Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Joe fell out of an upstairs window

   Joe fell out of an upstairs window but he landed on the roof of a van. In telling this story all he needed to say was 'I fell out of an upstairs window but I landed on the roof of a van', but he kept embellishing the tale until it took an hour to tell. He inserted the following account of an event at a wedding reception, which really had nothing to do with his fall:
   "The band was called 'Eddie and the Foglights'. They only used this name for weddings. Their real name was 'Jimmy Buggalarm's Wafer-thin Life'. They used to be called 'Jimmy Buggalarm's Wafer-thin Wife', but Jimmy Buggalarm didn't have a wife. He didn't have very much at all, a life you could see through it was so thin. The lead singer, Eddie, hated weddings. He hated most of the things that most other people loved, including love. But he was able to put on a good act at weddings. A woman called Lisa played keyboards with the band, and she hated Eddie's negative attitude. At this wedding he whispered something about the bride in between songs. Only the band heard what he said -- I found out later that it had something to do with her resemblance to a wrecking ball in a dress -- but I could see the effect it had on Lisa. She told him she needed to take a break, and she went to the bar for a drink while the rest of the band played the next song.
   "I went over to her and I asked her if she wanted to dance. She said, 'I've seen you dancing and you look as if you were taught how to dance by a gorilla.' I said, 'He's not a gorilla. He's a man who sometimes wears a gorilla costume when he dances for the purposes of sweating.'
   "She shrugged her shoulders and she agreed to dance with me. During that song I told her a lot of things about me. I said I was taught Kung Fu by a man with no legs. I don't know if that's what made her kiss me, and I don't suppose it really matters. I've tried that line on other women and it hasn't worked, but she was different. At the end of the song she told me she'd made up her mind to leave the band for good.
   "She kept dancing with me until the band finished their set, and then she informed them of her decision. She went to the band's van to get her things. When I was waiting for her in the lobby, Eddie came over to me. He was blaming me for leading Lisa away from the band. He was threatening me with violence, so I said I knew Kung Fu. He said, 'I know how to use this,' and he took an iron bar out of a guitar case. Then he said he was going to use it to perform a song called 'Angry in the Head'. I had to dig deep into all my reserves of... whatever it is I have deep reserves of. I had a moment of inspiration. I performed a move that hadn't been shown to me by the man with no legs. I ran away.
   "I didn't want to go outside in case Lisa saw me running away. I went up the stairs and down a corridor, and then up another stairs, and down a stairs, and down another corridor. Then more stairs and more corridors and a room where a woman threatened to put a curse on my head unless I left. I said, 'Well I'm fairly sure I'll be using my head again in the future, so I suppose I'd better go.' When I left the room I saw Eddie outside, and he was threatening to lodge something more solid than a curse in my head. I ran away again and I ended up in the bridal suite. There was a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door handle, but I didn't notice the 'Not'. The bride and groom were too interested in each other to notice me. I thought my only chance of escape was to leave through the window. So I tip-toed across the room, and I was half-way out of the window when I noticed that I wasn't on the ground floor, as I had thought. The bridal suite was actually on the first floor. I made an attempt to get my outer half back in, but this failed, and the inner half fell out. Fortunately I didn't fall far. I landed on the roof of the van, just after Lisa had closed the back door. She was obviously impressed by the way I'd made my exit from the hotel.
   "The fear of being hit with an iron bar faded after she agreed to re-join the band, but only after she made Eddie promise to be more enthusiastic about the weddings. He was no longer allowed to compare brides to industrial machinery, wild animals or tangerines, but he did get away with the occasional Nazi comparison."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


The Crow Man

   Myself, Jimmy and Chadwick were walking through the park one day when Jimmy pointed at a man and said, "Isn't that Vermeer?"
   "Vermeer is dead," Chadwick said.
   "Then why does he have a sign around his neck that says 'I'm Vermeer'."
   "Because either his morals or his mental faculties are defective."
   "How do you know Vermeer is dead?"
   "Because that man over there has a sign around his neck that says 'Vermeer is dead'."
   "Maybe he's the defective one."
