Tala’s Story

Tala’s Story was written between 23rd and 30th January 2016 and was my submission to the first round of the NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge. The assignment for my group was to write a fairy story involving a psychic and a birthmark.

Once there was a woman married to a man against his will. Her family and his were agreed and the bride price paid, as was the custom. The ceremony took place in the presence of the village and the elders and the feasting after was a memory for months to come. Both the families of the bride and groom were wealthy, as wealth was counted then.

The bride was obedient, but the groom was reluctant. His heart was set on another. His father, he felt, and the father of his bride, the elders – even the woman herself – had forced him into a marriage in which he could not be happy.

“It will all feel different when you’ve bedded her and got her with child,” promised his father. “That’s the way of the world.”

But the world was changing, clearly, for though he took her in their marriage bed, still she did not conceive.

The woman was greatly saddened. She knew her husband did not love her, but if she could just give him a child she believed he would change. Her mother agreed. “Make a baby and he will come around,” she promised.

But though they lay together, still she could not conceive, and after a time they lay together less and less often.

What to do? The woman consulted her mother and other women of the village and heard tell of the seer, the Old Man Alone. Treated with resentful respect as a recluse and man of power, he was known (the women said) to be able to unravel puzzles set by the gods and, if he had a mind, look into the future as into the past.

So the woman took herself across the fields and through the forest to find the cottage where the seer lived alone.

Baby Tala, the cottage and the wolves


The Old Man Alone had foreseen her coming and waited for her at the door. He welcomed her and brought her into the cottage, which was without windows and dark, lit only by the fire that burned on the hearth. The seer knew what the woman sought and burned certain herbs and powders on his fire, making her breathe in the smoke, then he covered the fire and in the darkness undressed her and himself and took her as if he were her husband – though differently, reverently, with tenderness.

After, when they were dressed, standing together outside the cottage, the woman asked, “Am I now with child?”

“Yes.”

“And will my husband love me?”

“That I cannot say.”

“But you see the future!”

“I see many futures,” said the seer, “and none of them are certain. Only the past is beyond changing.”


So the woman returned to the village and her husband and grew round and full bellied and in the course of time she birthed a child. The child was a girl with a reddish-brown mark across her face from cheek to cheek and over her nose. It looked like the lick of a beast.

The mark on her daughter’s face frightened the woman and made her husband angry. His family, and her family too, and all the village, when they heard the news, were also frightened and angry. They took the mark to be the sign of a curse laid not only upon the baby but upon their families, upon the village. Around the village the rumours ran. What had the mother done while carrying the child? Worse, what had she done to get pregnant in the first place?

“It was my mother’s advice,” the woman admitted to her husband. “I visited the seer, the Old Man Alone, seeking help.”

In fury, the man took his wife and the new-born across the fields, through the forest, to the cottage of the Old Man Alone.

They found him where he sat meditating, cross-legged, all but naked, before his cottage door. The woman was shocked, not at the seer’s nakedness, but at the brown stain of a mark in the shape of a beast with wings that wrapped across his chest and around his neck. It was nothing she had seen before.

“Seer,” said the husband, still raging. “What have you done to my wife? What cursed thing is this?” And he pointed at the babe in its mother’s arms.

The seer opened his eyes and gestured for them to join him on the grass. Such was his power that they did so. The woman held her baby on her lap facing him and the child did not cry, but looked at the seer fascinated. In his turn he looked back with penetrating eyes. Then he spoke, “Welcome, Tala, speaker and listener, I greet you,”

To the man and the woman he said, “You want to know, is this mark a cruelty or a curse? I cannot answer you. The future has not been written. I see only what may be, not what will. Tala is one who will learn to speak and listen, to what end she puts that talent only time will tell. I know, full well, what may happen in this world to one marked as she is marked. For sure this babe will have no easy beginning, yet I rejoice in her birth. I see her future road, hard and beset by dangers, yet she is precious, as all children are precious, and nothing is yet written. Her mark may be a blessing. That is for you to decide. Love her and care for her.”

They could get nothing more out of him, and made their way home where they reported to their families and the village elders: “The seer would not say whether the mark is a curse, but he told us the child will have a hard life.”

