Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Gardener Fred's Monster

Scariness level: beginner
Posting my Halloween Story early this year... it is a full story with beginning, middle and end, and in the conventional order too. The ending is left open, and if you are an imaginative sort you might like to supply a scenario for the sequel. Writing (boo hoo) can be a lonely sport, so a bit of holiday collaboration will be greatly appreciated.                                                                                          

[With thanks to Mary Shelly and her Monster]

Gardener Fred’s Monster

Gardener Fred had ideas. Ideas and dreams. Ideas, dreams and ambitions. Ideas, dreams and ambitions that he worked for; he dug for them, he weeded for them, he pruned and raked and was out in all weathers for them. 

In his house he had a trophy cabinet chockablock with shining cups. 

He grew the biggest sunflowers, bloomed the brightest roses. His carrots were the envy of the village, his marrows almost canoe sized. Strawberries, cabbages, orchids and cucumbers, he grew them all with great success. His shed was neat. He had a potting bench, stacks of flowerpots, bags of compost, a hangnail for his tools, little labelled drawers of seed packets and different sizes of string. He had a stout pair of wellington boots and special oil to stop his spade blade from rusting. 

It is, however, a well known phenomena that people who have everything still want something and this was true of Gardener Fred. There was nothing else he needed but there was one thing he wanted: the one prize he had not yet won. 

He had not yet grown The Biggest Pumpkin.

He could not work out what was going wrong. Every pumpkin plant he nurtured popped out two identically lovely just not overly huge fruits and if he snipped one off the other one wilted away. He tried everything. He kept notes. It did not make sense. Perhaps it was some kind of magic, he thought, though he believed in nothing so silly. He kept trying. He kept trying for years. He had the ambition, he had the dream and, eventually, he had an idea. He would graft the two fruits together!

The first attempt, alas, was consumed by mould. The second attempt was conducted in sterile conditions; the greenhouse looked like a laboratory. Mould was kept away but the spliced pumpkin looked wrong: pale and damp and sort of lifeless. It needed something, Gardener Fred concurred; but he knew not what until he was sulking in his shed and his eyes settled on the electric fly killing machine. Zap! It needed some zap! Batteries could be attached to electrify the pumpkins: just enough to give them the elusive zap of energy to grow into giant prize winners!

Gardener Fred grinned. He strutted his welly boots back to the greenhouse to begin his experiment. And it almost worked. One lively decent size of pumpkin was produced… but it was not giant. There was still something missing. He still refused to believe in magic. He sadly trawled the internet for more ideas. He felt like his ideas had run out.
‘Magic Compost he read. ‘Magic growth guaranteed or your money back!’
Gardener Fred sighed. He pressed the button for the special offer. It wouldn’t actually be buying magic off the internet he reassured himself, it was more scientific than that.
‘Synthetic mineral breakthrough,’ he read. ‘Long lasting effects. Avoid contact with marine life.’
He pressed ‘Yes’ for next day delivery.

A bright red van parked alongside his gate the next day. Gardener Fred did not recognise the delivery company’s logo; it looked a bit like devilish eyes. The driver was wearing a balaclava and sunglasses which would have struck Gardener Fred as odd had he not been preoccupied with the man’s legs. They did not look human. There was something goat-like about them. And why did he have a tail, a serpenty tail? Gardener Fred signed for the parcel with a wobbly hand. Only when the van had squealed away did he notice how the Magic Compost bag had a faint greenish glow.
‘I’ve been working too hard,’ he claimed. ‘I’m seeing things.’
And he dragged the compost up to his greenhouse where he took not two but four pumpkins to cut and fix together. He hooked up the batteries, he opened the bag, he used the free plastic scoop to add the perfect measure of Magic Compost. A pulsating neon glow enclosed the spliced fruits.
‘I’ve been working too hard,’ Gardener Fred decided, ‘and I’m very tired. I had better go and make a cup of tea. Perhaps a sandwich?’

He made three cheese and gherkin sandwiches, drank two cups of warm sweet tea and watched a nice documentary about Victorian kitchen gardens. When he peeked outside the green glow had gone.
‘I had been working too hard,’ he agreed, ‘started to imagine things! How silly.’
He settled into bed and dreamt of dahlias, and not a demonic radioactive reanimated pumpkin monster running amok in the village, in spite of eating all that cheese before bedtime.

