Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Fingered

 

by Dawn Rose

Carlsberg Extra 

He stares at the ring.

It sparkles and taunts him, this last piece of who he was once.

Before.

He wiggles his finger. He knows how much he could use the money. It’s not enough. Not by far. All the same… His dilemma is whether he can bring himself to part with the one, the only thing, that has more than material value to him. Without it, he would be setting himself completely adrift, with no anchor, paddle or sail to guide him.

Yet it is the only thing he possesses which can buy him time.

To get clean.

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before,’ says The Voice.

‘What?’ he says indignantly. ‘You’ve heard what before?’

The Broker rolls his eyes and makes no answer. He looks at The Man muttering away to God knows who or what and wonders whether anything he has said has sunk in.

Probably not.

Wasted breath.

He is not inclined to repeat himself. He’d like to get his hands on that stone, but the bloody drunken fool is dithering. However, he knows it won’t be long before The Man will have no choice. If not today, soon. All The Broker really wants at the moment, is that The Man get his stinking hulk out of his shop so he can shut up for half an hour for a fag.

The Man is staring up at him, expectantly.

The Broker, staring back without expression, challenges, not too nicely with ‘What?’

The Man hesitates, seems to start to speak, then falters to look down again down at the ring.

His father’s ring.

He twirls it round, feeling the thickness of the band, round and round, the diamond glinting as it arcs. He half eases it over his knuckle, reckoning on the money The Broker has offered, and what he could do with it. In reality it is far less than the ring’s real worth and wouldn’t stretch to covering the immediate problem of rent arrears, but it would go some way to getting The Landlord off his back, and the threat of living on the street again in this festive-season weather.

The Voice reminds him how many Carlsberg Extra or plastic bottles of Vodka the money would buy. The Man’s gut contracts with the need for a quick fix. With supreme effort, the feeling of disgust with himself wins and he shoves the ring back onto his finger, making sure he keeps the setting towards his palm. Keeping it safe. His mind made up.

‘You’ll see. I’ll prove it,’ he mutters as he starts to leave. He heaves at the heavy door with its many locks, and half way through, he turns back and defiantly repeats the promise, ‘I’ll prove it.’

Stumbling slightly, and fumbling in his pocket for his gloves, he doesn’t see the gleam of ice on the lip of the step and twists badly. His left hand scrabbles for some purchase. He manages to catch the jamb as his feet slip and slide and he feels the ring catch on the metal lip at exactly the same time as a cold blast of wind slams the door shut. He lands hard on his arse on the sharp edge of concrete and feels nothing for a split second.

But he hears the scream.

He finds himself confused by the meeting of two points of pain. His backside is throbbing but it’s nothing compared to the hand he’s hugging instinctively to himself. Half lying on the frozen ground, he struggles to sit up. Without thinking he pushes his whole body weight through his knuckles. The pain is blinding. Immediately he buckles backwards as he lifts his left hand clear, feeling relief from the bitter cold of the winter air as it wafts across the startling red rawness. Bright red drops splodge and stain the snow. His cuff is sticky and wet.

He is aware of The Broker rushing in slow motion from behind his counter. The reinforced glass of the door makes him appear distorted. Then two and two add up. Another wave of pain crashes into The Man’s reality and bursts out of him in a spume of clear liquid vomit. The fumes of his beer breakfast are unmistakable and momentarily satisfying. He barely notices the taste of bile.

The Voice is laughing his worst rasping little laugh.

The Man squirms to escape the pool of steaming regurgitation.

The Broker is ashen. He looks back and forth, first at the crumpled Man on the pavement, then at the thing on the ground. He is at the moment of indecision when all possible actions become apparent but where to start?

Should he pick up the finger?

Should he pick up the drunk?

Should he call an ambulance?

He chooses to cover the digit with his dirty hanky, probably because weirdly it is pointing directly up at him. Grasping the crinkled, stiffened grey linen at its centre between his thumb and forefinger, he makes a tent which he drops over the offending object. As does, he sees the glint of gold and diamond a little off to its right, furthest away from The Man. He checks The Man isn’t watching and pockets the ring. Then he goes in to call for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, The Man shuffles himself to slump against the wall, looking, but trying no to, at his bloody stump. His body convulses and The Voice says, ’You need a drink.’ Before he realises what he is doing, he is reaching into his inside pocket with his damaged hand. The fabric of his coarse coat rubs against the raw cut.

