, bitter sobbing. Though they’ve both cried before, they know they’ve never wept like this. The sound is without hope; it is loss and loneliness and terrible sorrow and it will not stop. The mud, elsewhere gently shelved and sculpted by the twice daily tide, patterned and rippled by wind, changes here. It sinks in on itself, flat as still water, smooth as glue. There are no birds, no pools or channels, no smears of drying kelp; there is only the slick, still mud and, in the centre, a small dark crumpled shape. The sobbing continues. It is strangely muffled and bleak as wind. The children stand in silence, faces pale, eyes restless and searching.

“Who is crying?” the girl asks.

“Where are they?” says her brother.

The spurs of rock hide no-one. The black thing is teased by a breeze and it flutters a little.

“What is it?”

“A scarf?”

They make guesses but it’s too far, too small for them.  They talk about walking out to it, over the mud, but their voices are thin and unsteady. The wind strengthens and becomes cold. It hurts their eyes and noses. The mud suddenly wobbles as if alive. The children turn and hurry away. They do not look back and the sounds fall away and are swallowed in the silence.

Later in the warmth of their kitchen they eat toast and tell their mother.

“There was someone crying under the mud…a woman…a child…crying and crying…”

Their mother half listens and tells them that it might be a good idea if they didn’t go back to that place. Not if it upsets them.

THE NEMESIS OF SACBAT SCOBULUM a short story by Hugh Paxton

September 18, 2011

A tale of the supernatural by Hugh Paxton in which internecine struggle tears apart a suburban coven, the  Sacbat Scobulum.

11.30 a.m.
Despite Uncle Grimble’s reputation for peculiar and unpredictable behavior, I think we were all a little taken aback when he exploded like that. Martha who was our au paire (I use the word ‘was’ advisedly because she exploded too, a little later) dropped the breakfast tray and Jemima, my sister, fainted dead away. I don’t think Gran noticed – she’s not as sharp as she used to be – but Dad was furious. He’s very strong on meals being a time for the family “to be a family” and this blatant interruption really put his back up. It wasn’t as if Uncle Grimble had done it deliberately or anything (in fact I’m fairly sure that if he’d had any say in the matter he wouldn’t have done it at all), but it’s always the principle of the thing with Dad. It can be a bit of a bore sometimes, but I think, in this case, he did have a point – Uncle Grimble had pretty much spoiled breakfast.

We’d barely finished calling the police and the industrial cleaning firm that cousin Jack works for, when Martha blew up. Shocking, very shocking, but Jemima kept her head this time and picked up a few bits that may come in useful when I take my revenge this afternoon so Martha wasn’t completely wasted. Jemima wanted to put them in a jar and show them to Miss Prongle, her Biology teacher, but I twisted her ear and she decided to give them to me instead. She’s a good sister sometimes. If there’s anything left after my work she can have it of course, but there are such things as priorities in this life. Anatomical study and Miss Prongle must take a back seat for the time being.

4:15 p.m.
It worked a treat! I knew it was Baxter from the first. Martha going off like that only confirmed my suspicions. Baxter! The little creep! Well he bit off more than could chew when he took me on. I am again using the past tense as you no doubt will have noticed. Baxter choked on a fishbone at lunch. I don’t suppose that fish was on the menu – that would be too much to hope for – but I shouldn’t think anyone will notice in all the excitement and mourning and whatnot. It hurt to do a thing like that of course, especially to a fellow Sacbat Scobulum (even a pushy one), but I’d like to stress that it was he who initiated hostilities. And I wouldn’t be the chap I am if I let him get away with blowing up Martha and Uncle Grimble like that. No doubt he wanted to be boss. The price of ambition, my dear diary.

7:10 p.m.
It would seem that I might have been a little hasty. It’s hard to believe but the evidence does seem to point in that direction. Sorry, Baxter. Still, there’s little point in crying over spilled blood, as I always say. You have gone to a better world, Baxter old chum.

How can I be so sure that Baxter is in the clear? It’s the weather. You see our house was struck by a very heavy storm at a little past six o’clock; a storm particularly noteworthy for being localized to a degree hitherto only witnessed on weak TV comedies (I’m thinking of the Munsters and such). Our neighbours, on both sides, could have indulged in a little early sunbathing had they felt so inclined. They’re all malformed so they didn’t bother, but that is by the by. The storm arrived pretty quickly – one minute all was serene, the next? Lightning was come down thicker than sharpened pennies at a Millwall West Ham ‘friendly’. Fortunately Dad had installed one of those conductors you never think you’re going to need until you do. Even so it was clear the roof wasn’t going to last indefinitely. I embarked on fairly lengthy counter-measures and finally managed to shift Thor’s wrath a little (it’s over the Henderson’s place, number 47, at the moment) but it took a lot out of me. Limp as a rag. I notice that number 47’s on fire – I bet they wish they’d invested in a conductor!

So Baxter exonerated. But wicked work still ongoing… The only other possibility is Sammy. Unless of course Baxter got his hands on Ressurectum Malodorus and has raised himself from the dead. Frankly I don’t see that option as a contender. For one thing it’s hidden in Crankley Mead P.O.Box 32 and he didn’t know the number. And even if he did, there aren’t many people who could get their tongues around all those Sumerian consonants. I can’t and I’ve had much more practice than Bone-in-the-throat Baxter. So yes, that leaves Sammy. I’ll attend to Sammy.

10:30 p.m.
Everything had been going rather well, but it now seems that I have made a second mistake. Sammy had been peeled and put away by half past eight – the police seem to think some sort of hedge trimmer was involved. I’d relaxed, taken a light supper, and was just beginning to enjoy chapter four of The Rope and Throttle by Gustav Stromm, when the next attack occurred. Directionally speaking it was well off the mark but as far as originality and effectiveness go, it had class. Worthy of myself, if you’ll pardon the lack of modesty. Gran, I’m afraid. Her throat torn out by her own false teeth. Still, she probably didn’t notice, bless her.