When he woke up he noticed how lovely the weather was for the time of year. He noticed that his breakfast toast was crispy on the outside and soft inside, just how he liked it best. And when he went to his greenhouse he noticed most of all his amazing gigantic success. It was a good thing he had double doors or he would have had to dismantle the front of the greenhouse to get that pumpkin out! He didn’t remember leaving the doors open though…

He rolled the monster pumpkin onto a cart and hid it under a very large tarpaulin to pull through the village, hardly believing his luck. It was the day of the village show. All the years he had tried and failed and never given up and never got his prize and now he had perfected the growth process at exactly the right time to finally win that prize! He was so excited he almost knocked over his neighbour, Mrs Harpsichord. She was stood in the street, crying. He looked up and saw that her house was missing… well, not exactly missing but changed somehow to a much less useful shape.
‘You might as well come up to the show,’ Gardener Fred said, ‘at least you’ll get a nice cup of tea up there.’

She followed him up through the street towards the village hall where a crowd of people were making noises like more crying. Gardener Fred looked all around and saw that several homes had bits missing or had become flat or unusually aerated. He saw the poster for the show and the word CANCELLED written over it.
‘Cancelled?’ he questioned.
‘Yes,’ Postmistress Tess frowned. ‘We have a crisis to deal with here.’

Gardener Fred’s face conveyed his fury. A new house could be built in minutes these days and it had taken him YEARS to get this pumpkin super-sized. He flung the cover from his wonderful giant and revelled in the gasps of astonishment. The pumpkin was unnaturally large and it was visibly growing larger and that was not all. It was growing eyes. It was growing a mouth. Seeds poked up like shark’s teeth in spiky rows. It grew hands and feet with seed-claws. It grew legs. It stood up…

‘Quick!’ Postmistress Tess led the screaming crowd into the village hall. She had the keys for the pitchfork cupboard. Gardener Fred and The Monster looked at each other.
‘We’d better run,’ said Gardener Fred. He wasn’t sure if the mob would be chasing just The Monster or him and The Monster.
The Monster had just grown ears and winced at the sound of pitchforks clanging.
‘This way!’ Fred yelled.

They ran along lanes and over stiles and under trees until they were both quite puffed. (Gardener Fred could dig soil for hours but running required quite a different sort of fitness.) They crouched behind the barn in Old Timberstone’s big field. The Monster was almost as tall as the barn. Fred wondered if it would squish him. He looked at The Monster and it looked at him. A tear rolled from one flame-orange eye.
‘Why don’t they like me?’ It spoke in a deep, sad, gravelly voice.
Gardener Fred patted its tough skin. ‘I think you broke their houses,’ he said.
‘I couldn’t help it. I was being born.’
‘I should have grown out of a stem, slowly, in my own time. But suddenly ZAP and here I am, no wonder I rolled about a bit. I knew nothing of houses then, my brain was too new. I only knew that something was terribly wrong and I was afraid and alone. Rolling seemed to help.’
‘Oh,’ said Fred. ‘Are you done rolling now?’
‘Oh yes. But I’m still scared. I don’t think they will ever like me.’
‘Was it the compost?’ Fred asked, ‘or the electricity?’
The Monster shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It was just ZAP like magic, here I am. I wish they liked me.’
Gardener Fred patted the leathery skin again. ‘We’ll think of something,’ he said and tried to think of something. He always used to have ideas!

Back at the village the mob too had grown weary from running. They had a fun run every year but the half marathon had been unpopular.
‘Pitchforks are dreadfully heavy, after a while.’ Mrs Harpsichord propped hers against a wall. ‘Perhaps we should think about rescuing our homes instead, for a while. I don’t think that monstrous thing is coming back.’
‘I shall notify the authorities,’ Postmistress Tess announced, ‘and while we await further instruction if Mr Yewberry could organise a watch then myself and Mrs Harpsichord will assess the house damage and rescue what we can. Everyone else can wait in the hall. There’s plenty of tea and cake and as long as it’s signed for you can keep hold of a pitchfork for now.’

