Category Archives: Fictionoids

Days Of Wine and Wellies. Part The Firste

What could be sexier than drinking champagne from the lip of your loved-one’s wellie? I know. Not flipping much. But we don’t have time for you to be drifting off in a moon-eyed reverie right now, so focus. For I have a tale to tell you. Up here in the romantic North-West we have to be more practical than you on the mainland because if we stand around being romantic all the blowy day we’ll get chills in our bladders and on our blains and other assorteds. This makes us ineffectual and we are nothing if not fectual. For who then will feck the fish off the boats and then feck them over to the shop for the rest of we feckers to buy for our fecking teas? Exactly. We do all our romancing in the warm nooks of  peatstacks or Ford Pintos until our grannies die and we get their houses.

It all began, as many things do, with a vomiting incident on a CalMac ferry. It was a fearsome morning at sea, which would have sorely tried the valves of the most iron-stomached sailors, and thus, for Oliver from Basingstoke, things went swiftly from green to purple. On a tossing ship at sea, everyone lives their own digestive drama oblivious to everyone else. We reel about the deck, one hand clutching our stomachs, the other stapled over our mouths, bouncing off each other like  pinballs, hair streaming, bobble hats and small pets flying as the seagulls scream for us to vomit. The average person can resist throwing up under such circumstances for about half a bilious hour but unfortunately the ferry ride lasts two and a half and Oliver was from Basingstoke besides. Hence, 5 minutes out from the port of Ullapool, our poor, wretched hero was coming face to face with his own biology, God and strawberry pop tart.

However, as everyone who ferries knows, once you have up-chucked, you are grand. Grander than all the other miserable souls trying to preserve their over-priced Inverness breakfasts and determined to, as a matter of bloody principle after managing to keep it down on the roller-coaster bus ride to Ullapool (or Ullapoop as children and Free Church elders hilariously call it.)

Thus it was that our friend, Oliver, was feeling quite chipper when the boat reached the head of Loch Broom, where the ancient submerged moraine makes for notoriously choppy waters even on glass calm days. He was strolling about deck, whistling and nonchalant at a 45 degree angle against the battering gale, when suddenly from out of the deserted cafeteria hurtled a vomiting girl – no, a vomiting woman – of such rare and green beauty that Oliver’s hat was quite blown off. You might say, “Ach, PCB, away and boil your bunions with onions, it was just the wind, lassie!” But it wasn’t, you know, it was love. I’m from the romantic NW and we see this sort of thing all the time. Yes, and have to listen to the naysayers too. It’s never the wind. The wind only takes gloves and high-denomination currency, and pregnancy tests before you can read them. It’s only love can blow your hat off like that. (If you are a man and your scarf should blow off, however, island lore says you may find you have lost something very precious indeed, so make sure to tie a good windsor in it. The scarf.)

OK, now I have drifted off in my own moon-eyed reverie and can’t focus n’more. Plus, I only have until 1pm to do all the things I’ve been putting off  this morning by reporting on this instead.  I shall continue the tale of Oliver and his Vomiting Venus the next time I have other stuff I’m meant to be doing. Kim doesn’t believe me, do you Kim?  And Conan thinks this will be just another half-baked, half-finished, half-tale from Sam. But I will. I will. So until then I leave you with that too, too solid advice from the last paragraph of the story there: tie a knot in it. Plus video of the same ferry that used to run between Ullapool and Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. Now in New Zealand or Fiji or Somewhere.

Pip-pip, peeps.

HMV Suilven. Erstwhile Ferry For Lewis And Harris

Twitching

Some days in the wild Western Isles are days when the only thing to do is curl up tightly and twitch.  If you should come a-knocking on Lewis’s front door on such a day, and nobody answers, it’s because we’re all at home, curled up tightly and twitching.  Check the sky.  It will probably have clouds that look like God has just revoltingly added extra milk to his already o’er-milky tea.  Check your expensive mainland shoes.  They will probably be partially submerged in puddle and doom. There will be no movement behind our curtains, and there will be no light in any window.  Traditionally, we twitch in the dark.  You should turn around immediately and return some other day.

What’s The Matter With Annabel Sue?

Annabel Sue was a terrible case
The worst Doctor Whom would e’er again face.
See, Annabel suffered from awful complaints
O Annabel’s agonies would sore try the saints!

“I’m sure that my ileum must be quite septic!
Can’t recall when I last felt so vile and dyspeptic,
My hear palpitates, every breath is a mercy
And that pain in my coccyx is getting quite piercy.”

“I’ve always been delicate, wispy and frail,”
Anna said heaving o’er like a great lacy whale.
“Now leave me a while, I must have my nap
Wake me round ten with sweet tea and a bap.*”

And often…

“Oh crivens my bones!  Oh Heav’ns, my gall-stones!
I’m fading away, Look! I’m just mere skin and bones!
Call out for the doctor! This pain, I can’t bear it!
(If you’re going past the kitchen i could stand a welsh rarebit…)”

Ann said to the doc. “I’m not one to complain
But I really do think you should cure my chillblains.
After all, I lie here, a martyr to pain!
A slave to my ailments! You can’t know the strain

Of lying here day after day after days
With nothing but telly and all-day buffets.
How I wish I could rise and labour and toil!
How I wish, but I can’t on account of my boil

It’s in rather a delicate place, as you know
The slightest wrong move and that sucker could blow!
Plus I have this strange, bald patch where hair will not grow
And only this morning I staved my big toe…”

Well…

Doctor Whom was just sterling, a real multitasker
But still Annabel suffered, was wretched – just ask her!
Every day brought more ailments, tv ad-break swooning,
(Annabel’s weight was by now fair ballooning)

The good doctor was tested, ne’er rested, befuddled
Sworn to cure…trying to grasp…with reagents she guddled.
She ordered Clear Soups and Tonics and Salves
And ointments to rub on Ann’s shins and her calves.

When that didn’t work she cried “Nil By Mouth!”
But Annabel soon sent that idea South.
On account of her “digestive difficulties”
Anna-belle self-prescribed only cakes, steaks and cheese.

Meanwhile…

The poor doctor read widely from tomes (e’en in leisure):
Annals on anal discomfort and pressure,
Case studies of bunions gone bad, lab reports
And causes for gastric distress, and strange warts.

She consulted with doctors all over the land
“So what can be done for vague pain in the hand?
While Annabel’s kin sold off lamps, rugs and chairs
To keep her in food and them out of arrears.

But…

Then came one day, (notable for more moaning)
Doctor Whom woke up fresh, her head clear, brain not groaning.
She suddenly saw what she had to achieve!
No stethoscope needed, no blood-pressure sleeve!

She strode past the family and up the back stair
She knocked once, went in, and to Ann did declare,
“Annabel Sue, the cause of your affliction’s
No physical problem, but Sickness Addiction!”

Anna cried “Oooh! I’ll get a pill for that then!
Do fill out the prescription at once, here’s a pen!”
“ANNABEL SUE, GET UP OUT OF THAT BED!”
Doctor Whom screamed quite calmly, face not the least red.

Annabel Annabel tried to arise
Shocked Annabel Annabel, stunned and surprised!
Doctor had ne’er before been quite so forceful
Sure sometimes resourceful, and sometimes remorseful

At not having got to the heart of the matter
About Anna’s so oddly becoming much fatter.
“You’ve bankrupt your kin, dashed near ruined their health
In caring for you they’ve lost most of their wealth!

Annabel I will not tell you once more
Get up!  Take a walk, try a stroll to the door!”
“No!” shrieked out Annabel, I WILL NOT DO IT!
You’re fired Dr. Whom! Oh boy, you done blew it!

Dr. Whom smiled and quietly gathered her things,
Downstairs listening, the folks packed their scarce belongings.
They all left together and shut the front door
As upstairs Anna did rage, scream and roar.

And…

Annabel Annabel, ne’er really ill
Annabel howls and is sitting there still.

THE END

One Of The Perils Of The Shawbost Kid

The Shawbost Kid crossed the moor on a Shetland Pony with no name.

(What was a Shetland Pony doing on Lewis?  It swam, OK?  Stop asking questions.)

Barely conscious, bleeding and shirtless he kept one eye peeping open so that he would be sure to guide The
Shetland Pony With No Name into the part of town favoured by the Ladies Of The Night, who he hoped would still be up as Dawn touched the sleepy town, probing slowly, gradually into its most secret crevices.  Down by the already busy harbour, a hauling-crane reached up to its fullest height.

Men were chasing The Shawbost Kid, men with guns,  men in whose bellies burned the righteous fury of those sworn to uphold the Law in these wild and Western Isles. One of them had a white hat. Others of them didn’t. He needed a refuge, a place where someone would risk their lives to hide him, and if, in that refuge, he could have as many bosoms as possible pressed around his attractively wounded head, he was sure that that would help too.

The only trouble was, in order to get to that part of town, he had to go right through the part of town favoured by the Old Knitting Ladies Of The Mid-Morning.  These ancient women would sit and knit on their doorsteps from about a quarter past nine ’til when Neighbours came on the telly.  They would talk of purling and the old ways.  Sometimes they would sing in eerie voices and their quick hands were mere blurs on their flashing needles.

Although it was Dawn, The Shawbost Kid didn’t want to risk alerting any rogue knitters, knitting outwith the usual hours.  He knew they would take him in and look after him well, but he really, really wanted to seek his desperate refuge with the Ladies Of The Night instead.  So he rode up into an alley, leapt off The Shetland Pony With No Name and tied Tesco bags around her hooves with the rustic twine he always had to hand.  Together they padded back into the winding street.

Slumped, gashed and goosebumpy but still somewhat sexily, our bare-chested hero and his mysterious steed, rode their way through the Knitting District, the sharp clops of hoof on pavement muffled by the plasticy crackle of unhappily non-biodegradable shopping receptacles.