This latest outrage has me rather stumped. Somebody has it in for me, and equally obviously it is only a matter of time before he, or she, gets lucky. But who? Sammy and Baxter are in the clear and that only leaves Lucy, Rupert and Bob. Bob’s an outsider – he’s only been a member of Sacbat Scobulum for a fortnight and there’s no way he could have mastered the necessary incantations in that time; especially for that stunt with the dentures. By process of elimination that leaves Rupert and the lovely Lucy. But it doesn’t feel right. They both love me. I know they do because they said so at our last orgy and it is forbidden to utter untruths in the Temple. I confess it’s got me puzzled. I must put Bile to bed. And think. Think!

11:30 pm
There are three possibilities. One; Lucy and Rupert have stopped loving me and have decided to take over my Order (I’m Grandmaster Scobulum, incidentally, and have been since finding all those books at the Crankley Mead Baptist’s car boot sale last October). Two; Jemima might have been peeking. Girls are like that in my experience and my sister is no exception. Telling a girl not to read your foul necromantic tomes is tantamount to issuing an invitation. Of course I don’t leave my paraphernalia lying around – it’s all either under my bed or in the Crankley Mead PO Box – but a sister does have more opportunities to pry than most and she might have overheard my nightly recitals. I’m always careful; I always lock my door; I’m always alone, apart from Bile my familiar (I say familiar, but he isn’t really; just a pet) and I always check that everyone in the house is asleep before I start. But it is possible that Jemima’s been sneaky. And she might still be harbouring ill feelings after the spiders in the bed thing when her friends Mandy and Sandra were having a sleep over. It was just a bit of fun. I had no idea they were poisonous. I really didn’t. I didn’t think any spiders in England were poisonous and anyway how was I to know this lot had a hitched a lift in a banana box from Caracas. I just found them on a dead cat behind Tescos and the welts didn’t last for more than two weeks. OK, a bit longer and there was a bit of permanent scarring but heck, as I explained to her ‘to err is to be human’. And I said sorry. Gosh, I’m rambling. Tired I guess.

OK, I mentioned three possibilities. Here’s the third. I’ve been doing it all myself. Sub-consciously I might desire punishment or extinction. I never discount human psychology, if nothing else it’s very funny, and I suppose I could have been incanting in my sleep or going into trances and not remembering them. An odd idea, you say? And so say I. But we live in an odd world and there is the undeniable fact that every spell used so far has been one of my personal favourites and one that I have been practicing a great deal recently. The Teeth of Terror I’d button-holed for Spaccy Lamping who is my History teacher and an utter retrovirus, and the others I’d been thinking might liven up this month’s Speech Day. Coincidence? Must be. Must be.

11:59 p.m.
I guess it’s Jemima. How distressing.

The Next Day

2: 30 p.m.
She’s dead. It wasn’t at all easy. She is (was) my sister for one thing and knows (knew) all my little tricks. In deference to kinship I tried to make it as clean and painless as possible but things didn’t go so well. She dodged the falling chimney, missed the carpet of smothering (someone, probably Dad, had tacked it down since I last checked so it wouldn’t have worked anyway) and had made it as far as Lady Dent’s Finishing School for Young Ladies before things finally came together. She isn’t enrolled at Lady Dent’s but there’s a cake shop she likes nearby. I saw it all through my crystal. A helicopter crash. As luck would have it, it missed the shop but it hit the petrol station next door and the ensuing inferno did the job. Apparently there are swarms of journalists all over the place and we might make News at Ten. Maybe even CNN. Lady Dent’s was undamaged and as there’s a niece of the Queen there, everyone’s very relieved. That’ll be on the news, too, I shouldn’t wonder.

5:30 pm
We’ll definitely make News at Ten but I’m afraid that the report will be a little short of footage. And they’ll need a new anchorwoman. Either that CNN chopper was very unlucky or I may have misjudged Jem. The very same spot! The very same class of flying object! The same spell, dammit!!! Coincidences, as someone once said, are extremely coincidental. I think that may have been Uncle Grimble. I for one am not convinced that this coincidence is remotely coincidental. The rub is that, as far as I was aware, I was the only Sacbat Scobulum to have progressed far enough to affect flying objects. Wrong again it would seem! I am going to have to assume the worst and deal with the lovely Lucy, and Rupert. It’s not going to be easy as Rupert’s visiting his aunt in Loughborough and Lucy’s doing volunteer work at a summer camp for handicapped people in the Brecon Beacons. Lu’s only doing it to get her Duke of Edinburgh Award and because she enjoys making them suffer when they could be enjoying themselves. At least I know where the camp is. She sent me a postcard. Bob’s no problem, but I’ve decided to leave him for the time being. I’ve got used to having adoring followers and I’d like to come out of this fiasco with one intact. Rupert’s a hurdle. I can’t find his aunt’s address. I’ve tried. No luck. It would seem blanket effects are expedient.

11:00p.m.
Abracadabra! C’est finis! A personal best, though I say it myself! The spells were difficult. I spent hours, hours! practicing before I got the recitations right. Our powers are entirely due to recitation, incidentally. We don’t use powders or gestures or pentacles. Just the words. And the noises. It is, I suppose, an easy discipline as this sort of thing goes but even so practice is essential if you’re going to pull anything big off. Which I have just done. Twice! I blocked the keyhole with cotton wool. Silly, I know, but in light of recent circumstances I can’t be too careful. Bile was playing up – he does sometimes – and kept rattling his cage with his beak but I was too busy to bung him in the cupboard (the darkness soothes him though strangely it doesn’t send him to sleep). You know I’d much rather have a bat or a spider but Dad put his foot down so I had to make do with Bile. But I digress.

Loughborough is taken care of; an earthquake of Mexican proportions. It’s rather sad really as I notice Hammerhead were playing there and they are my favourite band. Still we must all make sacrifices in times of adversity. An avalanche in the Brecon Beacons popped Lucy’s clogs good and proper. I’m afraid that paranoia got the better of me and I had a shot at Bob. He works late at the fireworks factory in the Greenfields industrial estate but he apparently called in sick so missed the explosion. His Mum was on the phone to Dad earlier blathering away about miraculous escapes and guardian angels. Pitiful.

