Category Archives: Fictionoids

Death And The Anti-Maiden

There are many ways to die in a lonely crofthouse in Lewis.

In all that solitude you might develop Peculiar Ways and, according to the Institute For The Study Of Loneliness, Peculiar Ways are 17 times more likely to cause your death or maiming than Usual Ways.

There was a man, a lonely straggle-bearded man who had long shut up his heart to human love and tenderness. No man nor woman nor child could reach him after a terrible tragedy one summer in his twenties. He bought a lonely crofthouse, retreated from Lewiskind and subsisted on home-made nettle products and the milk from a sweet-natured cow called Aggie-Louise.

He was a man of regular habits but uneven temper and often would he run out of his house screaming terrible words at the world and scaring poor Aggie who would only yield a sort of thin yoghurt for days after such episodes. But although his habits were regular, and for the most part usual, he had developed one habit that is now recognised as being Type 1 Peculiar. This habit was to prove fatal.

Many people who spend a lot of time alone will talk to themselves. Some will talk back to themselves. But there
are a few, a very few who will cease to use regular speech altogether and find all the meaning, all the means of
expression they need in their solitary lives, in the lyrics of Madonna. In particular, the smash hit 1986 album True Blue.

“I’ve heard all the lines, I’ve cried oh (oh) so many times, Those tear drops they won’t fall again, I’m so excited ’cause you’re my best friend” the straggly-bearded man would say to Aggie, and she would know it was time to go to the stool for milking.

“Open your heart with the key, One is such a lonely number” he would sing softly to the mouse that lived behind the radiator. “Ah, ah, ah, ah Open your heart, I’ll make you love me It’s not that hard, if you just turn the key”

And “Don’t want to grow old too fast, Don’t want to let the system get me down. I’ve got to find a way to make the good times last, And if you’ll show me how, I’m ready now” this man with thorns round his heart would tell the spider in the peatstack.

Then later, bitter and brooding over glass after glass of the all-purpose nettleated spirits he distilled in a still made from two welded together tin bathtubs, later he would grow angry. Sweeping plates and cups off the table in a fury and sending the chair crashing against the walls he would fall to his knees and yell “Where’s the party, Where’s the party, someone tell me, Where’s the party, come on come on” with all the savagery of a rhinocerous with toothache.

“And when the samba played” he often spat at those times with a cruel sneer, “The sun would set so high, Ring through my ears and sting my eyes, Your Spanish lullaby”

Pretty soon the straggly-bearded man lost all ability to speak anything other than lyrics from the True Blue album.

One morning, the man stepped out into the garden to milk Aggie-Louise as usual but right away noticed something was wrong. 50 feet yonder Aggie-Louise lay on her side, not moving. So still… So still! The man ran across the yard to her, half-knowing what he would find but half-hoping against half-hope that Aggie was still there…

He sobbed into her cold neck for about an hour before he could bring himself to close her amazed dead eyes. As he rose, he saw that in death she had leaked a little milk and it had puddled, could it be? …in the shape of a telephone? Aggie, this dear dead cow was giving him a message! Telephone somebody! she seemed to be saying.

And suddenly he knew.

All this living alone, protecting himself from human love and hurt had been for nothing. He had loved Aggie, he
hadn’t completely shut down, he could still love again!

He knew what he had to do. He would run to town and be embraced into the warm bosom of his family once again, the prodigal teuchter would come home. So he ran and ran and then he stopped and wheezed and all of a sudden his chest felt tight. No. Something wrong. Got to get help! His mind worked furiously.

Up ahead was a pink weather-beaten old telephone-box, his last hope. Dragging himself to the phone-box, he
struggled inside, clutching at his chest and dialed 999 – a free call. It was ringing! Sweet Jesus, thank-you!

A dispatcher answered the phone at last. The man’s left arm was in some kind of spasm now.

“What’s your emergency?

“Tropical the island breeze, all of nature wild and free” said the man.

“Pardon me sir, I can’t make you out, can you repeat please?”

“Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep” choked the man desperately. This wasn’t right. what was wrong with his voice? Why couldn’t he ask for help?

“Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losin’ sleep!” he cried desperately.

“Sir? sir? Are you all right? What is your location sir?”

“Last night I dreamt of San Pedro. It all seems like yesterday, not far away, La-la-la-la-la-la-laaa, Te dijo te amo!” he screamed, his face wet and contorted with wretched pain, his eyes wild with panic.

“Sir? Are you there sir? Sir!”

But sir wasn’t there. He was going away. It would be a long journey but at the end he would reach a happy warm place, a place where the sun shone on golden limbs and where none of the cushions were made of scratchy Harris Tweed.

I want to be where the sun warms the sky, he whispered softly, barely audible.
When it’s time for siesta you can watch them go by
Beautiful faces, no cares in this world
Where a girl loves a boy, and a boy loves a girl…

The ambulance found his body an hour later after tracing the telephone box. Only his elderly mother and his drunken brother attended the funeral.

And that’s just one of the manners in which having a Peculiar Way can kill you in a lonely croft-house in Lewis. Sometimes just one Peculiar Way is all it takes.

THE END

Their Shirts All Soaked With Sweat

Who can tell what sorrows the ghost crofters knew? What secrets? What tortuous lonely silences?

Only one person and her name is Peg, the one-legged woman from Brue. This wasn’t why she was called Peg, but after the accident with the Samurai sword Uncle Uistean brought back from sea, everyone agreed how fortunate it was that she was already called Peg.

Peg! Peg Peg Peg Peg Peg! Where shall I begin with Peg? She was a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an episode of Countdown and if you don’t know what that means then I can’t help you, friend. She was inexplicable like that. You couldn’t explic her with the OED nor any measuring device. She was outwith the bending sickle’s compass of the finest poets’ circumscription. But I can tell you this, her soul was purple and she detested chess.

Ah Peg was the wild one alright. Many’s the night she would hop about the moor in simple garb before stopping in a bit less boggy than the others. Then eyes heav’nward she would spin and spin until the stars appeared to her to be concentric circles etched into the black night and drawing her, pulling her into their centre, an ineluctable force come for her from another time…or perhaps from all times.

Anyway, one time Peg was out on the moor and some pretty mystical shit was going down. She had just returned from her travels to other centuries and concluded that apart from consumer durables, the Lewis of long ago was pretty much the same as the Lewis of today. Same problems with chillblains and broken veins, same worries about getting home from town on Saturday nights. She vowed to blog this information the very next day.

As she lay exhausted on the heather, she closed her eyes and fell into a terrible dream. She awoke screaming and clutching at her scanty puffa jacket. But when she opened her eyes she found she saw exactly the same thing as when she closed them. For hovering before her, pale and shimmering and see-through were 4 mounted crofters, the wool on their steeds shot through with silver sparks and steam issuing from their flared nostrils. The wind whipped up.

Panicked, Peg scrambled back until a gorse bush stopped her. The four ghost crofters advanced on their edgy sheep, which snorted and pawed at the ground. Trembling, she raised her eyes and looked directly at them. Their faces were gaunt, their eyes were blurred and their shirts all soaked with sweat.

“Howdy, a’ghraidh” spoke one, his hollow eyes transfixing Peg until one of the ghost sheep sneezed and broke the spell.

“If you don’t want to end up like us, damned to ride the stormy Hebridean night for ever, then here’s what you must do,” said the second crofter from the right, and, tipping his flat-cap down over his nose, he told her what she must do, but more importantly what she musn’t do because there are always more restrictions than allowances in supernatural affairs.

One by one then, the ghost-crofters told Peg of their sorrows, their secrets, their lonely silences in a realm apart.

Suddenly, across the sky behind the crofters streaked a flock of red-eyed sheep. The ghost-crofters looked meaningfully into Peg’s eyes for a moment, then turned and galloped away after the flock, their hooves thundering across the sky, leaping over hedge-shaped clouds, condemned to herd that devil’s flock for all eternity.

Peg, got up and hopped back into the village. The first child to see her that grey morning told of the astonished look on her mud-smeared face and how her hair had turned pure white.

Her pupils remain dilated to this day and she never spoke again. And friends, I think that’s just as well, don’t you?

The Silence Of The Clams

I was born on a dark Monday in a land where an unknowable ocean tried to seduce a knowable shore with long caresses and whispers. The pretty shore wasn’t brought up that way though and cried foul. The unknowable ocean claimed it was an insane current that had made him do it, that his head had been turned by a spicy, intoxicating loose-hipped trade-wind. A seachiatrist attested to temporary insandity and eventually the charges were dropped.

Ruling aside – we, the guardians of the shore, didn’t much hold with the insandity defence and we still didn’t trust the sea. Soon after that therefore a long pier was constructed so we could keep an eye on the randy unknowable ocean, and on that pier they decided they may as well erect a new shellfish-processing plant because the old one was broken. This was the shellfish-processing plant that would mark my days and haunt my nights forever.

It happened one night on a Brownie camp-out and sausage-sizzle. We set up our tents on the windy marran grass on the machair just beyond the beach. Picture us, dear reader! See us as we sit round the camp-fire singing “Ging Gang Gooli“, and giggling through “O, ye cannie get to heaven in a girl guide’s bra ‘cos a girl guides bra don’t stretch that far“; all, rosy-cheeked and brown-bobble-hatted, woggles askew, faces smeared with ketchup, cinders and roasted marshmallow but our eyes clear and shining, our young hearts filled with wonder at the stars above and the excitement of a great adventure.

Lying in our tents later that night, transfixing daddy-long-legses with torchlight on the canvas, we laughed and shrieked at Anna’s impressive farts -better than any boy’s – until one by one everyone drifted off to Nod but me. Not nearly ready to sleep, I grabbed my torch and stole out of the tent, hopping in my sleeping-bag over the black dunes and down to the dark shore.