“He has told you nothing,” they said.

“What kind of a seer is he?”

“Charlatan!”

“Our lives are always hard.”

The man asked his father, “Is the shame of having born a marked child not cause to put this woman from me?”

But his father would not hear of it. The union with the woman’s family was too important. “Besides, you will surely have other children together,” he said. “Try for boys. Girls are of no matter. That’s the way of the world.”


Tala was born when the year was young and hope lived. But the spring rains came late and grudgingly and the year turned early to heat and drought. The crops withered.

“Come harvest time there will be nothing to reap,” said the villagers. “We will go hungry this winter.”

“It is the curse,” they agreed. “Foreshadowed in the marked child.”

“You know,” they whispered, “she lay with the seer. He is marked, the child likewise.”

They asked, “Why are the gods angry with us?”

And they had an answer ready: “Because we have too long allowed that Old Man Alone to pollute our neighbourhood and our women!”

So the men of the village gathered at twilight and took themselves across the fields and through the forest to the cottage. There the old man waited to meet them.

“You do not have to do this!” He said. “The future is unwritten!” But they roared like beasts and rushed upon him.

They stripped him naked and turned him around to see the marks on his body – the beast with wings – then they beat him with their fists until he fell and trampled on him until their fury was sated. Then they set the cottage afire and taking the seer’s body they threw it into the flames.

“And what of the girl? The one he marked? Shall she also live, reminding us of what we have done here tonight?” But the fury had gone out of them. The man’s father and the woman’s father together resolved to let the man choose his own course.

They returned to their homes as dawn was breaking and none, looking back, saw the shape that rose in the last smoke from the cottage. The shape of a beast, spreading wings, huge above the forest, but smoke-thin and fading in the morning breeze, blowing across the fields of the village and its gardens.


The man looked in silence on the sleeping child, Tala, and on his wife, her mother. She saw the blood on his hands and feet and smelled the smoke on his clothes.

“She is a curse,” said the man, “and you are a whore. I rue the day we married. Take your brat now and leave. Leave and never return.”

So the mother took Tala in her arms and left. She went first to the house of her husband’s father, but the door there was locked against her. Then to the house of her own family. Behind the door she heard her mother’s voice and the voice of her father, but that door too was locked, though she stood there long and pleaded to be let in. No one in the village would open their door to her. So she walked away across the fields and into the forest.

Eventually she came to the cottage where the seer had lived, and though there was no comfort now to be had in that burned-out shell, at least the door was not locked. Here she stayed, over come by exhaustion and despair, faint and fainter with hunger and thirst, holding the child until her strength failed and she lay down on the blackened floor there to die.


Die she did, but in dying saved her child. Her body, still warm, was found by a wolf-pack, hungry for meat, and Tala, yet living, was adopted by the wolves and raised as their cub.

Years she lived with the pack and, growing with them, learned their language and their habits. With them she hunted and with them she worshipped the full moon that is their god. But the wolves knew her for human and knew too that she would run with them but a period of her life.

The wolves saw to it that Tala came at last to a woodcutter and his wife, mourning the death of their only daughter. The old couple were delighted with the wolves’ gift and gladly adopted the girl, first to tame her, then to raise her as the human child she was.

With the woodcutter and his wife Tala grew tall and comely, though ever with the lick of the beast across her face. With them she learned the tongue of men. She learned to work, to cultivate a garden, to spin and weave. Her foster mother, the woodcutter’s wife, had an education better than her husband’s, for she could read and write, and gladly taught these skills to Tala.

For his part, her foster father taught her to play the fiddle, and soon she could scrape out a melody. Most often the tunes she played were ones the woodcutter taught her, sometimes, though, tunes came into her head that no one had heard before, sad tunes of longing, loss; fierce tunes of fire, fury. After she had played such a melody, there would be tears in her eyes, though she did not know why.

From her foster mother Tala also learned the healing powers of forest plants and to make ointments of them. Though she lived in seclusion, meeting few besides her foster parents, yet her reputation as a healer spread and her help and medicaments were sought after.

One day a traveller came, and on his hand an open sore that would not heal. Tala treated the wound and the next day the sore was gone.