Oh well, it’s been a busy couple of days, and as Dad is wont to remark, a growing lad needs his rest. An early night might be just the thing. It has to be said I do regret the abrupt dissolution of Sacbat Scobulum. It was a super little coven while it lasted and I had hoped that we’d all become rich and successful and happy. Live the suburban dream. I’m still not sure who was responsible for all the spell flinging, or why for that matter, but just to be on the safe side I’ll recite the Death by Flying Knives for Bob before I turn in. Let’s see how his guardian angel copes with that little lot! It’s not that I don’t trust him but as Ho’oogah says in The Book of Rot “It is a happy man who has dead enemies and pre-emption is the better part of revenge.” Worthy of Uncle Grimble. That’s the lot dear diary. Time to say ‘goodnight Bile.’ As usual he’ll just ‘say goodnight Bile.’ Always does. Silly Bile!

Two days later:
“Police are currently investigating the brutal knife murders of Robert Mogford (15) and Anthony Hall (17), lately of Crankley Mead. Inspector Jason Dawes, in charge of the investigation, had initially hoped that the Hall boy’s pet, an African Grey Parrot, might furnish a lead in what is proving to be a most perplexing case. Sadly the parrot exhibits limited English language ability although linguistic experts from Crankley Mead School of Languages claim its repertoire of Sumerian, Latin and pre-druidic grunts are remarkable. Earthquakes and explosions continue throughout the British Isles…”
Excerpt from Crankley Mead local radio broadcast.

Tales from the Deuteronomy Club: A Hugh Paxton ghost story

September 16, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s blog was attempting to bring order to the library and unearthed a battered blue folder file, stained and cobwebbed. A happy find! Inside were hundreds of papers, some type written (badly), some hand written (rather well). There was half a play, diary accounts of long ago visits to Lake Turkana and the Bolivian Amazon, and there were short stories. All these I’d written years ago and I’d thought they were lost. Not all the documents are easy to decipher – some are water damaged or the ink has faded to a faint yellow. But most of the stuff is recoverable. It’ll take time and a magnifying glass in some cases but it’s exciting. Something like time travel. I’ll be posting bits and pieces over the coming weeks and today kick off with the first story in what I hope will eventually be published in a collection titled “Tales From The Deuteronomy Club.” I enjoyed writing it, enjoyed re-discovering it, and hope you enjoy reading it.

START:

“DON’T YOU GO DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE”

“Ghosts in my experience are generally a let down. One hears frightful tales, one is promised all manner of terrors, yet when one actually sees them they are extremely disappointing.” Pollock, true to form, was holding forth. His booming voice echoed about the smoking room driving all other attempts at conversation from the field.

It was not yet eight but the Deuteronomy Club was all but deserted. Faced with the prospect of an evening with unremitting Pollock this was perhaps not too surprising. If I’d known he was going to be there I dare say I’d have stayed away, too. As it was, I, Percy Kilmarcey and Rudward Bellingham, were trapped; our backs to the fireplace and no hope of escape. The only other fellow in the smoking room was Shaw and, as ever, he was deeply immersed in a copy of The Trout Fisher. Of no practical use to anybody is Shaw.

“A blur on a grainy photograph, a glimpse of white lace – perhaps a faint rapping – that is all one can reasonably expect…” Pollock paused and for one brief moment I think we all entertained the wild hope that he’d finished. Percy even went so far as to smile.

The reason for the pause was not however a cessation of hostilities but instead the unprecedented resurrection of Shaw, who rose like some strange apparition from his chair and sauntered over to us. He was smiling in a patronising and faintly contemptuous fashion at Pollock.

“I think you do the supernatural world an injustice,” said Shaw and it struck me suddenly that this was the first time I had ever heard the man speak. “I’ll concede that the majority of hauntings conform to your somewhat jaundiced description but there are exceptions to every general trend.”
Pollock recovered from his surprise and rose to the challenge with aplomb.

“Perhaps,” he said, favouring Shaw with a pitying look, “perhaps you could show me one?”

“I regret to say that I can’t.”

“Thought so!”

“But,” continued Shaw, “I can tell you of an incident that occurred not very many miles from this spot that illustrates my point. That is if you care to hear it?”

Stories are not particularly welcome in the Deuteronomy Club but as this one seemed likely to irritate Pollock and had the added curiosity of being told by the reticent Shaw, we enthused. Percy summoned a fresh round of drinks. Pollock made a couple of rather ungracious remarks about fishermen’s tales before subsiding into a suspicious silence, and, still smiling strangely, Shaw began.

“I am a fisherman. I fish for trout and I fish alone. I am not overly fond of company and relish the freedom that solitude and a rod afford me. The incident that I am about to relate occurred last March when I was in the West Country having decided to spend a week away from the pressures of city life. I had been following a rather sombre brook when I came upon a very curious looking dwarfish man. He was sitting by a line and staring at me in a way that I didn’t much care for. I am not inclined to speak to strangers, and there was something about this man’s countenance that did not entice – the face had altogether too much nose to it – and I was going to simply give him a nod and move on when he spoke.

“And for what do you fish, sir?”

“For trout,” I answered brusquely.

“Yer out of luck then. No trout in Cutty Dyer’s river. Cutty’s gone and et em.”

“If that is indeed the case might I perhaps enquire what it is that you are hoping to catch?”

“Bullheads,” was his response. “Cutty don’t like bullheads.”

“Then Cutty Dyer and myself are in perfect agreement. I do not care for bullheads. Now, if you’ll excuse me?”

“Where are you going?” the fellow persisted.

“If, as you say, there are no trout in this brook then I will cease looking for them and will instead make for the Water Witch.”

“Water Witch?”

“An inn marked on my map and not far from here if I’m not much mistaken. It is getting late and I am hungry. Good evening, sir.”

“You won’t find no food at the Witch. Cutty Dyer’s eaten it.”