I heard the sea lapping at the beach and sat on the still-warm sand, hugging my knees, thrilling at how the dark brought the world back to sounds and senses and primal things. Brown Owl had told us not to leave our tents and, with a shadow crossing her face, had warned us on no account to wander out near the shellfish processing plant. I remembered her kindly face and thought of how disappointed she would be at my disobedience. But I was determined to see for myself what went on at the end of the pier. I rose and hopped ridiculously up a dune and on to the wooden pier. What work did the processors do in the middle of the night out there? I hopped on.

Creak, complained the wooden boards under my bouncing sleeping-bag. As I approached the building, I could hear voices inside, and made my way towards a window with a lobster pot underneath the sill. Several valiant hop attempts later I was up on the lobster pot and looking right into a long, starkly lit room with great steel tables, at the end of which were massive sinks filled with ice. About half a dozen people stood around in yellow wellies with white smocks and shower caps on, and great yellow rubber gloves that made their hands look grotesquely big and clowny.

Suddenly, the doors at the sea-end of the building were flung open and some men wheeled in a huge metal cart. All conversation stopped. I watched as each processor reached down into his or her smock pocket and draw out a long sharp knive, cruelly curved at the end into a hook, the whole blade like the unspeakable smirk of some devilish slasher-movie fiend. There was a moment of silence as the cart tipped and then a clattering as hungreds and hundreds of pale clams were tipped into the first ice-sink.

And that was when the screaming began. The screaming of molluscs as all hope for them faded. Mummy molluscs, Daddy molluscs and baby molluscs huddling together in terror Knowing that this was the end of their lives. I saw the processor at the first table grab a clam.

The screaming grew louder. I watched in horror as the evil hooked knife glinted in the processor’s hand and he pried the helpless clam’s shell open. Rooted to my lobster-pot I gazed at the pale and shining being inside and time slowed down as I watched the man bring his knife nearer and nearer the tiny animal. Then, for the briefest of moments I saw a tiny mouth open and two tiny red-rimmed eyes flick wide open as the most hideous, heart-breaking wail I have ever heard hit my ears… The screaming….The screaming…

Recoiling in horror I jerked suddenly and my lobster pot toppled sending me sprawling on the damp boardwalk beneath. The screaming!…The screaming!… In a half-seeing panic I tried to get up and hopped a few feet before falling on my face again, gashing my cheek on the rough wood. I had to get away! I lurched and one part hopped to two parts waddled my way back to the shore, my eyes hot and wet with what they’d witnessed and in my ears the terrible screaming, the abominable squelch as the knife sliced through living tissue.

By the time I reached the end of the pier and hurled myself down the dune, I was bleeding and snot-smeared with fear and grief. I vomited then, and every hole in my head seemed at that moment to be leaking me out, leaking out something vital, something I’d never get back. Too afraid to go back to my tent and risk my heaving sobs being heard, I flung myself down on the beach and, pulling my wooly brownie hat down over my ears, I pressed the palms my hands as hard as I could into them. I must have lain like that for an hour or more until, finally exhausted, I fell asleep.

The light was grey when I awoke, bruised from my many falls on the pier, my cheek sticky with blood and my face covered in sand. But what I remember most of all was the stillness of the air that cold morning. And the silence, the silence of the clams…

The waves lapping gently around the bottom of my sleeping bag seemed to rebuke me and all people. Who raped who? they seemed to whisper, solemnly disregarding grammatical concerns. Who raped who?

“Oh, shut up!” I said, but to this day I have never again eaten pork.

It’s Art, For Freedom’s Sake.

Hello. PCB has allowed me the use of her blog to promote my upcoming exhibition of esoteric performance art. Besides being called Betsy and being a convicted murderer, I am also a celebrated conceptual artist whose work so impressed my prison art-teacher that I became a cause-celebre of the rehabilitation movement and we all decided it was best that I be released immediately so I wouldn’t “have to sing the song of a caged bird” anymore. (“Art Transcends Crime!“, Ventura County Post, April 14th 2007).

My prison art teacher first took a shine to my work when I constructed a model of a kid-goat in acrylics and cheese, and had Tormella, a 200lb paranoid schizophrenic doing a lifer for eating her neighbour until he was dead, sit on it and knit , sneezing in time to a monk singing the Te Deum with an R&B beat. I was in a funny mood that day, I guess, but mainly I did it because it was all I could think of to make Tormella’s day a little brighter. She’d told me the night before what might help.

So in a manner of speaking they should have released Tormella and not me. She had halitosis though and couldn’t be relied upon not to slay people so I guess it’s better it was me. Tormella has no hard feelings in any case. She likes the straight lines in prison, and I visit her often.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those “I didn’t do it! I’m innocent!” types. I did it all right. I slew that goddam perky perfume-skoocher woman, I slew her good. I wasn’t sure when I stabbed her in the eye with the pointy end of the sample lipstick that she would die. I thought she might just get a festering infection from the clearly herpes-simplistic teen who had just tried it on her pustulent lips. (Plum Dream – it didn’t suit her.)

However, I was fairly certain that, if I grabbed the floral “Bathing Belle” shower-cap from its designer stand, pulled it over her head and held her from behind til she suffocated, she would die. So I did, perfume stinging my eyes and nasothelium and in my head, a thousand tormented shoppers voices urging me on: “Kill her! Kill her!”

Don’t tell me you’ve never half-run the skooching gauntlet of some department store perfume-counters and not dreamed of doing the very same thing. I did it, that’s all. I did it and I deserved to go to prison.

It turns out it doesn’t matter though. As long as a group of artists thinks you have “a raw, almost unspeakably profane talent”, especially in the State of California, capital murder or not, you will more than likely be released.

Hey look, don’t blame me! I was pretty embarrassed about it all and felt more than a bit sorry for the weeping family of my victim as they protested my release outside the prison. The black-clad artists I was flanked by though, coolly regarded the robbed loved ones’ elasticated waistbands and unsightly skin conditions as we passed within worlds’-apart-feet of them, and declared their horror at the perfume-lady’s mother who was feeding her squawling infant Cheetos and sobbing pitifully as I got into the limo that was waiting for me.

“It’s appalling people are still wearing J.C. Penney knits, look, Raphael. There are just some people style can’t save. They make life so ugly. If you ask me, they should be in prison, not our marvellous, gifted Betsy. I’m sure I smelled sweat and desperation as we passed them. So uncool. God, just get me out of here, would you? Oh shit, Raph! Is unattractiveness airborne?”

Since then, when I’m not touring the world as an example of tortured criminal genius, I have been installed in an artist’s studio in Ojai. I want for nothing. Except maybe for the phone to stop ringing and Gerard, Amoanda, Carter, Sergei and Umanghi to get the hell out of my sitting room with their vitamin water, MoMA gossip and fear of neck-sagging.

I swear there are days I wish I was back in the big-house. My cell-mate Shanice may have cut the ears off her own mother-in-law and pinned them comically to a Wendy’s burger sign (then refused the clemency-for-repentance deal that even the mother-in-law’s attorney (having met the mother-in-law) wanted her to take), but at least she made me smile.

On the outside, my first proper exhibition was declared “a sensation”, “profound and provocative” and “indicative of a bold swing in contemporary art away from dead pickled things”. It included a live sheep I’d originally sheared for the interesting texture of its wool which I’d planned to incorporate into a hair-collage entitled “Lorry In Blue #6”. But Umanghi rushed in one day as I was applying Germolene and little bits of tissue to the parts of the sheep’s skin I’d nicked with the shears. She gave a little scream, told me I was a genius and clearly thought the sheep was the art, so I added a shower-cap (now my signature) and a tube of Immac to the sheep-tissue-shower-cap ensemble, threw in a crucifix and called it “Ouch”. Elton John bought it for 12 million dollars.

I started to despise art that very day. This therefore will be my second and final exhibition – by way of saying thank you to Gerard and the gang for my freedom and that.

It is a performance piece and I explain it thus: The artist (me) walks into jail and enquires as to the whereabouts of all inmates imprisoned either for possession of marijuana or crimes against hot-climate beret-wearers. The artist then locates and releases them. They leave in shower caps, dripping in ironic mustard.

Governor Schwartzenegger is all for it, describing it as “an astonishingly thought-provoking piece, unique in its unprecedented overturning of court convictions”, but more importantly granting the released detainees free-passage out and a full pardon. I suspect Maria is behind it. She’s very arty.

After that, I plan on moving to the Outer Hebrides where there are no scooching perfume-counter ladies to incite
me back to violence, and the wind is too strong for LA art-lovers to risk their pale cheeks getting rosy, their pale thighs getting tinker’s tartan.

The exhibition opens tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Post Brought To You By A Long, Boozy Easter Dinner And Some Still Loaded Insomia

In an occasion marked by solemnity and nervous hilarity, last week the cities of Ojai and Stornoway were officially twinned marking what Mayor Janice De KirkFitzMacCohenburgerski (America’s Miss Teen Melting Pot 1964) called “an occasion of immense cultural and economic importance to both towns.” Already an agreement is in place for the exclusive rights to trade sun-dried tomatoes and mutton between the two cities.

“Hahahahahaha!” Stornoway mayor, Mr Uistean “Big” MacAuley remarked upon hearing his Ojai counterpart describing Stornoway as a forward-thinking city with a great future ahead of it. “Oh, that’s a good one, right enough,” he added, guffawing mauvely.

Mayor KirkFitzMacCohenburgerski expressed the hope that the twinning would lead to a whole new era of cultural exchange, particularly for the young people of both towns. A young person, later told us, “Yeah, like, it’s a super-cool idea, furilla. These Scatch kids seem like cool, ya know? Gnarly. I mean at first I was all like, Whoa! what’s wrong with your teeth, dudes? But then I remembered that the Brits have, like, dental problems? And they can’t, like, help it? So I was all Hey man, don’t sweat it, my grandpa’s got the same deal. I heard it’s because of that Tony Thatcher bitch buying them Falklands from Northern Ireland so now there’s no money left to pay the dentists and’ shit. I learned all about that stuff in the World History class I had to take when Pottery and Navel-Gazing got filled up. Yo.”

