Angel Delight

The story behind the story?

As always, miscellaneous. Late last night I thought, ‘I do believe I will try one of those six bottles of speciality, fruity-type beer I bought myself for Christmas’. I promise I only drank one bottle, in fact I drink so rarely nowadays that I’d had to buy a bottle-opener to go with it. Anyway, it was fruity, and a bit strange, and I woke at three in the morning sharing a fur-splotched pillow with Arthur (a black cat) who was snoring. No headache just a slight sense of confusion.

The Miseries arrived with a whoosh. I started thinking about Mum in that hospital bed, not ‘mobilising’ as they had so confidently predicted, not eating, not drinking, hardly responding. I was thinking how hard it was to live with the undead, the drowning, and how at some point you had to let them sink away down and out of sight, like Kate Winslet in that film ‘Titanic’. But how do you loosen your grip on the last of  your whole-life relationships? Mum has, with the best of intentions, been driving me round the bend my whole life and yet now I find I can’t imagine life without her.

And then – with that lightning switch you can only manage at three in the morning – I found myself worrying about the new broadband router instead. Would the little brown box arrive tomorrow as scheduled? Would I be able to sort out all those little plugs and wires and get it working? No doubt it would mean yet another stressful, circular call to a surly individual, barely able to speak English in a call centre half way round the globe.

At this point I gave up and got up. Stumbling downstairs I made myself a cup of builders’ tea, wrapped the spare dressing-gown round my knees to cut out the draught from the front door and turned on the TV. Mostly it was teleshopping but I managed to find something – was it Lucy Worsley wittering on about the six wives of Henry VIII? Or maybe she was the night before. Maybe last night it was endlessly-looped repeats of the unbearable carnage in Aleppo and the temporary ceasefire gone west again. The day ahead was promising to be a very, very bad one indeed, unless I could manage to write something.

And then I thought, supposing you were to get your new broadband router, plug all the bits and pieces in and get the all those little lights flashing? Something or someone materialises on your computer screen: but very much not the something or someone you had been expecting…

ANGEL DELIGHT

Two things woke Pete – bright mid-morning sun hitting his eyelids because he had forgotten to close the curtains last night, and some stupid bastard leaning on the doorbell. He squeezed his throbbing eyes tighter shut but could not shut his ears. However long he waited the ringing would not stop. He moved slightly and fell off the sofa, landing in the cold remains of a pepperoni pizza and knocking over a half-empty beer-can full of cigarette butts. Breakfast TV had already finished. They were on to the Business Program.

‘All right, all right!’ he screamed, and then wished he hadn’t. His skull hurt, and unknown creatures whistled, shrieked and reverberated inside it like bats in a cave. How much had he drunk, for God’s sake?

The cat got in his way as he staggered towards the door. He kicked out at it with his still-booted foot, not really expecting it to connect with the animal’s scrawny frame, but it did connect and the cat cried out and fell down. How long since he had fed that thing? Pete couldn’t recall. Why had it even persisted in hanging around? It wasn’t even his. Shelley had taken the kid but not the kid’s cat when she ran off to that feminist shelter place. Looked like he’d done for it this time, anyway – it wasn’t getting up.

The front door seemed unusually far from the sofa. That sun needed a dimmer switch. There wasn’t room on the carpet for him to tread without treading something underfoot: everywhere, clothes, magazines, bottles and cold, greasy take-away food. Bile rose in his throat.

‘I will never eat again,’ he told himself. Not realising it was true.

To be continued…

Angel Delight, continued

Angel Delight, concluded

Featured Image: Black Angel Cat – Green Eyes 2: Cyra R Cancel, Florida

Soldiering on when you’ve lost the plot

So there I was, having written part one of what I thought was going to be a two-, or at the very most a three-blog-post story. But just like those science fiction double episodes that you don’t immediately realise are going to be double episodes, things didn’t seem to be coming to any sort of conclusion. Rather, the plot seemed to be expanding. Dangerously.

Oh no, I’m thinking, could I have accidentally started writing a novel inside a blog? Could it be that in three years time I’ll still be posting some equivalent of War and Peace in bite-size chunks? People will long since have stopped reading by then. Why didn’t I plot the thing out in detail for heaven’s sake?

This is how I felt:

typing.jpg

I really don’t like the look of the man. Presumably it is a man?

The reason was because I was too lazy and also because I knew if I got bogged down in plotting it I’d never actually get round to writing it. I have boxes of detailed, well-thought-out plots for stories I have never written. Boxes full of files full of other files, full of A4 dividers and paper clips full of forgotten and unwritten plans for things. An aeon, an ocean of boxes.