At last they reached the neat, well-kept houses on the street of the Ladies Of The Night.

“Please, still be up! Please please please!” thought the Shawbost Kid fervently.

He rode up that winding hill of transacted love in the sexiest, most heroic way any Shawbost man ever could, bleeding, broken, and clearly – to anyone with half a brain – in need of the tender ministrations of pretty ladies.

Nothing.

Damn!  The Tesco bags.

He leapt off and removed them behind a sudden convenient peat-stack.  He rode back on down the hill, this time the clippety clops of hooves ringing out sharply against the tarmacadam.

Nothing again.

Gritting his teeth, he turned the Shetland Pony With No Name and they plodded slowly back up the hill.  This time he moaned and whimpered as loudly as he could, peering out from beneath his hat-brim for any sign of movement.

Not a door opened, nor a curtain twitched. This was getting ridiculous.

The Shawbost Kid didn’t have time for this.  He needed water offered to his cracked lips and he needed it now, dammit! Also, he needed tender injunctions to eat delicious soup, the soft brush of perfumed bosom on his rough, grateful cheek, and the solicitious, revivifying massage of capable hands on his bits and pieces.

But most of all, he needed a jumper.  It was colder than a nun’s nipple out here and he’d always been chesty as a boy growing up.  Being chesty isn’t sexy for an outlaw on the open moors.  Look, at Seamus “Catarrh” MacLeod, the Holy Terror of Barvas.  He never got laid.  Besides, fugitives from justice couldn’t risk imperilling their safety by going into the villages to buy cough-drops.  And it wasn’t cool to ambush the shop-van on the way back to town either.  People’s grannies relied on that shop-van and he sure wasn’t the kind of asshole outlaw who approved of inconveniencing people’s grannies. Leave that to the Hearadhs.

Man and inscrutable mount turned and headed back down the hill for a final sweep-through.  If this didn’t work he was going to have to go back to the knitters and some of them had 3-hair warts and reminded him of his great-auntie Etta.  He shuddered.  But his pursuers would be here soon.  So, flopping around in his saddle, wailing and shrieking his agonies to the street, he gave this last performance his all.

“Hey, I’m not bad at this! ” thought The Shawbost Kid .”Maybe, if I gave up my wild rebellious ways, I could get a gig on the stage or screen!”  But he thought he remembered hearing that actors don’t get laid a lot, so he banished that thought quickly with a flea in its ear.

On and on he wailed, he even gnashed his teeth which isn’t as loud as it sounds and so he quit that in favour of some more wailing and carrying on.

And then… right at the bottom of the hill, a trim little yellow door with roses all around started to open.

“Pssst!  Quick, over here, I can’t risk being seen!” The whisper was low and urgent.

The Shawbost Kid needed no further encouragement.  Sliding brokenly, wincing and exhausted, he dismounted his unfathomable mare, who looked somehow as if she had seen this all before – in other towns, with other outlaws – and limped, foot dragging dramatically, over to the yellow door.

A hand pulled him inside and, too late, The Shawbost Kid realised his mistake.  For the hand that pulled him was not slender and soft, nor was it plump and warm.  This hand was broad and black hairs curled from it like his mammy’s wire-wool pot scrubber.  He should have known!  He should have guessed from the naughty garden gnomes that frolicked around the polished step!  With a last glance as he was dragged inside he could see now just how naughty these gnomes were being.  He should have noticed the alphabetically ordered pots of common kitchen herbs lined neatly up under the windows!  He should have spotted the tiny (but oh so there, oh so very there) little rainbow flag in the bottom corner of the window!

The Shawbost Kid swallowed hard as the full realization came upon him.  He had somehow managed to be rescued by the one and only Laddie Of The Night in all of Stornoway.

“Oh, wait! Wait!” he protested in the floral hall as the door shut behind him.

“Wait!, I’ve made a mistake.  Look, hey, I think you guys are great, right, and I fully support you and your right to have your marriages fully recognized under UK law, I mean my cousin’s a gay and I played with him my whole life…I mean I didn’t play with him that way, I mean not like that, wink wink… God and Christ, no! No winking…I mean…Look, I reeeeaaally appreciate you saving my life and all but the thing is I’m really feeling much better now and my pursuers probably won’t be along for a whiley yet. So you know, if I limp quickly I’ll probably be safe enough to make it to the holy sanctuary of the church around the corner.

Just then, a great clatter of hooves resounded from the street outside.  Through the top square of the charming 9-pane window, he saw a white hat.  Shit.

“God, It’s always the same with you straighters” said the Laddie, a towering, beautiful, oiled Adonis standing in the hall with nothing but a Nigella Lawson apron on and spatula in his hand.

“Why would you imagine for a minute that I’d be interested in seducing you?  I mean, look at the state of you, man!  You stink! Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I want to shag everything walking around with a willy in the Outer Hebrides, you know.  I have standards like everybody else.  I mean, I bet the reason you’re up here is that you didn’t want to be rescued by any lady older than 70 who has wiry three-hair warts, am I right?

The Shawbost Kid looked down at his wellies, and mumbled a sheepish “Yes”.  He should feel relieved right?  Yet, why was he wishing he had shaved that morning?  Why was he so strangely miffed that this man, who was frankly, feckin’ gorgeous (even Chuck Norris would have to admit that) didn’t think he was even a wee bit cute?

The clatter in the street stopped suddenly…footsteps outside the little yellow door.  Suddenly the door exploded inwards, splintering ahead of the foot that followed it.

The Laddie grabbed the Shawbost Kid to his burnished chest, shielding him by turning away from the door, and kissed him, kissed him like The Shawbost Kid had never been kissed before. Through the shattered door-frame, the embarrassed lawmen looked at the embracing pair – the huge Laddie hiding most of the Kid with his broad, muscular back – and they coughed a little.  And again. And then cleared their throats a little more loudly, chestiness being an attribute in their line of work.

“Um.  Excuse us, like. We’re just checking the neighbourhood for a desperate outlaw.  Sorry about the door and that.  Can’t be too careful you see. You wouldn’t have happened to see such a desperado this morning, sir…would you?

Laddie and The Kid continued in their passionate snog, seemingly oblivious to the awkward, shuffling defenders of justice peering in from the garden.

“Righty-ho! then,” said the man in the White Hat with excessive joviality. “I can see you’re busy – got to keep the wheels of commerce rolling, eh? Ahahahaha.  Nice to see a young man up and at work so early. Look, we’ll just leave our card here and, you know, if you should…Jesus!”

Our Saviour was brought into the conversation right then on account of The Shawbost Kid’s hand moving down from the lean, muscular waist to cup the taut buttocks of the Laddie Of The Night.

“Umpff, let’s go lads, there’s nothing more we can accomplish here.”

And, calling back something garbled about sending a receipt for the damage to the station, the hard-riding, weather-beaten lawmen of Lewis beat the speediest retreat from the little cottage since 1973 when Sidney Wetherbottom of Little Chipping, Yorkshire, pulled out of Janice Cuddieswick just as Thomas Cuddieswick strode through the bedroom door – widely regarded as the speediest retreat beat by anyone, ever, in the British Isles.

Releasing The Kid with an involuntary shudder, The Laddie said to him, “Well, that was close!  Go back there into the kitchen and I’ll make you some breakfast.  You can lie low for a day but then you’re out, dyahear? Gone.”

And turning at the end of the hall, the glowing, handsome Laddie Of The Night, looked back curiously at the dazed, slightly swaying Shawbost Kid and said, “You know that’s one hell of a grip you’ve got with your right hand there, cowboy.  My tush is going to be black and blue for a week!”

The Shawbost Kid looked at his hands.  They were shaking.  Frowning, confused, he touched his hand to his lips. Then he sat down and took off his wellie boots.

THE END.

The Song Of The Sexy Crofter

Yippee kai-aye-yay get along little ewe-hoo
You must be at market by 8 o’ the clock
Though it hurts me to tell you
My friend I must sell you,
I’ve spent all the savings I keep in my sock.

That’s what the sexy crofter of Brue sings early in the morn, (it’s like a regular morning but with more curious fawns and delightful butterflies) as he walks down the lane to his  other field. The village girls line up in their smart office-wear to catch the early bus to Stornoway.  Each is beautiful in her own special way; each has her own special memory of the Sexy Crofter; each has had her own special dose of antibiotics. They watch him go by.

What is it about him?  He’s no good, they all know it.  In fact he’s a lyin’, cheatin’ son of a so’n’so and he doesn’t even try to pretend otherwise.  In fact, he goes out of his way to tell you he’s a wrong ‘un.  He has no
money and any he gets goes on beer and sheep-dip. But he is tall, and he is dark and he is deeply, deeply sexy.

He does sexy things, like saving people from certain peril and there’s nothing sexier than saving people from certain peril.  He’s done that 3 and a half times this month already. First, he ran into a burning dry-cleaners and rescued the shop’s beloved goldfish.  Fluffy was half-boiled when he found her but he CPRed her back to life with a pipette that was thrust into his hands by a passing lab technician, horrified by the carnage in front of him but too allergic to fish to leap in himself, even to save a life.

Then, using just his bare hands and the fortune the gods give to straight-toothed heroes, he lifted a lorry that had accidentally parked on old Mr. MacWhirter .

Next, he rescued an adorable little girl from the jaws of a tiger-shark.  Tiger-sharks are not normally found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic but this one was part of a shark TV-crew on the way to the Arctic to film the effects of global warming on the polar ice-cap and had come into the bay at Dalbeag to warm up. Wrestling and writhing, thrashing and throttling went the sexy crofter across the shallows with the shark, trying to tug the child from the hideous toothy terror, and finally most of her came free.  This was not the half rescue of the 3 and a half though.  The adorable child was counted as a whole save because the loss her leg to the knee didn’t make her any less adorable.  If anything, more, according to Creepy Norman in the Post Office.