“Wonderful,” said the traveller, “Is the medication or the medic best thanked?”

“Oh the medic assuredly,” said the woodcutter’s wife. “Our Tala has a way with her that surpasses even my skills.”

“Young Mistress Tala,” said the traveller, “I know of a whole village, away on the other side of the forest, that would welcome your services. So many ulcers, boils and poxes as you would not believe. They live under a curse for a terrible thing they once did.”

“What happened?”

“There was an old man, a seer. They beat and burned him for no reason – the curse they thought he had laid on them was simple misfortune. But after. That old seer’s spirit has poisoned their village year on year.”

“If the plague is caused by a curse, what hope have I of helping them,” asked Tala.

“That I cannot say,” said the traveller. “But curses may be raised and forgiveness is powerful magic.”

“Have I forgiveness to offer them?”


Hearing of the plagued village and the death of the seer, gave Tala a restlessness she could not explain. Also the traveller’s mysterious talk of forgiveness. Had he perhaps looked long at her face, at the lick of the beast. Did he know something of her infancy that she herself no longer remembered?

“I must visit this village,” she said, and so she took her pack and set out across the forest. “The wolves will guide me.”

Guide her they did, bringing her across the forest, but not to the village. Instead they brought her to the ruins of a little cottage on the edge of a glade. “How beautiful,” she said. “How peaceful. Yet some terrible thing has happened here. The cottage has burned and those are bones I see, human bones, scattered among the ashes beneath the creepgrass.”

The wolves told her: “There was hunger, great hunger in every belly, and here a foul smell, burning, but also warm flesh, not killed but fresh dead, we ate and so the pack lived. And here was a human cub, alive and crying. We saved the cub and gave it of our milk.”

“So these are my mother’s bones. I shall collect them and bury them, for that is the custom among men.”

This she did, but among the white bones of her mother were other human bones, black-burned, and as she collected these she thought of the seer the villagers had killed.

“Perhaps…” she thought.

And when she had collected all the bones she could, she made a single grave and buried the bones together and stood a time in silent contemplation, feeling an immense peace as the sun broke from behind clouds and filled the glade with light.


A wolf growled a low warning. Tala looked up to see a man step from the forest into the glade before the cottage. The man did not see her at first and stood a moment blinking in the sunlight. He seemed old and his face was pitted with angry pox scars in a stroke from cheek to cheek and across his nose. Then he saw her and the beast’s lick, the mark on her, and all the blood fled from his face and his pattern of scars stood out more painful yet.

“You have returned,” he breathed. “Will you forgive us?”

And not knowing why, Tala spoke from the peace she had found that day, saying, “I forgive you, father.”

As he stepped through the door

As he stepped through the door, the air was filled with the sound of bells. Joy, he thought. Joy! And stood on the top step of the short flight down to the street and drew himself up straight and raised his head. As if a great weight had fallen from his shoulders – a weight that had bowed him down for weeks, months. It was gone.

Descending the stepsHe breathed in the air, sweet with the flowering trees that lined the street. Across the way and a little down to the left, a wedding party crowded outside St Nicholas’. The bells pealed from the steeple as pigeons flew in a flock about the slatted tower. But he felt the bells rang for him, the air was scented for him, as he slowly stepped down from the door to the pavement.

The knife slipped from his hand to drop, point down, on the step by his foot then somersault, blade over handle, ahead of him down the steps. It made no sound, drowned by bell clang, and fell slowly, he thought as he watched it tumble, little drops of glutinous red flicking from it to speck the stones.

It reached the street before he did, just as a woman passed by. A woman with a little girl beside her, holding hands. Hurrying, late for the wedding. Dressed in their best clothes, the girl with black lacquered shoes, white socks, a tartan skirt and a green jacket. The woman did not see the knife, but the girl did and she turned her head to look up at him as he came down the steps. Fixing him with her large brown eyes. Holding his eyes in a serious, judgemental gaze.

No joy there.

He stood by the knife watching the girl and her mother as they walked towards the church, the girl hanging back, her eyes still on him. The sweet scent had vanished from the air, the bells were a cacophony. He felt the weight pressing down on him again. His eyes were wet. No, he thought. Not–

But he stooped and picked up the knife.