   "No. He's right about Vermeer."
   "I think he's wrong."
   We investigated the matter further, and it turned out that the man who had the 'Vermeer is dead' sign was right. The other man was called Barry.
   When the issue had been resolved, Chadwick said, "This has been an interesting detour around the point of this day."
   "What's the point of this day?" Jimmy said.
   "I seem to have forgotten."
   "I don't think there ever was a point."
   "I'm certain there was, and I'm sure it can be excavated with the right amount of mental effort."
   We went to the pub to think about the point of the day. I started to wonder why we were all wearing disguises. I had a huge moustache and a tweed hat with a feather in it. Chadwick was wearing a top hat and a monocle. Jimmy wore a wig of blond curls and blue overalls.
   I remembered that we had been attacked by crows who flew in formation earlier in the day, and I suggested that we were wearing the disguises to fool the crows. I said, "Do you think the attack by the crows had anything to do with the man who called himself the Crow Man, who said he'd set his crows on us if we didn't retract that supposed insult about his coat, the one with the crow embroidered on the back of it?"
   "I doubt it," Jimmy said. "He didn't look like the sort of person who'd have control over his own bladder, let alone crows."
   Chadwick said, "Lacking sufficient bladder control wouldn't be the sort of thing that would cost you the respect of a crow. Only humans will perceive an unexpected puddle as a faux pas. Some humans."
   "Maybe we should apologise," Jimmy said.
   "Certainly not," Chadwick said. "We can express regret at the situation, but there's no way he'll get an apology or a retraction of the remarks. This may not be sufficient to appease him. It wouldn't be wise to go to see him ourselves and reveal our new identities. We should send an emissary to express our regret."
   There were only three other people in the pub at the time and two of them were crying. The third was a man called Dolan. In almost every sentence he said he used the words 'Ronald Reagan' as a verb. He said things like 'I'm sorry I Ronald Reagan'd that' or 'He couldn't Ronald Reagan his way out of a grand-paper bag'. He also had a habit of prefixing words with 'grand' or 'great-grand'. Chadwick bought him a whiskey and asked him to go to see the Crow Man to pass on our regrets about the perceived insult. Dolan agreed to go.
   We were expecting him to return within twenty minutes, but when he hadn't come back after three hours we decided to go to investigate.
   We crept around the back of the Crow Man's house, and we saw a light on in the kitchen. Through the open window we could hear the Crow Man and Dolan talking inside.
   "He looked as if they'd Ronald Reagan'd him before sending him out into the field."
   "I've heard that the tripping chipmunks have been ear collared by a Francie Dooganish."
   "They'll be Ronald Reaganing their great-grand-apples next."
   "It's only a certain sort of double Casey who can free a tulip buzz from a scaffolding Ascot."
   This conversation could have gone on for another few hours, so Chadwick decided to make his presence known. He knocked on the back door. When the Crow Man opened it, Chadwick said, "Has Mr. Dolan expressed our regret at the unfortunate situation arising from certain comments which were never intended to be the bearers of an insult?"
   "He told me ye've been a bit Donkey Kong since ye met the French bucket at the crooked corner. That happened my cousin once. They had to kick him out of the road Tuesdays."
   I had a feeling that what he had just said was slanderous, and an apology would certainly be called for if we knew what it meant. But he could repeat it to everyone in the town and no one would understand what it meant, so there was no point in risking the wrath of the crows by challenging him. And he invited us in for a drink too, or at least that's how we interpreted the line 'Come on in and we'll see if we can keep the huddled bishops from the battleships'.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The Priest's House

   I've been working in the priest's house for seven years. Thirty-two people live and work here, including Father Murphy. The house is five storeys high. The staff sleep on the top two floors and in the attic. The kitchen staff get up at half-five every morning and they serve breakfast at seven. We begin work at eight. Father Murphy will walk across the lawn to the church for half-eight mass. Sometimes we'll find someone waiting at the door when we open it. On some days we won't see anyone until the end of mass. Many people insist on seeing Father Murphy in his office. They'll sit on wooden benches in the hall and wait for him to get back from the church. He always takes his time getting back because he likes to keep them waiting. It's a subtle way of suggesting that he has better things to be doing with his time. As they wait outside his office they talk about how he must have plenty time to kill if he takes so long getting back from the church.