‘You bastard,’ he cries out to The Voice, and he hugs his poor hand close again.

The Broker hears and bristles, indignant, and yells through the glass ‘You’re the stupid bastard Mate.’ Yet, as soon as he’s said it he feels ashamed. He needs a fag and lights up. All The Man sees is The Broker’s mouth moving, then the flare of a match. He understands the malice in the expression, but he doesn’t hear the words through the roaring in his head. It drowns him and as he drifts under its weight, he thinks he hears a siren singing ‘The Ring, The Ring, The Ring’, over and over and over.

The Broker watches the screaming ambulance skid to a halt. Two men emerge in their green overalls. They lean over the huddled reeking trench coat, look at each other, raise their eyebrows and turn up their noses. Both pull vivid blue, thin, disposable gloves from their pockets before they touch the grubby creature.

‘Alright chum, let’s have a look see.’

The Paramedic crouches and gently eases the damaged hand from the safety of a sweaty armpit and sucks in his cheeks. First in response to the stench of everything dirty a human body can smell of, and second because he knows this must hurt The Man, and not just a little.

‘Ouch, you didn’t do this by halves then,’ he says. ‘I hope you are right handed’.

The Man’s eyes roll upward. He feels sick, and swallows hard. One Paramedic notices and moves to the side, but his colleague is concentrating on the damaged limb and is splattered by a second wave of beery broth.

Both uniforms swear.

The Man feels his body shudder and the pain in his left arm gets worse and worse, crushing him, forcing him into the hard of the concrete paving. He hears a feeble little voice, his voice, plead with the Paramedic to not press on him so tightly, but he takes no notice. Instead, the man in green is yelling something, something so far away, and hitting him, hard, thumping him hard, again and again and again.

 

The Man feels his body lighten as he is pulled up by his good hand. A pleasant coolness is spreading through his broken hand, and sends little shivers of cold up his arm. He allows himself to be carried, sack-like, with the hurt hand dangling freely. He can’t summon enough energy to open his eyes, but he senses the one carrying him can be trusted and he gives himself over to his care. He is laid down gently and then The Voice, very close to the Man’s ear says, ‘How are you feeling?’ The Man isn’t sure. He can’t quite remember where he is or how long he’s been here. It’s a hot sunny day. That he is sure of as he feels the sweat running down his sides, making his shirt stick all over, and his old suit trousers uncomfortable around his crotch. He can’t seem to sit upright so he can’t reach down to scratch the sweaty itch. Worn out with trying, he gives in to simply savour the pleasant sensation of the sun on his eyelids, and the rosy colour he can see behind them. He can’t fathom why he is wearing his winter coat on such a lovely day, which gradually makes him far too hot and releases the familiar scent harboured in the filthy fabric. He wants to take off his coat. His feet are hot too and he wants to unlace his shoes. For what seems like forever, he struggles to do anything at all until finally he manages to open his gluey eyes. He becomes aware of his ever present companion hovering just out of reach and out of focus before he hears It say, ‘Come on old chum, let’s give you a hand.’ The Voice titters at its own joke. The Man feels light-headed and struggles to recall anything at all thinking only that this is one hell of a bender. Just then a robin appears on his nose. It asks him if his hand is feeling better. The Man thinks, ‘My hand? Ah yes, my hand.’ He holds it in front of his face and sees a claw made of a thumb and three tightly clenched fingers. There’s a strange sensation where another finger should be but where instead there is a bloodied little stump. Something else is missing too but he can’t quite grasp what. The stump is the brightest of red and dried to a scab. It reminds him of a miniature ice cream cone. The robin hops onto the stump and pecks at it. Flakes of dried blood float on the air before finding their way to the robin’s breast, inflaming its colour. The Man cries out, and shakes off the redbreast, crying out again with the sudden sharp pain. The robin cocks it head as only a robin can, then hops back to continue its task. The Voice flickers back into The Man’s awareness and he imagines he can see it confined within a doorway and he thinks, ‘Ah, yes, the door.’ The fleeting memory makes The Man feel calmer. He allows the robin to do its business and little by little the blood is chipped away. He blinks and the bird is nowhere to be seen, but the stump is clean and where there had been a raw wound, is now healed skin. The Man thinks that somehow this is strange, somehow wrong, but doesn’t quite know why and sucks at it, half expecting a fountain of blood. Nothing happens. He gnaws at it with his teeth. It remains intact. His action makes his tummy rumble and he feels a pang of hunger. He reaches for the bottle in his inside pocket. ‘It’s gone. We have none of that here,’ says The Voice. Befuddled, The Man accepts this statement. He feels the coolness of The Voice’s breath on his cheek as it recites over and over and over, ‘It’s gone, It’s gone, It’s gone’. The words weigh heavily on The Man. The Voice is bearing down on him, robbing him of breath and his chest contracts with alarming force. The Voice seems to be sitting on him and forcing him down with all its weight until The Man’s lungs are empty.