The Changing of the Guard

“Hi Bea! Where y’bin?”
“Buzzin’ around.”Bees
(Sound like band-saws: giant bee laughter.)
“Buzz me in, Bess.”
“B’Guard Bea buzzed in 19.55.”
“Thanks. So how’s Her Majesty?”
“In a bonnet about somethin’.”
“Still?”
“You know what it is?”
“Happened on my watch. That Eric! Caught him sneakin’ into the Princesses.”
“That bee’s a drone!”
“Well, duh! But y’know, birds n’bees.”
“Whadda birds gotta do with it?”
“Be glad when the nuptial flight’s over. Tomorrow, right?”
“Yep. OK. You set? I’ll buzz.”
“Formalities! B’guard Bess I relieve you.”
“B’guard Bea I stand relieved. Now, I’m off to suck down some nectar.”
“Big day tomorrow. Get some zzs.”
“Yeah-yeah.”

© TheSupercargo


The above was written for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction forum curated by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. The prompt: a photo of a giant bee. (See the photo prompt, Jennifer Pendergast’s photo here.). Jennifer P is ElmoWrites.

To see a list of links to all the responses to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, click here.

On the clock tower

On the clock tower
‘Isn’t that dangerous?’

‘It’s where the kids sit.’

Jim was showing me around, the first newcomer for over a year. The kids were high on the skeleton of a clock tower.

‘I wouldn’t worry,’ he said. ‘It’s stood like that for years. Since the bomb. Pretty stable.’

There were two up there. Girls or boys, I couldn’t tell. Just squatting.

‘Get a good view?’

He laughed. ‘Sure! Great view.’

Later, I climbed the tower myself.

The gravel desert reaching out to the edge of the world. The track snaking away. The sun setting, huge, forlorn and dull through the dust.

 

© TheSupercargo


The above was written for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction forum curated by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. The prompt: a photo of two people climbing a ladder set against a metal framework on which two other people sit. (See the photo prompt, David Stewart’s photo ‘The Rescuers’, here.) The other influence on the above is JG Ballard – hence Jim. The illustration is partly based on the skeleton of the ‘A-bomb Dome’, Hiroshima.

To see a list of links to all the responses to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, click here.

Logorrhoea and Angus McWhorder

For most of his life logorrhoea was not a word that anyone would think of in association with Angus McWhorder. Not that he suffered from aphonia, logorrhoea’s antithesis, just that Angus was a dour, taciturn Aberdonian of the old school who followed the injunction of Ecclesiastes to ‘let thy words be few’.

Logorrhoea and Angus 1On Sundays he attended the kirk and savoured the brooding company of his fellow dark-suited Presbyterians. Only in the singing of praise was his voice heard to pronounce longer strings of words – and to do so rather well. But as soon as the psalm was over he would revert to silence, a silence that outside the kirk was but occasionally interrupted by monosyllabic sentences.

This was his way, and had been for as long as anyone could remember. Among his acquaintances from the kirk his manner was approved and appreciated. He was a man whose Yea was Yea and whose Nay was Nay and nothing more was necessary. Among his family… well, Angus had no family. No one but his daughter in America.

At 22, plump and pretty Doreen McWhorder had married an engineer, a Texan who had come to Aberdeen to help build the first pipelines and the refinery at Grangemouth. David Anderson was tall and gangling and talked far too much in a drawl Angus thought indicative of lazy tongue. The marriage was a blow to her father, but Doreen’s husband was a good Christian and at least he had a Scottish name. (David’s forebears were from Norway and the family name originally Anderssen, but Doreen and David saw no need to share this with Angus.)

Then, aged 25 and pregnant with her second child, Doreen followed her husband when he left Scotland for the next oil frontier. For years Angus held Doreen responsible for her mother’s untimely death, choosing to ignore his wife’s congenital heart condition that medical science regarded as the true culprit.

You broke her heart, Angus would say flatly. And Doreen was sufficiently her father’s daughter to feel he had a point.