One thing at a time, I thought. What is today’s problem? Today’s problem, me told myself, is that you/she have/has bravely/foolishly published part one of a short story having no clue as to what happens in part two, let alone the rest.

So what shall I do? me asked me.

Start asking questions, me replied.

So here are the first three of a list of questions I asked myself about The Obedience of Brother Odhran going forward, and the answers that arrived from somewhere or other – out of the ether. I spent an hour or so doing this, by the end of which I had more or less uncovered the whole plot, although the characters will keep butting in at inconvenient moments with refinements and fol-de-rols:

Where did the manuscript come from?

Italy, the Siege of Florence – and thence into the hands of a Roman ancestor of the new Abbot. The book was thrown from the battlements by an unknown hand, and he caught it. It was in some unreadable script. He was taking part in the siege and brought it back to Rome.

Why has the new Abbot been appointed – with what ulterior motive?

By the Pope himself, to root out dissolution weakness in the monastery. He has heard Henry VII means them harm (1536) And may even be thinking of destroying the monasteries. The Pope requires the monasteries to be strong and above reproach, should this happen. The new Abbot is therefore a cross between a spy and a sergeant major.

What happened to the old Abbot?

He was said to have died of a mysterious illness on a visit to a sister monastery, but there is no proof. He was got rid of.

There were many more questions and answers on my list. I’ll keep them to myself for now  so as not to give away the ending of The Obedience of Brother Odhran for anyone currently reading it. You will see, by the way, if you read the story itself, that not all of the answers were slavishly followed. Things change and rearrange themselves as you go along, sometimes quite drastically. That’s all right.

I think the thing is – a kind of practical confidence that comes from years and years of constructing stories of one sort or another. It’s really odd since I have very little confidence about anything else. It’s not conceit: it’s not believing you can write a good story, only that you’re going be able to write some sort of story. You have the bones of  this monster in your head. You will to be able to build the Creature, stitch all those charnel bits and pieces together and breathe life into, even if it’s not exactly pretty. The thing is you can perform as much cosmetic surgery as you like on It/Him/Her later (or not, in my case, since I’m posting as I go along). The only important thing is to finish what you started.

The Patience of Gryphons: part the fourth and final

The auctioneer’s assistant carried the missing gryphon out to Henry’s car. On Sybil’s instruction he placed it, very gingerly, on the driver’s seat. (She suspected that this was the same poor blighter who had been responsible for despatching a single gryphon to Surrey after the auction rather than a pair. He had probably had the Riot Act well and truly read to him by the auctioneer when his mistake had been discovered since Sybil and Henry were regular, and therefore much valued, customers.) The second little gryphon stood tall in a cardboard box, wrapped in an old army blanket; a stone ornament being treated with as much care as one of the young Princesses.

Gryphons are known for their patience but even they were becoming impatient now, Greyclaw on the back seat of this… conveyance… and Rainfeathers on the front beside their new mistress: a temporary mistress, as both of them sensed. Woman, yes, this Sybil, but not witch. They required witch.

And still they were not at the right angle and cannot lock eyes – but soon, surely. Even the auction-house man seemed to sense it. The atmosphere inside the motor-car seemed to sizzle, the moment the siblings were together. It was a bit like the Blitz, when the power cables started falling, explosions in a dark sky.

He withdrew his head rather quickly, and doffed his cap. ‘Safe journey, madam.’

The reverse seems to be happening to Sybil. As the man closed the door on the three of them; as she pressed the button on the dashboard and the yellow indicator arm bounced up, and even as she was drawing out from the kerb into the unfamiliar density of rush-hour traffic, she was starting to wonder what on earth had possessed her. Had she truly woken at the crack of dawn, crept out whilst mist still carpeted the lawn, driven for mile after mile down country lanes, scarcely knowing where she was going;  fingers crossed that no mischievous child had turned the signposts to send her off in the wrong direction. Had she really driven all the way to London without informing her husband either of where she was going or that she had learned how to drive during his absence on military duties?

What terrible complications and recriminations her actions were likely to cause – and all for the sake of two garden ornaments!

And on what mad impulse had she brought the other gryphon with her? Surely she wasn’t expecting them to have some sort of conversation on the way home?

The trip home was not even as much fun as the trip in. By the time Sybil regained Sussex and its narrow country lanes, it was getting late – much later than she had planned for. And now the car seemed to be mysteriously coughing and spluttering and slowing down. She pressed her foot down on the accelerator knowing, really, that that wasn’t going to make any difference. The car coasted into a layby beside a wood – not actually blocking the road, there was that much to be thankful for – and died.