 

Beep

Beep

Beep

Beep

Beep

‘Hello. So you’re back. How are you feeling Mr Armstrong?’

It had been a long time since he’s been addressed so politely. He forces his eyelids open and squints into the glare of a dim overhead light. He finds his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, peels it off, and swallows dryness a couple of times before he manages to croak, ‘I need a drink.’

The effort and the movement hurt his chest, and he feels each breath painfully.

‘Oh, I think the time might have come that you gave up that nonsense,’ the Nurse says, and continues kindly but firmly, ‘If you’d had your wits about you, this might not have happened.’

He focuses and sees the sticky tape criss-crossing his chest, the crisp white of the sheet and the bandage making a stump of his left arm.

He holds up his arm and examines his tightly bandaged hand, reaches it further toward The Nurse and catches her eye, an unspoken question posed by his frowning eyebrows.

‘It’s healing nicely and you won’t really miss it after a while. It won’t ever be quite the same will it? No, I meant the coronary.’ She pauses, ‘You haven’t been looking after yourself have you? You’ve been here on critical for a week now. Heart attack.’

It takes a while for him to realise what she is telling him. Then the beeping, and the wires and the tubes make sense. A week. He is desperately thirsty, and he realises it is only thirst, not a hunger.

‘Water,’ he says.

She helps him to take a few sips from a straw and as he sucks weakly, she assures him that before he knows it he’ll forget he ever had it.

He wonders if she means his ring. 

About the author

Dawn Rose has written many short pieces, scripts and two novels, probably categorised as literary fiction; contributed to two published compendia, one each prose and poetry; collaborated and developed scripts with published writers; devised many solo pieces of performance art; life skills in professional and voluntary sectors. 

END

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Dear Diary

 

by Dawn DeBraal

 lemonade

I love Tommy Brown. There, I wrote it down. Black and white, it stares back at me from the pages of my diary; I feel vulnerable. My first instinct is to scribble it out, but my diary had no scratches in it, and I would never forget what it was that I had scratched out.

I close the book locking it with the little silver key I wear on a chain around my neck for safekeeping, mostly from my younger brother Barry so that he won't read it.

My secret is safe as I slide the book between the mattress and the box spring of my bed. Perfectly secure.

I was faithful to my diary, committing to it, long before the age of the computer. Each year I would get a new one from my parents in a different color. I loved journaling, especially liked going through the old entries.

I'd forgotten that. I'd smile or cry after rereading those pages. It served to create a lasting memory in my mind, good or bad.

Barry was three years younger than me. A total pest. He got me into trouble every chance he could. Mom always said, "You are the older one. You know better."

Barry would stand behind Mom, making faces. It was all I could do not to jump on him. He knew how to push my buttons.

If I wanted something, Barry wanted it more. We fought over food in the refrigerator, what television channel to watch, keeping out of my room. The worst fight we ever had lasted years when Barry bought a diary at the Five and Dime. I never knew that all those diary keys were the same. One day I came home to find my life sitting on my bed in my room.

Exposed.

Naked.

Visible for all to see. I reached for my necklace. The key was securely on the chain. How had this happened? The page was opened to "I love Tommy Brown." I shrank back from the bed in absolute horror. There was only one person who would do such a thing.

My brother, Barry.

I raged into his room across the hall, screaming like a banshee. Barry stood there laughing at me. It was the ultimate betrayal, and he didn't take it seriously.

I ran across the room, pushing him over. His head hit the footboard of the bed, splitting wide open. He had to have five stitches, and as usual, it was my fault.

"Come on, Melody, how long are you going to be mad?"

I sneered at my little brother. I hadn't talked to him in a week. I changed the hiding place where I kept my diary. I did not write in it so much anymore. By the time I went down into the basement and rummaged around for a box that held my book, I didn't feel much like writing. He had no idea how exposed he made me feel.