Thirty years later Doreen was long settled in Florida, David was out of the picture, her children were grown and the next generation coming along. Her visits ‘home’ to Aberdeen had become less and less frequent, but her invitations to her father to pay a visit across the Atlantic came with the regularity of Christmas and birthday cards. And eventually, after toying with the idea for some years before considering it seriously for a few more, Angus decided to go.

Initially he found Florida too hot, too sunny, too busy and too loud. His natural expression of disapproval set more firmly on his face. The corners of his mouth turned down fractionally more. His nostrils flared and his nose hairs protruded more blackly.

Attending his daughter’s church that first Sunday was a disturbing experience. People talked – they were encouraged to talk – out loud and at length. They read the Bible as though experiencing it for the first time, they were charged with fervour, they shook, they exclaimed, they praised the Lord. It was all very different from back home.

Every time she looked at her father’s face, and the deep wrinkles of displeasure, Doreen’s heart sank a little more. Eight more weeks, she thought. Jesus give me strength!

Then something changed. What caused it was hard to say, but Angus found his voice.

It did not happen overnight. On that first Sunday, though he stood, hands in the air, to pray with everyone else, his lips did not move. But on his second visit he found himself joining the prayers, sotto voce, and when the psalms were sung he allowed his voice to swell. After the service several of those around, complete strangers, congratulated him on his voice and Doreen saw the severe lines about his mouth relax a little.

On his third visit Angus went up to the front of the church and accepted Jesus. Invited to testify, he found the words to speak for two minutes without pause – quite possibly the longest speech of his life at that point. No one but Doreen really understood what he said, but it did not matter. The church was enthusiastic about glossolalia and everyone other than Doreen assumed Angus was speaking in tongues.

Afterwards, the children started calling Angus ‘Willie’ and asking if he would be coming to work at their school. Angus, who did not watch television, had no idea why, but was charmed even so.

Now, suddenly, as if to make up for 70  years of Scottish reticence in a few short weeks, Angus went into overdrive. With his accent, his logorrhoea, his glossolalia and his Christian faith,  he was the sensation of the season. He discovered a pleasure in standing to speak not just for the congregation of Doreen’s church, but also for any other that invited him. It didn’t even have to be a Sunday. Slightly bemused, but happy for her father, Doreen was his chauffeur from one charismatic Pentecostal church to the next.

For his audiences Angus would recite whole books from the Bible in a Lallans/Gaelic cross of his own devising. Words poured from him, after a time even when he was not in front of an audience. Driving him, Doreen started to hear him muttering, rehearsing she decided.

As the date approached for his flight home, Angus discovered a new talent: tachylalia. His logorrhoea increased a s w o r d s p o u r e d f r o m h i s m o u t h i n a n e v e r e n d i n g s t r e a m. Now Doreen began to fear for him – would he speak so much he would forget to breathe? Might he asphyxiate himself? Was that even possible?

Logorrhoea and Angus 2Possible or not, now Angus’s logorrhoea took yet another turn. On the very last day before he was due to fly home, tachylalia tripped him into apraxia: Nebuchadnezzar became Nedbuddhanazcar, Adhonay became Adonkey, Moabites became Noahbites.

It would not have troubled him or his audience so much if the twisted words had not seemed so impious. Who knows where this might have led – accusations of demonic possession were not impossible – but Angus’s visit was over and the taxi that would take him to the airport stood at the door.

On the plane, Angus found his logorrhoea passing through phases akin to dysprosody and dysarthria until his tongue fell mute. Since returning home, he has reverted to type. A silent man with no sign of the logorrhoea that made him briefly famous abroad.

Yet, just occasionally, a glass of whisky over the odds will stir up the embers and a gleam deep in Angus’s eyes tells you he is revisiting his months of logorrhoeac fame.

In Florida was the Word, he says. And the Word was spoken. A lot.

 

© TheSupercargo


This piece started life as a series of tweets playing with ‘logorrhea’. I liked Angus and Doreen so much I let the tweets grow into this story. I suspect it may not yet be fully grown, but this is the state it’s in now. If you’re wondering, I rather think Angus suffered a minor stroke – a transient ischemic attack – which might explain both his logorrhea and apraxia, and the fact that nobody diagnosed it. But I’m not a medical expert and Angus is a fictional creation.

