Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The Oscars

   They were all dressed as Oscar Wilde because he was their leader (they didn't know he was just a man dressed as Oscar Wilde). Luckily I was wearing a rabbit costume at the time (the story of how I ended up on the inside of a rabbit costume is a long and tedious one). The Oscars ran past me and I was able to get away, and get out of the rabbit costume.
   I took the next bus out of town. I got off on a quiet road, and I walked through a forest. I didn't know where I was going, but I had a feeling I'd been here before. I met a woman called Sonia. She told me she could make snow fall by blowing smoke in the air, and that seemed familiar too. She took a long drag from her cigarette (the story of how she came to be smoking a cigarette is a short but tedious one). Then she blew the smoke up towards the night sky. I watched it disappear. About a minute later the snowflakes began to fall.
   "That's amazing," I said.
   "Do you want to see what I can do with a pig?"
   "I'd love to."
   "We just have to find a pig first."
   I sensed a long, tedious search for a pig, so I said, "Maybe some other time."
   "Speaking of time," she said, "I can travel backwards or forwards through time. It's travelling through space that I have trouble with. Not space as in the stars and other planets, but getting from A to B down here. Busses. I can travel back in time but I have to spend half an hour waiting at a bus stop and there's nothing I can do about it."
   "What else can you do?"
   "I can get inside paintings. Come with me and I'll show you."
   She took me to her house. There was a long wide hall just inside the front door. There were fourteen paintings on the walls, seven at either side. She took me to a painting of a woman standing at a bay window in a drawing room. The woman was holding a small dog. The painting had a late nineteenth century look to it.
   Sonia held my hand. She told me to close my eyes and then fall backwards on the count of three. I expected to land on the ground, but the landing was much softer. When I opened my eyes we were sitting on a sofa, facing the woman with the small dog.
   "Hello again," she said to Sonia. "I see you've brought a 'friend' this time."
   I didn't like the way she said 'friend', and I was just about to object to it when the door burst open and Oscar Wilde came in. He was holding a gun and he pointed it at me. I thought about jumping through the window, but when I looked out there were another three Oscars outside. They were all armed.
   "I think you'll find that escape is impossible," the Oscar in the room said.
   "It would be if you had to rely on a bus," Sonia said, "but I have a more efficient means of travel." She took out a small metal ball. She removed the top of it and pressed a few buttons. She replaced the top and told me to put my palm on it. I guessed that this was her time machine. A few seconds later we travelled a few years earlier.
   We couldn't see anything in the white fog. We walked around, but there was nothing there. "I've never travelled back in time while inside a painting before," she said. "We must have travelled back to before it was painted. We're in a blank canvas."
   "This is a new experience for me, but I'd imagine the novelty could wear off fairly quickly."
   "Imagine this. What if we could be the artists? We could create a whole new world from scratch. We've seen the problems of the old world and we could avoid those mistakes. We'd be like Adam and Eve. Like Adam and Eve and God rolled into one. Or two."
   "I like the idea of being Adam to your Eve. And playing those roles as two people sounds a lot more fun than doing it as one. But I'm not sure I've learnt anything from the mistakes of the world. I once got electrocuted by a live wire and I touched it again to see if I'd get electrocuted again."
   "And did you?"
   "Maybe you're right. Maybe we're not the right people to be playing Adam and Eve. I suppose we should go forward in time again and get out of the painting as quickly as possible."
   We returned to the room in the painting. All of the Oscars were there, and they all took out their guns.
   "Dive behind the sofa," Sonia said to me.
   We both dived behind the sofa at the same time and we landed on the ground in the hall of her house.
   "What have you done to upset the Oscar Wildes?" she said.
   "I threw a potato at their leader earlier this evening. I really wish I hadn't done it."
   "It's easy enough to un-do it. We'll just go back in time."
   She took out the time machine again. I put my hand on top of it, and just before it sent us back she said, "See you later."
   I found myself alone in a room with a rabbit costume hanging on a hook. I was tempted to throw the potato at the Oscar Wilde anyway, but then I remembered what she had said: 'See you later'.
   I got the bus out of town and I went to the place where I had met her earlier. She arrived shortly afterwards, and then it started snowing. "I found a pig," she said. "He's willing to play the guinea pig in my little experiment, but I haven't told him everything yet. Come with me and I'll show you."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Caffrey's Treasure