"Come on, Melody, how long are you going to be mad at me." He said it every day, which furthered my resolve to not talk to him for another day.

 Tommy Brown approached me at school and told me Barry said that I loved him. Was it true?

Barry was dead to me now. I hated him. Weeks turned into months, and then years. I didn't even invite him to my wedding. (It wasn't to Tommy Brown.)

Every time I saw my brother, all I could think of was how ugly he was inside.

When I got the call, I was shocked. I'd just seen my mother yesterday. We had a nice lunch and laughed about things. Dad wanted Barry and me to help with funeral arrangements.

I showed up at the funeral home. Barry, as usual, was late. We picked out the casket, the songs. I said I would go through her clothes to select the outfit she'd wear.

I stood in front of the closet, smelling her cologne, touching all of the outfits she used to wear. I chose the dress I knew she loved. It was powder blue to match her eyes. Only I would know that. No one else.

I sat on my parent's bed crying as I lay out the dress. Barry walked in. Our eyes met; I hadn't changed my mind.

"Melody, how long will you be mad at me? Cripes, I was a kid." Barry threw up his arms in frustration. I said nothing. "Powder Blue, a nice choice; it matches her eyes," Barry said in a whisper.

I forgave my brother right then and there, grieving that in my stubbornness, I had denied my Mother family meals together, important holiday rituals. I went to my brother with tears of shame. He did not turn me away.

"I'm sorry," I blubbered.

"Me too," he responded—all those wasted years.

At my mother's funeral service, Barry and I sat next to one another. Barry reached his hand over, and I held onto it, grateful for his silent strength.

In a few years, we would lose our father but would still reach out to one another.

 

About the author

Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband, Red, two rescue dogs, and a stray cat. She has published over 400 stories, poems, and drabbles in several online magazines and anthologies. 

Monday, 2 August 2021

Driving in Old Age

 by Judith Skilleter

a shot of Ramazotti Amaro

I have decided that the biggest drawback with driving cars is that you cannot read at the same time. Not that I have tried it mind you. But during all those long hours behind the wheel wouldn’t you rather be curled up in the passenger seat with a new novel – or puzzles if your most recent read has been left on the stairs in the rush to get out.

As I get older I am reading more and driving less and this feels OK. When I was working I had to drive.  It was nothing to me driving 200 or 300 miles a day. I didn’t particularly enjoy driving but neither did I not enjoy it. It was just something that I had to do so I did it. But since retirement I am needing to drive less.  I still have a car but every so often I take it round the block to see if things are still working and I never go more than say twenty miles in it, and these are very local and familiar miles.

For longer journeys and especially motorways I rely on the husband who loves driving and is a hopeless passenger.  He cannot just sit and read – yes, I know that is unbelievable – but has to fiddle all the time with the knobs and buttons and the radio and the CD player and the heater and everything. He is a nuisance as a passenger. So he is very happy to take on full responsibility for driving us in his car. Unfortunately, when we are in my car he has to be a reluctant passenger as he cannot get insurance to drive any car but his own – too many speeding points (chuckle chuckle).

So why am I so averse to driving apart from the fact that I cannot read whilst in the driving seat?

I reckon it is a growing lack of confidence.  The less I drive the less I have confidence in my driving. As I get older my reactions are slower, the less I notice outside the vehicle and is it me or are other drivers going too quickly these days? Are they all speeders? Negotiating right turns is a nightmare and when I hear a beep from another car I automatically assume it is me that has done something wrong and is putting other lives at risk. My spatial awareness is not as good as it was and recently fixed scrapes down the sides of my very small car are testament to that. Going in reverse is and always has been a concern and that is avoided unless absolutely necessary.

And then there is reluctance to drive on unfamiliar roads. Where has that come from for goodness sake? It is as if I no longer feel able to judge what is happening around me outside the car, especially on new roads, and anticipate and negotiate accordingly.

Also cars are becoming more and more complicated? These days they come with huge doorstop handbooks explaining everything that you neither want nor need in language you cannot understand.  And lights on dashboards these days are more like Blackpool Illuminations. Oh for the days of wind down windows and sticking out a hand to tell other drivers which way you intend to go.