‘It seems to have gone quiet out there,’ Gardener Fred told the mournful Monster. ‘We could sneak back to my garden. I always think better in my shed. If you don’t mind crouching between the apple trees, behind the fir tree, you’ll be well hidden.’
Light rain fell, tiny drops that clung to every surface and soaked slowly in.
‘Perhaps I could help to rebuild the houses,’ The Monster said.
It followed Gardener Fred along the footpath and back to the garden where it had been surprised to find itself alive. It was actually feeling rather cold but  how wrong it would be to make a fuss about that. Those poor people having their homes rolled over was much worse. It wasn’t sure if it had a heart but  there was a pain where a heart might be. It put a hand to its chest. It felt colder than it should, but then it hadn’t been alive long enough to be sure of that. Its head felt hotter. Perhaps it was too hot? It was all so confusing. Slow tears rolled down its face. What a terrible start this was. It wondered if Fred was planning to get rid of it.

Neither Gardener Fred nor The Monster were spotted on their journey. The plan had worked, if hiding can be thought of as a plan. The Monster shuffled off behind the fir and under the apple branches, sighing. It was almost glad of the discomfort, so miserable did it feel.

Gardener Fred made himself a discreet cup of tea.
‘Poor Monster,’ he said to himself. ‘He’s not a monster at all. It’s my fault. I should put this right. I’ll go to the hall and explain. We can help to rebuild. A giant pumpkin will be a great tourist attraction, after all, this could be good for the village. I just hope they listen.’

‘I’m going to talk to the people,’ Fred told The Monster. ‘I’ll see what I can do to put this right. And we should think of a name for you. People like you better when you have a name. Less, um… monster-ish.’
‘Thank you,’ The Monster whispered. It was still crying.
There had been far too much crying today, Gardener Fred thought. It was time for some happiness. With this in mind he set off towards the village hall.

‘Excuse me!’ Gardener Fred waved his arms for attention, and also to show he was not armed or dangerous.
Mr Yewberry pointed pitchfork prongs in his direction. ‘Wait there,’ he ordered.
Postmistress Tess appeared. She was sipping hot tea and holding a biscuit. She pointed the biscuit at him.
‘Don’t come any closer! Where’s the monster?’
‘It was all a terrible mistake,’ Fred pleaded, ‘it’s not a monster, just a creature that didn’t know how to behave. It never meant any harm and now it is very sorry and willing to help: to put the village on the tourist map and bring prosperity to us all; if you’ll listen; if you can forgive; it does beg forgiveness!’
Tess dunked her biscuit and gobbled it up. She tilted her head in a manner suggesting that her mind was busy.
‘Well.’ She finished her tea. ‘Hmmm.’ She took the cup back inside.
Fred could hear voices. He wished he had a biscuit. Mr Yewberry looked tired from holding the pitchfork.
‘You can put that down if you like,’ Fred told him. ‘I’m not likely to knock a house down, am I?’
Mr Yewberry sighed and rested his arms. ‘No funny business,’ he warned Gardener Fred.
Fred thought it was a little late for that advice.

Postmistress Tess reappeared, heading the mob. They were still waving pitchforks but they were quieter than the last time.
‘We will see your Monster,’ she informed Gardener Fred, ‘and we’ll make up our own minds, thank you.’
‘Okay,’ Fred agreed, ‘but please try not to upset it, it is all ready so sad and remorseful.’
He lead them up the village to his garden.

The Monster, huddled up under the apple trees, could hear a murmur of voices and pitchfork prongs gently pinging. It could feel the cold fur of mould creeping up inside, suffocating whatever internal workings it had. If it had a heart, the beats grew muffled. Tears slid freely down the sagging skin.
‘They are coming to get me,’ it sighed, ‘they don’t like me at all.’
A little bird landed on a branch, curious at the noise.
‘It doesn’t seem to be afraid,’ The Monster paused its crying, and felt a moment of contentment before the mould fluffed up in its head and all thoughts ceased. It did not hear Fred rustle the foliage of the fir tree to find it slumped, nor did it hear him burst into tears.
‘Perhaps its for the best,’ Tess whispered. ‘Well, we’ve got insurance forms to fill out, we’ll leave you to it. Make yourself a nice cup of tea, eh?’