While in Ojai, the Stornoway delegation are enjoying the hospitality of Rotary Club members who have opened their homes and locked their liquor cabinets for the week.

Mrs. Maggie-Aggie MacKenzie told us about her delightful experience staying with her host for the week. “Oh yes, a ‘ghraidh, I’m having a lovely time. The heat is a problem because I’m under the doctor at home for my varicose veins and I’m supposed to walk a mile every day but I’m chust not used to the heat, you see.” Mrs. MacKenzie dressed in a black wool skirt, thick wool stockings, her church hat and a frankly fabulous itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka-dot bikini bra top, giggled girlishly at “having her interview taken”, went on to describe how she “could never take a tan, I just go red and peel. A-woooohooohohohoho” she whooped, amiably elbowing this reporter off the sofa with surprising strength.

The twinning ceremony, marred only by a single small bladder incontinence incident described by Mr. John Jerome 88, as nothing really – hardly a dribble”, was hailed by all as a triumph. Here are some accounts of the day by attendees, in their own words, when asked what memories they would take away:

Savannah MacLeod, 15 (Stornoway) “Man, you can get Diesel here for washers! I think high fashion at low low prices is what makes America a strong moral leader on the global political scene.

Gerald Butler 63, (Ojai) “Well, mostly I’m just grateful to meet such a fine array of inbred people. I had my reservations at first, of course, but, I have to say, they’re really splendid ambassadors for the Scottish inbred community. A pleasant surprise indeed, especially after all the things I’d heard. I only saw one 11-digited person all week.”

Seamus MacCuish, 50, (Stornoway) “Amazing tractors.”

Sylvia Horborgenssen 49, (Ojai) “They’re just so cute with their little accents and all! I simply adore them! I wish I could keep one. I’m 1/16th Scottish myself, you know! They showed me a picture of their lil old Callanish stones, adn I said to Norm, didn’t I Norm? I said to Norm, we just have to get some of these made up for the front lawn. Cause it’s our hair-tage.”

Colin “Utter Bore” Morrison 38 (Stornoway) “Well they go on about California beaches and that but they’re not a patch on our unspoilt Lewis beaches and what about the rampant consumerism, eh? In my opinion this country’s got fat and lazy, too comfy. Can’t people be happy with just a lonely house, a madeira loaf and poor TV reception? Oh no, it’s “McMansion” this and “gateau” that. And the breakfasts! I mean who puts syrup next to sausages? No wonder America leads the world in childhood obesity…” (There a short muttering conference with with Miss Tiffany MacDonald, 38-26-36 (Stornoway))…”Oh. It appears that’s the Scots, but anyway that’s completely beside the point. The point is, the point IS, where’s the culture, eh? Where are the community bonds, the strong social fabric? It’s all I’m all right, Jack, out here. Nobody knows their neighbours, and why shouldn’t they have to when there’s me putting up with that old witch Peigi-Effie down the lane from me, with her, (affecting a falsetto) “Ooooh could you pick me up some milk when you’re in town, dearie?” and her completely fake multiple sclerosis. And why the helling hell can’t you get a drink anywhere past 11pm on a Tuesday? Land of the brave and home of the free, my arse. And another thing, what about the gun violence, eh? And being 26th in the world for education? There’s not enough long walks to isolated sheilings containing a thousand haunted memories, if you ask me. Not enough bitter weeping and rampant alcoholism for a healthy society. All this have a nice day rubbish. It’s so fake. So insincere. Everything’s just surfaces, healthy, happy, tanned looking surfaces. Everything’s so nauseatingly well-meaning. God I can’t stand it.” At this point Mr. Morrison had to be led away sobbing uncontrollably.”

Katherine-Anice Bolton-Macleod 29 (stornoway) speaking with commas and semicolons and words like “indubitably”: “What’s been most of interest from an anthropological point of view – I’m studying the subject at St. Andrews, you see – has indubitably, for me, been watching the interactions between the two cultures; examining the expectations, the accommodations made vis-a-vis social mores etc. Just this morning at the golf-club breakfast buffet (sponsored by Pammy’s Pampered Pooches), we had a very interesting discussion about how to make a proper cup of tea. Mr. MacCuish had expressed some dismay about the fact that the Lapsang Souchong he had been served was “bloody horrible” and “so weak it was nearly a fortnight.” This led to some embarrassment on behalf of the Ojaiwegians but, after Mrs. macKenzie produced some Tetley’s teabags from her handbag for everyone to try, there followed an interesting exchange of ideas on the practice of adding milk, whether lemon with tea was “poofy” and what was the point of iced-tea, exactly. Fascinating. I think we all learnt a great deal.”

The Stornoway delegation are in town ’til after happy-hour on Thursday, whereupon they continue on to Las Vegas.

What Happened Next?

I am two. I was really two two weeks ago but didn’t notice until today. Last year I missed being one completely. The 1st anniversary is paper though, and paper is of no use to a blogger so that was all right. This year it’s cotton and I’ve just done a big knicker shop so we’re all right there for a while. What therefore can you send me? Money obviously – there’s always money.

But I don’t want your money. What I want is an an ending for a story. This one, in fact:

A Tale.

An empty crisp packet blew down Cromwell Street. The crowd on the pavements was silent except for a lone eerie whistler, and his mother. Up in heaven God shouted at the angels to turn Inspector Morse down so He could watch the scene unfold undisturbed. He’d forgotten how He’d predetermined this one to work out.

Tormod the Tormentor, the Bully Boyle of Ballantrushal stood at one end of the street. One hand moved slightly towards a silver Colt Peacemaker in a sheepskin halter on his not un-snake like hip.

At the other end of the street a pair of clear-blue eyes narrowed menacingly as their owner planted two determined feet firmly on the municipal crazy-paving and wished his Ys weren’t riding up his bum. All eyes were on him – it would look wrong and uncool to start grabbing up there at this moment. He scanned the crowd briefly, his chiselled jaw tensing with the sort of impossible gorgeousness not seen on Stornoway’s streets since the days of Flinty MacFlynt, a fine figure of a man, aye and handy with his tairsgeir; much admired by the townswomen and – almost literally – an original Town Father. Two lady librarians and Joan from the butcher’s fainted clear away.

Ah, but this was his moment. How long he’d waited! It had been ten years since he left Lewis vowing never to return, ten years of demons haunting him, ghosts of the past taunting him, urging him on and on, never letting him rest for a moment, chasing him all the way to, as chance and Southbound roadworks would have it, Aberdeen, that great granite city of the North. There, still a pale, skinny stripling, he’d been baffled and not understood a blessed word the natives said to him. But the Aberdonians had treated him kindly, if incomprehensibly, and being baffled was better than being beaten by bully-boy Boyle.

In the intervening years he had become a highly successful ornamental hedge-trimmer which had given him broad and powerful shoulders; and lately he had joined a gym, which had given him other powerful parts. He’d saved judiciously, bought a little house and, yes, had even known love for a short while before she ran off with the rep from the Union of Topiary Workers. In the main though, he had thrived in these fertile eastern soils and was grown tall and devilish handsome, all the ladies agreed. Not unlike a taller Al Pacino.

And now was his moment! Now he would teach that low-down pustulent Boyle of a human being what it was like to know fear. His finger curled delicately round his Derringer as the wind flapped his long black leather coat cinemaesquely. He sized up Boyle. It was true, his once-famed hips were still snake-like, if the snake had just eaten a moose; his little arms barely reached them on account of the enormous gut that draped around like some monstrous skirt of beef.

He was suddenly reminded of a witticism he’d heard on the ferry on the way over: Some men were sitting around in the bar, one of them a great lump of a man, and the talk had turned to marital relations as it usually does in the choppy waters where Loch Broom meets the Minch. Apparantly the big man was himself married to a big girl, and the others were gently teasing him about how they got the business done. Big Man says “Ah, that’s what all my short-peckered friends ask.”

But this was coarse thinking and he hadn’t become such a renowned hedge-artiste by such coarseness of thought – apart from that one cash-in-hand job for the nuns on their poplars behind the tall, grey walls of the convent on The Black Isle. He blushed in recollection of how he’d fashioned their azaleas. The sisters hadn’t even mentioned azaleas but he’d got carried away.

And anyway this strange turn of thought was by the by, because all the island knew Tormod only had a very wee one. They knew this on account of his mammy, Honest Margey, taking a turn out at the fank one year and never being the same again, her peculiarity being marked by a disconcerting habit of always, always telling the truth. Tormod’s willy, incidentally (and really, it was only a very incidental willy) wasn’t the only one to pass into notoriety by way of Margey. The minister, she declared on the bus one unforgettable Monday, had a very big one indeed, not as big as Simple George from the grocery van’s, but certainly by her reckoning, bigger than average. There was quite the kerfuffle after that, alright. The disgraced minister was posted to a youth outreach program in the Gorbals within the week, and in the emergency the congregation had had to accept a young man from the South, with all the threatening new ideas these people from the South bring. Cushioned pews, indeed! Where were Christ’s cushions as he hung bleeding for our sins on the cross?

But I digress. Which isn’t like me.

Our hero shook his head. Concentrate, man! Any minute now he was going to blast two holes right above and below Tormod Boyle’s sweaty unibrow, like a divided-by sign. He’d read somewhere that to divide-by was to conquer and he was always a chap to go by the book.

Somewhere a seagull screamed, briefly. Again the whistler whistled, now low, now high and tremulously, as if the accounts of all men’s souls were to be settled that day on Cromwell Street. Again the whistler’s mother told him to shut his gob, he was putting people off. Up above, God made a mental note to smite her with a wart as soon as this was all over and she was back sitting for her portrait. God is nothing if not an avid cinema-buff, although He couldn’t see why Citizen Kane was all that special. A tumble-peat blew by.

The town-hall clock struck the hour – high-noon. According to the ancient rule for duelling crofters, on the twelfth stroke the foes were to fire.

Nine…
Ten…
Eleven…
Twelve…

BANG! BANG-BANG!

The smoke clears. The crowd gasps…

What happens next?