“I find that very hard to believe.”

“Tis no less true for that,” responded the dwarf.

It had to be asked. “Who is this Cutty Dyer person?”

“The water haunt,” answered the dwarf. “You’ve probably heard the song;

Don’t you go down by the riverside,
There Cutty Dyer do abide.
Cutty Dyer ain’t no good,
Cutty Dyer drink your blood.”

I hadn’t and told him so. I also pointed out that while rural folklore undoubtedly had its merits, veracity is not normally one of them. He told me not go blaming him when Cutty Dyer drank my blood. I reassured him that I wouldn’t, and we parted.

I continued along the brook and, as dusk was yielding to night, spotted the Water Witch.

A more desolate aspect is difficult to imagine. Once a mill, it sagged over the pool as if weary of life. Moss and weeds clogged the thatch and its walls were stained and dreary. Boarded windows, a gaping hole in the roof and an unnecessarily grisly inn sign that creaked apathetically in the breeze completed the picture. If it hadn’t been for the lateness of the hour I would have turned back and made for Picking Dodham, but the thought of walking seven miles over dark and unfamiliar country did not appeal and so, with great reluctance, I found myself approaching the door. And now we come to the strange part of my tale. Who do you imagine opened the door?”

“Cutty Dyer?” suggested Pollock glancing at his watch.

“No,” said Shaw. “The dwarf! He was the landlord! And true to his word there was not a scrap of food in his larder. We sat together in the dismal mildewed snug and a dreadfully oppressive sinking of spirits came over me. The dwarf, perhaps sensing my mood, offered me a bite of his bullhead sandwich but as he had neglected to clean the fish – simply placing it in between two slices of bread – I declined to partake. That evening was long and do not think that I exaggerate when I say that I never spent a less agreeable one – not even in this club listening to Pollock. The dwarf passed the time by dropping dark hints as to the doings of Cutty Dyer and the hardships involved in running an inn haunted by a cannibal goblin.

By ten I had had more than enough of this morbid nonsense and told him in no uncertain terms that there was no such thing as Cutty Dyer.

“You’ll find out later when Cutty comes for yer,” was his dogged response. “It’ll proberly be midnight when he drinks yer blood.”

“Why,” I responded, trying a different tack “Why hasn’t he drunk your blood then? You live most convenient close to his pool.”

“Nope. Cutty Dyer don’t like dwarfs. Dwarfs and bullheads – he can’t abide em. He’ll tackle all else though.”

And so it went on. In tedious and repetitive circles. At a quarter to twelve I announced my intention of retiring to bed.

“There ain’t no beds.”

“Upstairs surely?”

“Not a one. Cutty burned them all in his horrible rage and fit of temper. Burned most of upstairs. Them rooms aren’t good for a ferret. You’ll have to spend the night here with me.”

“It’s not much of an inn really, is it?”

“Tis cheap,” said the dwarf.

I am a mild man not given to violence but I could feel the beginnings of an urge to beat this dwarf soundly. Indeed if we had conversed much longer I would have done the fellow a mischief. As it was I didn’t have the chance. At that moment a clock began to strike twelve and my host’s demeanour underwent a terrible change. With a hideous leer he rushed at me burbling and cackling…”

“You don’t mean to say that the innkeeper was this ghostly Cutty Dyer?” broke in Pollock, stifling a yawn.

“What? Oh, no. Not at all. Just a very deeply disturbed dwarf. A medical man might diagnose acute schizophrenia – one part of himself thought he was a benign, if intolerably stupid innkeeper, while the other half of his mind laboured under the singular delusion that he was Cutty Dyer, drinker of blood; frightener of children; spirit of sombre waters!”

“It’s all terribly interesting, Shaw, but so far there has been no ghost,” said Pollock.

“I’m just coming to that,” said Shaw and his negligible frame twitched with an inner and rather disconcerting excitement. “What do you think happened next?”

“I really have no idea,” drawled Pollock. “You woke up and it was all a dream?”

“He killed me with a rusty bread knife,” shouted Shaw triumphantly. “He killed me and drank my blood! Gentlemen I am a ghost! For the past nine months I have sat in this club and read my magazine and no-one has guessed the truth! I am a ghost!!”

“Which if I am not very much mistaken, supports the point I was making earlier,” said Pollock with satisfaction. “Ghosts are extremely disappointing.”

Of course Pollock is completely insufferable now. As I said before – of no practical use to anyone is Shaw.
Hugh Paxton

Wag o’ the Wa: A Short (Rather Unkind) Story of the Supernatural

March 15, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is rather wickedly happy to debut my short story involving a Northern English goblin and two vile yuppies (loosely based on two vile yuppies of my former aquaintance – every evil that befalls them in my tale would have been richly deserved, but sadly didn’t happen in real life).

Are you sitting comfortably?

Good! Now I’ll begin!

The Wag o’ the Wa.


“So that’s it,” said Ralph Boggins the estate agent. “Tour over. Any questions ?”

The young couple stared at one another for a moment barely able to contain smug, delighted, superior smiles. They’d be making an absolute killing.

15,000 pounds for all this !  Everything they’d suspected about Cumbrians was right. They were clods!  Oafs!  Sheep just made for the shearing.

“Oh,”  said Boggins, as if just remembering. “One more thing. I’d like to state categorically and for the record that there is absolutely no truth behind the rumour that the house is haunted by a Wag o’ the Wa. None at all. Anyone who might tell you that there is a Wag o’ the Wa haunting this house is speaking an untruth.”

“What’s a Wag o’ the Wa?” asked the young man, whose name was, rather unfortunately, Stephen Catfish.

“It isn’t,” said Boggins. “Not at all.”

“Come again?”

“There’s no such thing, Mr Catfish,” said Boggins.

“Caffish,” said Stephen Catfish, “It’s pronounced Caffish.”

“Shall we repair across the road to the Anglers Arms to have a look at the paperwork. That is if you like the place. You do like the place?”

“It’ll do, I suppose,” said the newly married wife archly. “But not at the price you’re asking.”