Gardener Fred sat on the wet ground and sobbed for several minutes.
‘You weren’t a monster,’ he wiped his eyes, pointlessly, ‘and you never even had a name!’
Up in the apple branches he caught sight of a little bird. It flew off, showing a flash of red chest-feathers.
‘That’s what I’ll call you. Big Red. You were my creation, Big Red. I made you.’
The sky darkened as thick storm clouds gathered overhead. Gardener Fred began to have an idea.
‘I made you…’
He ran to his greenhouse and began to rig up a line of batteries, and a lightening rod, and a series of cables.

When the lightening hit, brilliant fire crackled the lightening rod, sparked up all the batteries, the cables sizzled; Gardener Fred was stood fixing the last jump lead to Big Red’s limp arm; they had one last second of life together, full of wonder and surprise, before it was all intense white light and soft, soothing night darkness, with tiny stars that zizzed and faded. All of Gardener Fred’s ideas, dreams and ambitions that he had worked for: dug for, weeded for, pruned and raked and been out in all weathers for: his trophy cabinet chockablock with shining cups, his neat shed, stacks of flowerpots, bags of compost, the hangnails for his tools, little labelled drawers of seed packets and different sizes of string, his stout pair of wellington boots and special oil to stop his spade blade from rusting: all disappeared. He didn’t even mind: he was so happy to see Big Red, and Big Red was so happy to see him, too.

The whole village had a similar experience. Postmistress Tess held her best china cup in one hand and a chocolate digestive in the other. She was glad she had used the best china, it would set the right tone for her afterlife. Mr Yewberry was reclining in his armchair, his feet on a mismatched hassock.
‘Ah,’ he thought to himself, ‘this is heavenly.’
Mrs Harpsichord was standing in her kitchen, not feeling like tidying up or filling out any insurance forms.
‘Well,’ she thought, as the light flashed, ‘I suppose that’s quite convenient.’

There was hardly anything left of the village at all; there was the hall, where the prize cup for The Biggest Pumpkin stood immaculately gleaming, and outside, a vast, cautionary hole. Bits of the poster for the cancelled village show blew about, here and there a pumpkin seed settled, or a prong of twisted pitchfork stuck up like a burnt sapling. The storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. Everything was quiet, a special sort of quiet that happens after a large explosion and no one, not even the birds, knows what to say or do.

And that would have been the end of the story, perhaps, but as the clock ticked towards midnight a strangely greenish glow oozed up from the scorched-raw ground…

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Fae Field Inspiration

Vocal are the geese at their interruption.
They are not easily flapped, these birds.
They are the same birds that sat watchfully unruffled in a cropped field, while Dog and I ran by, one energetic, lightly misted cross-country morning.
Under the overhead honking is the whir of a blade wielding tractor: not a goose killer, a hedge cutter. It is cutting the hedge in the field we had hoped to be picking rosehips in.
It is the sort of greyish dampish day best fitted to introspective thoughts, not suitable for noise or interruption. We drag our heels and then an off the usual track open gate to an undisturbed field is what we find.
Like an answer when you weren’t sure of what your question needed to be.

Here the overgrown hedge reaches out, it hands us a bag of ripe red hips and a pocketful of dark sloeberries. Dog runs routes circular, angular and out of the field flees three deer, two rabbits, one fox. There are so many pheasants Dog can’t fit them all into her schedule, some must flush themselves out and fake an inconvenience. One makes Dog jump, which is funny as it happens and as she makes the face of bemusement shortly after. 
We rest at a central oak. It has an arched root perfect for a seat and underneath are tree root caves, the sort that make you surprised to arrive home and find it is the same day and you have not been accidentally captive in a Fae land for seven years.
We arrive home later that same day, laden with fruits and knowing how to not end the Halloween Story this year. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

This Collective Cleans And Ponders

Dog's enthusiasm for housework is infectious.