The Witches Of The Glen Of The Mad

The Witches Of Mad Glen continued.

Only slightly hiccupping 80 proof green bubbles covered with gentle little gooseberry hairs, Chrissie-Peigi drew herself up to her full 4 foot 11 and waggled a brass contraption under the noses of the other two witches perched precariously on the tiny island.

“Oi, watch what you’re doing with that thing! You nearly had my third eye out there!” squawked Effie. “What is it anyway?”

Smoothly ignoring Effie’s dramatic reeling and clutching of her forhead, Chrissie Peigi fumbled with the tiny brass lever on her thaumometer. “It seems to me, *hic!* It seems to me that the craziness coefficient of the surrounding atmosphere has increased slightly, meaning one of several things. Either we have been burning up too many fossils in our cauldrons and releasing excess irrationality into the air, since magic is, after all, 4 parts irrationality; or things have become so absurd in the world outside the Glen of The Mad, that people leaving and entering barely notice any difference in the state of things at all. Or, there is a breach in the magic membrane surrounding the Glen of Insanity.”

“Well, which is it?” asked Mabel, adding to the air in general “And Jack Frost, if you ever, ever attempt to put your fingers there again I will majick a big ole pair of Helly Hansen mittens on them and you will never again nip so much as anyone’s nose, you nasty freak. What’s the matter with you, anyway? Get a proper job!”

There was a slight breathy mumble of “Sorry” in a Dorsetshire accent and the surface of the lochan crackled icily as something retreated over it.

“Well, really, it’s a bit of all 3,” continued Chrissie Peigi. “Witchologists and Wizardographers have noted a rise in thaumaturgical energy over recent decades and, if you read the papers, you’ll know how vocal they’ve been about the need to cap necromantic emissions. There’s been an alarming lack of political will to clean things up though. The President of the United Sorcerors of Ardvourlie says that the jury is still out on occultic climate change. He is also, however, also widely considered to be the stupidest man ever to draw breath. The other week he was informed that 3 Brazillian people had died in storms as a direct result of his laissez-faire magical climate policy. His aides were puzzled by the President’s extreme reaction:

Oh no! But this is terrible news! Calamitaneous! How are we going to get out of this one, Ouihomme? You, Sihombre, what’ll we do? I overpay you for this kind of thing. Oh, this is horrible, horrible! Tell me, how many exactly is a brazillion?

“I hear he still has his mammy cut his toast into soldiers which he then sends off on spurious, preemptive missions half-way around the lazy-susan, where lie the vast reserves of the pancake syrup he covets,” said Mabel. “You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if a man more involved in, say, ketchup or double mayonnaise than in Big Syrup was our leader.”

The three witches paused to consider this for a moment in the freezing air, their condensing breath forming shapes of rabbits, toads and a great big wolf that ran after the rabbits and toads and ate them before dissipating. Chrissie-Peigi scowled at Effie, who imperceptibly licked her chops. Without comment though, pleased in her new role as Explainer Of Modern Stuff to her elder sisters and proud of her ability to talk in html, she took another swill of Mabel’s gooseberry schnapps and went on:

“Also, studies show that the real world is actually becoming more and more insane. You need hardly look further than Fox News Channel to see that. It’s very widespread. In the US, for example, lots of people routinely vote against their economic interests because a very powerful wizarding conglomeration known as The Southern Baptist Convention, bewitches them to care more about boys kissing than their own futures. The Irish have gone batshit crazy and just reelected that third-rate conjurer Ahern, who can’t even make a pile of laundered money disappear effectively. And the British, well, The Spice Reunion is now more popular outside the Glens of Insanity than in them. Plus, this is the kind of mad thing dominating their news media lately. And of course, there was this guy.

“But most alarmingly for our duties in this wee corner of the world, of which we all know the regulation of the Hebridean Glen of The Mad is a large part, there appears to be a change in the relative craziness inside and outside of the magical membrane around the valley. As far as I can tell with my thaumometer the magico-osmotic potential of the membrane, the MOP, is still within normal range despite the increasing extra-membrane lunacy I’ve just described, so that only leaves me with one conclusion: Ladies we have a leek.

“You mean a leak, surely?’ said Effie.

“No, I mean a leek. I have reason to believe that the Welsh Glen Of The Mad has sent a spy up to our glen to see how we have managed to win the coveted “Best Kept Mad Glen” and “Most Spiffily Dressed Lunatic Ghost” competitions these last 6 years in a row. The theory is more complex obviously…”

“Hmm, obviously, very, very obviously,” chimed in Mabel, eager not to appear the technodoofus she felt. (The technodoofus she felt was really Torquil MacLeod but she could tell she was one too.)

“…but, whenever the mad soul of someone non-resident in Scotland for 12 months prior to expiring enters the glen, a tiny puncture is made that is unfixable by the puncture-maker. Derangement leaks out. The Welsh witches protect against the English dead-mad from coming to build holiday homes in their Glen Of The Insane in this same way; the English protect against the French; the French against the Belgians, etc. Sistren three, we must face the fact that we have been penetrated. We have a mole in our Glen.”

“I thought it was a leek.”

“Shut up.”

Pan out.

Mabel: “Oh God, they’re panning out! No! Come back!”

Effie: “She is, isn’t she? That bloody Problemchildbride is going to write To Be Continued again and leave us standing here for another week in the perishing cold. She thinks that having 6 adults and 2 children in her house ’til the New Year is our problem somehow. That we have to wait here on a soggy little island in some ridiculous but totally true Glen of The Mad lochan, while she busies herself with decorating and baking and jumping onto the consumer treadmill to engage in the profligate consumption of which she herself is embarrassed but nevertheless does. She’s gonna effeeng well do that, isn’t she? Beeyatch that she is.

Chrissie-Peigi: “The bint! I shall cast a spell to ensure her mince-pies explode all over the inside of her oven.”

PCB: “Not if you want a speaking part in the next episode, you won’t. Who else is going to give you work at this time of year, eh? If it wasn’t for me, it’d be slim pickings for you ’til next Halloween. If not for me-hee, you won’t be able to find the leek, meaning the Authorities will relieve you of your Mad Glen posts and replace you with corporate witches from Glasgow.”

Mabel: “I thought it was a mole.”

PCB: Shut up.”

To be continued…

Inferior Design – Part Blah-Blah Of A Series Notes On The Glen Of The Mad

High on the rocky crags of the Glen of Insanity is an ice-hollowed little corrie with a dark little lochan in the bottom, shining like a black opal. On that lochan there is a tiny island with barely enough room for the three ancient, wind-blasted trees that grow there, reaching their tortured, arthritic limbs to the black sky, which happens to be only 7 inches from their highest twigs.

[See Scotland, for all its majesty and towering crags has a design flaw. Great mountains rear heavenward like some glorious natural cathedral but somebody, somebody went over budget with the rich purple heather swags and noble red deer and, come time to crown their majestic creation (meant to suggest to man something of the great vaults of heaven, after flippen all!), all they could afford for the roof was a low slate-grey ceiling of cloud. A ceiling so low it has brylcream marks on – this is the sky in Scotland.

The land is a tease. The book says to expect lofty peaks and wheeling eagles and the visitor’s eye is swept upwards in an exultation of granite and awe. Then… just when the eye is primed, expecting a soaring celestial firmament of cerulean and Michaelangelo cumulonimbi… well then the eye smooshes up against the soggy grey anticlimax of a manky raincloud ceiling; the magnificent vista is ruined, foreshortened by foreshorten-sighted philistines and shifty bandit builders. The eye is well pissed off and wishes it had gone to Switzerland like its naggy partner on the other side of the nose had wanted in the first place. The vision was Chartres Cathedral, the execution resembled a bungalow sitting-room with pretentious murals.

You see, way back at the dawn of time, due to an administrative error, Scotland’s wild places were contracted out to a heavenly cowboy outfit. (I’m afraid there are bad tradesmen even in heaven. Be sure to have them put some washers and a Black&Decker in the coffin with you when you go – if you’re expecting to go to heaven. For hell, take light summer clothes in some sort of easy-to-pack non-creasing asbestos material.) Haloes rolled, I’ll tell you, when God got wind of it. All heaven broke loose. Wings were clipped and for two weeks there was Reddy Brek instead of Ambrosia at every meal in the Angelic Guild of Roofers and Plasterers. It was a dark blip in the eternal bliss of paradise.]

But, the reason I’ve dragged you up to this particular corrie in such dreadful weather is because I want you to look very closely at the three twisted trees on the island in the lochan. Watch them as they start to twitch in a way quite independant of the wind. Observe how the claw-like topmost branches suddenly look more like flesh than wood, and 3 pairs of knobby hands begin to twist and writhe and tear at the air. Note how filthy are the long yellow fingernails, and how papery is the peelie-wallie skin. If you peer very squintily, a package of reduced-calorie digestive biscuits can be seen clutched in one of the plumper hands.

Then watch with me as the three trees transform themselves, slowly, slowly, all the way down to the mossy ground into three black-robed witches, with pointy hats and hairy warts and everything. Overhead an eagle pierces the night with an unearthly scream.

*

“It’s perishing, Effie, why do we always have to do this at night? I’m missing Eastenders and John-Murdo thinks I’m having an affair, the amount of times we’ve been having meetings lately.”

“We’re witches, you silly old moo, it’s traditional. Witches meet at night in barren spots, that’s what we do” said the tallest, witchiest looking one. “Shut up and pass me the tea flask. And don’t jiggle. I swear this island gets smaller every time.”

“Who’s ‘ot i hours ogh i last neeting?” said the smallest, plumpest witch, trying to open the biscuit packet with her teeth. (Witches’ covens don’t have minutes for their meetings because minutes don’t sound as eldritch as hours.) “Ah got it!” For a moment there was some enthusiastic munching. “Are we using proper names tonight?”