…..

“Bought the old Senty place you say?”

“That they did,” responded the barman at the Angler’s Arms, polishing a glass and scowling darkly. “Couple of young fools from London by the name of Codfish. He’s an architect, she’s some sort of artist. Though what sort is unclear. They’re moving in Monday I heard say.”

“They’ll be moving out again Tuesday,” said the man (whose name was Harry Colcutts).

“Or my name’s not Harry Colcutts.” He took a thoughtful sip at his beer.

“Aye, you’re probably right,” said the barman. “They’re Scottish apparently.”

“Scots you say? Phew!  Make that moving out Monday night. The Wag can’t abide Scots, the Wag can’t. Too cheap, the Scots. ”

……

Monday came and with it a delivery van piled with pasta making machines, dangerously fashionable tubular chairs, garishly scrawled abstracts on canvasses, books about Lenin and Mondrian, Vegetarian recipes, files,  futons and Versaci luggage.

Each item was then transported by the men from “Derek’s Discount Deliveries” to within the newly acquired house. It was a large house, too large for a couple, some might say; boasting among other features six bedrooms, two parlours, echoing kitchens with several agas and a pantry that also contained a smoking shed. The house was further distinguished by lots of corridors that twisted and dipped down curious stairwells only to rise again as if on a whim.

The size of the house swallowed the avante garde possessions of the Catfishes and they vowed that, as soon as a delivery of money that they were expecting arrived, they would purchase additional furniture to replace the rather dreary stuff that had come with the property.

By noon the men from Derek’s Discount had finished unloading and, after waiting rather ostentatiously for a tip (that was not forthcoming), had left muttering.

“What’s that?” asked the new mistress of the premises as she inspected the kitchen.

“It’s some sort of a note.”

“What does it say?”

” It says “Leave boiled beef, strong beer (one quart) and pease pudding by this fireplace and I’ll do the dusting. Trust we will be friends. The Wag.”

“What should we do?”

Her husband scrumpled up the note and tossed it contemptuously into the nearest aga.

“Forget about it,” he said. “It’s some sort of stupid joke.

…………..

Tuesday morning arrived but went largely unnoticed by the Catfishes who were huddled in exhausted slumber in one parlour on their futon. It had been a night to remember.

First had come the noises. Fluting, angry hooning noises that echoed about the chimneys and the fireplaces.

“The wind,” said the architect.

Then there were queer rustles and squeaks.

“Floor boards settling. And bats. Must get rid of the bats. They depress property prices because they’re protected species and you can’t get planning permission for alterations in case it disturbs them. Government’s into everything nowadays,” said the architect.

Irate screeching.

“Owl.”

A muffled thump then a whoosh.

“Umm…”

Sawing.

“What the ..?”

More sawing. Then screams and a tremendous crash.

The architect provided no explanation for this large and loudest commotion. In any event explanation would have been redundant. Both the Catfish were only too painfully aware that their four poster bed (which had come with the property) had just fallen through the floorboards of the bedroom and plummeted through the drawing room ceiling to land – and disintegrate – on the floor.

A floor that was completely covered in soot that had somehow exploded from the chimneys.

(The muffled thump and the whoosh).

When they finally awoke it was to eventually find another note in the kitchen.

” Learned your lesson, I trust. Boiled beef, strong beer (one quart), pease pudding and I see you’ve brought some horrid paintings. Get rid of them. My offer stands regarding the dusting. The Wag.”

………….

“Aye, its a mess all right,” said PC Horseright sucking his pencil. “Every chimney in the place exploded soot you say?  Should get them swept, sir. First rule of house ownership. See to your chimneys. Here’s the number of a reliable firm. It’s called “Stanley’s Swift Sweeps.” Not cheap but Stanley’ll get it right. ”

“And oh dear.  It does look as if someone sawed through those supporting beams. Wasn’t you sir, was it ?  I only ask seeing as you are an architect and no doubt have some funny ideas about meddling with buildings. Prince Charles has it right in my book. Leave England looking like England. Don’t mess with perfection.”

“Oh, right!” said Catfish, incensed, ” Just what I need – a lecture in building design from some hobbledyhoy with sheep muck on his boots!”

“Not on my boots, not any longer,” said Horesright stolidly. “It’s come off on your carpet. Now returning to the issue of the sawn beams. You wouldn’t be up to a little home renovation would you, sir? I couldn’t help noticing you’ve got some bats in the attic. I’ll be informing the relevant conservation authorities. Disturbing them is a criminal offence. Live and let live’s my motto, sir, and I hope it’s yours too. I’d hate to have to arrest you.”

“Arrest me? Arrest me! You bumpkin!  Look at my house!  Aren’t you going to do anything?”

“I am, sir. I am going to give you the telephone number of an industrial cleaning firm near Cannerheugh. Hippo Hoovers they’re called. Not cheap, mind, but they’ll get the job done.”

“Oh, and you might appreciate this. It’s the number of Ponce’s caterers. Not cheap, Ponce’s, but they do a grand boiled beef, beer and pease pudding.”

Catfish’s eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion.

“You know what’s going on, don’t you? You’re in on it. Tell me.”

“Well let’s just say its best to get on good terms with the Wag o’ the Wa.”

“What’s all this nonsense about Wag o’ the Was?”

But Horseright only smiled enigmatically as he put away his pencil.

“You’ll remember what I said about the bats, sir?”

…………..

Wednesday’s sun rose to a background of chill Christmas mists and the bleak call of crows as they flapped across the frozen fields.

It also rose to the sound of muted groans as Catfish’s wife mopped at her husband’s blackened eyes with a damp cloth.

Upon application of the cloth, the groans ceased, to be replaced by hoarse screaming.

What had happened was this. At 6 pm the master of the house had sat what he called his ‘partner’ down and had elaborated at length on what he believed to be a campaign of orchestrated terror. The aim of the harassment being nothing more, nor less, than extortion.