The real half-save was really just an error of hearing in the pub when the story of the 4th rescue was told.  After a while, people in that particular pub get so that not only their vision but their hearing goes blurry.  Anyway, as we now know, what happened was this:

Murdo ‘Leccy, the notorious adulterer of Sand Street, was canoodling deep in the ferns by the town hall one night with Janet from MacLean’s when his wife’s sister, Maureen, walked by, pausing to flick a cigarette end into the fountain.  Seeing the ferntops twitching rythmically, she was moved to investigate because she hasn’t a lot else going on in her life.

“Oh, Murdo Leccy!”  breathed Janet, all goosebumps and exclamation marks.  “Where did you learn how to do that?”

But Janet had gasped too loud.  Out in the lamplit street, Maureen’s eyes narrowed.

“Murdo! Is that you in there, you filthy, harlot-hopping, little weasel-todger? I know it is!” She began to cackle a nasty cackle.

“You’re up to to your miserable gonads in trouble now, ‘Nad-Face!  I’m calling my sister! There’s no way you can talk yourself out of this one!  Who’s in there with you?  Is that “Gives You The Extra Yard” Janet from the
fabric counter at MacLean’s? ”

Murdo froze solid, apart from one part of him which shrank away like a terrified mouse into a skirting board.  Thinking fast, he did what he always did in a fix.  He speed-dialed his cousin, who, as it happens, is our hero, that impossibly sexy crofter of Brue.

“Ferns!” he hissed into his Nokia. “Maureen!”

The sexy crofter, round the corner in the Fisherman’s Rest, took the call, put his new pint back down on the
counter carefully and walked out the door. Reaching the corner, right behind the tall ferns, his stunning blue eyes took in the scene immediately and in one fluid motion he’d dropped on his belly like a snake you’d just love to…pet.

Unseen by the shrieking, triumphant Maureen, the sexy crofter writhed his way into the ferny undergrowth with the kind of loose-hipped agility that would make a nun weep.

He reached the disheveled lovers just as a Honda Civic screeched to a halt on the street beside them.  The door opened and a little mountain of beer cans and scorched styrofoam cup ashtrays avalanched tinkily, ominously, onto the pavement.  He could see the pink nylon slippers of a woman coming out of the car.  Closer came the pink nylon slippers, closer, into the ferns now, which were being thrashed aside with a… holy shit! With a cleaver! And a pretty, flipping capable looking arm attached to it!

“I’ve caught you this time for sure,” snarled the raspy voice of a saw-throated woman . “Let’s see what your
lawyer has to say about this, eh?”

The ferns parted and a bulging-eyed gargoyle thrust its head through to glare down in darkness at the couple in flagrante…

“Pardon me, ma’am” said the sexy crofter.  “Oh hi, Beryl, it’s yourself! Look, I don’t mean to be rude but you’ve sort of stumbled into an occupied fern-patch, here.  If you go over by the quay, there’s a good clump there, ‘fyou like.  Bloody council, eh!  Never get around to the weed-whacking.  Now, if you wouldn’t mind just closing the foliage up there, Beryl, there’s a bit of a draught when they’re open, see.  There, that’s great, much obliged to you.  Bye now!  Say hi to Murdo for me!”

Beryl retreated to the pavement sputtering, and gurgling like dodgy plumbing with air in the tubes.  She looked at Maureen.  Maureen looked at her furious sister and began to open her mouth…

“I…”

But that was all she got out before Beryl’s pre-brick-filled handbag made the sort of sound against her skull
that a butcher’s bag of minced beef, eggs and parsley makes when it’s dropped from a third-storey window.  And sustaining the kind of injury that had become known in the hospital’s A&E, down the years as a BSM: a Beryl’s Special Meatloaf.

Meanwhile the dog, Murdo, smudged green and reeking of Elizabeth Taylor’s “White Diamonds” slipped into a still-warm seat at the bar in the Rest, picked up his devastatingly sexy cousin’s pint, and drank with all the gusto of a man who had just escaped certain Beryl.

Peril and Beryl are practically the same things and both often result in a grisly death so this piece of selfless,
and therefore sexy, saving of a life was counted as a half, a half being deducted for being related to his stupid-ass cousin whom everybody else would have like to see castrated. Strangely, no-one ever wished a castration upon the Sexy Crofter of Brue.

So he had that: selfless acts of death-defying courage, for sure he had that.  But there was something else,
thought the ladies at the bus-stop, each to her secretest self, half of them hoping he’d look up and seek out their eyes as he walked past, half of them praying he wouldn’t.  All of them half-hating, half-loving him.  All of them wondering what he was thinking.

And here’s what the sexy Cowboy of Brue was really thinking as he strolled down the lane, his hands in his
pockets, the morning sun on his back, and here and there gorgeous butterflies settling Disneyesquilly on curious fawns’ noses, contributing to the aura of magic that surrounded him at all times; here’s what he was really thinking:

“Christ, I’ve really got an itch in me balls! It’s like there’s a ball-weevil in there with a little feather duster! How the hell am I going to scratch it with all these gorgeous women over there at the bus-stop?  God and me guts are giving me jip, an’ all.  Shouldn’t have had that paneer aloo gobi last night with my beans.  Man, I’m just going to have to wait til the bus has gone and then I’ll let one rip and really have a good root down in my breeks.”

He walked on, humming to distract him from the tortuous itch and the ballooning pressure.

Yippee kai-aye-yay get along little ewe-hoo
You must be at market by 8 o’ the clock
Though it hurts me to tell you
My friend I must sell you,
I’ve spent all the savings I keep in my sock.

Across the street, the women sighed their private sighs.  And then the bus came.

Love In The Time Of A Hacking Cough

Once upon a time in the Outer Hebrides, there was a cough Going Around, a nasty, phlegmy, be-streaky-sputumed cough. Those who caught it and coughed it sounded like a troop of asthmatic tapdancers dancing in a long echoey hall each time they were moved to expectorate. Their lungs bubbled and wheezed and, once it struck the pestilence could not be shifted from the sufferer’s body for at least a year and left the victim in a significantly weakened condition for perhaps several more.

The curious thing about this cough was that small children, people over 60 and those with compromised immune systems went completely unaffected by it, while otherwise strong and healthy adults were laid low. Not only were they laid low, but they were also laid less and less. They simply did not have the puff to manage it any more.

The only strong and healthy adults not to be affected were The Ruddy. In the same way teeny-tiny, microscopic way as the sickle-cell anaemia allele protects against malaria, something in the rosy-cheeked gene was acting as a lung-protectant against the Hacking Cough.

In the Outer Hebrides there is no such thing as Performance Anxiety. Everybody can do it just fine, left to their own devices, and some don’t even need devices. What we do have though, is Population Anxiety. Many a promising evening has been cut short by one or other partner (heterosexual partner that is, of course – God has blessed us such that gay people don’t exist in the Hebrides. Nope, not a one.) … where was I? Many’s the promising evening that has been cut short by one or other partner rolling dramatically off to one side and rubbing their temples, saying “It’s no use, a’ghraidh, the pressure to produce the next generation so we won’t be a top-heavy population, graphically speaking, is just too much. O, unhappy demographic! If only Westmister hadn’t mandated an uptick in our breeding!”

You can imagine then that a year or more out for members of the breeding population was a hard blow for everyone. Without more young people, there would be no more grants from Europe, no more Crofting Development Programmes and no more lovely, lovely subsidies to spend down at the Legion. What was to be done?

An emergency meeting was called with the sick being wheeled in by variously The Very Young, The Very Old and The Ruddy so that a full community vote could be cast. What with the hacking of the ill, the bawling of the very small and the dozing of the old, things were proceeding very slowly. It was left to The Ruddy to take charge. Fortunately there were some natural leaders among them who now saw that their time to shine was nigh, only this time the shining would be metaphorical. They were being called to do something for their island, something noble, something magnificent, a selfless gesture of defiance against the blight that plagued their people. The motion was put by Rubicund Rory:

“I move that The Ruddy, being of sound lungs and florid cheeks, be called upon to lay themselves down for their countrymen and women, and for the duration of this Hacking Cough, endeavour to make as many babies as possible,”

Rosy Rosie seconded and the proposal was put to the vote.

“All in favour say Aye!”

“Huh, what was that? Oh, aye, aye, right enough then,” said The Elderly

“Aboohoo aboohoo waaaaaahaye aye aye!” said The Very Young

“Ackh ackh ackh wheeze!” said The Sick, nodding.

“Aye!” said The Ruddy solemnly, flushing with pride and responsibility and taking the full brunt of island expectations on their ham-dappled shoulders.

Noone could know the Hacking Cough would be Going Round for another 10 years. In that time, The Ruddy surpassed all expectations. Ruddy ladies turned out 1 and a third babies a year and ruddy men ran hither and yon making sure that The Ruddy Young didn’t wander near clifftops or drink bleach.

That was years ago, but even if you go to Lewis today, you will see everywhere the legacy of that love in the time of a hacking cough. From the blowzy drunk on the corner to the raw-headed, black-clad, turkey-vulturesque church elders at the Seminary; from the florid florists on Cromwell Street to the sanguine sailors on the quay; from the bloom-cheeked merry folk to the face-like-a-slapped-bum dour contingent, the extraordinarily high proportion of The Ruddy in the Outer Isles is one of the first things a visitor will notice. Right after she notices that some people have more than ten fingers and all of the clocks are moving much…more…slowly…

Smirk

Nobody likes a smirker.

In the town of Stornoway, at the turn of the 20th century, there were two men well known for their smirking. One, Smirky Smith (45) had a congenital condition called rigor smirkus which caused his facial muscles to sieze up into an infuriating smirk at unpredictable moments, much vexing his neighbours. Stress aggravated the poor man’s affliction and not being able to trust his facial expressions made social situations tortuous, and not in an even slightly sexy way.