“We’d better.” said Effie, clearing her throat. ” A-hhhhughhh, a-hhhhukh, hhhukh. I call this coven to order. Present are Euphemia Pearworm MacAuley, The Bony And The Fierce; Mabel-Critterhorn MacLeod, The Bony And The Vaingloriou; and Chrissy-Peigi Screwtoe Mackenzie, The Dumpy And The Determined – Dark Sistren Three of the Inner, Outer, Upper and Downer Hebrides. When did we three meet last?”

“You know fine well it was last night,” said Mabel, impatiently tapping a hobnailed boot. “Look, do we have to go through all this? The Glen of Insanity gives me the creeps. Why couldn’t we use the Scout Hall again? At least they’ve got a kettle.”

“Chrissy-Peigi lost the key,” growled Effie.

“We’re witches, we don’t need an effing key!” screeched Mabel, doing a ghetto sistah side-to-side head thing and waving a taloned finger “Oh no, uhn-uhn!”

“Oh lets just get on with it, the rain’s blowing right in my ears,” said Chrissy-Peigi. “Yesterday two more sane people walked right through the glen and came out completely unmad, except for a new-found appreciation for the work of James Blunt. What are we going to do to fix that, eh? By the way, did anyone bring a wee nip o’something to keep the weather out? Oh, lovely Mabel. Nobody makes gooseberry schnapps like you do, dear. Cheers!”

To Be Continued…

Fact Number 349 About The Glen Of Insanity

Before I embark on Tormod’s story I’d better describe in a few short posts a bit more about the Glen of Insanity; its denizens; its geographical curiosities; its surprising chaises-longues.

We’ll start right at the top, high in the air. With the seagulls. Everybody knows seagulls are madder than March eclairs. Why else do they go out on Saturday nights, eat 40 proof vomit and chips from the pavement and then vomit that back down their own babies throats? More cracked than a builder’s bum, are seagulls.

Because:

Seagulls brainwaves are out-of-phase with Reason’s sine waves, which are the kind of waves which keep our ordinary lives together and normal – the waves that make snot green, not blue, and foxes cunning not ice-skating. As Reason’s waves peak and trough, seagulls’ brainwaves are a 1/4 of a wavelength behind, rendering them out of concert, discordant with reason, and thus bonkers.

However.

A strange thing happens to reason’s sane-sine-waves in the Glen of Insanity. Even inexperienced glen-watchers can see that the air in and over the valley shimmers slightly like a road on a hot day. The insane-sine-waves have a different amplitude and length to the sane-sine waves, and – madly – a different frequency too, which plays merry hell with the telly for people in Horgabost. In short, The Glen Of Insanity has a refactive index.

So.

What happens when a seagull’s mad brain-waves fly over the glen is that they are modified in such a way as to come into phase with the Reason sane-sine waves in the world outside the glen. The insane waves cancel each other out and seagulls emerge from the other side of the Glen of Insanity completely sane! They also come out flying at a slightly different angle to the angle at which the entered the glen. Like in a prism. With bending light and
stuff. And they’re red too.

Anyway.

It doesn’t work with crows who are only made more mad, or sparrows, or any other kind of bird. Scientists A scientist* has noticed that seagulls are the only birds to fly out of the Glen of Insanity saner than they flew in. The scientist also speculates that in people brainwaves may act as particles as well as waves cos of us being cleverer and more quantum. So predictions for humans based on the seagull model might well be moot as an irrelevant coot. Or they may be as correct as a right carrot. We just don’t know.

So there.

But what happens to these sane seagulls? Well, there aren’t many of them but sadly they are shunned by their mostly loony seagull feathren and sent to St. Kilda where they can’t shame their families. On St. Kilda, they enjoy quiet board games and Isles FM until they are insane enough to rejoin their loved ones and to eat vomit once again. It’s all part of Nature’s cycle. And so the wheel turns…

* 12-year-old “Specky” Becky MacLean who won the West of Scotland Young Scientists Fair with her essay entitled The Natural History Of The Greater Berneray Cleg.

The Glen Of Insanity

Far, far over the Western Sea, in darkest Harris, there is a glen called The Glen of Insanity. Folks say that the souls of the mad go there to rave and rant until the end of time, and do basket-weaving on Tuesdays.

There is only one house, in the Glen of Insanity and it isn’t a house, it’s a lighthouse. It belongs to Calum-Neally MacTorrid, aka The Caretaker, and its beacon shining in the night draws the maddest souls of Scotland to the glen, like stalkers to a starlet.

“Come to me, ye troubled and ye restless!” the lighthouse seems to call, this strange and stripey lighthouse in a glen far to the West of your wildest imaginings. “Come to where the world is safe for you, come home!” Adding, “Dill pickle!” because it is an exceedingly mad glen lighthouse indeed.

The only living (or non-dead) people that can survive the Glen Of Insanity are simpletons and the hairless so once a week Daft Baldy Dougal from the village of Dalbeag is sent in with a red-spotted kerchief on a stick containing a Charley-Barley steak-and-kidney pie, some bread, eggs, tea and rum. He delivers this to Calum Neally, sometimes stops for a chat with a rabbit he knows, and makes his way out unscathed. People ask him what it’s like in there but he just says things like “Minty” or “Oblong” or “Hurty” and is just too bonkers to speak to.

In actual fact, Dougal is a very accurate reporter on the glen but just because he also fell in love with a blue-bottle once and enjoys gnawing on houses, people just dismiss his accounts, thanking the gods of mild legal stimulants that their parents weren’t first cousins (those whose parents weren’t, that is).

Many others have tried to enter the Glen of Insanity, of course. Bossy women with headscarves and flask tea, paranormal researchers from the mainland and local have-a-go hard-men have all, at various times over the years, crossed the mossy stile at the entrance to the valley. Those that survived to make it back never spoke a word in their lives again. They twitch a bit and have to be restrained on airplanes but otherwise are mere empty shells of the meddling arseholes they once were.

But there is one other very rare kind of person who legend says can traverse the glen unscathed. Under the altar of the ancient church in Rodel, a minister in 1843 found a mysterious parchment, which is of course the very best kind of parchment to find. When he brought it up to the sunlight it fell to dust in his hands but, before that, in the candle-light below ground, amongst many strange squiggles and a section headed The “Protocols of Simon”, he had read a passage which said:

“Only he who is the 7th crofter of a 7th crofter, pure of heart, and hairy of forearm may tell at all of the world inside the Glen of Insanity.”

(The good reverend couldn’t know it, of course, but the strange squiggles he saw before the wholesome light of day destroyed them were primitive molecular diagrams for Prozac and Lithium; and “The Protocols of Simon” bit was an early outline of cognitive behavioural therapy in small supportive group sessions. And it’s just as well for you there’s an Omniscient Narrator in this story to tell what the minister saw, otherwise you’d never have known how advanced ancient islanders were in the treatment of madness either. This evidence explains how the Outer Hebrides were able to survive the many epidemics of madness that periodically swept the land, making men brothers of chisels or worshippers of blue-bells or voters of the SNP for many terrible years at a time.)

As it happened, in 1974, such a special crofter was born unto Jessie-Belle MacCuish in the village of Tarbert. Jessie, a girl of easy affection and six other wee ones, had had it away one night with Findlay Mackay, 7th youngest son of old Norrie “10-tups” MacKay. As an older brother had been lost in infancy to the butter churn one heart-breaking day, Jessie-Belle’s newest baby, Tormod, was only counted as the 6th surviving son and his birth passed unnoticed by everyone except Howling Margaret who lived in the whiskey barrel at the end of Smelly Lane, but she was too smelly to matter.

Young Tormod grew tall and strong and his forearms were considered to be the sexiest from Tarbert to Tolsta and back again. And so it happened that a 7th crofter of a 7th crofter, that is to say a Far-Squinter, came of age only 12 miles away from the Glen of Insanity. The land shivered its recognition of this on Tormod’s birthday and doe rabbits told their wee ones of a great new magic in the land – a magic as yet undiscovered. A magic that came to fruition on Tormod’s 21st birthday…

One day, maybe I’ll tell you the Story of Tormod and The Glen of Insanity*. Right now I need my bed. Night.

* Don’t count on it though, I haven’t made it up thoroughly researched it yet.

School’s Dead Boring

(For crying out loud, don’t bother reading to the end of this if you have anything else to do at all. Watched pot-boiling or nail-clipping or anything. Your satisfaction is in no way guaranteed. I just watched a pot boil a wee while ago and it was 2.7 times more entertaining than this story.)

It was dark in the headmaster’s study, save for the stygian glow from the fireplace. Muriel caught her breath as the door closed behind her and the creaky old chair behind the vast desk turned around to face her. Shadow and light licked the features of the headmaster as her eyes began to adjust to the dim light. Slobbered on the features actually, for the headmaster had an inordinately large nose which would have confounded even an affectionate Irish wolfhound’s tongue. And dried it completely up, most likely… Anyway this is getting us nowhere. Suffice to say he had a nose of great bearing and probably its own magnetic field judging from the way his twirly thin black moustache curled like iron filings around a Physics experiment. Muriel remembered with a pang that she had a test right after breakfast tomorrow on the very subject.

It was hot and it was stagnant and stuffy, as if someone soft and silent and possibly padding, (although Muriel could not tell from which part of her mind this adjective had come from) had released a vial of gaseous dread with the aim of compressing the dry air and sharpen the senses. Muriel was suddenly thirsty and she felt her feet prickle uncomfortably inside their woolen socks. She had never been summoned to the headmaster’s office before. She had never even seen him. None of the pupils in Erstwhile Academy: School For The Very Promising had. The only way they knew he existed was from rumour and the grey wisp of smoke that curled from the chimney of his office in the old part of the school – the part that had once been the sanitorium.

“Well now, well now,” said The Headmaster, steepling his long white fingers into a creepy little church. Muriel could have sworn she saw a small bat fly out from under its roof, but that was just crazy. She straightened her self up and waited. But nothing happened.

There was a long pause and a space that Muriel felt she had to fill with something. “Um, Miss Borscht sent me over from the Chemistry Tower,” she said, after she’d managed to get her lips unstuck.