“I phoned Stanley’s Swift Sweeps and they quoted me a price of…” He could hardly bear to speak the words “…thirty two pounds! Per chimney! ”

“I phoned Hippo Hoovers and they said that it would cost..” He winced. “…11 pounds. Per room!”

“Did you phone Ponce’s caterers?”

“Of course not. What do you think I am? Stupid?”

“But the policeman said…”

“Officer Dibble? He’s an oaf. And what’s more I think he’s in this whole scam up to his helmet.”

The architect then outlined his strategy. They would retire, turning out all lights and maintaining an appearance of normality but only after he had strung up a series of cunningly placed trip wires at strategic locations.

“We’ll see who’s behind this.” Then for the first time that day he smiled.  “And we’ll sue them for every penny they have!”

The plan had gone, at first, well.

The trip wires had been laid. A camera had been prepared to record for posterity the inbred felons behind the mischief. There had then been a period of waiting as the Catfishes rode their futon in anxious anticipation, waiting for the moment.

At a little before cock crow it had come.

A voice (a voice that sounded very much like constable Horseright’s) had shouted in anguish, “The game’s up lads! They’ve cleverly laid trip wires and I’ve fallen, bashing both my eyes black!  Scarper in case they’ve thought to load a camera with film to record our evil!”

Catfish had leaped from his futon and raced for the door where a trip wire (that he had most definitely not laid) had tripped him, converted his haste into temporary flight, and then thumped him into a double doorknob feature whose presence he had entirely over-looked in his haste to acquire the property.

The bottle of mineral water that his wife had subsequently applied to his bashed black eyes proved upon closer inspection to contain particularly astringent wood louse repellent.

After the smarting had ceased (or largely ceased) both Catfishes made their way to the kitchen fire place.

There was, as they had both feared, another note.

“More tricks and games? Reap what you sow.”

The note repeated its demands for edibles and potables but made no further mention of dusting. Signed, The Wag.

………

That afternoon the bell rang and Catfish opened the door to find a horsy looking man, red faced from the cold, wearing tweeds, with a stack of books tied up in string under one arm.

The stranger doffed his cap.

“Godfroi Bardell at your service. Second hand and antiquarian books my speciality.”

“Go away,” said Catfish shortly. “I don’t want them.”

“Not a question of whether you want them. You should be asking yourself whether you need them,” said Bardell. “This one might come in very useful.”

Bardell read from the jacket cover.

“Cumbrian Folklore: Curious Tales from the North Country.” Author, the Revd Matthew Harris. Printed in 1854. Price: 49 pounds and 99 pence.”

49 pounds and 99 pence!

“Good-bye,” said Catfish slamming the door.

A business card was then pushed through the letter box.

Written on the back were the words, “In case you have a rethink.”

………..

That night was not a peaceful affair. In a state of low rage Catfish went round the house locking every window. He nailed boards over the fireplaces. He removed light bulbs from sockets. He strung more trip wires. He set up the camera on a cleverly contrived tripod attached to a string to trap the unwary. He balanced a bucket of water on the lintel of the kitchen door.

He left other buckets and open bags of flour on other doors. He did something very cunning with a dozen eggs.

He then retired to wait.

At midnight the clocks (which had come with the property) began to chime. An hour later they were still chiming. Catfish got off his futon and stamped off armed with a hammer.

His wife then heard a number of harrowing noises. The clang of a falling bucket bouncing off a hard object. A scream. Thumps as something tripped and rolled down stairs. Smashing noises. More falling objects. Another scream. More thumps. The sounds of a camera breaking. An anguished voice crying, “That cost 400 quid!” Then smashing noises. One by one the clocks fell quiet. There were more clangs as further buckets crashed home on her husband’s return journey.

When Mr Catfish eventually fought his way through to his wife he presented a less than reassuring aspect. He was limping, he was wet, he was covered in flour, his nose was painfully swollen, his eyes inflamed and red, and there were broken eggs in his hair.

He clutched the hammer in a grip of iron.

“Perhaps we should phone Ponce’s and get some pease pudding?” suggested his wife.

“Never!” he snarled.

“Maybe you should get cleaned up?”

He left the bedroom. There were more thumps and then a hoarse wailing from the direction of the nearest bathroom.

When he reappeared he looked, if anything, even worse.

“Ink,” he spluttered. “I turn on the shower and what comes out? Ink!”

“I do really think we should call Ponce’s,” said his wife.

“Never!”

He sat heavily on a chair which collapsed tipping him backwards into what turned out to be a stack of primed mouse traps..

…………

“So you will be taking the book after all Mr Catfish?”

“Caffish.”

“I’ll drop it round then. I regret to say that I only take cash. 49.99.”

Catfish ground his teeth.

“Plus VAT,” said Godfroi Bardell.

“Gnarrrargh,” said Catfish.

…………

The frontispiece of the book was adorned by a colour illustration of a sort of …troll. Small, hairy, wearing a red cap it was sitting cross-legged in a hearth with a toothy grin on its face.

It was tucking into a bowl of some unidentifiable substance and its paw was wrapped comfortably around a tankard.

The caption read, “The Wag o’ the Wa.”

Chapter three, titled “House Sprites And Their Ways”  revealed more.

“Tis quaintly believed by the more rustic and impressionable peasantry that many a homely hearth is inhabited by a curious and diminutive sprite or goblin known as the Wag o’ the Wa. The Wag is not necessarily a bane; indeed its presence can be a boon, for the Wag is an industrious creature and in return for meat and drink will perform such services as keeping the premises clean.  Woe betide the goodwife, however, who denies such sustenance to the Wag for then she must expect pranks.”

“A certain Martha Muddlehead, spinster of the Parish of Twedwell, known for her exceeding thrift and miserly habits, is said to have incurred the enmity of a Wag by skimping on her servings of pease pudding, and wretched were her subsequent sufferings.  She was sorely afflicted with noises at night and soot did pour from her chimbley stack.  Her chickens went off lay, her butter soured and after the Wag had tied her boot laces together, Muddlehead fell headlong into her cheese tub. ”

“Greater were the sufferings of Graham McDougal, a Scot of niggardly habits, renowned throughout the county for his pernicious habit of extracting loans that he had no intention of honouring. After neglecting his Wag, McDougal was plagued by gongs and bells by night, swarms of biting flies by day and furnishings which did float about in a way most astonishing to behold. On one occasion the bed upon which McDougal slept did take flight and transport the discomfited man to the midden.”