The other smirker was a mere arsehole, and by mere, I mean utter. He was the local councillor for the powerful Seaforth Ward and was feared mainly for his ruthless smirk, and his “I know something about the municipal sewer system you don’t” smirk although he had many other kinds. He had pretensions up the skatoolumshinopterops (local euphemism for the bottom), fancied himself a wag and was the sort of fellow who, upon hearing about a devastating monsoon in Bangladesh, would send the Red Cross an umbrella, barely able to conceal his cleverness at the Post-Office and completely unable to conceal it later at the pub. An arsehole then. His name was Hugh Jorgan (42), and he was.

Even in the year 2000, there were many in Stornoway who didn’t believe in congenital conditions, only character flaws and punishments from God. Smirky Smith was deemed to be a puzzle. He was also deemed to be a butcher and one and half of these things was right. He was known far and wide as a fellow generous with his time and money, always the first to help a neighbour or do some kind service for some-kind-service-needer. But except for a few understanding old ladies, people couldn’t understand why he so often also appeared to be a prick.

In the shop, while he would give all his regular customers an extra sausage in their packets, sometimes his face would twitch into a knowing smirk right at the worst moment.

“Extra sausage in there for you this week” he would wink with a kind smile to poor Mrs. Matheson whose husband had run away with all her money and a freckled prawn-packer from Balallan, “I’m sure you can use it.”

But right then his kind smile would contort into a salaciously knowing smirk and Mrs. Matheson would get it all wrong about the sausage and declare “Oh! Oh! Did you hear that Mrs. MacLeod? I’ve never heard such impertinence in my life” and beat him about the head with her handbag. Sometimes other shoppers would join in.

Incidents of this nature happened about once a week. Not enough to put housewives off his delicious meaty vittles, which were the best in town, but just enough to make them wary of his sudden, disconcerting smirks.

As you might imagine, Smirky Smith was a lonely, unhappy man. Hugh Jorgan on the other hand never met a person he didn’t feel he could be smug and supercillious to. His smirks weren’t the comic or impishly charming smirks of the incidental smirker. Hugh Jorgan’s smirks were all about power. They were designed to put people in their place – to show who was the smartest at the table, to mark himself as the urbane fellow who knew the system because he kept the system in his pocket.

The odd thing, considering the size of the town, was that the two had never met. One day they did. It was at the annual regatta on the harbour. The weather was foul. Rain lashed the beshorted’n’tee-shirted islanders on their purple and white variegated legs, and wind whipped puffs of their candy-flosses into the hair of other people too cheap to buy their own which was dead unfair. But despite the thunder and occasional lightening, people were having fun. And the Bonny Baby contest was just about to be decided! Look!

Traditionally a butcher judged this event, having an eye for a good healthy hock and experience in identifying a superior breeding line. This year it was Smirky Smith’s turn and he was dreading it. What if he smirked when announcing the winner? What if it looked like he thought the island’s bonniest baby, the very bonniest it could manage, was really a little goblin? How upset would the parents be? How enraged the crowd? he thought as mounted the outdoor stage and walked up and down the row of dribbly little humans sitting on their beaming mammy’s laps. He made his selection, a fat, jovial little bubble-blower from Ranish, the one with the least snotty summer cold.

Hugh Jorgan, also sitting up on the stage behind a table full of trophies was the local dignitary selected to present the prizes this year. He sat there in full-on self-satisfied smirk, puffed with his celebrity and the thrill it was sending through the proles. A thrill that didn’t in fact exist, even in a parallel universe. Rather, in all other possible parallel universes, and even the impossible ones, the crowd was as one brain in thinking “God, would you look at that smirking bastard up there all smug and condescending. Why I’d like to…!” And there they split off from one another in a babble of preferred come-uppances for their councillor.

The time came for Smirky to announce the winner. Trembling he approached the microphone. The crowd hushed in anticipation, and, as if this were some sort of made-up story and not the absolute Gospel truth, even the rain and wind seemed to calm momentarily. For a minute he stood there, swaying, facing the upturned faces like a pinata who knows the beating he was born for was about to begin. He removed his cap and ran his fingers through barely there hair, staring into his cap as if it contained the answers to all his questions. He looked up.

“The, uh, th…” (Oh God, the dreadful twitching was starting) “…the winner …” (Oh please God, no! Don’t let me smirk, please don’t let me smirk!) “um… of this year’s bonny baby competition…” (Oh no! Here it comes! No no no!) “is…”

But Smirky never did get to say who had won, for at that moment the heavy heavens cracked open and righteous fire from God’s own finger* struck the mercury amalgam fillings in the head of one of the mammies on the slick, wet stage, sending heaps and heaps of volts through everyone on it. The crowd screamed or bellowed according to their voice-ranges and relative level of operatic training. The figures on the stage, jumped and jiggled and all their skeletons glowed bluely through their bodies. Percy Veerence, stoic and father of 7, just had time to notice with a groan another tiny skeleton sucking its tiny bony thumb, deep in his wife’s pelvis, as she and # 7 jerked up and down the stage.

And then it was all over. God put his finger away, zipped up the low-slung heavens and the people on the stage collapsed like charmed cobras might if a sudden snake-charmer strike with immediate effect had been announced.

Nobody on the stage that day died but some formerly straight-haired people weren’t any more. The same thing could be said of the straight-laced people whose morals suddenly went all curly. But something much more remarkable happened. For on that wonderful day Smirky Smith lost the smirk tht had plagued him his whole life, and Hugh Jorgan lost the smirk that had supported his ego.

Hugh experienced a catastrophic loss in confidence without his smirk, resigned abruptly from public life and slowly but surely, through means of a Deepak Chopra Audio lecture on DVD and a high-fibre diet, rediscovered the lovely person underneath the arrogant bastard.

Smirky Smith was never to lose his nickname but, now, finally able to control his facial muscles, he quickly became a beloved figure in the town, married a woman with a skellie eye and a twinkle in it, and lived pleasant-facedly ever after, out from under the shadow of the Vale of Tears And Smirks.

*Or lightning.
The End

The Tale Of Howlpants Sheeppoke, The Hallucinating Shepherd Of Brue.

Howlpants Sheeppoke, the Hallucinating Shepherd of Brue never meant to hurt anyone that October day so it was with dismay that he sat on the high hillside and watched the village explode and burn. He took no pleasure whatsoever in seeing Mrs. MacCuish from the Post Office flung 30 feet in the air in a slow elegant arc, even though a small part of him thrilled to the naughty semantic thought of her being hoisted on his petard. As a boy in the shop with his mother, he’d always taken a secret pleasure in being pressed in fond envelopment to Mrs. MacCuish’s suffocating bosom, with the sure certainty of a lollipop to follow. He hated to see her looking so floppy and flying.

Oh, he knew he hallucinated, he knew as well as anybody. The gentle rattle from the pill-bottle in his pocket usually soothed him, but looking at old burning Mr. Jamieson racing towards the duckpond, his clothes all aflame, the tinkle seemed to be mocking him. You shouldn’t have forgotten us on Tuesday…shouldn’t have forgotten us on Tuesday…Tuesday…Tuesday… they seemed to say.

But when exactly did the hallucination begin that day, and when did it end? Howlpants Sheeppoke, the Hallucinating Shepherd of Brue, could not be sure. Was he still hallucinating now, even nasally, as the smell of burning chaos drifted up the hill to his nostrils?

He was pretty sure now he had been hallucinating when he tore into the village shop screaming “The clouds! The clouds have fangs! Look everybody! See how their abominable maws are slavering with rain! They mean to fang US! Fang us to death! Hide! Throw tins of soup! Anything! Don’t just stand there gawking! O rainy, unhappy day of the fanged clouds! Who will help me throw things at them? Who will listen to me?”

The people had stared of course, they usually did, before saying to each other “Oh that’s just young Howlpants Sheeppoke, he’s an hallucinating shepherd, you know. Don’t pay him any mind. Nice lad really” Then gradually they’d gone back to the usual things of stacking the shelves, chatting by the eggs, doing some minor shoplifting.

Mr. MacKenzie was looking at the birthday card for their son Calum that Mrs. MacKenzie was showing him.

“Oh I don’t know, The Transformers? I mean he is turning 21, Effie.”

“Don’t be silly!” bustled Mrs. Mackenzie. “He loves technology and things of that sort. I think it’s Calumy, very Calumy.”

And that’s what had gone wrong. As she said “It’s Calumy, very Calumy” she chanced to look up and straight into the dilated pupils of Howlpants, now sitting quietly on the ice-cream freezer and eating scratch-cards.

Howlpants Sheeppoke heard nothing at all about a beloved son. What he heard was, “Calumny, very calumny,” and a gear snapped back into place in his head, the fan-belt engaged again and started up blowing hot winds of sulphurous rage over his throbbing, hurty brain.

For if there was one thing that everyone knew that Howlpants hated, it was to be called a calumnist. On less insane days, he knew that technically some of his Cassandra-like proclamations in the shop about man-eating Glaswegians coming over the hill, and all the tractors suddenly melting, thawing and resolving themselves into a dew, were not true, but, he had maintained at the emergency meeting last year – as had his doctor and indeed most of the village, except the minister – that because the hallucinations were true to him, he could not be called a liar. He would not be called a liar. The last person to call him one, he’d beaten so badly she couldn’t go to play-school for a month.

But, and also yet, here was someone looking him straight in the eye and saying “Calumny, very calumny” (albeit a bit archaically – but wasn’t that Shakespeare dude really popular, right now? Hadn’t the Barvas Players just done “As You Like It” in Shawbost? This woman had obviously picked up Elizabethan speech patterns and was using them to fling the stinging insult at him from her lair, by the greetings cards.) He could not stand for it. His brain kicked up another gear and with a fury that knocked the crisps-rack clear 10 feet across the shop, he leapt to his feet and attempted to strangle Mrs. MacKenzie.