 It might be genetic. My older brother dislikes driving more than I do and he moved house, a 200 mile move, to avoid the long trips to see his daughters. I have to say that these long trips involved a refreshment break at every service station to recharge his batteries for the next bit of the journey. And when I go to see the older brother do I drive?  No I don’t. I take three trains even though a whizz (although I never whizz) down the M1 would get me there in half the time. Why on earth would I sacrifice three or more hours of reading time to get there more quickly - and stressed. (And don’t forget the coffee and cake at every change – perfect.)

Top Gear on the telly doesn’t help. Do all motorists want cars that are hugely expensive and go at speeds that normal roads would never allow? It would be great if those three amusing presenters did a programme on small cars, with boots big enough for a medium sized dog, with enough buttons and knobs to get the car from A to B and, if necessary, back again, always assuming that B is never very far away and reaching 50 mph maximum. That is the perfect car I would say.

This is all nonsense.  Take some lessons I hear you say. I am sure that you cannot be so bad as you are aware of all your failings, I hear you also say.  There are enough goons out there on the road who do not realise how unsafe they are once behind the wheel so you should be OK is also something I can hear. But the point is I do not want to improve my driving. I enjoy not driving. I enjoy being the reading passenger and while the husband is more than happy being the alert driver I would like this to continue. And if driving a lot less is a feature of my old age then that is OK. I am happy, the world is safe from any errors I might make and reading while on the move continues. Excellent.

About the author

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching and her first children's novel, The April Rebellion, is out now under her maiden name, Judith Humphries. 

Sunday, 1 August 2021

The Crispin Chronicles 12 A Genie out of the Bottle

 

by Dawn Knox

mulled wine

Previously: Bartrum, the Head Gnome, knows he can rely on Crispin to arrange the Christmas entertainment, but Trilby, the cat, isn’t helping… And neither is Sylvester.

 

 Crispin and Sylvester hurried through the grey, dawn light to the Gazebo. Frost glittered like rhinestones in the grass and they shivered, despite their woolly hats, scarves and mittens.

“It could be worse,” said Crispin trying to cheer up the grumpy Sylvester, “Bartrum could have called the meeting in the Sunken Garden and then we’d all have frozen to death.”

Sylvester muttered something under his breath—and under the circumstances, Crispin didn’t challenge him.

By the time they arrived, Garden Ornaments had already started to assemble and were huddling together for warmth. Bartrum stood at the front, gavel in hand, waiting to begin.

“As it’s rather chilly this morning, I’ll keep it brief. We need to discuss the arrangements for Christmas. There are decorations and lights to be hung and a pantomime to be organised, followed by a party. Lord and Lady Arscott will be spending Christmas with Mrs Bartrum and myself and I can’t impress upon you enough the importance of making sure they have an enjoyable time.”

Crispin bent his knees slightly so he was completely hidden behind the rather stout Gnome in front. Surely Bartrum wouldn’t choose him for any of the tasks. He didn’t mind helping to hang the decorations but he didn’t want to be in charge of anything. Especially not the pantomime…

“So, I’ve decided Crispin—where are you, Crispin? Show yourself, please. Ah! There you are,” he said as the stout Gnome in front of Crispin bent over to tie up his bootlace, “you’re in charge of the pantomime. I expect everyone to pitch in and help. Is that clear?” Heads nodded and faces reflected a mixture of sympathy for Crispin and relief at not being chosen themselves.

“Jubbly, you’re in charge of the party and Klaus, you’re in charge of lights and decorations. Any questions? No? Good. Time for a nice, hot cuppa,” he said and banged his gavel, dislodging a tiny icicle from the bottom of the rock which hit the ground with a tinkle. The meeting was closed.

“It could be worse,” said Sylvester mimicking Crispin, “We could have had the meeting in the Sunken Garden and then we’d have frozen to death …”

Crispin muttered something under his breath and stomped home.

 

For several weeks, Trilby had been looking for an opportunity to strike back at the Elves. He was convinced they’d deliberately poisoned him. When Crispin had insisted Sylvester help with the chores, he hadn’t realised the younger Elf had no idea about food hygiene. It had all worked out well for Sylvester, whose stomach had been able to cope with ‘past-its-best’ bacon and who’d subsequently been banned from cooking duties for the rest of his life. It hadn’t worked out well for Crispin whose stomach had objected to the bacteria that had been incubating in the meat, nor for Trilby who’d come across the bacon in the bin and had also been violently ill.

And now Trilby wanted revenge.

He’d observed Crispin with a mop and bucket, washing the doorstep.