   Myles checked into an old hotel in a small town. He had a pint in the bar, and he got the feeling that people were looking at him. He was often the stranger in a small town, so he was used to being looked at. He wore a tweed jacket, a white shirt and a dark brown tie. He leant against the bar and he imagined the sight they'd see as they looked at him. It's the sort of sight he'd admire if he was one of them. He'd never look in mirrors if he was one of them. He believed that there were only so many things you could store in your brain before you started recording over other things. His grandfather tried to believe in as few things as possible. He stopped believing in natural gas when he received irrefutable proof that Belgium existed. Myles also limited the number of things he believed in, as well as the number of images in his mind.
   After spending many minutes looking at a painting of a horse behind the bar, he decided to look down at the bar itself. A brass railing was attached to the front of the bar. He noticed a piece of paper taped to the railing, and on the paper he read these words: 'There are ten shadows from the candlestick in the morning'.
   He asked the barmaid about it, and she said, "It's that eejit Caffrey again. He keeps leaving clues that supposedly lead to a treasure."
   "Are people following these clues?"
   "No one really gives a shit."
   "But that hasn't stopped him leaving the clues."
   "No. You could find them anywhere around the town. It's easy enough to spot him. He's the one who looks as if he knows something, but he knows nothing."
   Myles went for a walk before going to bed. He came across Caffrey in the town square, attaching another note to the hand of a statue. Myles asked him what was on the note.
   "The funeral birds grow dim," Caffrey said with a smile.
   "The only other one I've come across is the one about the candlestick in the morning."
   "You'll have to do a lot more work if you want to make any headway."
   "I'm just passing through the town, so, unfortunately, I won't get a chance to work on it at all. But it sounds intriguing. Let me buy you a drink. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your endeavour."
   "Forget it. You won't get anything out of me."
   "As I said, I'm not interested in finding this treasure. I have no intention of getting anything out of you, but you'll get a drink out of me."
   This sounded like a fair deal, so Caffrey agreed to go to the pub. Myles bought him a drink, and he asked Caffrey what sort of treasure was at the end of the trail.
   "You'll have to get to the end of the trail to answer that. They have no idea what it is. They couldn't possibly conceive it. They all think it's money -- that's all they can conceive. Money informs all of their thoughts, all of the conceptions they form."
   "I'm having trouble conceiving it too."
   "This is all a mystery to you because you've just seen two pieces of the jigsaw. No one has assembled the whole thing yet, but there are people who've assembled fragments, and you can see a mad look on their faces. Their heads are lanterns lit up by the glimmer of a conception of the finished jigsaw."