Silence: but not before Sybil had caught sight of one of the many dials on Henry’s car’s elaborate dashboard. There was a petrol machine and a kind of gauge… even and as she watched the dial on this gauge was sliding from red to nothing at all. Why on earth had she assumed Henry’s motor-car would contain sufficient petrol for a journey of this length? For all she knew it might have been half-empty when she set off. It now dawned on her that even if she had thought to stop at a garage and ask for the tank to be refilled, she hadn’t brought enough money with her to pay for that. Henry had always been so good at dealing with that sort of…

‘Well, nothing for it, Sybil Old Girl,’ she murmured, unconsciously adopting Henry’s comforting voice. ‘You can’t stay here all night. You’ll just have to get out and start walking. There’s bound to be a farmhouse close by – or similar. Somewhere big enough to have a telephone. ‘Worse things happened in the Blitz, Old Girl, remember that. You’re still alive; it’s just that you’ve been very, very foolish.’ She could hear the ‘stiff upper lip’ voice trembling.

She glanced back into the car before locking it. ‘My poor little gryphons,’ she sighed, ‘reunited only to be abandoned in a nameless country lane! Here, let me turn you to face one another. At least you can have a chat while I’m away.’ The audible quiver was becoming more apparent. ‘But remember, my dears – Careless Talk Costs Lives.’

The siblings had locked eyes, entirely focussed on one another but waiting still; waiting for woman-not-witch to be far enough down the lane to be out of sight of the motor car.

‘Joy, sister!’

‘Joy, my brother!’

‘Three hundred years, and now…’

And then, the light.

Henry is not angry so much as puzzled. One minute he was pretending to read The Financial Times in the drawing room and trying not to worry about Sybil, whilst trying to decide whether to telephone to the police. The next minute he was overtaken – overwhelmed by a kind of longing, an irresistible compulsion to not call the police but instead scrunch down the gravel driveway and hammer on the front door of the gardener’s cottage. He didn’t even know what he was about to say when the door was opened, but it turned out to be:

‘Bert, could you give me a lift on your motorcycle? It’s Sybil – she’s in some kind of trouble.’

‘Yassir,’ said Bert, reaching for his goggles and leather coat. ‘Luckily the sidecar’s already attached so we can bring Missus back in style. But where to?’

Henry didn’t know, and felt extremely foolish. He only knew they had to go, this minute, and that somehow or other they would find her. He scanned the horizon. It seemed to him that he could see, with some alternative ‘eye’ that he had been totally unaware of until just now, a greenish glow spreading out along the horizon.

‘Do you see that, Bert?’ he said, pointing.

‘Nossir,’ said Bert. ‘But you just point the way.’

Sybil had come to hobbling a halt only a few miles down the lane. Her feet, in their town shoes, had developed blisters remarkably quickly. She bent down, wondering whether she might tear her pocket handkerchief in half and use the two pieces to pad out the back of the shoes, or take off the shoes altogether and head back to the car.

‘Chin up, Old Girl,’ she told herself, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief.

‘The Blitz, remember? Worse things happening?’

She turned to look back down the lane and caught sight of a greenish glow rising above the trees and blending with phantom clouds in the night sky. It seemed to be coming from where she had left the car. And now, to cap it all, she was hearing things…

The distant but unmistakeably familiar sound of a motorbike with sidecar attached.

The laughter and song of sibling gryffons as they performed an elegant pas-de-deux in the night air.

Beaks entwined, and tails. Paw seeking paw.

Three hundred years!

The Patience of Gryphons: part the third

Sybil was not having a satisfactory day. The whole world seemed to be celebrating but she, at home in Surrey, was fretting about the view from the terrace windows. Grey English drizzle ruined the lovely sloping view down the garden, to the point where it met with a field of grazing sheep. The leaded panes still bore their crosswise brown-paper strips in case of bomb-blast – though that was unlikely, since the War was in the process of ending. Yesterday had been VE Day. Sailors and drunken girls had danced in the streets. Some had climbed lamp-posts to wave at the seething crowds below. The radio had been full of talk of “Good Old Winnie” leading us to victory. Sybil knew she should be happy. She was a well-kept woman of thirty-seven, with a wealthy husband. They and what remained of their pre-War staff had come safely through the six years of War and austerity. Curtyss Manor had suffered no damage, from bombs or shrapnel at any rate. One wing of the house had been taken over by soldiers, for a while, and that had sustained some damage – boot-marks on the skirting board, rips in the curtains, cigarette burns all over the place… why did soldiers have to make such a mess?

It was scarcely patriotic to feel, as she did today, both restless and miserable.