“Sylvester!” Crispin shouted, “You need to hurry up or we’ll be late.”

There was no reply and Crispin jumped over the wet step and shouted again from inside the Toadstool.

Trilby took his chance. He ran straight into the bucket, spilling sudsy water all over the hall. He wasn’t fast enough to avoid drenching himself and as he fled—dripping wet—through the freezing Garden, dark thoughts about the horrible Elves filled his mind.

Revenge had not been sweet. It had merely been soapy, cold and wet.

How did other people settle scores? He would do some research.

 

“Oh no!” wailed Crispin as he surveyed the flood in the hall, “And it would have to happen now! I’ve got auditions in fifteen minutes but I need to clear up this mess! Sylvester!” he yelled.

“What? What? Oh! Why did you do that?”

“I didn’t!” snapped Crispin, “This is going to take ages to clear up. You don’t think you could delay the auditions for a while, do you?”

“I could start them for you if you like,” said Sylvester.

“Oh, that would be wonderful. You’d do that for me?”

“Of course,” said Sylvester, tiptoeing through the flood, “I’ll see you in the Gazebo when you’ve finished. Don’t rush,” he added as he made his way down the path, whistling tunelessly.

Ah, bless him, he must finally be growing up, Crispin thought fondly.

It probably made sense for Sylvester to start the auditions, anyway. He’d volunteered to get a suitable script but whenever Crispin had asked to look at it, Sylvester had claimed he was still reading it.

He must know it inside out, thought Crispin, who still hadn’t set eyes on it. Well, never mind. Everyone knows the story of Aladdin. Hopefully, the panto will direct itself.

 

Crispin arrived at the Gazebo just as the auditions were finishing.

“Great script!” called Doggett, “and great casting.”

“Have you got a part?” Crispin asked.

“Oh yes, I’m SuperTingle. And I get to fly. Well, suspended on a wire, of course.”

“Fly?” asked Crispin weakly. Well, he’d soon remove that bit from the script—he didn’t want the responsibility of people dangling from wires. He’d told Sylvester to find a script for the simplest Aladdin production he could. Who was ‘SuperTingle’ anyway?

“Where’s Sylvester?” he asked.

“Oh, you mean Harry Hunter!” said Nina, “he’s just talking Wendy through her part.”

“Please tell me she’s not going to fly!” said Crispin, “She’ll bring the Gazebo roof down.”

“Oh no, although she might have a few stunts…”

Alarm bells started to ring in Crispin’s head.

 

“But everyone loves the script!” said Sylvester crossly “And you did say I could do the auditions.”

“Yes, but for Aladdin, not Harry and the Zombies.”

Harry Hunter and the Apocalypse,” corrected Sylvester.

“Whatever!” said Crispin crossly, “It’s not a pantomime! Bartrum will be livid.”

“He’ll love it,” said Sylvester with the confidence of youth.

“But I wanted a script for Aladdin. Where did you get this?” he waved Sylvester’s script.

“I wrote it myself,” he said proudly, “Don’t you think Harry Hunter is a cool name?”

Crispin shook his head in disbelief.

 

Like a pantomime genie, once Harry Hunter and the Apocalypse had materialised in front of the Garden Ornaments, there was no stuffing it back in the bottle. Crispin had begged everyone to change the production to Aladdin but no one wanted to give up their part and anyway, the tickets had already sold out. As yet, Bartrum had no idea he wasn’t going to show Lord and Lady Arscott a No-it-isn’t-yes-it-is sort of pantomime. Crispin’s insistence there was no ‘flying’ on wires, no climbing and definitely, no stunts was not looked on favourably by Sylvester and the cast. In the end, rather than distress Crispin further, Sylvester held secret rehearsals. After all, Crispin would thank everyone when Bartrum and his guests pronounced Harry Hunter and the Apocalypse a success.

Crispin, meanwhile, had other problems on his mind. The Toadstool had become jinxed. It had started with the flood in the hall and now, the whole place smelled of rotting food. Crispin couldn’t understand how decaying cabbage leaves and tomatoes kept appearing in the strangest of places—Sylvester’s pants’ drawer, the airing cupboard, on top of the wardrobe, up the chimney, in the umbrella stand—it was all very odd. Even Sylvester had complained about the stench. The only clue had been tiny muddy, paw prints on the white, table cloth.

But the Elves didn’t have a pet.

“Mice?” suggested Sylvester.

It was a mystery.