   Myles wondered was this man a liar. He had believed he was able to see through any liar, but he was unsure about Caffrey. About half of the liars he'd met in the past had been trying to sell him something. The other half were family members. This skill only worked on men. He'd never been able to tell when a woman was lying, and he'd never felt confident that they were telling the truth. A woman once convinced him that she was washing her hair. She gave a very plausible explanation for why she had to wash her hair. Another woman told him she was going to a New Order gig with her sister, but he found out later that she was meeting another man. This was when he decided to switch off his inner lie-detector when he was listening to women.
   Myles said to Caffrey, "The barmaid in the hotel told me that no one was interested in finding the treasure."
   "I know for a fact that a lot of people are interested, but they pretend that they don't give a shit. Maybe the barmaid is deeply interested in it herself. Did you ever consider the possibility that she's lying?"
   "No, but now that you mention it, it's quite possible."
   "They're all listening to our conversation right now."
   Myles turned around and he saw everyone in the pub turn away and simultaneously take a sip of their drinks. He noticed the silence.
   He went for a walk around the town before going back to his hotel. At the back of the library he saw a man trying to get in through a window, but the window was too high up and the man was too small.
   "Are you a treasure hunter too?" Myles said to him.
   "What's it to you?"
   "You're obviously seeking something in the library, something you don't want anyone else to know about. But I know for a fact that I know something you don't know. Because I've just been talking to Caffrey. He let me buy him a drink, and he let something slip."
   "Alright then. You can come along if you give me a leg up."
   Myles helped the man get through the window, and then he went in himself. The man went to the fiction section. He took a book from inside his jacket and heput it on a shelf. "Right then, I'm off," he said. "I just wanted to return a book. I've had it for years and I didn't want to pay the fine."
   "What about the treasure?"
   "No one gives a shit about the treasure."
   They were just about to leave when the beam of a flashlight lit up their faces. "I saw ye breaking in through the window," the policeman said. "Ye better have a very good explanation."
   "I've just been talking to Caffrey," Myles said. "I convinced him that I was just passing through the town and I had no interest in finding the treasure. He told me that the key to the whole thing could be found in the library in a history book about the Crimean War."
   The policeman shook his head and said, "You poor deluded fool. No one believes in that. You're as deluded and foolish as Caffrey himself. Now get out of here, the pair of ye, before my pity fades."
   They left through the window, but the policeman stayed behind. They went around to the front of the library. Through the window they could see the beam of his flashlight on the books in the history section.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Moving House