We open the door, drop our jaw. A curtain of rain hides the world. 
We must swap the faux suede for rubber boots: me, my hands, my feet, for reasons as yet unfathomed I feel like a collective today.
A theory promptly appears that it may be the result of an uncharacteristic cleaning spree. It is unfamiliar work and yet hands, feet, brain all pull together. A combination of the unknown and the known makes one reappraise how a being is collected together, perhaps. Like an identity crisis only pleasant.
Hands, feet and brain have done well, although the discovery of damp in the living room corner is a vexment. Contrariness over not using the word vexation is a distraction technique. The landlord’s phone is answered by a voice saying service unavailable, try again later. Further distractions involve looking for the culprit who put bird poo on the mantelpiece (Mr suggests it might be bat in origin) and venturing out to borrow a vacuum cleaner. In this: this sheer face of precipitation.
On with the rubber boots, with running to the car.
We picked a coat with no hood!
From tangled hair the rain washes out dust and several long dead spiders. They are the colour of wet dust.
Now, for no particular reason, we are wondering what the future holds and thinking how lovely the house is, cleaned up.

Dog looks approvingly at what the rain has achieved.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Tenacious Jocosity

Outside there is a storm: if you put your hands over your ears and hear the blood inside rush, it sounds like this storm. Wheel spray splays like the tails of white peacocks, every car wings by. From the car to the house several unexpected steps sidewards explain the wind strength.
The tenacity of things is considered.
How many tempests will the deadwood in the ash tree survive, for example, and how if one builds a wall there is some knowledge available that will give guidelines to its longevity. This is why we use bricks or stone not straw, not sand.
These thoughts proceed to enquire how we can know what material our words are made of? All this writing that may or may not endure? But it does not matter. One should link words oblivious, obsessed, absorbed, delirious, tempestuous.
It is Friday, the evening.
A glass of wine arrives and sits next to the Dettol which is a testament to the bad manners of our elderly cat. Outside the wind roars as though laughing.
Oblivious, obsessed, absorbed, delirious, tempestuous, ludicrous, lovely life.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Falling Asleep Whilst Reading

Limbs are flung, indenting squishy underlay.
A bed of cushions, to defeat gravity.
A cradle from which to dream: escaping in a soft coracle.
Nothing to flee but weariness, but the weight of one’s own limbs.
A book halfway read represents another path unwinding, the mind absconding on its own.
Sometimes it likes to be alone.
In space, can one lie on the air (the not-air?)
Questions pop out of scenarios, not entirely formed, not entirely awake.
Dog huffs from her sprawl, recalling perhaps some moment when a previous sprawl had been interrupted.
A fine steam rises from a glazed mug. Off-white with a flower painted and the scuffs of frequent usage.
Steam is made of dots, of impermanent ink. A metaphor.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Autumn Begins To Chill

This year’s tenth month is filled with wanderings.
We add a string of small village names and the town of Dartmouth to our October map. Here we wallow in the last of summer’s residual warmth: it is dark, we are standing at the harbour edge observing small fish crowd submerged steps. All the boats have duplicates. It is impossible to understand that the water could be cold. We are outside the restaurant, hot with digesting. All the night is filled with human noise.
At home the heat disperses into storms, is spilt and lost in precipitation. Foxes yip: the young ones are sounding out new territories. We see them often, walking intent at the roadside.
One last thunder roll shakes the river valley and the rain pools deepen.
(When not wandering this writer squints and squints over print proofs until her headaches drown out the thunder and the weather complains at the disruption.)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Night Weather

The moon was broad and nestled in a circle of cloud. The other half of the sky flicked up a sheet of lightening. Such fascination, like a pin through a moth. Another strike illuminated the castle, another backlit the tree tunnel. A fox-face, vivid orange, retreated into a verge; an owl’s belly, ghost white, brushed over the windscreen.

(Not until the next afternoon do we hear thunder. It rolls out of pure summer blue, turns the sky flat silver. Raindrops like crystals split the light into shining arcs.)

A perfect round, the moon returns. All the sky is velvet. Voices are raised in the car park, tempers that rush and exhaust themselves to a truce. The storm wind halts. A man walks slowly back to his car, shoulders hunched. The car alarm starts up. He stops and looks at the moon: looks at the moon and glances at his car door as he pushes the key into the lock. The alarm stops. The perfect round moon, the cessation of anxious noise, it seems connected.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Short Tae Kwon-Do Holiday

Saturday too early the alarm is beeping. Sleep on, the inner voice whispers, all cozy and snoozy and compelling but we get up anyway. Rain falls and falls. Hot water tumbles from a tap. A short bath of bliss and ease before the plug is pulled and a coffee pot bubbles and somehow in the car we are sitting, dressed, hair wet. Fingers warm on an industrial mug. Watch the sky bleach. Rain falls and falls.
Where are we going?
Ah, yes. Home of the roundabout.