Why does everything conspire to obscure one’s view? She murmured to herself. Now a spring mist was starting to creep in. A moment more and she would no longer be able to see…

Why was it, she wondered, that the sight affected her so, the sight of that lonely little gryphon at the far edge of the terrace? Why was she still annoyed at the auction house for their oversight in delivering only one of the pair. The other was perfectly safe in their store room, they had assured her, and would be delivered next time one of their vehicles was in Surrey. Shortage of petrol, of course. She did understand. They could hardly just leap into their van and make a special trip, for the sake of one garden ornament. But that gryphon, out there in the drizzle, in its lonely singularity, annoyed her. It was designed to be in a pair, it was part of set. Its current singularity irritated her and… and she couldn’t help feeling, illogical though it was, that this gryphon was missing it’s mate, or twin, or whatever you called it. It was as if… as if it was calling to her. Every time she passed this window she felt somehow compelled to look out, and the feeling was getting stronger. It had got so that she couldn’t pass the drawing room door without going in, going to the terrace window, looking out. Just to check…

To check what? What was she expecting, that the solitary little gryphon would have moved since last time she checked up on it? That maybe it would have packed its little stone bags and set off for London in search of its missing twin? Fanciful, thought Sybil, ridiculous! She was normally such a sensible person. Might it be a case of nerves? Perhaps the stress of war had affected her more than she realised.

The rain continued, but Sybil had had an idea. Her little ‘creature’ couldn’t move, but she could. She could pack an overnight bag and take the motor-car to London, herself.  The idea both scared and excited her. There was the London traffic and unfamiliar roads, of course, but that wasn’t it. “It” was that Sybil had been taught to drive by one of the officers billeted at Curtyss. Her husband had been posted overseas for a while, and it had happened during his absence.  For some reason, she had never told him that she could drive.

Had it been to protect his masculine pride? Henry did have rather old fashioned views on women drivers. It was an extension of his conviction that machinery and the fair sex did not mix. Or had it been because that particular officer had been rather handsome? He’d been married, of course. Five years married. Two young boys and a girl, he’d told her. Nothing untoward had happened; no meaningful glances, no accidental brushing of hands. They had been friends, and that was all. And he had taught her to drive. A useful skill, but one Henry didn’t happen to know about.

“Well, I shall just set forth”, she told herself. Her husband was not an early riser. She could be gone before he awoke and deal with the explanations… afterwards.  No doubt it would put it down to her age: hormones and such.

The poor lost creature on the terrace seemed to be calling to her now. Its distress had become hers, and since she had had her Idea the volume of that distress seemed only to be increasing. She could not ignore it. Ridiculous it might be, but she absolutely must set forth and fetch the gryphon’s mate.

The Patience of Gryphons: part the second

And so they waited, meditating, as each had done so many times before, on the moment their Three Hundred Years began.

As history wore on, in books of stories it began to be told that Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, Grimalkin’s gryphon familiars, nested in her skirts.

In fact gryphons do not nest. Being mythical creatures they need no physical shelter or place of rest – neither nest nor lair. What they do require is invisibility, to be obscured from the prying eyes of men, and Grimalkin’s magical skirts had provided this. A bargain is always struck between a witch and her familiars: their assistance – their company – in exchange for… Well, it could be many things. It could be power – her power allied with theirs. It could be invisibility, as in the case of gryphons. It could be as simple as food.

A cat, for example, is made of flesh and blood. She needs food, and the witch provides it. Any ordinary cat may pay for her food in trophy mice dropped on the doorstep, or in real or faked affection. A witch’s cat does the same, but with this sole difference – that she may carry her mistress’s essence from one reincarnation to the next. Felix-the-Cat and Robin-the-Redbreast – these alone of the animal kingdom are entrusted with the soul of a dying witch.

Then came the dreadful day when Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General, moved into the County. At the age of twenty-five Hopkins was coming close to his own death, though not as yet aware of it, only of an occasional fever and the spitting of blood. Failing health only made him more determined to add to his execution-list. Increasing weariness made him cast around for proxy means of catching witches, and he was inspired, one day, with the thought that he could conserve his own energy by pitting one witch against another.

And he had the witch Thomasine, said to be the most powerful magician in the East.  The woman had been languishing in a roach-infested cell in Chelmsford for some time, awaiting the coming of the Justice. Powerful, Hopkins estimated, but as scared of death on the bonfire as any other old woman might be. For the price of her life Thomasine proved ready enough to betray her sister witches, just as Judas betrayed Our Lord.  For every visit to every town a fee of £20 plus expenses would accrue to Matthew Hopkins and his crew: some towns had to raise a special tax to pay for them. Hopkins still imagined, at the age of twenty-five, that he would be living long enough to savour his riches.