“Ah, Miss Borscht, yes, yes. Exemplary member of the teaching staff. Fascinating complexion, yes. Miss Borscht, yes.”

Again there was a silence. For a time the Headmaster knitted his smooth (too smooth?) brow contemplatively in apparent appreciation of the great wonder that was Miss Borscht’s complexion. To be fair, thought Muriel, Miss Borscht was quite veiny. Muriel shifted weight to her other hip and all at once felt slapped with the full and entire meaning of the word pate. For the Headmaster’s ashen forehead and slick black widow’s peak surely constituted the pateiest of all possible pates in the pateiest of all possible worlds. It would be a long time before she could eat meat spread of any sort again.

A log shifted in the fireplace and a shower of saffron sparks shot up the chimney. This seemed to break the Headmaster’s reverie. He glanced up at Muriel as if noticing her for the first time. He gave her a long appraising stare during which Muriel could feel her brain peeling away from her skull and gently turned as if under a lapidarist’s magnifying glass. Spiders crawling in her spinal chord agitated her into a cough and a mumbled “Um, you asked to see me, sir?”

“Yes, child, why, yes I did” The headmaster seemed surprised for no reason Muriel could discern. “Quite right. You see, I’ve been watching you, I’ve been watching you carefully Muriel Anne Malloy, and I think that you might be just the person for a little task I need doing. Such insouciance you have, child. Such a studied calmness about you. Yes, yes, I think you’ll do just fine.”

Another decade long pause. The fire crackled, Muriel’s feet prickled and she became aware of a fat, tortoiseshell cat over by the poker. The cat was beside the point really. More to the point was what the cat was stuck to: a pair of poisonous green eyes which had glommed on to her spectacled ones. Again with the sickening brain turning thing. Muriel began to feel queasy.

“Sir?”

“Muriel Anne?”

Despite this being the first time she had seen the famously unseen headmaster, this befuddled old duffer routine rang about as true to Muriel as wet spaghetti on an Oriental gong but awareness of that meant nothing. She knew she was not the prime mover in this little charade She had no power to direct the, for lack of a better word, conversation . All she could do was stand there. And thirst. The thirst was becoming unbearable. The heat, how could he bear it? he must be stewing in that big black cloak.

“This task, sir?”

“Hmmm?”

This was becoming unbearable. “The task you wanted me to perform, sir?”

“Ah, yes, forgive me, child. You will find, as you get older, that the mind often wanders. But what could you know of age, dear child, dear Muriel Anne Molloy. Nothing, nothing at all and you are quite sensible not to care twoo hoots for your elders and betters…”

“But…but I have the greatest respect for my elders,” Muriel began to protest.

“You are quite right,” continued the Headmaster, smoothly. “We must look to youth for our spirit, our energy when our bodies fade and wither. Come here, my child. Draw near so that I may see your youth more closely.”

Muriel stepped forward into the full burning glare of the fire, calculating how many steps it was back to the heavy wooden office door as she did so. The cat hissed, “Khhhhhhhhh!

“Closer, my dear, closer. That’s it.” Suddenly, the Headmaster made a surprisingly fluid movement, producing a piece of paper from somewhere within the folds of his cloak. Muriel jumped.

“I want you to go to a rather special little shop in the town for me, and read this message to the assistant there. But it is very, very important you read these exact words. Do you understand?

Muriel nodded and exhaled, a sense of relief washing over her as she realized that she going to be allowed to go, that she was not going to have her blood sucked by this creepy man after all. She took the note and turned to leave. But she was too slow. A bony hand reached out and clutched her’s – it felt dry and tissue-papery…and icy depsite the heat in the room.

“But, I haven’t told you where to go yet, my child, Miss Muriel. Anne. Malloy.” She felt the full stops like sharpened pencils poking her forehead.

“Oh, of course, sir, yes. I’m sorry. Where would you like me to go, sir?”

“So eager to get along, so eager,” said the Headmaster, a smile like a snake wriggling mirthlessly across his mouth. “You young people, I wish I had your energy.”

Was she right…could he…? Did he just lick his lips just before he said the word “energy”? AND WAS THE TONGUE THAT LICKED THEM…FORKED?? Muriel felt her stomach curl up like a hedgehog as a wintry chill ran through her body. It would be some days before it came out of hibernation and was able to digest anything again. She desired nothing more than to be out of that study.

“Now, listen carefully, I intend to say this only once. Repetition is so tiresome. Between the olde bookeshoppe and the NU SHOP4LESS, there is a small alley. Down that alley is an unmarked door. Do you know it? No, I thought not, few people do. Go through that door. You will find yourself in a tailor’s shop. It is not what it once was, I’m afraid, but there are so very few people left who are willing to pay for exquisite tailoring these days. You will approach Murgatroyd, the shop assistant, or the tailor’s dummy as he’s known ahahahahaha. Few stitches sort of a fully serged seam is young Murgatroyd.”

Muriel was shocked at the Headmaster speaking like this about somebody who struggled academically.

“You will have no trouble finding him though because he will be the only person there that looks like me. In fact he will be the only person there at all. He is my son – not the scholar we’d hoped for but capable of the finest stitching up outside of the LAPD. Don’t mind the boils, they are almost never contagious.”

Muriel felt her mouth fall open but didn’t correct it. What was all this madness? What had she stumbled into? Who was this Murgatroyd person with the boils? Why had the headmaster picked her? God, she needed some water.

“Then you will open and read the note to him. Let us practice this now, for it is imperative that you get it right the first time. Child? Don’t gape like that, read it! Do as I say.”

Muriel opened the note and read aloud the tall Gothic letters:

I, Muriel Anne Malloy, Have Been Sent By The Headmaster of Erstwhile Academy To Get A Round Tuit. Thank you.

Somewhere in the back of Muriel’s brain a little warning bell rang. She frowned and studied the long sloping handwriting. What was wrong with this? A Round Tuit, what was that? A Round Tuit? Slowly, understanding began to dawn…but, eh? Really?

She looked up from the note in astonishment and saw the Headmaster shaking, his mouth covered by both hands, small muffled noises emerging from them.

“BMPPHWAHAHAHA,” he exploded. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Oh! Oh! Oh! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, oh my sides!” the Headmaster wheezed like an emphysemic moose, “Oh your face! Priceless!”

Muriel was confused and flustered and not a little alarmed at the helpless, gowned figure before her, now lying prostrate on the rug in front of the fire, beating it with clenched fists, tears of laughter running down either side of his huge pale nose. She turned and fled for the door.

“Oh, and i want you to ask him for a long weight too!” shrieked her headmaster after her. “And some round envelopes for the circulars I have to send out later hahahahahahahahaha! Oh my stars, that was a good one…!”

As Muriel burst, heart hammering, down the dark corridor and out of the horrible old building into the bright afternoon, she could still hear the extraordinary cackling.

By the fire, the cat blinked greenly and purred something softly. The Headmaster arose, brushing off his long black robes and retwirling his, by now, rather dishevelled moustache.

“Yes, yes, I know I shouldn’t,” he said. “I know it’s a risk to let them see me, but once every century or so, I need a little diversion, you know, just a giggle. A headmaster’s afterlife can be so very … dry sometimes.” Turning with a great sweeping of robes, the breeze from which was not registered by the fire at all, a change came over his bloodless face that rendered him almost the antithesis of the gleeful creature of just moments before.

“Enough! Lets back to work, Percival. These souls won’t slowly liquidate into drinkable form through horrifically boring teaching practices, themselves, you know. I have people to feed. Ex-people,” he corrected himself, reaching across the desk for a sheaf of papers, a new report detailing the boring of a painless hole into the elbows (contrary to popular belief it is indeed the elbow that is the seat of the soul, not the heart or the brain) of sleeping pupils to extract minute amounts of soul that they would hardly miss at all.

The cat blinked again.

Sorry – A Tale. But Not A Sorry Tale

Charlesina looked over at Derek, loathing him openly as her eyes ran over his face, his neck, and its open pores glistening in the floodlights and the hot, hot heat of that June night. If she strained, she could hear the sickly, treacley trickle of the sweat as it oozed from his glands out onto his hateful, sausagey skin. It sounded like maggots coming stickily out of their eggs but without the David Attenborough narration. She knew that, later that night, the nauseating sound of his sweating flesh would invade her dreams, getting louder and louder until it reached a ciccada-like crescendo she could no longer bear…and she would wake…drenched in sweat… almost panting for air beside him in the bed. She would then have to put up with his irritating ministrations, his caresses and murmurs, and the stupid flip-flop of his unfashionable slippers as he fetched her some water. God, how she detested him!

But it didn’t matter how she felt, did it? Even if he were to look right at her now – now, as every bone in her body ached to hurt him – he wouldn’t notice the millennia-worth of hate that had been stewing in her soul, her very genes – right down to her very ribosomal, messenger and transfer type RNA, for Godsakes! No. He would only see her soft-brown eyes and a spirit so shattered that its peculiar shards and jagged edges, catching the lights just so, as they did, had a tragic beauty all their own – giving the mere illusion of a whole spirit, a whole soul. He had no idea of the damage he’d done to her, and the damage she’d like to do to him.

Down through the ages – the Iron, the Dark, the Later Middle – men like him had always forced her sort into humiliating submission. Worse, he thought she was actually grateful to him for saving her from a life of uncertainty and hunger.

But maybe a small pathetic part of her was grateful. After all, look at her now! Cared for, perfumed, wanting for nothing , and here, now, at his side with diamonds at her throat and a thousand eyes on her; everyone admiring her beauty; remarking on her strong, lithe limbs and her elegant footfall.

Maybe she could put up with it. It had been a long time since she had seen her family or anyone else she loved. Where were they now? Were they even alive? How would she manage on her own? She knew Derek would never stop until he found her.