   Father Murphy will listen to them for about a minute and then send them onto someone else, but it often takes another half-hour to get them out of the office. They'll list out all the illnesses and misfortunes their family has been afflicted with, the crosses they have to bear from the moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to bed on the following morning.
   Most of the people I deal with have been sent to my office by Father Murphy, but sometimes people will come straight to me. At eight o' clock on a cold November morning a man asked if he could have a 'quick word' with me. When we were seated at either side of my desk I asked him what he wanted to discuss and he said, "It's about a murder I committed."
   "Shouldn't you be talking to Father Murphy about this?" I said.
   "If it was just a straightforward murder I'd go to him."
   "So it's not a straightforward murder?"
   "No. At first I thought it was. And I thought it was a good murder too. People were telling me it was the best they'd ever seen."
   "Who was the victim?"
   "Duck Leegan. I got into a fight with him because he said he'd describe my wife as a sheepdog but sheepdogs are much more faithful. I ended up hitting him over the head with a brick. He was definitely dead because lots of people checked his pulse to make sure before they started dancing. I lost count of the amount of people who congratulated me afterwards. He used to say it was his mission in life to sleep with as many wives as possible before he got married. It seemed to me that his mission was to make as many people as possible despise him. Moriarty didn't despise him at all after he slept with Moriarty's wife. 'You're a braver man than me' was all Moriarty said. So Duck tried to burn down Moriarty's house. Everyone wanted to buy me drink after I killed Duck, but on the following day when I was walking down the road outside Leary's farm I saw him walking towards me, alive and well. He didn't have a mark on him. He smiled when he saw me. I poked him with a stick to make sure he wasn't a ghost."
   "What happened?"
   "He punched me in the face. See the bruise under my eye? I've never met a ghost who could do that."
   "Neither have I."
   "What I want to know is this: would there be any point in killing him again?"
   "It doesn't matter if there's any point in killing him again. It's a matter of right and wrong. You shouldn't kill him again. You shouldn't have killed him in the first place."
   "I couldn't agree more. Right-and-wrong is all important. But leaving aside right-and-wrong for a minute, if I killed him again would there be any chance it would stick this time?"
   "I doubt it. It sounds as if you had him well and truly killed the last time and he emerged without so much as a scratch."
   "I was sure he'd be unpacking his suitcase in hell."
   "And if he is dead, you can't kill him again."
   "If he's dead, he's a very good actor."
   "Have you considered the possibility that he might have been dead long before you killed him?"
   "If I thought he was dead before I killed him I wouldn't have bothered killing him, unless I was stuck for something to do."
   "He appears to be alive now, even though you're sure you killed him, but perhaps he only had the appearance of being alive when you killed him. Someone could have killed him in the past."
   "There'd be no shortage of people willing to kill Duck."
   "It's quite possible that he only behaves the way he does because he knows he can't be killed. Again."
   "I never thought of that. I don't know what to think of it. I don't know whether to apologise to him or try to kill him again... Maybe if I took him unawares."
   "It would be wrong to kill him again."
   "I know. Right-and-wrong. I know."
   I was walking past Duck's house a few days later when I saw him digging a hole in his garden. He smiled at me when he saw me looking at him. I could tell that he knew I knew about his death. He walked towards me and he held out the shovel. "Hit me over the head with that shovel," he said. "Go on."
   "I'd rather not," I said.
   He shook his head at me, and he turned around to return to the hole. There were a few broken red bricks on the ground where his front wall had been hit by a car (probably his own car on his return from the pub one night). I was tempted to pick up one of the bricks and hit him when his back was turned, taking him unawares, as his murderer had suggested. But he seemed to know what I was thinking. "Go on," he said.