Time’s arrow thuds home

A confusion of blaring, screeching, shouting, screaming – then a sickening thud.

He felt himself falling, turning, falling and everything slowed, strangely slowed, and the colours, the trees, the sky, the street, the people blurred, spread like watercolour on wet paper. He thought –How beautiful! And held the thought, falling into red.

Busy road. The man stood to cross, checking left, right. A careful man, unremarkable. Then a ball in the street, a boy chasing. The man stepped from the curb, crouched to seize the child about the waist and in one movement lifted and swung him back to safety. But…

Time's arrow thuds home

 

© TheSupercargo


The above was written for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction forum curated by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. The prompt: a motion-blurred photo of a bus, sky, a road, a tree. (See the photo prompt here.) If I have managed to do what I intended, you should be able to read the three paragraphs of the story in any sequence.

To see a list of links to all the responses to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, click here.

The successful novelist

The successful novelistMuch of that summer she stood guard duty at the palace. Rifle-barrel straight in spurred boots, her hair in a net under a polished coal-scuttle, she featured in many a tourist photo.

Watching the people, she found stories in all of them.

The middle-aged couple holding hands like teenagers – married, but not to one another. Here together, a stolen holiday.

The girl in the party dress, alone in the street – looking for White Rabbit.

The well-dressed man crumpled on a bench – all his wealth gone. Folly and greed.

Later the novelist would say: “That was when I learned my craft.”

 

© TheSupercargo


The above was written for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction forum. The prompt: a young woman in uniform standing guard outside the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Copyright in the prompt photo is held by Managua Gunn. To see a list of links to all the responses to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, click here.

Mind over matter

Ladies!

Gentlemen!

The power of the mind is greater than anything in the material world. The material world, what we call ‘reality’, is just an illusion. A projection of our minds. A limitation we place upon ourselves.

Understand this, believe it, and it becomes possible literally to step beyond the physical world. Believe you can do it and you can walk through walls. Dive through pianos.

My assistant will demonstrate. Henry, if you please.

(Ready?)

Breathe. Believe. Concentrate.

(By the way, I’m sleeping with your wife.)

Go!

Oh dear. Something must have broken his concentration. Henry! What a tragic end.

Mind over matter - Piano man

 

© TheSupercargo


The above was written for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction forum. The prompt: the legs of a man projecting from the body of an upright piano. I’m proud to say this week’s photo was one I took myself, but in keeping with the style of this website I choose to reproduce it here as a doodle. As ever the Friday Fictioneers target is 100 words – and this week I hit it on the nose! To see a list of links to all the responses to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, click here.

Grendel

Grendel sliceThe feasting and noise from Heorot night after night seriously disturbed the neighbours. Especially irritated was Grendel, not so much on his own account, but on behalf of his mother, who was getting on in years and needed her rest. Ever since Hrothgar and his Thanes had moved in she had lost more and more sleep and was becoming increasingly peevish. She tended to take this out on her son, which he did not enjoy.

One night, when the din from the “mead hall” had been particularly loud and had gone on for a particularly long time, Grendel’s Dam had become particularly upset. Finally Grendel exclaimed, “No, no. This simply won’t do!” Putting on his cardigan (for the early autumn mists were chilly), he strode across to Heorot and marched up to the front door.

He rang the doorbell and hammered on the door. To no avail – the noise inside was too great. Exasperated, he tried the door and to his surprise found it unlocked. He pushed it open and stepped inside.

The noise outside was as nothing to the volume within. Raucous music – Grendel assumed it was supposed to be music – bellowed from amplifiers. Voices were raised in song or argument. The hall was packed with long-haired louts, sweaty drunks in boots, jeans and leather waistcoats, who stood in groups, leaned against the walls or sat on on the staircase. Blear-eyed, they clutched cans of lager or passed fat, poorly rolled joints from hand to hand.