   Eddie used to hammer nails into a tree in his back garden. He found it relaxing, and it became a hobby. One night he had a dream in which a woman with a pumpkin for a head told him to leave the tree alone. Her hideous smile revealed razor-sharp teeth. This dream became a recurring nightmare, and Eddie wouldn't go anywhere near the tree.
   One day he was walking down a street in the small town where he lived and he saw a woman with a pumpkin for a head. He was terrified. He turned around and ran away.
   The woman's name was Abbie. She was a member of a theatre group who were performing a play in the town. She was wearing her costume to promote the play. When she saw the effect she had on Eddie she ran after him to make sure he was okay. She suspected that the plastic pumpkin on her head might have frightened him, so she took that off.
   Eddie ran through the trees at the edge of the town. He looked back, and he slowed down when he saw the woman's head where the pumpkin had been. He was just getting ready to stop when he went over the edge of a ravine. She watched in horror as he fell. She ran to the ravine and she looked down into it. She saw him looking back up at her. He had landed on a mattress and he was fine. "What are the chances of that happening?" he said.
   She made her way to the bottom of the ravine. As well as the mattress, there was a chest of drawers, a chair and a lamp. When Eddie returned to the ravine on the following day, more furniture had been added. He met Abbie again, and she suggested staying in the ravine overnight to see who was bringing these things. Eddie didn't like the idea of spending a night in the ravine, but he knew a man called Fergus who was always willing to undertake spying jobs. Fergus could do a brilliant impression of a tree. His grandfather had taught him how to do impressions of many plants and animals. His tree was so good that it even fooled birds. They often perched on his arms, and if he stayed still for long enough they'd start building nests on him.
   Fergus agreed to observe what was going on in the ravine. He spent four hours doing his tree impression before he had any visitors. At midnight the fairies arrived, and they recognised him straightaway. One of them said, "I suppose you've been sent here to find out about the furniture."
   "Ahm, yeah," Fergus said.
   They gladly told him what they were up to. They were moving the house of a man called Kevin. He was visiting relatives in America. He'd be gone for three weeks, and during that time they'd move every bit of his house and all of its contents to the bottom of the ravine. They wanted revenge because when he was walking home one night he heard the fairies' music from the bottom of the ravine. Kevin didn't know it was the fairies. He thought it was a local band, and he said, "It sounds as if the instruments have come to life and ye've decided to torture them back into death."
   As revenge for this, the fairies put twenty mice in his house, but the place was already full of well-fed mice, and they fought off the newcomers. This annoyed the fairies, so they decided to move his house. They were going to move the mice as well.
   When Eddie heard about this he felt he had to do something. He was convinced that fate had led him to the mattress. "Fate drew my attention to what was going on," he said to Abbie. "It wants me to do something. I need to stop the fairies."
   She said, "You should be helping the fairies. If they hadn't put the mattress there, you'd be dead."
   "If Kevin hadn't upset the fairies they wouldn't have put the mattress there. I should be helping him."
   "If Kevin's parents hadn't raised a man who's prone to upsetting fairies, he wouldn't have upset the fairies. You should be helping his parents."
   "They're dead now, so I'm going to have to settle for helping Kevin."
   Eddie and Abbie called at Kevin's house late one night, when the fairies were inside taking the place apart. Some of them were up on the roof removing the slates. Eddie knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He said, "I forgot. He's on holidays." He spoke in a loud voice to make sure the fairies would hear.
   "I don't know why you have to call so late," Abbie said.
   "The later the better. He'd be drunk at this time. He's more likely to make a slip."
   "He's not going to accidentally tell you where he buried his gold."
   "People say all sorts of things when they're drunk."
   Eddie and Abbie walked away. They went to the ravine on the following morning. All of the furniture had been restored to Kevin's house.
   When Kevin got back from America, the fairies called to see him in the middle of the night. They played music that made him happily tell them all of his secrets. He told them about the time he accidentally set his neighbour's car on fire (he wanted to see how flammable the seats were). He lied to his mother when he blamed the dog for stains on the sofa. He lied to his girlfriend when he said he'd never surrepticiously taken photos of her. He crashed his grandmother's electric wheelchair into a hearse, and he ran away and left it there. He owns all of Barry Manilow's albums.
   His telling of these and other secrets went on for hours, and when the well finally ran dry he hadn't mentioned his gold at all. The fairies realised they'd been fooled.
   Eddie had spent that night in the pub with Abbie. He was celebrating his success with the fairies. She was wearing her pumpkin when they walked home late at night. When he woke in the morning he saw the pumpkin next to him in the bed, and he kissed it, but he soon realised that Kevin was wearing the pumpkin, and he wasn't wearing anything else. Eddie wasn't wearing anything at all. They both reacted by screaming. This was a secret they buried deep inside them, and it would take the most cunning music to coax it out of its burrow.
   The fairies had swapped all of the contents of their houses. Eddie thought he was in his own house, but they were actually in Kevin's place. They had to see a lot more of each other over the following days as they switched everything back, but they avoided eye contact.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008