 

The day of the pantomime arrived and it was now too late for Crispin to do anything about Harry Hunter and the Apocalypse. Klaus had done a wonderful job with the Christmas tree and decorations in the Gazebo and Bartrum had congratulated him on his efforts. Crispin knew he would just have to suffer whatever retribution Bartrum deemed necessary, in order to pay for his failure. Jubbly had assured everyone the post-pantomime celebrations would be the event of the year, so perhaps Lord and Lady Arscott would forget the pantomime once the party started.

Crispin was just one Elf and after all the misfortunes that had dogged him recently, he couldn’t be expected to singlehandedly produce a pantomime and deodorise his Toadstool and the surrounding area. He’d done his best to find and remove the decomposing vegetables that had been appearing daily, but they’d been overwhelming—both in number and smell.

Well, thought Crispin, this is it.

Somewhere in the begonias, Gusty Bob began to tune-up. Crispin had tugged on the long piece of string which was tied to his leg—the signal that he should begin to play. It was a very, very long piece of string so the Toad was well out of sniffing range.

Just as well, thought Crispin, what with the lingering, rancid stink that was following him around and Gusty Bob’s signature pong, Lord and Lady Arscott were in danger of serious olfactory overload. From his position in the wings, Crispin took the whole scene in. The curtains parted, Gusty Bob was putting heart, soul and plenty of oomph into his melody, Sylvester was poised to leap onto the stage from the other wing, while Bartrum and guests were sitting at the front of a large, spellbound audience.

Crispin was so nervous, his knees gave way.

By the end of the first act, Crispin’s knees had regained some strength. Against all odds, Harry Hunter and the Apocalypse seemed to be quite popular. The audience stamped and cheered when Sylvester, as Harry Hunter, managed to outwit the wicked step-uncle, who had stolen the Kraptonite needed to give SuperTingle back his superpowers. McTavish, the Marble Cherub, with his notorious scowl, was the wicked step-uncle. It had been perfect casting, Crispin thought.

“Oh, no it isn’t!” shouted Jubbly, as Widow Twerky.

“Oh, yes, it is!” replied the audience to the parody of a woman who teetered up and down the stage on stiletto heels, batting his enormous, false eyelashes and winking outrageously.

The only time Bartrum hid his eyes was during the battle, but as his son, Wilmslow, was chief of the zombies, he managed to overcome his dislike of all things to do with horror, long enough to peep through his fingers.

Harry Hunter seized the Kraptonite from McTavish, the wicked step-uncle, and with his Fairy Godmother, played by the Wooden Robin, and Fairy Goddaughter, played by Wendy, he defeated the zombies in a climactic finish to the first half. Crispin tugged twice on Gusty Bob’s string, to tell him to stop playing and the curtains closed to wild applause.

Scenery and costumes were changed and actors rushed to their places, ready for the second act which was announced by music from the begonias and the raising of the curtains.

“Here he is! Here’s SuperTingle!” cried Harry Hunter to the Fairy Godmother and Goddaughter, pointing upwards.

The audience gasped as Doggett, in tights, vest and cloak, with sparks crackling from his body, swung onto the stage suspended on a wire.

Doggett did indeed look as though he was flying. Crispin was so engrossed, he didn’t notice Trilby sneak up behind him with a mouldy Brussels Sprout held delicately in his mouth, intending to deposit it in Crispin’s pocket—that is, until one of the scenery hands rushed past, treading on the cat’s tail. Trilby screeched in pain and spat out the furry vegetable.

Crispin ducked to avoid it and fell over backwards, tugging with such force on Gusty Bob’s string that he dragged him out of the begonias towards the Gazebo. Trilby, realising he’d been caught in the act, shot up the Christmas tree, rattling baubles and dislodging tinsel.

And that might have been the extent of the trouble if Wendy hadn’t spotted Trilby peering out of the branches at the top of the tree.

“Twilby! Come down!” she squealed.

Harry Hunter, who’d had his back to the tree and was unaware of what had happened, was wondering why the music had suddenly grown louder but he carried on regardless.

“I’m coming Twilby!” screamed Wendy starting to climb the tree.

The Wooden Robin hopped from foot to foot, pulling up his woollen socks, unsure what to do.

“Help!” screamed Wendy, whose dress had snagged on a branch.