   I walked away as quickly as I could. I didn't turn around, but I sensed he was shaking his head at me again.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Professor Unkeltim

   I often warn people about evil scientists, but they're much more concerned about the threat of global warming or celebrities lecturing us about global warming. You'll never see these evil scientists because they've become very clever about disguising themselves. They don't live in gothic castles on mountainsides, with huge laboratories in the basement. They don't have seven-foot-tall assistants who eat bananas and rabbits without even peeling them. But I know of one who looks like a classic evil scientist. His name is Professor Unkeltim. He always wears a top hat, even when he's in his laboratory. People think he's mad, and he's happy to let them think this.
   Only two friends of mine, Gary and Walter, took the threat seriously. They followed him to see what he was up to. When he went camping in the hills, they went camping too. He wore shorts, an anorak, and he had a rucksack on his back, but he still had the top hat. He set up his tent on the side of a hill. Gary and Walter wanted to search the tent, so they needed to distract him. Every time he spoke he made long dramatic speeches. When Walter asked him what time it was he spent an hour talking about the nature of time and the universe and the gods who play table tennis to decide our fate. This gave Gary plenty time to search the tent. In it he found plans for a rocket to blow up the moon. Professor Unkeltim only went camping to look for a site for his rocket launcher.
   When Gary left the tent he took the plans with him. He wanted to take these to a superhero called The Dappled Destroyer, a man capable of taking on the Professor. The Destroyer had retired because there were so few worthy foes. Policemen need burglars. Burglars need dogs. Dogs need cats and postmen. Postmen need the world. The world needs villains, and superheroes to save the world.
   It didn't take long for the Professor to realise that his plans had been stolen. He knew who took them, and he suspected that Gary and Walter would go to see the Destroyer.
   When Gary and Walter were looking for the Destroyer's house on a city street they heard the Professor's voice behind them. He told them to stop, and he began a speech about the nature of stopping. He was holding a gun. Gary and Walter ran to the nearest open door, and they found themselves backstage at a theatre. Shortly afterwards they were on-stage at a theatre, and they were disguised as ballet dancers.
   "Why didn't you disguise yourself as a male dancer?" Gary whispered to Walter.
   "I never thought of that."
   "It's too late now."
   The performance had only just begun when a man in the audience stood up and pointed a gun towards the dancers. He was wearing a top hat. Gary and Walter ran away, and Professor Unkeltim followed them.
   "If you hadn't put socks down your pants to make your bulge look bigger, his attention wouldn't have been drawn to you," Walter said to Gary.
   "The whole audience was confused by your bulge."
   Gary and Walter ran away through the city streets. The plans for the rocket were hidden in Gary's socks. Even if the Professor thought of looking there, he wouldn't want to do it.
   They finally found The Dappled Destroyer's house on a quiet city street. When he opened the door he was holding a small plastic watering can. He didn't seem like the sort of man who could thwart a plan to blow up the moon, but Gary was desperate to get the plans out of his socks and go to the toilet, so they told him about the Professor's threat.
   They drank tea in the kitchen while the Destroyer looked through the plans. He still didn't seem like the sort of hero who could take on the Professor, but after a brief trip to his bedroom he returned in his superhero outfit, and finally they started to think that the man on the moon might yet get to keep smiling and transmitting thoughts to cats. The Destroyer seemed taller and more muscular. Walter had once jumped through a window to get away from a man who went to his bedroom and returned looking taller and more muscular, but the Destroyer wasn't wearing high heels and shoulder pads, so there was no need to get away. He was wearing make-up, but that was part of his look.
   They just needed to find the Professor. He was trying to find them, so all they had to do was walk around the city streets, looking conspicuous. The ballet outfits were ideal for this purpose, but they used more socks just to make sure. The Destroyer followed them. They met the Professor at a fountain in the park. Just as he began his speech on the nature of shooting a man disguised as a ballerina, The Dappled Destroyer emerged from the shadows. Gary and Walter ran away and they let the Destroyer finish the job they started.
   That job still hasn't been completed. The battle goes on. Professor Unkeltim did fire a rocket at the moon, but because of a last-minute intervention by the Destroyer it missed. This only made the Professor more determined than ever to blow up the moon.

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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