But these thoughts were just last minute jitters, she reasoned, the same thoughts that had stopped her breaking free before. She shook her head to clear the thought as if her brain was a lumpy, moist Etch-A-Sketch. Now was her moment! Now was her chance! She could almost taste the meat of victory already. She knew she had to leave Derek tonight. Her eye twitched slightly, and then the announcer called their names.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for Mr. Derek Mayberry and Charlesina Grayling Blaze, a full-blood greyhound and last year’s overall winner of the Pedigree Chum Dog Show, Ullapool Chapter. We hope to see them progressing to the regional finals in Inverness tonight as this little lass has plenty of potential. Her main – and indeed only competition – Callie Munroe’s greyhound, Sheena, is out with worms this year.”

The following moment’s events seemed to Charlesina to happen in slow motion. She felt her powerful rear haunches gather and bunch and spring her forward, as her jaws opened wide and she flew through the air towards Derek’s bum. Sinking her teeth into it, she was momentarily reminded of a stringy ham-hock she’d once been given, but then her tongue curled around a sudden spurt of blood. Her jaws snapped tight shut. So this was what human blood was like! No wonder it was taboo! It hit her system like a freight-train. Electricity surged through her body and something newly awoken and primal was coursing through her blood.

She dropped onto all fours, and fixing her eye steadily on the exit door of the arena she ran. She ran as she’d never run before, hearing nothing but the blood pounding in her ears, feeling nothing but raw exhilaration and the wind in her ears. If they hadn’t taken her tail she’d have wagged it so hard she knew she could have flown.

As she neared the door she had to slow down and, all of a sudden, she heard the roar of the crowd come crashing around her ears.

“Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” she begged herself. “You’re too close now!”

But something had happened in her brain and she knew she’d lost hold of the moment – the ancient call of the wild was slipping through her mind like an old, writhing eel that she just couldn’t keep a hold of with her modern instincts. She knew if she left Derek she would never again get what the wild hills of Scotland, for all their freedoms and rabbit-chasing, just couldn’t give her. A tummy rub. God, could she live without a twice-daily tummy rub?

Turning, she saw Derek, crumpled on the ground, clutching his bum and gazing right at her with a new light in his eyes – a light of dawning recognition. At last he could see her! The whole her, the noble animal and companion she really was – not just a pretty plaything to get him out and about and meeting young ladies again (as his mother had advised, after the time in prison for drowning Miranda), but a fellow sentient being, a fellow traveller on the journey.

She ran to him. He looked up at her with tears in his eyes and gently fondled her ears, wincing with the pain in his bottom as he did so.

“I’m sorry, girl,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

One Day In June

Nobby sank back into his bed and blinked at the ceiling a couple of times. He felt some exhilaration and a little satisfaction but wasn’t excited – not yet. More than anything he was just very tired. He kicked his boots to the floor. Outside, a bird’s sudden sharp tweet punctured the black dinghy of night sending it whizzing off to a yawning Australia, and a grey light stole through the curtains onto Martin’s paint-streaked brow as he drifted off to sleep.

An hour later and several miles away, Smelly Angus was setting off to his job at MacAllum’s Prawns. He loved the early mornings out on his tractor, Margo, with hardly another soul stirring; he was king of the B483 at that hour and could usually coast all the way into town in 3rd.

“So long, suckers! I’m outta here!” he screamed maniacally at the road-side sheep whose backsides he’d damn near sheared as Margo whipped past.

The sheep watched the old red tractor for a moment, chewing thoughtfully, and then returned to their discussion about notions of free will and whether the course of true love e’er did run true with particular reference to the pioneering French scientist in the field, Proffesseur Rene Gade.

Meanwhile, Smelly Angus and Margo were racing towards the notoriously dangerous kink in the road known as Eejit’s Bend. Angus knew he could take it at 30mph – he’d pushed Margo that hard before; but something in the light, some indescribable joy in his heart, and very possibly a wee something in his morning cuppa, made him feel that anything was possible that morning – and crazily, giddily, he knew that Eejit’s Bend at 31mph was possible. Oh, he knew people would think he was mad to even attempt it; that Margo was long past it. But he had faith in his old red lady and besides, wherefore the thrill? The thrill of life, and of man and machine in perfect harmony? Yes, wherethefeckfore it, if not here, on this day, on this road?

The road was sinuous and he only had a limited stretch of straight run-up before the Bend to work up the speed. Right after Derek’s Ditch he’d accelerate to about 28 and then, at the slight turn at Half-Cut Corner, he planned to really go hell for leather, consequences be damned! He was exhilarated. He was alive!!

Here we go! thought Smelly Angus.

Oh shit, thought Margo, who, despite being a tractor, had more free will than you’d expect, but rather less than she’d like. She was looking forward to reincarnation*, possibly as a gently-used toaster with an elderly owner someplace pleasant with a sea view.

“Derek’s Ditch then,” said Angus. “That’s it Margo, girl! Nicely handled…26mph…27…28…now, Half-Cut Corner …29…WHATTHEFA…?

Margo came to a screeching halt almost tipping Smelly Angus out onto the road. He bounced his head off the steering wheel and rubbed his eyes; he could not believe what he was seeing. Margo wiped her windcsreen too. As they’d swung round the corner the whole of the opposite side of the valley had come into view and there was something very wrong with the mountain on the other side.

Very unusually for this part of the island**, there appeared to be the head and shoulders of some sort of enormous naked woman on the hill. A head and shoulders that had not been there yesterday. Another small hill was obscuring her lower half. As Smelly Angus and Margo neared her, they could see that she’d been formed by someone cutting the turf and painting the exposed peat a brilliant white. (In fact it had taken Nobby some 7 hours and 8 gallons of Co-op’s own “Snowflake” emulsion to make the 240 square feet figure, loosely based on Joanna Lumley.)

Smelly Angus looked at her face in awe – she was truly beautiful. He looked at her perfect round breasts which followed the contour of two gently undulating small hillocks exquisitely. With a dry mouth, his eyes moved down over the belly-button boulder glimmering in the morning sunlight. And then, as the old man and his tractor rounded the last bend which they both knew would finally bring her fully into view in all her glory, they saw…

“Ahdammitall! Dammitall!” cursed Smelly Angus, all dismay and wretched disappointment. She was wearing knickers.

Margo coughed a little diesel puff of relief.

But there was something else. Something on the knickers. Squinting up his raisiny little eyes, Smelly Angus read the following message painted onto the peat across the knickers and on either side of a highly laquered little bench: FREE TIBET OR THE KNICKERS COME OFF. I MEAN IT!

Tibet? But this was the Uig road. Why would anyone paint a gigantic naked woman and urge us to free Tibet on the Uig road? Smelly Angus wished he’d left his tea alone this morning. And then, like a flash of lightening it came to him. The knickers…yes…and the bench: the loins of the naked except-for-her-knickers woman were right across Morag’s Mound!!

Morag MaCLeman, the late wife of Councillor MacLeman of Valtos ward had loved that spot and right before she’d died from chronic fatal misanthropy she had requested a simple monument to be placed on that mound in her memory. Her husband the Councillor, knew that when Morag said simple, what she really meant was a huge baroque gazebo job, gilded if possible. He was not a rich man, nor had he loved Morag especially much, but appearances were important and it was important for a man in his position to have as decent and sour-faced a wife as possible. Indeed, Morag’s face was so very like a well-slapped bum that he had risen quickly in local government and he was grateful to her for that. So he’d bought the shiniest bench he could find as a memorial and named the site Morag’s Mound.

But here, thought Smelly Angus, was the Tibet link!

“You see,” he explained, aloud for your benefit – yes you, the hapless readers of this tripe – “Councillor MacLeman has a younger brother, a bald, trembly kind of a brother who had travelled the world as a missionary for the Free Church and had come back in a deep, black funk about the state of the world past Inverness. In particular, the Buddhists really seem to have pissed him off. He was so virulently anti-Buddhist that he couldn’t even watch Richard Gere films any more without throwing bibles and simple wooden crosses at the telly. He was suspected of throwing a brick with a note attached reading DYE BUDDHISTS! through the window of the Yoga For Expectant Mothers class at the health centre but the brick had gone missing from the evidence cupboard at the police-station, along with the note. This had been a blow to the case against the brother, because Mrs. Etta Mackenzie, his English teacher at the secondary school, was prepared to testify in the upcoming trial that he’d never been able to spell for toffee. Could this be the Tibet link in this puzzle?”

(All this Smelly Angus postulated aloud – but not at all discordantly with the story. Cordantly he postulated it, incredibly cordantly, so’s you can be following the narrative an’ that.)

Revving poor Morag back to life, Smelly Angus, tore off down the road to raise the alarm in town. The ceich was really going to hit the fan with this, he thought, not ungleefully. For the Rude Woman of Uig, as he’d dubbed*** her, could not have appeared at a worse time. No less a personage than the reverend Billy Graham’s first cousin, Chet, was arriving off the lunch-time plane, due to take a tour of the island’s beauty spots and preach to the faithful. He was looking at Lewis with a view to opening the Billy Graham Evangelical Call Centre on the island, on account of its devout and decent populace who would man the mostly American calls on questions of scripture and rural Midwest meth-induced crises of faith. Reverend Graham himself had declared the Hebrides as one of the last bastions of precious poe-faced prurience in this sinful, over-sexed modern world.

But what would the Reverend Chet make of this beauty spot? Who had painted her, and why?

To be continued…

* Tractors are, almost all of them, Hindus. Massey Ferguson tractors anyway.

** God only knows what goes on in Scalpay.

*** Smelly Angus, for one mad minute, considered doing a bit more than dubbing her, but he knew God, and very possibly Spectacled Katie-Anne from over the way, was watching. So he drove on.

The Lamentable Tale of Wee Kenny Eyeballs

The setting: Isle of Lewis, Scotland; circa 1985.