Mr. MacKenzie paused only very slightly before rushing to his wife’s aid. He pried the mad shepherd’s fingers away from the purpling neck of his semi-beloved and was lucky to sustain only a broken coccyx when Howlpants’s rage-fortified strength lobbed him backwards into the washing powder.

Howlpants flung his head backwards, his neck ropey with fury, and screamed at the ceiling tiles “Calumny? Calumny, is it?” Then seizing the basket of Halloween rockets by the counter and a Zippo from the window display he roared out of the shop as suddenly as he’d entered it, leaving the shocked shoppers to attend to the whimpering MacKenzies.

All through Brue phones rang and the word spread rapidly that Howlpants Sheeppoke had really lost it this time. The village went eerily quiet. By and by, one by one, people started coming out of their doors to see what was happening. The first ones to do so were also the first to see the rockets go off as Howlpants clambered to the top of the statue of The Unknown Crofter at the crossroads, laughing maniacally and howling “Calumny nononononononononohahahahahahaha!”

The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air – it’s an old story but never was it played out so multicolouredly as it was at Brue. Howlpants had been everywhere with his fireworks. The barns exploded, the library van, the church, the holiday cottages, the Post Office and the Whaler’s Rest. But not the school. Not the school.

And how beautiful it all was, thought Howlpants Sheeppoke from up on his hill. If you could ignore for a minute the flying cows and people, and the annoying screams of anguish, how beautiful to see the pub explode into green and red like that, the church into blue and gold! And suddenly, Howlpants was not sorry any more. Not sorry at all.

*

Not long after the sound of the explosions and burning Hebrideans had subsided, Flossie, Howlpants’s favourite sheep, wondered over and licked him absently with her rough tongue. He came to groggily, sat up and gazed down at the peaceful green village beneath him. He saw Mrs. MacCuish wave goodbye to the post-van from town, and there was Mrs. MacKenzie hanging out her washing. He lay back on the soft mossy grass, closed his eyes and smiled. It had all just been a beautiful dream.

When he opened his eyes again, it was raining and a grinning fanged cloud leered down at him as it descended upon the hill, shrouding it, and muffling all noise…

Stop 221 On The PCB Guide To The Hebrides

Your tour guide here! Here we are at stop 221, a popular attraction: Phil, The Lonely Fly-Fisherman And His World-Famous Interesting Mutterings. Everyone off the bus!

Phil, the lonely fly fisherman is out fishing again, alone. Let us approach him quietly from behind so we might overhear his mutterings all the more sneakily.

The mutterings of a lonely fly-fisherman are among the most interesting in the world. Now you won’t read that in any book nor hear it from any statistician, but you can count on my word that it’s true, friends. Have I ever steered you wrong? Only a divorced single of mother of 6 living in a mid-priced suburb of Brasilia has the edge on the lonely fly fisherman for interesting mumblings, for she, also, has noone to talk to despite her large and clamorous family.

Right now, sshhoooooooosh! Softly, softly we approach the huddled figure at the loch’s edge. We’re in luck! He’s mumbling. Everybody crouch down behind that boulder there while I swing this fuzzy microphoned boom out over him. Let’s see if we can pick up some mumbles. OK folks, don your headphones!

Lonely Fly Fisherman: “Oh why did I lie that time to Miranda? It was always between us after that, besmirching her trust for me like a lollipop stain on a priest’s surplice. It was such a little thing too, I hardly know why I did it. Why oh why oh…
Wait! Was that a twitch on the water…?

(Silence for 83 seconds)

Why? Why did I have to tell her I was a dangerous and sexy maverick librarian who categorized his own way, the rules be damned? I guess I was desperate for her short-term love. But she saw it, saw the lie behind my eyes. She knew I’m not man enough to mess with the Dewey.

(Silence for 18 minutes.)

I wish I knew why soda bubbles only stream from certain points in the glass. There’s probably some very simple chemistry or physics behind it that I feel I should know about, as a reasonably well-educated man living and fly-fishing in the 21st century. I’m pretty sure there’s no biology behind it. I don’t think. Nah, no biology. Bubbles aren’t living things…although they do grow and move and reproduce… Goddammit! What’s the matter with you, man? Bubbles aren’t alive! I wouldn’t have to think these thoughts if I weren’t so awfully awfully lonely…!

(Phil sometimes has periods of crippling despair like this. Don’t be concerned though, they never last longer than a month or so at a time. And besides, when he’s cheery, he doesn’t come fishing and then we’re left with no stop 221. The mainland press, as I’m sure you’re aware, have tried to imply we’ve paid all his old friends not to talk to him anymore, just so we can cram another stop on the tour in, but there’s no truth in that. Ahahahahaha.)

Oh! Oh, I just thought of a joke! Which world capital has the most junked out automobiles in the world? Khartoum! Ahahahahahahahaha! Oh I must tell that to … to whom? I have noone. There is nobody to whom I can tell my joke… Oh for Chrissakes, why do I have to be so bloody grammatically correct all the time? I’m all by my bloomin’ self out here! Why am I so anal? Why must I be so self-pitying and loathsome?

Biff! Biff!

(Observe as the lonely fisherman slaps himself upside the head, folks…Minutes pass… He’s calming down now…)

Why doesn’t analyse mean bullshit? It’s right there in the word – anal lies! Why don’t therapists just tell you the truth and say they’re going to bullshit you? Oh this is going nowhere…!

(Attraction 221 will occasionally break down and weep like he’s doing now but, again, there’s no cause for alarm. Weeping’s just a form of happiness for Phil, the Lonely Fly-Fisherman.)

Fish? Hello? Fish, if you’re out there, give a guy a break, eh? How about it? You sacrifice your life to my hook and I will tell everyone you were much bigger and more fearsome than you are. Except I have no everybody…There’s only the wind will hear my big-fish lie.

(Silence for 3 more minutes)

Did you know, fish, that the word ovation comes from the Latin ovis – a sheep? I think that might explain why I find myself cheering and clapping loudly at things I didn’t think were as good as all that.

Another thing, fish. Montaigne once said, “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.” I hope he said it more than once. I would have. It’s a good one.

When I was 9 I could play The Well Tempered Clavier by Bach with only two fingers (moving really quickly) and I was hailed as a prodigy. When I hit puberty I lost that ability. Science can’t tell me why.

I should have moved my bowels this morning before i came out. I knew it, and yet I didn’t. I didn’t, and now they’ll be waiting for me when I get back.

How long could a person live if toothpaste was the only thing to eat?… Oy, fish? Any guesses…?

What’ve I got in for my dinner tonight…?”

The fuzzy boom retreats.

*

Well there we have it, folks. Not as interesting as I’d hoped but you can never tell how his thoughts will turn. I’ve noticed that when there’s cheese in his sandwiches he’s at his most interesting but, as you might be able to see, folks, today it’s some sort of involved fancy schmancy Mediterranean wrap which does actually look quite interesting itself. See, it hasn’t entirely been a waste of time, eh? And it’s certainly whetted my appetite for some of Mrs. MacIver’s lovely scones at Stop 222. Ahahahahaha. Of course, Phil’s really at his most interesting in the early mornings and at sunset but during the day he can lapse into drivel, like we’ve heard. Yeah. Sorry about that. But what can you do? It’s beyond our control. One of these things. You pays your money, you takes your chances etc. Ahahahaha.

‘K, everybody, back to the bus. There’s a pine-fitted gift-shop at the tea-rooms beside attraction 222 and they have copies of The Lonely, Muttering Fisherman: His Greatest Hits available for purchase in both tape and CD formats, if you’d like to hear him a bit more, uh, on form. Ahahahahaha.

*

The moral of the post is: Stay away from people who are not as interesting as their sandwiches. Also, don’t pay for any Hebridean bus tour until it is over. These people will so screw you over.

A Summer’s Tale

Square-Jawed George adored Genevieve above all the other rabbits in the warren. Splendidly, Genevieve admired George’s muscular haunches and his strong, decisive chin. Square-Jawed George and Genevieve would often lie among the primroses under the old willow tree and read poetry to each other, or go strolling ardently by the river. Sometimes they would skip and scamper through the meadow, laughing and laughing as if they were the first bunnies ever to have loved.

But this wasn’t enough love even for two so star-crossed as they, even for two who had his moon rising in her Sagittarius. Their love grew and grew until pretty soon it was nauseating the whole warren. Square-Jawed George and Genevieve would walk the wooded meadow as lovers do, lost in each other’s eyes, occasionally knocking over toadstool dwellings but oblivious to everything and everyone except their love. As they passed by, in their wake they left dozens of innocent rabbits doubled-up, heaving and retching out their half-nibbled stomach contents in the pleasant meadow flowers. The ladybirds who lived in the toadstools were furious too at having lost yet another housing development cul-de-sac to the lovers. The whole meadow smelled of regurgitated dandelion-stems, and toadstool prices in the area had plummeted. The strain on the community was beginning to show.

The rabbits and ladybirds took their complaints to the warren-council where dark words were muttered and mid-toned discussions screamed, but there seemed to be nothing in the law books which forbade the public exchange of tender lovelinesses between consenting rabbits. It seemed the law’s paws were tied. Maybe it’ll stop when Spring is over, they hoped.

Spring turned to Summer. One Wednesday in July, a hot, stifling day which left even the most equable rabbits grumpy and irritable, the meadow was smelling particularly rank. Square-Jawed George and Genevieve had been even more vomitsome lately. Sweaty bunnies lay here and there in the scorched and scratchy grass, fanning themselves with blighted dock leaves and bickering. Malnutrition from all the vomiting had taken its toll on some of the bunnies. Everywhere ears drooped, teeth rotted and ribs showed painfully through their dull coats. Only Square-Jawed George and Genevieve were still bright of eye and perky of bob-tail. And here they came.