“At last driven to wildness by the constant harassments, McDougal sought wise council from a cunning man but having defaulted on the agreed fee, was hounded over the moors by pheasants that did bite most painfully at his ankles and buttocks. McDougal, it is reported, was never seen more in the neighbourhood, though I have it on the good authority of local men of honest repute that his ghost still writes begging letters to financial institutions.”

“There is but one way to appease a Wag when its Waggish temper is aroused. Those who have caused the offence must…”

“Blast!” cursed Catfish. “The next page is missing! I’ve been cheated! That wretched man’s cheated me! ”

“Darling?” said his wife, “Sorry to interrupt, but your trousers are on fire.”

………

“Ponce at your service. ‘Ow may I ‘elp?”

“Pease pudding, strong ale, one quart, boiled beef. And make it snappy.”

“D’accord,” said Ponce. “That will be fifty pounds.”

“Fifty pounds?”

“Mais oui! Plus le VAT.”

“Hrrrgh.”

………

“Rat poison. Strongest you’ve got.”

“Of course, Mr Codfish.”

“Caffish.”

“Funny. Thought you were that Codfish character who’s just moved into the old Senty place. My mistake. Codfish’s been neglecting his Wag they do say. ”

“Caffish!”

“Well, that’ll be eight pounds.”

“Nrghhh.”

………

The missing page of the Reverend’s book contained the following admonishment.

“To tamper with the Wag’s repast will yield results most dire.

For poison in the Wag’s repast inspires a Waggish ire!”

Anon

Sad then that the page was missing. And the sage advice unfollowed.

………

Article in Westmorland Herald. Dec 24. Filed by Donald Drone.

“Rowdy Architect In Cement Mixer Horror.”

Following reports from local residents, concerned by what they described as “inhuman screams” and “a hellish churning”, police discovered architect, Stephen Codfish, bound and gagged and inserted in a cement mixer.

“The machine was at full revs,” said Constable Horseright, who was first to arrive at the scene, “and had been filled with slurry.”

“I’ve seen some grisly things in my three years on the Force but nothing like this,” he added.

Codfish who is planning to sue Cumbria County Council for criminal negligence was unable to account for his presence in the cement mixer but stated that “leaving equipment of this nature around where anyone could be thrown into them out of their bedroom window by malevolent pixies was an outrage.”

Council spokesman Arthur Blathup denied any liability for the incident and said the mixer had been stolen earlier that evening from a public works project in Crosby.

Witnesses report that a hairy man of extremely short stature had been seen pushing the mixer away.

Blathup described the law suit as “frivolous” and accused Codfish of repeatedly disturbing the peace.

“Pixies my foot. This has all the hallmarks of a deranged publicity stunt,” said Blathup.

“The man’s nothing but a shameless exhibitionist,” he stressed.

Neighbours have complained of a series of commotions, disturbances and nocturnal explosions at the old Senty place since the Codfishes moved in last week.

“They’re nothing short of a public nuisance,” said one regular at the Anglers Arms. “Banging about at all hours, screaming, falling through floors and generally carrying on. It’s a disgrace.”

Codfish sustained no injuries during his five hour ordeal and was released from The Royal Penrith Infirmary early this morning.

…………

The next note found at the fire place was blunt and to the point.

“Go away,” it said. “The Wag.”

The Catfishes held out for three more days. But after the incidents with the wasps nest and the anvil, after what the pasta making machine did to Catfish’s nose, and the strange not to mention painful affair of the exploding futon, they finally followed the note’s advice.

And did.

THE END

Supernatural Short Story: Another Tale from the Deuteronomy Club

August 14, 2010

Hi chaps!

Hope all’s well. As promised, here is another story from my forthcoming book of short supernatural stories, ‘Tales from the Deuteronomy Club’.

Cheers!

Hugh

 

START:

THE SLOUGH OF MELTON FEG .

 by Hugh Paxton.

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRONICLE

 APRIL 30

  

SLOUGH DRAINAGE GOING AHEAD

BY Donald Simpson. Correspondent.

 

The slough of Melton Feg is now being drained. Heavy equipment from Dulchester and workmen on loan from local farms are making excellent progress. It is confidently predicted that within the sixmonth this desolate worthless morass will be fertile farmland . This must surely come as welcome news to local farmers, doubly welcome as the slough has in the past claimed livestock and even upon occasion people. An archaeological team from the University of Durham is working in close cooperation with the labourers . Speculation as to the nature of their work has centered around the pre-Roman monoliths that can be observed on the Southern spur of Melton Down, overlooking the slough . The team leader, Abelard Jonas, is remaining tight-lipped.  We nonetheless wish he, and his team the very best of luck .

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRONICLE

 

 

MAY 2

 

 

STRANGE DISCOVERY!

By Donald Simpson . Correspondent

 

A dramatic discovery was made yesterday by the men now draining the slough of Melton Feg . We have it on good authority that no less than thirty skeletons were uncovered – all in excellent condition due to the peat. Although we can offer no first hand reports of the discovery our source says that the skeletons were found early yesterday morning. No age has been put on the finds which are being transported to Dulchester for reburial. Work on the drainage has halted. It is to be hoped that the delay is only temporary.

 

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRONICLE

 

MAY 3

 

 

PRIEST IN SKELETON DISPUTE :

                                                                           By Donald Simpson. Correspondent.       