It wasn’t obvious at first, but after a moment Grendel realised some of the brutes in the hall were women. Somehow this made the whole scene even more gross to him. Shuddering, he looked about for Hrothgar. The man was not to be seen. Barely able to hear himself think, Grendel touched the arm one of the louts standing near the door, meaning to ask where Hrothgar was. The man looked at Grendel and all the blood drained from his face. This was made the more dramatic because he had a particularly red face, with bloodshot eyes and a glowing nose, but looking at Grendel he turned pale, paler than pale, his eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled to the floor.
Grendel
Irked, Grendel tutted to himself, stepped over the inert body and touched a second man on the shoulder. This man looked at Grendel, took in his long face, his horn-rimmed glasses, his cardigan (which his mother had knitted), and stepped back a look of loathing and utter horror twisting his face. Already unsteady, his heel caught the foot of the stairs and he tripped, falling backward, his head clipping the edge of one of the steps as he went down. The noise of his fall, which must have been prodigious for he was a large man, was drowned by the volume of sound in the hall and to Grendel it looked almost as if he fell in silence.

Grendel turned to a third man who leant up against a doorpost. The man had clearly been watching Grendel’s progress with alarm. When he realised he was next, the fellow’s knees gave way and he slid down the wall, turning his head to vomit as he did so.

“Oh, really, this is too much!” Grendel was quite disgusted. “What are they on?”

Now a woman saw Grendel surrounded by bodies. As the third man keeled over, she suddenly screamed. At last something that could cut through the noise in the hall! Someone switched off the music and the shouting and singing died away. Grendle was conscious of standing in the middle of a crowd who looked as though they would be perfectly happy to beat him to a pulp, but no thought of personal safety disturbed his rightous indignation.

“Where is Hrothgar?” He demanded.

“He’s gonna kill Hrothgar,” screamed the woman.

“I am not – “

But he was cut off as one of the louts swung at him with what seemed to be a chain. The man was as drunk as all the rest and Grendel had easily enough time to dodge the blow. The weapon, missing its target, struck the face and neck of another man in the crowd, who screamed in pain.

Now the noise was back. The brutes who filled the hall were howling and cursing and all sorts of weapons were appearing in their hands. Knives, knuckledusters, chair-legs, baseball bats. (Grendel had time to notice, not a single honest cricket bat.) But space was at a premium and the bullies’ hand-eye coordination was not of the best. Grendel was scratched on the cheek, but the damage the louts managed to inflict on one another was infinitely more serious. Soon blood was splashed on the walls and bleeding men and women were crawling on the floor, trying to get out from underfoot.

Finding himself back at the front door, Grendel decided discretion was the better part of valour, and slipped out.

He walked home.

Stepping indoors, his mother called out to him from her room: “Is that you, Grendel?”

“Yes mother. Never fear!”

“Did you make them stop? It’s much quieter now.”

“Yes. I think things will be a mite more peaceful now. You can rest easy.”

“Thank you, son. What would I do without you?”

Grendel's mouth“Without me, mother? Why, you’d have to teach them a lesson yourself!” Standing now in the bathroom, inspecting the scratches he had received, Grendel smiled quietly to himself. The idea of his mother going over to Heorot and her reaction to the scenes he had witnessed struck him as amusing.

They wouldn’t know what hit them, he thought.

 

© TheSupercargo


For the real story I warmly recommend Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. The illustration of Grendel the Stockbroker is based in part on a photograph of TS Eliot.

The Camelopardophant in the Zoo of Heraldic Beasts

You humans don’t realise how demeaning this is. And boring. For me anyhow.

The griffin, the unicorn, even the cockatrice have their fans. And Leroy over there gets a stream of visitors. “Do rampant!” They say. “Do couchant!” And he obliges. He’s a trooper.

Well, actually he’s a lion and an egomaniac. But that’s Leroy.

Not me. I don’t get the requests. Does anyone have me on a shield? The only visitors I get say: “What’s this funny looking thing?”

I say: You want funny? Look in a mirror!

No, I don’t. Can’t speak, can I? But think it and try to transmit my contempt by telepathy.

Heraldic Camelopardophant

© TheSupercargo


The above was written for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction forum. The prompt: what appears to be a large soft toy animal with the hindquarters of a zebra, the body of a tiger, the forequarters giraffe and the trunk of an elephant. Obviously a camelopardophant! As ever the Friday Fictioneers target is 100 words – as ever I fail to hit it, but the above is only 107 words long. To see a list of links to all the responses to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, click here.