The Gnome operating the wire dashed forward to see what was happening and as he let go, SuperTingle plummeted to the stage, amidst screams from the audience. Luckily, Doggett landed on his feet and he darted towards the tree to the cheers of the audience. He wasn’t playing the part of SuperTingle, in his mind, he was SuperTingle—he was a real superhero—and somehow, his sparks seemed to flare more intensely than usual, crackling like tiny lightning bolts all around him.

“Nooo!” screamed Crispin, who was the only person to have correctly worked out what would be the result of Doggett coming into contact with the tree.

SuperTingle leapt into the branches, sparks crackling from his body, and it wasn’t long before the decorations and pine needles were burning fiercely. He raced to the top, centimetres ahead of the blaze, freed Wendy, tucked her under one arm and scooped up Trilby. Harry Hunter grabbed the dangling wire and hurled it at Doggett, who caught it and leapt from the flames, which were now licking at his heels. In a graceful arc, he swung across the stage and landed next to the Wooden Robin, who was completely overcome and fell into the audience.

And that might have been the end of the disaster except that the wind had changed direction and with Gusty Bob so close to the Gazebo, a cloud of green, noxious, inflammable gas drifted gently towards the inferno.

The explosion blew Crispin backwards, temporarily deafening him, so he didn’t hear the roar from the audience, the cheers, the whistling and the stamping of feet.

 

The fire had been so intense, it had consumed everything flammable and rapidly burnt itself out.

“This way to the party,” Widow Twerky yelled, “follow me!” and putting up his lacy parasol, he twerked towards the party area, in his high heels.

“Hooray!” cheered the audience.

To Crispin, whose senses had been battered by the blast, it seemed as if everything was happening in slow motion. Through bleary eyes, he saw Lady Arscott approaching like an enraged bear; her arms outstretched. She was shouting, but Crispin’s eardrums had been stretched to their limits and now, whatever the pitch, sounds were being transmitted to his brain as a low growl. Before the great, rumbling, bear-like figure of Lady Arscott reached him, Crispin fainted.

 

His hearing didn’t return until the following day but Sylvester was eager to fill him in on what had happened.

“And if you hadn’t fainted like a wimp…” Sylvester said.

“For your information, I passed out with the pain…”

“Whatever. Well, if you hadn’t fainted like a wimp, you’d have heard how much Lady Arscott loved the panto…”

“Really?”

“Yeah, she said it was inspired.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, and Lord Arscott said it was a triumph.”

“Really?”

“Oh, and one other thing…”

“Bartrum?” asked Crispin weakly, fearing the worst.

“Oh no. He thought it was good too. No, what I was going to say was that Wendy said we could borrow her cat until you’re well. She thought he’d cheer you up.”

Sylvester left the room and returned a few seconds later carrying a pink cushion on which sat Trilby, wearing a pink ribbon around his neck.

“Oh look,” said Sylvester tickling him under the chin, “I think he likes me. He’s smiling.”

 

Stupid Elves, thought Trilby, fighting back the urge to bite Sylvester’s finger. But I will be avenged tonight when you both go to bed. He’d carried out some research and found an interesting idea in a film and he was going to recreate a rather scary scene. True, he didn’t have access to any horses’ heads but he did have two particularly mature fish heads and they would do nicely.

 

 

About the author

Dawn’s two previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’ and ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ both published by Chapeltown Publishing.

You can follow her here on https://dawnknox.com
on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls
Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox

 

The Crispin Chronicles

Links to the previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – Her Ladyship’s Garden - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/04/the-crispin-chronicles-1-her-ladyships.html

Chapter 2 – The Letter from OFSGAR - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/search/label/The%20Crispin%20Chronicles%20-%20The%20Letter%20from%20OFSGAR

Chapter 3 -The Sweet Smell of Success - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-3-sweet-smell-of.html

Chapter 4 – A Visit from Peggy the Pram - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-4-visit-from.html

 

Chapter 5 – Nightly Disturbances - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-5-nightly.html

 

Chapter 6 – Just Desserts - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-6-just-desserts.html

 

Chapter 7 – A Little Girl at Large - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-7-little-girl-at.html

 

Chapter 8 – The Halloween Party - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-8-halloween-party.html

 

Chapter 9 – A Glimmer of an Idea - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-9-glimmer-of-idea.html

 

Chapter 10 – Doggett Sees the Light - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-10-doggett-sees.html

 

Chapter 11 – Doggett’s Blues – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-11-doggetts-blues.html