 

 

The dramatic discovery of thirty skeletons in the Slough of Melton Feg is causing quite a stir in Dulchester tonight . An open meeting ended in uproar as the Revd Macallum refused permission for their reburial in consecrated ground. It is not the first time that the Revd Macallum has been the center of controversy. Readers may remember the Carr Sanderson affair when the gentleman in question forcibly interrupted a Registry office marriage ceremony declaring it offensive in the eyes of God .“ The reasons for the Revd Macallum’s objection to reburial is as yet unclear. No doubt all will be explained at the open meeting tomorrow night The drainage project has been further delayed by equipment malfunction. Engineers from Dulchester are expected to conduct repairs shortly.

 

 

 

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRON I CLE.

 

 

MAY 4.

 

SKELETON DISPUTE HOTS UP !

By Donald Simpson. Correspondent.

 

 

The open meeting at Dulchester Town Hall ended in chaos last night. The Revd Macallum, supported by several vociferous members of his parish, reiterated his refusal to allow the reburial of the thirty skeletons found in the Melton Feg Slough His claim that the skeletons were “ Heathen and undeserving of a place in Paradise brought cheers and jeers from the packed floor.  The archaeological team from the University of Durham refuted the Revd’s claim calling it ( and

him ) absurd . There is absolutely no way of divining the religious inclination of these dead,” said Dr Jonas, leader of the team Dating the bones accurately at this time is impossible,” he added . Lady Babblethwaite, now in her second term as Mayor, deplored the Revd Macallum’s stance and made it very clear that she would exert herself to ensure a decent Christian burial for the skeletons . These latter are currently housed in Dulchester morgue where they are being studied by the District Pathologist, Dr Smith-Myers . Rumours that the skeletons are two headed have been condemned as irresponsible nonsense” by official sources though it does seem likely that they are deformed to some degree .

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRONICLE.

 

 

MAY 5

BISHOP INVOLVED IN SKELETON ROW !

By Donald Simpson. Correspondent.

 

 

The Revd Macallum has been summoned to Bellingham by his ecclesiastical superiors. Unconfirmed sources indicate that the still unresolved Skeleton Controversy is not welcomed by the Bishop. In a gesture of support for the Revd Macallum seven of his parishioners have occupied the Town Hall and are refusing to move. Dr Smith-Myers has revealed that, as we surmised, the skeletons are deformed but added that deformity and religious zeal are by no means mutually exclusive. There is still no evidence that the deceased were anything other than ugly Christians,” he said. His remarks have served to infuriate the supporters of Revd Macallum who have dubbed him The Imp of Satan”. Work on the Slough drainage project that precipitated the row is still held up.

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRON I CLE.

 

 

MAY 6.

 

 

SKELETON DISPUTE HOTS UP ! !

By Basil Mallard. Correspondent.

                                                                           Donald Simpson is unwell.

 

 

In the latest bizarre development in the Skeleton Squabble six followers of the Revd Macallum launched an assault on Dulchester Morgue They had placed stakes in the Melton Feg skeletons and were in the process of decapitating all remains housed within the morgue when police intervened. All six are now placed in custody and have been refused bail. Their actions seem to have been precipitated by the recent wave of unexplained deaths that has plagued the neighbourhood which they have attributed to the Melton Feg remains . The District Pathologist announced that in his considered opinion, flu is more likely the villain of the piece,” and urged the local population to remain calm. The incident at the Morgue has resulted in the postponement of Lady Babblethwaite’s funeral .

MAY 7

 

 

SKELETONS TO REST IN PEACE !

By Reginald Mallard. Correspondent

 

 

 

The direct intervention of the Bishop has finally put an end to the Skeleton Squabble . The Revd Macallum’s objections were overruled last night and the Melton Feg remains will be laid to rest this Saturday. Dr Jonas, speaking from Dulchester Hospital said that this decision is the only morally acceptable solution. I only regret that my illness is such as to prevent me attending the service”. The Revd Macallum has refused to officiate and the Revd Bodicum Grant of the Parish of Telworth will conduct the service .

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRONICLE

 

 

MAY 5.

 

 

PRIEST DESTROYS MORGUE !

By Graham Pell. Correspondent.

 

 

In scenes more reminiscent of the Middle Ages than this century the Revd Macallum led a small group of torch-wielding parishioners in an attack on the Morgue last night . In the ensuing conflagration all thirty of the Melton Feg skeletons as well as the remains of twenty three flu victims were destroyed .The new Chief Constable called the attack an “outrage” and totally condemned the perpetrators, all of whom are in custody. It is a sad day when people think that they can get away with this sort of thing !” he said . The Revd Macallum and his followers, all of whom seem to be in the grips of a singular religious mania have been placed under psychiatric observation. Speaking on their condition the District Pathologist, Dr Smith-Myers said I am not optimistic. There is no remorse there.” On a brighter note the draining of Melton Feg Slough has begun again.

FROM THE DULCHESTER CHRONICLE.

 

 

MAY 9.

 

 

 

MORE SKELETONS DISCOVERED!

By Connie Ball. Editor.

 

 

 

The draining of Melton Feg slough has again revealed a burial pit. A replacement team from Durham is rumoured to be on its way here following the discovery of a further 30 skeletons. The Bishop was unavailable for comment.

Tales from the Deuteronomy Club: An Explanation

August 3, 2010

A few days ago I posted a short story of the supernatural on Hugh Paxton’s Blog called ‘Nightfall’. One reader asked if it was mine.

It is.

For years now it has been a family tradition to write a ghost story to be read in front of the fire on Christmas Eve. I plan to publish these shortly in a collection called ‘Tales from the Deuteronomy Club’. On Kindle at first, but I’m hoping some sharp-eyed talent spotter will take the book into paper print.

I’ll post a couple more stories shortly that will hopefully whet your appetite for more but thereafter they’ll be Kindled. My brother, Charles (who has contributed some excellent stories to the Deuteronomy Project), and his wife, Kimmie, are currently working on a cover design.

They are also working on cover design for three more of my books.

1. Jimmy and the Djinn.

2. The Alchemist: Part the Second.

and 3. The Diary of Abbot Buggly.

All three books will be out and about soon. I think you’ll enjoy them.

Cheers!

Hugh 

BLOG ED NOTE: All posts, unless otherwise specified, are the work of Hugh Paxton.


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