“What shall I compare thee to today, my sweet doe?” trilled Square-jawed George buckfully. A summer day’s sooo been done.” But, because his chin was so very decisive, the word came to him almost immediately. “An evening! A summer’s evening!” And Genevieve loved him even more for his easy command of words.

“Oh Christ, here they come again!” said one rabbit and the word spread throughout the meadow. “Quick – paws in ears, eyes shut and lalalalalas!

But the mood was different in the meadow today. The rabbits didn’t put their paws in their ears or shut their eyes or do lalalalas. Instead, it was very, very quiet, each rabbit straining to hear what the lovers were saying as they passed, as if masochism were the new arugula. Here and there a bunny eye glinted. Square-Jawed George and Genevieve lolloped on, not seeing or hearing anything but themselves.

And something snapped. it was impossible to say who started it, only that an electrifying twitch-nerve surged through the watching rabbits like a sort of murderous Mexican wave and all 700 rabbits sprang forward in a fury, launching themselves at the lovers with their teeth bared.

Long after the fluff had settled, and the blood trickled away into the soil, long after the crows had done for the remains of the tragic pair, I, an old, old owl, who had seem it all come to pass from my high forest perch by the meadow would gather my grandowlets around me and tell them the tale of Square-Jawed George and Genevieve.

“Why did they have to die?” they would sob, doing little owl droppings of despair all over my nice rug.

And I would shake my wise old head, as I handed them buckets of water and disinfectant to clean up.

“They were too beautiful for this world.” I would whisper, my eyes shining with brine. And I would turn away from my darlings then, and all the old guilt would come flooding back. The guilt about how good the lovers’ little hearts had tasted as, unseen, I plucked them from their breasts before the crows came for their broken bodies.

THE END

Hector’s Story. Experimental Post – Reader Participation Required!

It was one of these days. It dragged and bulged and time was all wonky. It was a Sunday in Lewis. Hector wanted nothing more than to life face down on the cool linoleum in the kitchen, or lie face up under a coffee-table but he was stuck there on the sofa between his granny and his grandpa listening to the minister. He could feel his brain writhing in boredom in his skull, pulling his eye-tubes back painfully, trying to get them to roll the bulbed eyeballs back into his head and take a nap.

“Hnngg ahhhngg ee hnng hnng hnnng” droned the minister.

“Oooooh! huhee huhoo huhibbleibbleibble” exclaimed Granny.

“Gildy bildy beedly o?” asked Grandpa.

And so they went on. There would be another hour of this at least and he was of an age now where he was supposed to be able to participate in after-church chat with the minister before a light tea of sandwiches and then out to church again to burn the holy taper at both ends. Candles and tapers weren’t allowed in the Worshipful Spartan Free Kirk Of The Hebrides though, being too wicked, so he doubted if candle metaphors were allowed either. He spent the next 5 minutes of his life concentrating on all he had ever heard about candles.

At 13, Hector knew there had to be more to life than this. He was stuck here for the next 5 years until he could escape off the island to university. The thought of almost 300 more sundays spent like this between now and then squeezed and pinched at his brain making it want to leap right out of his head and onto the carpet to gather some soothing, muffling fluff. He stifled a yawn.

The proximity to hellfire made a Lewis Sunday curl up like a leaf. In this stifling tube of a day with light only at either end, a child could curl and take in the hell-fire heat, or that child could use his imagination to take himself to a place that wasn’t Sunday: to go to one end of the tube and peer through the quiet, hot noise of Sunday to the next week as if the rolled-up day was a telescope; or at the past week like it was a microscope. I myself was a microscope kid. I pored over the minutiae, the hurts and small insults of the past week, the faces of people, why they might be the way they were: jolly, lumpy, tired, angry. Hector was a telescope kid though. On Sundays he looked forward.

“Hngg, ee hngii Machnngh hingee hnnngh” said the minister.

Suddenly Hector had an idea. It was a big big idea. It was a Big Idea.

He was going to start a cult. An undercover cult, of course, he couldn’t let his granny find out it was anything to do with him. But with the internet, starting a cult anonymously should be a breeze.

What did he know about cults? Hector forgot to be bored. His near-cooked brain-meat was alive again and full of possibilities.

Cults needed a charismatic leader, of that he was sure. That leader needed to have the wide, slow smile of fearlessness. He needed to go for long periods of time without blinking. He needed to shock peoples’ sensibilities with flat outrageous sentences such as “People whose names begin with L deserve to die!” or “The BBC will poison your souls unless you purify yourself by sleeping with me!” The more outlandish the statement, the more he could convince people of its essential truth and quake all their mental geography to the point where they were capable of anything. These people would be called Hectorians.

“Aaah, beedly bildy ba diddle-glid.” intoned his Grandpa.

Hector began to think.

To Be Continued…

(This tale will be told in episodes but I want you guys to be a part of it. So you tell me, what is this cult about? What does it celebrate? Bear in mind the setting is the Western Isles so sun-worshipping is probably out.)

I Am Legend, Hear Me Sing

Most people want to be legends in their own areas of special interest. Or lunchtimes – whichever has the most glory. Lunchtimes can be pretty damned glorious if you’re a top lunchmaker. Awards ceremonies and that.

It’s true. No matter how they may protest that “No no no, I’m very comfortable devoting long hours to my cross-stitch with not a shred of recognition, thank-you very much, even though I know by rights I should have won the state fair last year for my witty rendering: “Jesus On the Cross-Stitch“; Or how they cry “Ha! Not for ME the thrill of international acclaim for my radical new potting-shed organisational model – you can KEEP your glossy magazine features and jolly well tell these adoring Women’s Guild masses to stay right away with their flung panties and all“; No matter what they say, there is a small part of every person who cares about anything at all that would like to be noticed for something positive every now and again. Not always, but just when the subject comes up. Like:

Well in the field of lawn-bowling, Roger, no-one has ever out-bowled the legendary Travis Tee. His blasting kisser on the respotted rink-head at the 1967 Tokyo world championships has never been equalled, has it Sheila?” And all the women in the bowling world will want Travis, and all the men will want to be him.

*

Well, it may come as a matter of some surprise to you to know that I am actually a legend. Yes, it’s true! In a very hush, hush sort of way, of course. In fact not many people know about my being a legend at all, but I choose not to hold their ignorance against them. That’s one of the things I’m legendary for.

I’m not legendary every day; it’s a part-time thing – Tuesdays and Thursdays mostly, which works out well with the girls’ schedule – but, if you are interested at all in the legendary lifestyle, here is how I go about a typically legendary day:

They say that on pale blue morns, I rise at dawn to the music of a silvery gong played by an unseen gong-player, and, as I open the curtains, all of Nature gasps at my beauty even – get this – even if I have partied-out panda eyes. For I am that freaking lovely, so they say.

Some claim I breakfast on milk-thistle omelettes and tincture of wisdom but the truth is milk-thistle makes me feel bloated and I think a good source of fibre, such as Post’s Shredded-Wheat Bite-sized, is more important first thing in the morning. Scours you out.

The next few hours of my day are shrouded in mist and mystery. All that is known is that they utterly transform me and afterwards I emerge like a Fury onto the streets to stalk and wail and frighten young and old alike.

Shall I tell you what I’m doing in these lost hours? I am getting stuck Polly Pocket’s Stable Fun accessories out of the hoover and reading news, pigeoned me from afar. (Nowadays, this means going on the internet but it wasn’t always so and I am of course, like all legends, a very great age indeed, so great that no man may tell of my age at all, without getting a good slapping for it).

These polly Pocket accessories have I been getting out of the hoover every Tuesday and Thursday for thousands of years, and it’s not bloody easy while you’re shrouded in flipping mist, I can tell you. My knuckles have been scabbed over so many times they look like ten raw baboons bums on my otherwise legendary sylphy-soft hands. This enrages me, but what enrages me more is the news and, if you can show me anything more likely than the daily news to turn a mild, minds-her-own-business-legend into a screaming roiling banshee of ferocious, earth-rupturing rage, then you must suffer from a minor sneezonal allergy for which there is, as yet, outrageously (!!!), no pharmacological relief and not even any serious bloody research into electioneering-intolerance being done…

(…And breathe… gasp through it deeply… thaaat’s it -wheeze it all out now…There we are… )

Around about lunchtime, they say, I gallop through the town on a proud, snorting pony, dressed in a lady-form suit of armour with my flaxen tresses streaming out behind me a la righteous pennants and Godly streamers and a terrible, terrible smile like a knife slash, crimson across my ashen – but still very beautiful – face. This is all true, except I’ve taken to wearing a headscarf of pattern paisley because untangling flaxen tresses for hours after an outing dothn’t become a legend much, and I’m not a rich enough to have a wood-nymph to do it for me. Legends feel the credit crunch too.

As I gallop and gallop about, the fearful people ask “Why? Why does she gallop and gallop about?” They have to – it’s in the contract for all bit-players in legends to act like morons – all very union, of course.

Anyway, I gallop and gallop, up hill and down, sparks flying from Bobbysock’s hooves and sweat flecking her withers. And I urge – oh how I urge! – the people to wake from their waking dream! Which puzzles us all as to how exactly waking from a waking dream is to be achieved. Legend has it that Bobbysocks turns and whickers “Eh?” to me right then.

Anyway, I’m still galloping, right. Scattering pamphlets about worker’s rights and registering to vote. And bit by bit, my armour comes flying off, killing unlucky cats and pigeons metally, all around me. And underneath my armour my skin is covered with tattoos of prophecies in a strange, foreign tongue known only to a very few as Pointish.

They say then that, as I streak towards the crossroads, I scream and wail such ghastly noises as would curdle the contents of both the sperm and blood-banks in the next county over’s hospital. It’s the most wounding part of my legend for this is in fact my singing voice.