Mr slats the car into a space. We have yellow shirts on, much brighter than the weather. Into the arena we take our flasks of coffee and the usual game plan. The job of a Welfare Officer is to safeguard children and vulnerable adults. The opportunity of a Welfare Officer is to bring a sense of resilience. We say: ‘Let me see… One nose, two eyes, that seems right: is that normal for you?’ They rub their bumped faces. Some giggle, some make the face of You Are Not Funny You Know. They see the fight through and get to be proud of themselves. All this I tell the new lad: he gets it. Listen to them, stay cheerful, be sensible.
‘Not much to do here then,’ he says when the adult divisions start. 

‘Be nice to them too,’ I say though I have no doubts about his demeanour. ‘The thing with grown ups’ (and he is listening which is very kind of him) ‘is that there’s sometimes a background story you don't know about. Adults have to deal with a lot: divorce, job loss, bereavements, physical impairments, you just don’t know. And they put a great deal of effort and energy into their training and their competing, we should be respectful of that.’
‘So always be kind,’ he says. “Otherwise they might be discouraged.’
But luckily there isn’t so much to do and no one seems discouraged at all. (Perhaps it is because we are so very kind!)

We retire to our budget hotel, having made the motorway plod down to Weston-super-Mare. We collect the room key from a bearded man we find behind the bar. He needs to write down Mr’s card details, he says, most apologetic.
‘You’d be surprised,’ he explains, ‘the nicest looking people: shirt, tie: the nicest looking people, after six pints, well… They soil the mattress.’
We look to the clientele. They are wearing t-shirts.
‘We will try not to,’ I say and the man who has been squinting at the same news story since we came in rubs his hair.

‘I’d see that as a challenge myself,’ he says.
The bar man laughs.
Mr slams his hand down, it makes them jump. ‘Okay!’ He grins. ‘I’ll do it in five!’
Now they are laughing. Budget hotels are fun.

We have an invitation for dinner and sensible website talk, which does happen. It happens like this: I sit next to Sue on the couch, we have a laptop, she shows me How To stuff. Mr follows Russ on a global tour of various local spirits and sometimes they stop for wine. Dinner is curry, thick and chickeny, with rice. And two puddings, of which we have both. There’s a flux of cats (six in total) and three daughters and four grown ups and a wood burner in the front room where we watch Doctor Who (verdict: the new one is more old school, we like, it’s not an edgy casting choice but he can act) or, mostly watch… Mr, a lapful of cats perhaps to blame, falls asleep. Russ explains that the room itself does emit sleepion particles: ah, so that’s what happened!

Back to the hotel. Mr does a fair job of walking, shortly followed by further sleeping. The light is unusual: all the lit streets outside our room and the noise of the people. I hear heels catching on tarmac, the scrape and the pitch of drunk women. I hear that heel catch, a note from a stranger’s life, a noise that sends an idea of that life, ordinary-unique as we all are. I think I could write something about your life, stranger, I could describe to you what is beautiful about it. I think about writing and dream about a soiled hotel room. In the morning we prop up on pillows and observe that no soiling has taken place. Mr is so very glad he dressed casual.

Fresh coffee goes into mugs and flasks, ready for Blackbelt training. Our turn now to move about and find out what patterns we are best at forgetting. 

(This is not us at the competition, as
ringside photos are disallowed.
But it is how I think we look.)

Friday, 3 October 2014

October Haze

All the molecules of a storm swarm the sky. While they misconfigure the sun shines a bar of heat. Down in the cut field Dog herds pheasants into squawks. Rosehips are plucked, rubies of the hedge, though the shield beetles wave legs like angry curators.

The polytunnel echoes where the tomatoes stood: a tub on a windowsill indoors is full of ripening. Potted chilli plants are spread across the gap. So content in this stretched out warmth, the lime tree blossoms petals of solid white, densely fragranced. One medium frog squiggles from under a melon leaf. It blinks as though newly woken and its legs, uncomfortably, ungainly, follow the chartreuse body back into shade.

Night shimmers in, in layers and pieces. Storm winds peak and trough. Leaves fall, pave the roads in a mulch of gold.