Grimalkin sensed them coming, thin-coughing-man, he of the black hat and buckled shoes, alongside Thomasine, whose energy signature was strong enough to be picked up miles off. Grimalkin warned the little gryphons, who instantly blended themselves into her skirts and adding their power to hers. Grimalkin knew she was fighting for her life, and focussed all her energies on leading the hunters astray or blocking their path.

The soundless spell-battle between the great witch Thomasine and the lesser witch Grimalkin was to last for many days. Both knew it was a battle to the death. If Thomasine won, Grimalkin would die. If Grimalkin won, Thomasine would find herself back in the cell, awaiting the Justice of the Assize at His Majesty’s Pleasure.

Many times, Thomasine and the Witchfinder found themselves lost in scrub or woodland that had not existed a moment before. Darkness fell when darkness ought not to have fallen. Hideous music surrounded the pair, maddening them and confusing their senses. At various times both Thomasine and the Witchfinder woke from a dreamless sleep they were unaware of having fallen into. At times, plagues of frogs streamed across their path and bats curved down in daylight to tangle in their hair.

But Thomasine was the more powerful witch by far, and after many a delay was to lead the Witchfinder to Grimalkin’s cottage by the river. Matthew Hopkins men arrived on horseback and Grimalkin was dragged away to await the Justice of the Assize. And the gryphons…?

Huddled together, dangerously exposed, they prayed for the soul of the Good Witch Grimalkin. They asked for a robin to alight at her barred cell window, or that the jailhouse cat might prove to be no ordinary feline. Matthew Hopkins failed to see the sibling gryphons, even without the protection of Grimalkin’s skirts, but the Witch Thomasine did. She laughed.

Three Hundred Years, she sneered. Three Hundred Years, my lion-lings, before you shall set eyes on each other again. Greyclaw shall fly North and Rainfeathers shall fly South; and when you land, my baby-eagles, you shall each be turned to stone for Three Hundred Years.

The Patience of Gryphons: part the first

Gryphons are famed for their patience.

In the auction house store-room Greyclaw and Rainfeathers had been placed close together, but back to back when they needed to be face to face and eye to eye to break the curse. This would have been an unbearably frustrating situation for others but Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, stone siblings, had waited. They had waited, in isolation from one another, as wars raged about them, as buildings rose and fell, as the skies, at first empty, filled with metal birds and skyrockets. They had waited as clouds scurried above them, as rain blew against them, as snow fell made high, white hats on their heads. They had waited, Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, banished, he to the North Country and she to the South, as summer after summer passed them by, as children were born and old men crumbled into dust in churchyards. They had lived through silence and noise. They had existed so long as stone statues that they had forgotten how long they had lived.

They had waited in dusty sheds and in damp corners of stately homes. Weeds sometimes obscured them but always, eventually, gardeners would arrive with hook and sickle to hack the weeds away.

Moss grew on their beaks and blanketed their leonine flanks, but that too died, in its season. Snow formed high white hats on their proud heads, then melted.

Lovers walked by on cobbled pathways, hand in hand, scarcely noticing that one or other of the small, stone beast was watching them. Stone eyes were sightless, but a gryphon had other, more powerful senses. Greyclaw and Rainfeathers sensed each other’s presence. The moment that second brown-coated attendant walked through the door carrying an age-worn, moss-covered Rainfeathers, waves of joy and silent greetings passed between them.

“It is I, Greyclaw.”

“And I, Rainfeathers. I have missed you so, my brother.”

“Three Hundred Years.”

Back to back they could effect nothing to break the spell. It was all in the eyes. Greyclaw and Rainfeathers had waited three hundred years to be together, and eye to gryphon eye. Now they were indeed together, but…

“Our time draws closer. Patience, sister.”

“Patience indeed, my brother. And rejoicing.”

“Patience and Rejoicing.”

Three hundred years had passed. Grimalkin’s curse had expired, and might be broken.

 

love potion2

‘Her familiars were two little griphons that nested in her skirts’

 

NaPoWriMo 3/4/16: Whatever

I used to believe in white chargers and in chain-mail knights;

Had faith that God, the Universe – Whatever –

Would come a-galloping to save the day.

 I weep for jaded angels and for melting unicorns,

For those wings of mine that first refused to sprout

Then failed to feather; for the Silver Ladder

You promised you’d let down so I could climb.

But you didn’t – did you – ever?

suckers

 Today I prayed my final ever prayer

Addressed to God, the Universe – Whatever –

Abba, my Father, why hast thou forsaken me?