   Myself, Jimmy and Chadwick went into a pub one afternoon and we met Chadwick's brother, Richard. Chadwick describes Richard as a 'man of letters', but when we met him in the pub he described himself as a man of endless sorrow. He was doing his best to drown that sorrow.
   "I was engaged to a wonderful woman called Gwendolyn," he said, "but this morning she told me she'd rather marry something that walks on all fours. It wasn't entirely my fault. A man called Panda is to blame for most of it. He's one of my oldest and closest so-called friends. So-called friendship is something that will feel the white heat of my intellect's gaze when this knot of bother is un-knotted and tied into a neat little bow. We call him Panda because he once beat a badger to death. It was self-defence, he said. We told him to pretend the badger was a panda if he was going with the self-defence line, and the name 'Panda' stuck. 'Look, there's Panda,' someone said, and everyone laughed. 'What are you going to beat to death today, Panda?' And so forth. He hated the name at first. Many's the person he tried to send the way of the badger. But he realised that the more he fought the more the name stuck, and it wasn't such a bad thing to be called after all. He made this realisation shortly after we started calling another man a name that referred to something he didn't do to a duck, but he did do it to a pillow, although he vehemently denies this. I don't know why we call him the name that refers to performing such an act on a duck when we could use a name that mentions the pillow. I'd rather use the latter one, for the sake of accuracy at least. Panda would rather use the one about the duck. He likes being called Panda now. He even wore a panda costume to a fancy dress party. He relieved himself in it, on purpose. There have been incidents of involuntary relief in the past, but this one was entirely intentional, and it's hard to criticise a man for such a course of action when he can lay out all the pros and cons and show you why he did it. You've just got to say, 'Yes, I suppose it was the best thing to do.' Filming my drunken rant against dolphins was not the best thing to do. This is what caused the rift with Gwendolyn. She's so sweet. This is entirely off the record, you understand. Officially, sweetness isn't a quality I look for in a woman. Obviously that depends on the type of record. There's a version of me that appears in the same record that immortalises incidents such as the time Panda involuntarily relieved himself after being electrocuted, and that version of me would focus on the physical attributes of a woman. That record would ruin me if a journalist saw it. For the public record, I value the intellectual attributes of a woman and her personality. 'Someone who makes me laugh'. That's what they all say, and what most of them mean is 'Someone I can laugh at', poison-tipped darts of laughs thrown at every inadequacy and faux pas. Most of my friends would aspire to be like this, but they've never met a woman they can look down on enough to be able to feel superior to them. I could never laugh at Gwendolyn. When someone who's better than you makes a mistake, you can only thank God you have enough sense to realise she's still better than you. How can I convince her to take me back? She's not the sort of person who enjoys looking down on other people. She'd like to marry an equal, but I've given her every reason to look down on me. The 'I was drunk' defence doesn't work on women like Gwendolyn. But I was drunk when I made my drunken rant against dolphins. I'd never have done it when I was sober, and I wouldn't have used such language. Panda filmed it and emailed it to everyone he knew, and they emailed it to everyone they knew. It found its way to Gwendolyn. She has a soft spot for dolphins. In that film she'd have seen a version of me that she never saw before, and she obviously didn't like what she saw. She phoned me this morning and told me it was over. I couldn't even get a word in, which is probably just as well because I'd have told her I was drunk."
   "Something similar happened to me once," Jimmy said. "A former girlfriend saw a film of me attacking a tree with a baseball bat. I just told her I was on medication and she accepted that."
   Chadwick said, "If the 'I was drunk' defence won't work, then the 'I was on medication' defence isn't likely to be any more effective. I have a better plan. Tell her you were rehearsing for a part in a play."
   "She's not likely to believe that either."
   "Not on its own, but if we actually write the play and show her the script it will seem much more convincing. We could even find a cast for it, and a writer. If that doesn't convince her, we could let her see a rehearsal."
   "That might just work," Richard said. "I know a man who owns a small theatre. We could rehearse it there."
   Chadwick wrote the play around his brother's drunken rant. Richard played the part of a man who hated dolphins, but then a dolphin rescued him when he fell off a boat and he vowed to protect dolphins. Myself and Jimmy played dolphin hunters. Chadwick played a wise old man.
   Chadwick got a man called Ted to pretend to be the writer. Ted was a man of few words, so he was unlikely to say anything to ruin the plan because he was unlikely to say anything. Richard told Gwendolyn that he hadn't told her about the play before because he wasn't confident in his acting ability. He brought her along to a rehearsal and she loved the play. So did the owner of the theatre. He talked us into staging it for real, and it had a nine week run. The hunters that myself and Jimmy played were a lot like Laurel and Hardy. We were completely convincing in these roles because it was often real. Punching each other every night was fun for a week or two, but nine weeks of it took its toll.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