At the crossroads, there gathered are villagers – some warty, some hunchbacked, some just waiting for the bus. Some villagers don’t believe in me; most do, because I bite the noses off the ones that don’t, snarling with bloody fury, as I toss my head in rage, sending noses and snot arcing through the air to catch the sun and make tragic rainbows in their dying, mucousy swan-songs.

It is said that, once the screaming is over and the noses found and put on ice for possible surgical reattachment, that I grow sad then and dismount my steed. I wander here and there softly singing snatches of songs about wildflowers and about how it’s “Hot In The City Tonight.” I might ask people solicitously about their pets or their grannies in a distracted sing-song way before seizing them by the shoulders and shaking them unhingedly until they promise me they won’t vote for John McCain. For, I vow, if they do – and if they do, I’ll know it – I shall return and flambe their babies.

Some of the old ones say that I am this way because someone tried to eat me as a baby and the memory of it still gnaws at my soul and a bit by my knee. Some say I can never be stopped, that noone should even try if they want to keep their noses. But the truth is, I just get really pissed off when I read the news some mornings.

Oh you might want to try waving amulets or garlic at me – there are some ridiculous theories out there – but only by surrounding yourself in a mound of marzipan and oregano will you ever hope to avoid my wrath when I have an ire-on in the fires of world news.

And so,the legend goes, I am doomed to repeat this embarrassing performance until the day the Isle of Lewis sinks into the sea, the sky turns blood red and I am reunited with my lost love.

But in the meantime, when it’s all done, when I have made my point and strewn my righteous pamphlets, I go home and have a legendary cup of tea.

Live History With PCB!

Come with me back in time, loyal readers! Come all you adoring millions and fly. Fly with me o’er hill and glen and Perth services and some other hills, yea, e’en unto the sea that was known in the time of Our Lord as the Minch. There will be a toilet break in Skye.

Back in time we go…back…back…

*Noo nee noo nee noo nee noo nee swirly twirly noo. STOP!*

The year is 2007 and a startling discovery is about to be made in a cave by the shores of Loch Erisort on the island of Lewis in Scotland. A peasant of the land is out walking with his ipod and a quantity of fungi when some unAtlee-an weather sets in. Taking shelter in the cave ‘neath Mac Hammadi’s cleft, known to the locals as Big Bum Boulder, our young mycology enthusiast unwraps his fungi, gobbles a few and settles in for the duration of the storm.

Very soon – can you see? No pushing at the back- he begins to experience feelings of bliss and relaxation, all too quickly followed by feelings of clammy fear and moist anxiety. As paranoia creeps in through his head-holes, you might want to look away as he punches a giant spider to death. He does this because he has observed it nobly trying and trying again each time it fails and refails to spin a proper web on the wet rocks. This giant spider is mocking the boy, he knows it, and who are we to interfere? It scoffs at him to the insufferable tune of “I’m A Little Teapot (Nashville remix)” for giving up too easily in life; for not finishing his exams; and forgetting again to post his CV to the fish farm people; for always throwing in the towel at the first hurdle; for mixing hs metaphors, and perhaps worst of all, for proving his pa right.

But don’t be too angry with him, fellow lookers. He does not see that the spider is smaller than his thumbnail, nor that he looks like a doofus. He is in thrall to much higher forces than himself. He feels only The Old Rage Of The Rubbish ‘Shroom.

Now watch, time-pilgrims, watch carefully as, cradling his minced fist, the boy stumbles further back into the cave where it’s dry. See him lie down with every intention of being sad until the long, bad journey is over…

…But now… unexpectedly (“!”), the wonder sets in. See him rise and look around him as if he were a full-bladdered puppy in a fire-hydrant factory. Everything appears to him to be way cool, coolest ever. Wow! At about the same time the wonder hits his brain, his saucer-pupilled eyes alight on a series of primitive earthen jars. Oh, man! These are the best primitive earthen jars EVER! He goes to the awesomest one and pees in it. And then the next one. Drained, he tips a third jar upside down because he’s in the mood for that. From it falls a scroll, an ancient codex of some sort. Like, whoa! What ancient codexy shit is this?

The light is dim back in here but please refrain from flash photography, ladies and gentlemen. Even when I tell you that you are witnessing history – the uncovering of a secret 2000 years old. For what this glaikit-fizzogged youth has found is none other than the Lost Gospels of Mac Hammadi, soon to become known as The Big Bum Gospels then hastily renamed the Gospels O’ The Cleft then The Crevice Gospels and finally, after an emergency naming meeting, they were dubbed the Cnocstic Gospels on account of being found under a Gaelic hill.

These texts include The Apocryphon of Iain, The First Apocalypse of Seamus, The Second Apocalypse of Seamus, The Gospel of Mairi-Agnus and the Coptic Cnoctic Gospel of Donnie-Alec. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, some of the precious documents, having being brought back by the heretofore unknown Lewis disciples; then guarded for centuries by those fearsome warrior ministers, the Knights Teuchter; and having survived, seemingly impossibly, the dumb, insolent snufflings of sheep and otter for these 2000 years – after all that – succumbed to the acid in the pee of our young fungus-eater.

Now lets all fly back to our homes and computers and I’ll tell you how the story ends.

*Noo nee noo nee and what have you*

Shroom-boy gets flown to London and interviewed by the BBC where he meets a wealthy “cougar” named Bridget who falls in love with his broad shoulders and his disinclination to converse much between vigourous coitus. He, with time, accepts her shameful second navel and they marry, move to the country and he never, ever invites his father to his posh house to watch the football on the massive High-Definition telly.

The mysteries of the Cnocstic Gospels are still being unraveled. There’s a lot of new stuff on Jesus, his likes and dislikes – couldn’t stand the sight of loaves or fishes, apparently, so that whole parable was personally very trying for him as they just kept multiplying all around him like that. Nightmare. And, although this is just hearsay, there are some quite juicy bits about the shepherds watching their flocks by night – all very shoosh-shoosh but known in scholarly circles as The Brokeback Fragments.

Luckily for us, one hot summer in the 90s, I had a torridish affair with the man who is now the chief curator of the Gospels, in the History Of Butterflies back-room of the British Library. Back then he was just in charge of the Insect Illustration (17th-19th century) section but he got promoted and we’ve remained close. I am therefore deliciously privy to some exclusive information on the Cnocstic Gosels, and have a report coming to you, gorgeous readers, on the most complete of the surviving codices, The Gospel of Peadair and The Twelve.

Bye.

The Gloomsome Tale Of Jed, Goat Of The Night

Jed wasn’t like the other goats. For a start he was called Jed when all the other goats were called things like Buttercup and The One With The Gamey Udder. He’d picked Jed because it sounded at once craggy and charismatic and life-worn and urbane,and he insisted everybody call him that.

Jed liked life on the edge, by the fence. He liked to mooch. He liked to sulk. He liked to draw deeply on his cigarette and read the Beats. He liked to sleep all day and go out at night wearing an old leather jacket that had blown by one day. He was a nocturnal goat who lived by his nerves on the mean streets and this was so against the order of things that it upset the others greatly. They pleaded with him to stay home, begging him not to stop his wild ways.

His mother would say, “Son , I know you want to be our own goat, I know how hard it’s been for you since your dad was eaten. I understand, darling, really I do, but the streets at night are no place for a goat. There are people in that world who would goulash you soon as look at you. Oh please Snowy, I mean Jed, I couldn’t bear it if I lost you too!”

His “uncle” said “Can’t you see what you’re doing to your mother, you ungrateful little craphead. What the hell do want to feel the pulse of the living city for anyway? Why don’t you shape up and join the hoofball team, you
little gayer?”

His grandma said “It’s all very well being hungry for real life, living by your wits, feeling the thrill of the neon-lit streets and …(she had to pause for breath here as she was a very old goat)… never knowing if death will come tonight, but it’s not the goatly way, Snowy. Oh stop it, you’ll always be Snowy to me. However much you want it to be otherwise, we’re not made, evolutionarily speaking, for a nocturnal existence. Look at the shadows under your eyes! What you need is a good skipping-rope ‘n’ tyre casserole and a good night’s sleep. That’ll put the roses back into those pale cheeks!”

“You’re heading for a fall, douchebag,” Jed’s big brother would gently counsel. “Poncing around in a leather jacket, who do you think you are?”

His best friend, Biff, said “It’s madness, Jed. Why you wanna play with your life like that? You gotta take it easy, man. Look, me and some of the guys are starting a band with the fence wires using our horns as plectrums. Whaddaya say?”

All these people would say all these things. But Jed knew that being a nocturnal goat made him special and sexy. He knew the kids said “Look, there goes Jed that cool nocturnal guy. He knew all the girl goats were secretly in love with him. Sorry, ladies, he thought with a wry grin, not tonight. I’m off to prowl the city’s underbelly and see things so unspeakable that they will haunt my eyes and cause me to brood moodily, making you want me even more.

Oh he had loved a few of them back, usually at the back of the gorse-bush but, afterwards, looking deep into their limpid eyes, he would tell them monogoaty wasn’t for him, his twisted heart was incapable of love after the life he’d lived on the streets. He’d read while chewing on an old Maxim one day that a touch of the bastard about him would only make him more of an enigma.

But more than that, the streets made him feel alive, like standing in the field just never had. He hungered for their danger them when he was away from them too long.

One night, Jed slid out as usual under the hidden bit of fence behind the bushes where the wire was loose. Something felt different tonight but he couldn’t put his hoof on it. His normal slouch into town seemed more fraught with peril than usual. The night seemed blacker somehow. A couple of times he was nearly run over by speeding cars and once he rounded a corner to see a group of youths with knives pin a boy to the wall, a blade treacherously close to his wildly rolling eyes. Jed didn’t stop, not even when he heard the boy scream from two blocks behind him. This was the way of the street, though Jed, it was hard, but it was just the way it was. This was the real world and the weak got eaten up by the sharks. The law of the jungle. (Nocturnal goats never worry about mixing metaphors. That’s just not cool.)