Wee Kenny Eyeballs almost choked to death on his fish finger when his sister told him The Latest. The latest Latest was that the Siarachs* were going to march on the capital (Stornoway) tomorrow with a list of demands, chief of which was the assertion of their right, as Free (Free, mark you!) Presbyterians to scribble HEATHEN on the door of any person or persons hanging out their washing on the Sabbath.**

Anyway, Kenny almost choked to death at that news but didn’t and was fully composed again by pudding time. Wee Kenny Eyeballs almost choked to death a lot whenever he heard upsetting news during meals. A childhood pyloric stenosis and an unresolved mos vivo*** coupled with recurring throatal occlusion had caused repeated sudden rises in intra-ocular pressure and led to his Unfortunate Protruding Eyeball Condition (UPEC.) (And also his Bulging Forehead-Vein Disorder (BFVD)). That was how comes he got the name Kenny Eyeballs: The Wee was just by the way.

However, when, at pudding, his sister told him The Other Latest – which was the story going round the village about Kevin Drooly and Marina Shed and the peat-stack and the windy day and The Best of Slow Jazz cassette-tape and tape-recorder and the pot of honey and the unexpected bee attack and the missing-presumed-blown-away-clothes and the desperate phonecalls to Karen Drooly at the pub and the four dark, wretched hours before she and her drunken pals picked them up and the car-ride of shame and subsequent treatment in Accident and Emergency for exposure and 3rd-degree stings – Kenny did indeed choke entirely to death, undone by a mouthful of Swiss roll and custard.

His sister couldn’t be sure but she did say his last words sounded a lot like “Narina, ny girl! Chchc snrfl ack chhh. Ang ny “est og azz” take! Orra astard! Mmrfl.

At the funeral, as the mourners threw their flowers and handfuls of dirt down onto the coffin, Kevin Drooly, heavily bandaged on account of the bee-stings and with tears clouding his vision, threw an old battered cassette tape with the words ow Jazz barely visible beneath its covering of tear-streaked peat-dust.

I’m sorry old pal, I was going to give it back! I was!” he said.

Kevin was sorry also for (very nearly) having it off with Marina Shed, Kenny’s girlfriend of a week, but did not mention that then. He knew that, for young men of a certain age, mere women could never truly come between best friends. But the music could. The music could. The theft of another man’s Best Of Slow Jazz was a hideous, ear-ripping betrayal. He may as well have baked that Swiss roll and cooked that custard himself and then rammed the down his friend’s throat, tamping the gloopy mess down with a spoon until the whole windpipe was blocked, before dancing round the convulsing corpse.

One whisky-soaked week later, in a pit of remorse so hopeless and metaphorically pit-like, Kevin Drooly and the similarly guilt-wracked Marina Shed went back to the same peat-stack at which they’d met for their doomed night of honey-love. They stripped themselves bare, the angry red weals from their previous stingings still swelling all over their pale goosebumped flesh making them look, in the pale moonlight, like human raspberry-ripples. And then, weeping and singing the song “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees, the two flung themselves on the formerly unexpected but now wholly established peatstack beehive in a last act of penance for their treachery. The repeat exposure to massive stinging killed them both puffily.

THE END

* People from the west of the island.

** This – the scribbling of the word HEATHEN! on the doors of demonstrable heathens – was subsequently allowed but was tempered by a controversial “No Indelible Ink/Pencil Only” clause that opened a bitter rift between the town and all those West of the cattle-grid. This observer is unhappy to have to report that many sorry blood-baths followed.

*** The will to live

Mairi-Sine’s Lucky Day

(Where Mairi-Sine is pronounced Mah-ree Shee-nuh, and x = 4)

Although normally a flock known for their good-times and easy smiles, noone was laughing when Mairi-Sine opened the metal gate to the croft with a squeak that would have made a Spice Girl wince and caused elderly birds to drop stone-dead from the trees. No-one looked up as she slammed the gate behind her and stalked purposefully across the field to where Wiry-Wooled Wendy, her love-rival, stood with her back to the gate, laughing and comparing hooficures with a couple of ditzy peroxide ewes. And everyone made very sure to find a fascinating buttercup to sniff around as Mairi-Sine, her eyes just little gleams of fury, approached Wiry-Wooled Wendy.

“You done thought you could steal my man? You thought YOU could steal MY man, you ewe, you?” she hollered.

Wiry-Wooled Wendy turned slowly to face her accuser and, as we see her turn, we – the readers of this true story – can only gasp in astonishment at her incredible physical beauty. (Gasp, people, gasp! I need you to work with me a little here.) You’re gasping because Wiry-Wooled Wendy was a terrible name for her. For, you see, her wool was really like the finest cashmere/merino/spandex blend, teased out into the softest of cotton-candy puffs. Her long, luxuriant eyelashes lifted lazily to reveal eyes of glint-flecked dark gold, which gazed steadily at Mairi-Sine. Her perfect scarlet Cupid’s bow lips twitched slightly as she looked at Mairi-Sine’s mud-caked wellies, but Wiry-Wooled Wendy seemed wholly unconcerned and gave every appearance of being even a little bored by this human intrusion into her day.

“Why, I do declare I just do not know what you mean,” she purred, the very picture of lamb-like innocence.

“Don’t come the dumb ungulate with me, Wiry-Wooled Wendy,” hissed Mairi-Sine, her brown pony-tail quivering with rage and her blue eyes flashing with anger. “I have all the evidence I need to make sure you’re tomorrow’s special on chops at Charley Barley’s butcher-shop. What about THIS, eh? Who else wears post-van red lipstick in this village?”

Mairi-Sine thrust a man’s shirt at Wiry-Wooled Wendy. It did have bright red lipstick kisses all over its collar, noted the other sheep, none of whom were paying any more attention to the formerly fascinating buttercups. And post-van red was Wendy’s preferred shade of scarlet.

All eyes were on Wiry-Wooled Wendy then, as she drawled, “Oh honey, do you seriously think I would entertain a man wearing a cheap nylon rag like that? I’ve worked hard in this village so’s I don’t have to have that sort of rough clientele any more. You’re Martin Callie’s wife, aren’t you? Well, no offence, sugah, but no Callie could afford me these days, ceptin’ for Ole Man Callie and he doesn’t get out much any more.”

She idly plucked a daisy, tied its stem into a knot with her tongue, and flicked it to a young ram who blushed hotly and managed to fall on his chin somehow, even though he was standing still.

Mairi-Sine frowned slightly. “But I have this too, you lying little yarn-ball!” she shrieked, waving a piece of paper triumphantly in the air.

“Look! Look at this address and tell me that www.sheeplust.croft isn’t you, you wooly tart! www is obviously Wiry-Wooled Wendy, you can’t pull the wool over my eyes, you…you… horny trollope!

Everyone gasped. This was a terrible thing to say to any sheep of negotiable affection and, tough though she was, if there was one thing Wiry-Wooled Wendy couldn’t abide being called, it was horny. She knew she had an embarrassing tendency for forehead swellings but she went to great pains to disguise this by filing them down on boulders, secretly at night, while the rest of the flock pretended to sleep and not hear her.

She rose up magnificently on her hind legs, with an habitual little shimmy, causing several farmers who watched her with binoculars from their neighbouring fields every day, to swoon in dead faints of desire. Striding imperiously towards the woman she struck Mairi-Sine clean across the face with an immaculately polished front left hoof, leaving an angry pink cloven mark, that looked a bit rude, to be honest.

“Get you facts straight first, little missy!” she hissed at the shocked Mairi-Sine. “WWW isn’t me, you bald, pink twit. That’s a k not a t – www.sheeplusk.croft is the web address for a gay sheep-man love club over in Luskentyre. And the post-van-painting and touch-up shop is right next-door to their garage and touch-up shop. From what I hear, your husband is quite a regular there.”

Swivelling on one elegant ankle, Wiry-Wooled Wendy fell back down on all fours and strolled back to her sisters with a haughty this-conversation-is-ended-type shake of her tail. The last remaining Peeping-Tom shepherd, fainted clean away.

Meanwhile, Mairi-Sine, eyes wide and face drained of all colour, sunk to her knees, failing to avoid a small pile of day-old dung. Clutching the web address to her chest, she raised her face to the pouring rain. (Dramatically it had suddenly started to rain, almost as if events were being guided by some unseen narrative voice.) She wept. Tears of purest joy she wept.

“I’m free! Free of him at last!” she sobbed. “I would never have got an anullment from that deathly boring Mirror-reader of a husband if he’d only been having it away with a ewe because the “Cultural Sensitivity” and “Loneliness Exemption” laws won’t allow bestiality cases against Highlanders any more. And it’s all “Don’t ask, don’t tell” now anyway. But thank God! He’s having an affair with a MALE sheep! The court in Stornoway is sure to deem man-on-RAM action an abhorrent sin against nature. It’s perfect! Think of the leverage I’ve got! Oooh, wait til the Reverend Alec hears this!”

“I think the Reverend Alec was the founder member of www.sheeplusk.croft, actually,” piped up a small tup from the middle of the crowd.

“Well, in that case, he’ll just have to come out even more strongly against it in the papers to deflect suspicion away from himself,” trilled Mairi-Sine, hopping around in excitement in the bright sunshine which had appeared just as suddenly as the rain had stopped – about a paragraph ago now.

“Then I’ll have public opinion firmly and self-righteously on my side and, sure as eggs is eggs, I’ll get a very generous alimony settlement. Now I can run away and become the astronaut I’d always dreamed I’d be some day!”

And, with that, she gaily wiped the day-old dung from her knees and skipped back up the croft to the open road, a whole new world of whole new worlds and space-diapers opening up gloriously before her.

“But why was she so upset about you then, Wend’, if she just wanted rid of him anyway?”, asked Betty, as tragic a case of mutton dressed as ham as there’s ever been – she’d attempted to dye her wool a baby-pink but the total effect was more of a bacony-pink. Streaky-bacony-pink.

“Well, for the look of the thing, of course,” said Wiry-Wooled Wendy patiently, nodding in quiet admiration at Mairi-Sine’s retreating form which was now bobbing and dozee-dohing happily on the horizon. She understood, all right.

“Just for the look of the thing,” she repeated softly to herself, before turning back to the others.