The Song Contest

   Arabella wrote a song every day. She'd walk around her father's estate and let the landscape inspire her. On rainy days she'd stay inside, but there were over eighty rooms in the house, so she could explore these and find ideas and inspiration for her songs. She'd hum the tunes, and Ralph, her assistant, would write them down in musical notation. He also wrote down the lyrics she came up with.
   One day she was working on a song for a local song contest, which she had won on the previous year with a song about a cow's trousers. She was humming a tune as she walked across the lawn, with Ralph following close behind, trying to capture all of the notes on paper. Her happy tune was interrupted when a crow attacked Ralph. He waved his arms about, but the crow wouldn't go away. They had to go inside. The crow waited in a tree in the garden. He was ready to attack as soon as Ralph set foot outside.
   She wondered if she'd upset the birds by stealing their tunes. She'd hear them in her semi-conscious mind as she woke up in the morning, and she might well be humming those tunes later in the day, and thinking they were her own compositions. But the other birds had no interest in attacking Ralph. She wondered if he'd done something to upset this bird, but she didn't want to say anything about it.
   Ralph couldn't go outside, and then her string quartet all got the hiccups. She thought she could cover this by integrating the hiccups into the song, but it was affecting their playing too. A hiccup could cause a sudden movement of the bow. She tried scaring them to get rid of the hiccups. She got someone to hide in the suit of armour that was on display in the hall. The string quartet were terrified when the armour came to life and raised an axe, but this scare only made them nervous, and they seemed to hiccup even more.
   A crow attacking your assistant was the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. A hiccupping string quartet was more suspicious, and when it was combined with the antagonistic crow it suggested that someone else was behind it, someone who didn't want Arabella to win the contest.
   One day she met Kate, who had come second in the previous year's contest. Kate smiled and said, "Have the birds released all the music in your head? Or in Ralph's head."
   Arabella knew that Kate must have got someone to put a curse on Ralph and on the string quartet, and she was determined to respond in kind. She went to see a man called Ethering, who lived in an old cottage. He was always experimenting with potions, spells and curses. He once made some sailors so drunk on water that they didn't know which end of their bodies should be pointing upwards. Many stood on their heads. Many others remained horizontal. Arabella told Ethering about the crow and the hiccupping, and he came up with this plan: he'd put a spell on a man called Ronnie to make him fall in love with Kate.
   Ronnie was seven foot tall and he weighed over twenty stone. He'd be the man to call if you ever needed a human wrecking ball, or if you needed someone to put an arm down a hole that may contain something living, and if it doesn't contain something living, it would contain something dead.
   He turned up on Kate's doorstep with some flowers he had picked. The flowers looked tiny in his huge hand. He was wearing a suit, but it was too small for him. It used to belong to his uncle (it was the suit he died in, but most of the evidence of his passing had been removed). Kate was horrified by the sight, and it seemed as if Ronnie's love would be unrequited, but he had as much persistence as the crow, and he wore down her resistance. She fell in love with him. Arabella had told Kate that she'd only remove the spell on Ronnie when Kate lifted the curse that made the crow attack Ralph and made her string quartet hiccup. Kate refused to do this at first because she didn't want to accept defeat, but when she fell in love she developed an affection for the whole world and all of its inhabitants, even her rivals. She lifted the curse. Ralph was free to go outside again and the string quartet could accompany Arabella as she sang her song in the contest. She sang about tickling fish, but Kate won with a song about communicating telepathically with sheep.

The Tree and the Horse
Henry Seaward-Shannon
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises




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very slight stories

They Met a Bear
  They stopped in a small seaside town and they went for a walk. They met a bear.
  This is one version of the story. In another version, they met a sailor, and in this one they ended up being held at gunpoint on a speedboat and becoming unwilling participants in a diamond robbery while disguised as a cow, and sharing in the proceeds of that crime.
  So when they tell the story they just say, "We met a bear. He waved at us."

The Story of the Fortune Teller and the Alarm Clock
  A fortune teller threw an alarm clock at me. This story is deliberately lacking in details to mock the predictions of the fortune teller. Although she was right when she said she'd throw an alarm clock at me.

  One. Two. Three, the study. Four, a candle stick. Five. Six...
  Seven is missing, presumed dead. One has taken up the case, and two is helping him in his investigations. They both suspect six. Seven was last seen next to six in the garden.
  But seven isn't really dead. He's consumed half a bottle of whiskey and he's currently in the orchard, talking to a rabbit. "One of us is as boring as a gate post," he says, "and it's not..." He stops to count on his fingers. "No, actually it is me."
  Eight nine ten.

Debbie and his dog
  Debbie was sick of people mistaking her for a man.
  "Is your dog my parole officer?"
  She was sick of people asking her that too.

Very Slight Stories: like short stories, only shorter

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