Reaching downtown, the police sirens seemed to wail by more often than normal, tonight. Jed stopped for a bite to eat at the bins behind Antonio’s Trattoria, but half way through his spaghettini meal he’d looked down into the dark bin just as the lights of a passing car lit up its contents and had seen a decapitated cat’s head screaming silently up at him. Shaken, he had run out of the alleyway and back onto Main and, turning up his collar, he decided to go down to the docks to see if the salty banter of the night longshoremen could help take the edge off. There was usually some bourbon to be had down there too.

But the docks were silent that night. Just a NO TRESPASSING sign swinging gently from the chain. The squeak of the sign stayed with him as he wandered aimlessly about the city that night. Was he losing his nerve? What was wrong with him? Why was there a cold sweat across his muzzle?

Nah, just an off day, that’s all, he reassured himself. Probably coming down with something. He wasn’t losing his nerve. He was a nocturnal goat dammit, cooler than them all, a witness to dark secrets and he’d done some sinning himself, oh yes. Those nights when the whiskey clouded his vision and he woke up in the park with the bloodied collar of some beloved little lapdog in his teeth, not knowing how or why or whence… There were some troubled corners in his own heart too. He had become a shadowy creature of the dark streets alright, it was in his blood now, but even shadowy creatures of the dark streets got colds. It was time to call it a night.

Day was breaking as he crested the hill behind the field. The sweat on his muzzle was beginning to chill him a little and he was anxious to get back to the familiar corner where he knew his mother would be sleeping, snoring slightly. He would close her mouth and kiss her forehead like he often did, and then maybe he could sleep off this feeling.

As he looked down on the field though, something looked wrong. The goats weren’t huddled as they usually were. They were strewn about the field. Some of their necks were at odd angles…

Jed tore down the hill. Oh God no, please don’t let it be so. Please God, I’ll stay home from now on, I promise, just let me be wrong!

Noooooooooo!

As he scrambled under the fence, tearing his leather jacket horribly, hot tears blinded his eyes. He ran to the centre of the field and spun around looking at the carnage all around him. He found his mother by the bloodied water-trough, her throat ripped open and her unseeing eyes wide as though puzzled about something.

They’d heard warnings of course: a wolf pack in the area, but the fence was good and so everyone had felt pretty safe. The fence. The fence.

He ran back to his own exit. It was too small for a wolf, wasn’t it? He at half their size could barely make it through, the posts were that firmly in place.

His ears filled with the roar of his blood as he looked at the fence and saw what he had missed in his panic before: dozens of stratchmarks and pawprints, a scrabbled out trench that must have taken even the biggest wolves a long time to clear in that stony ground. But he had given them their opening. With his foolish whims he had imperiled every goat he had ever known or loved and now they lay slain, the blood of his family soaking into the ground they knew so well.

“It should have been me!” he cried out. It should have been me..!”

He fell to the ground choking with sobs and there he lay weeping until the Humane society came and took him to a goat rescue facility in another town. His name was changed to Twinkle and he ended his days as an educational animal, going round schools and county fairs with his large-hearted handler, Marge.

The children often asked “Why does the goat seem so sad, Miss Marge?” or “Oh, Miss, Ma-arge, why does Twinkle keep screaming and running at speed as if trying to impale himself on the fence-post?” And Marge never knew why but would often sit long into the evening stroking the damp brow of the dreaming goat, frowning as his hooves struck out against unknowable horrors.

THE END

Little Neddy And The Trail Of Tears

Little Neddy stood at the door to the kindergarten classroom, one hand on his plastic gun, waiting for the jeering to start from the boys with the sensible jumpers. He knew he could lasso any one of these pansy-ass fools any time he wanted to. He just didn’t want to yet. They seemed to be distracted this morning though. Prolly looking at one of their towny-ass skate-board magazines, thought Little Neddy. He sneered to show his disdain for their Postman Pat lunchboxes and slouched epicly past the reading corner not caring one way or the other whether Karen-Pam MacQuorqhodale at the red table was watching.

Noticing in the the window’s reflection that she didn’t appear to be following his nonchalant, bouncy-kneed progress to his seat at the blue table, Little Neddy frowned a little. He spun on his red gen-yoo-ine leather boot-heel, inadvertently clocking Karan-Pam’s best friend Monica on the head with his holster.

“Hey!” she cried. “That hurt!”

But Little Neddy had no use for her squawling. Did she think that was sore? Hah! He’d been to Sore and back and laughed at head-clonking the way dusty heroes laugh at the comforts of a reasonably-priced hotel.

Still, he thought, Karen-Pam didn’t like it when he wounded her friends. He pulled up a plastic chair put his foot on it, leaning his weight over the raised leg with the assurance of a fellow who knows his pants, though form-fitting, won’t rip. From his pocket he pulled out a yellow, cornstalk-like straw and chewed it manfully.

“Beggin’ your pardon, little lady. Forgive my rough and clumsy ways.” Little Neddy tipped his hat and turned to her cuter friend.

“Sure are looking purdy today, Miss Karen-Pam, if you’ll pardon my sayin’ so,” he drawled. Then with fingers crossed behind his back, continued with his well-rehearsed speech. “Looks like there’s rain a-comin’ in from over Loch Seaforth way, this day. You want I should walk you home later, holding a large tarpaulin over your head?”

“Stop being so weird, Little Neddy,” said Karen-Pam, lovelier than ever in a dress of yellow roses. “Where would you find a large tarpaulin anyway?” How he loved the way she pretended to despise him!

“Mysterious guns-for-hire always carry tarpaulins” explained Little Neddy allowing himself a knowing chuckle. He’d been hoping she’d ask him this. That was why he’d spent the hour before sun-up this morning wrestling the one he’d spent all his pocket-money on into a Boots’ plastic bag, cursing at his misfortune in not having a jolly but less-handsome side-kick to do these things for him.

“Yessiree, a man can sure find a lot of uses for a tarpaulin out on the lonesome trail. It comes in mighty handy as a blanket and, when the need arises I should have to construct a rude shelter? Well, right about then a tarpaulin’s worth more than all the Transformers in the world.” He paused to look beyond the blackboard.

“Gotta travel light, see. A man never knows when he’s gonna have to skip town fast leaving nothing but sore jaws and broken hearts to remember him by.” Little Neddy gave a deep chortle, as if, dangit, he were remembering all those times.

“Little Neddy, just go and sit down, will you?” said Karen-Pam. “The mangy old rabbit pelt on your belt gives me hives when it’s gangling in my face like this. My mother’s already spoken to your mother about that.”

“Yeah, I reckon my rough, country ways prolly do offend you, Miss, and for that I’m truly sorry… but…” said Little Neddy, looking past the Santa collages on the rain-streaked window, past the Sherwood Forest play structure, to the high rocky places where men were made and flinty characters hewn, to the supermarket building site on the hill…

“…but, I calls ’em like I sees ’em, ma’am, and them’s the only ways I know how. I wudn’t brang up to talk fancy like you townsfolks. My language is the old gnarly language of the trail, of the coyote and the rattler, and of a burning soul-thirst that can never be quenched.”

“What the flip are you on about, Little Neddy?” cried Monica scornfully, rubbing the back of her head. “You’re dad’s a quantity-surveyer and your mum’s the headmistress. The only burning soul-thirst you have is to be allowed out to play after tea-time on school nights.”

There was some snickering from the other table and annoyance flickered in Little Ned’s piercing blue eyes. He loathed snickerers and, outside of emergencies, never snickered at all himself if he could help it. He looked down at Monica doing the best sneery lip-curl he could manage.”

“Hey Little Neddy!” called a fool boy, Seorais MacSween, from across the room, “How much of the lonesome trail did you drive in the back of your mammy’s Nissan Sunny today?” The snickering became intolerable sniggering.

“That’s just the sort of dumb-ass question I’d expect from someone that sits at the yellow table,” spat Little Neddy turning to face his new tormentor.

Just then, Mrs. Jamieson came into he classroom.

“Why aren’t you in your chair, Little Neddy? Sit down there’s a good boy. Oh and before I forget, well done on your extraordinary picture of a coyote ripping out the throat of a bunny. The art teacher said she’s never seen such an anatomically correct rendition of a trachea from someone so young. Now if you’d only pay that much attention to Reading Module 3 you could be learning all the more about bunny’s throats, wouldn’t you?” She smiled fondly at him.

Little Neddy, never comfortable with praise, pulled his 3-gallon hat down low over his nose. He slouched off to his seat and waited for the morning of cruel teasing about his hat and eraser-throwing behind the teacher’s back to begin as usual.

But what did he care?! he sneered inwardly. These boys were jackasses, just aimin’ to make him look like a fool in front of Karen-Pam. – But one day he would take Karen-Pam by the hand, he would! And they would step out and go a-walkin’ together. And he would tell her the ways of the old cowboys; share with her beans straight from the tin and the complicated pistol-twiddles he’d perfected in the holidays. And then, if things were going well, then maybe he would take her to the hidden place near the disused end of the quarry; the little cave with the songs of love for her he’d scored on the wall, and the 17 dead cats hanging across the entrance to keep strangers away.

The morning dragged on. The rain poured on the storm-darkened school-yard outside.

At last it was play-time. As soon as the bell rang, stung with flung erasers and cruel jibes, Little Neddy ran out of the classroom to the far side of the school-yard, climbed up onto the highest limb of the old oak tree and, with tears running down his cheeks, he sneered, he sneered at them all – such sneery, curly-lipped sneers of cold contempt as no rugged cowboy has ever sneered before!

And so it was begun, in the foothills of the great Harris mountains, that a new tv minor-character-actor, whose real dream it was to direct, set out on his very own trail of tears.

THE END