|Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.||
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
A Nice Surprise in the Woods
Myself, Jimmy and Chadwick formed a band when we were short of cash. I could play the tin whistle, Chadwick played the violin and Jimmy could do something to an accordion. The accordion didn't like it, but the passers-by didn't find it too upsetting when we busked on the street. We made enough money to cover a trip to the pub, and we played in the pub as well.
Our performances in the pub became a regular occurrence, and once we were invited to play in the bedroom of a woman called Maeve. She was in her eighties and she had been bed-bound for years. Her bedroom was full of boxes, chests, old furniture and other junk, but we managed to find a place to stand and play. She enjoyed our performance, and she asked us to play again on the following week. This became a regular gig as well. We'd go to see her on Thursday evenings. Her son, Emmet, would let us in, or if he wasn't there we'd let ourselves in with the spare key under the flowerpot outside the back door. Emmet was highly skilled at stealing watches. He only did it out of habit, and he always gave them back. He'd normally steal our watches on the way in and give them back on the way out.
At the end of each performance, Maeve would give us something as a sign of her appreciation. Sometimes she gave us money or a bottle of whiskey. Sometimes she gave us a stuffed pheasant or a chocolate hammer. One evening she told us she had a special surprise for us. She gave us a map with a red X marked on it. She said, "When ye get there, take four paces from the back door and start digging. Be very careful opening what ye find. Ye don't want to break what's inside."
We weren't expecting to find a house because the location marked by the X was in the middle of the woods, but the map did lead us to the ruins of a small house. It was surrounded by trees. The crumbling stone walls were being engulfed by moss. The roof had long gone.
Jimmy took four paces from where the back door used to be. He found himself standing in between two trees. We started digging there, and we hadn't been digging for long when we found a bag. There was a small bronze box in it. At the front of the box we saw a tiny keyhole. We remembered what she had said about being careful opening it, so we decided to take it back to Chadwick's house rather than breaking it open with a shovel.
It was nearly dark by the time we left the woods. On the way home we saw a man walking towards us on the road. He was having trouble walking in a straight line. It was Emmet, and he was drunk on love, as well as on alcohol. He told us about how he had fallen in love with a woman called Sinead. They were perfect for each other, he said. The only potential obstacle was his hobby, which was eating biscuits in bed. He couldn't marry any woman who'd have a problem with him eating biscuits in bed. If she was less than fully supportive it would spoil his enjoyment of the biscuits. He was trying to work up the courage to tell her about it. Chadwick suggested telling her about his habit of stealing watches as well. Emmet said, "I've stolen her watch often enough for her to have guessed that one by now."
Jimmy wished him many years of happiness with Sinead. There were tears in his eyes as he shook Jimmy's hand. He walked on again without saying another word, and we continued on our walk to Chadwick's house.
"He really must be in love," Jimmy said. "He forgot to steal my watch."
"I was convinced he was stealing it when he was shaking your hand," Chadwick said.
Jimmy suddenly stopped walking and said, "He stole the box from my coat pocket!"
"His mother must have told him about the present," I said. "And he didn't want us to have it."
We ran back down the road. Soon we saw Emmet up ahead, but he was running as well. We spent most of that night chasing him, and we nearly caught him a few times but he always managed to get away. We had him surrounded in a pub when he was singing a song, but everyone joined our attempt to catch him because it seemed like fun, and he managed to get away in the melee.
In the morning we went to Maeve's house. We didn't expect Emmet to be there, so we let ourselves in through the back door, and we went upstairs to Maeve's room. We were in the middle of telling her what had happened when she stopped us. She reached under her pillow and took out the bronze box we had retrieved from the woods. She took a set of keys from a hook over her head and she used the smallest key to open the box. There was a gold brooch inside.
"I'm sorry about this little charade," she said. "I meant for Emmet to steal it from ye. It was the only way I could get my brooch."
Chadwick said, "Why didn't you just get him to go into the woods and dig it up himself?"
"He's afraid of the woods. It goes back to when he was a child. You have to be very careful about what you say to children. I regret telling him about the woodland monster who thinks people are teapots. I've been trying to get this brooch for years. I didn't trust anyone to get it for me because I was afraid they'd steal the contents. Ye wouldn't steal the contents if ye thought ye owned the box and everything in it. As I said, I'm sorry I had to do it like this, but I intend to repay ye for everything ye've done. I have a present for ye in the box on top of the wardrobe."
There was a metal detector in the box. After a few hours sleep, we went back to the woods in the afternoon and we used the metal detector to search the ground around the ruins of the house. Emmet was in the house. When we asked him how he'd managed to overcome his fear of the woods he said, "I haven't overcome it at all. I've just developed a greater fear of what's outside the woods. Sinead would never think of looking for me in here. I told her about the biscuits, and she said she didn't mind at all. She had something she wanted to tell me as well. Her hobby is biting insects, just to see what they taste like. I said to her, 'Surely you'd know what an insect tastes like after tasting just one member of that species.' But no, she said. They're like snowflakes. Each one is different. If she was eating insects in bed, it would ruin my enjoyment of the biscuits."
We spent a few days searching around the ruins of the house. We found some old coins and a gun. Emmet was there all the time. Chadwick suspected that Sinead had come up with the story about the insects just to get rid of him after hearing about his hobby. She didn't seem to be making any effort to find him. But we didn't say anything to Emmet. We left him there in the woods, terrified of what might be lurking in the woods and slightly more terrified of what lay beyond.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The Chocolate Factory
When Hugh was in a second-hand book shop one day he came across a book about setting up your own chocolate factory. He had never felt a need to set up a chocolate factory before, but the book seemed interesting. It was a woman's account of her attempt to produce chocolate in her garden shed. It was a big shed, as garden sheds go, but it was small for a factory.
The book gave Hugh many hours of enjoyment and a need to set up a chocolate factory in his garden shed. His shed was smaller than the one described in the book, but he set up his factory in it because he saw this endeavour as no more than a hobby. He'd consume the chocolate himself, if it was fit for consumption, and he might even give it to friends and relations in the unlikely event that the chocolate tasted reasonably good.
After a few months of experimentation he was producing chocolate that tasted slightly better than reasonably good. He made chocolate cakes and biscuits, and he sold these at a market on Saturday mornings. People were reluctant to try his chocolate at first, even though he was giving away free samples, but after they'd overcome their fear of being poisoned they tried it and they were invariably pleasantly surprised. Hugh was pleasantly shocked that he was actually making money out of this venture.
One evening, a man called Ned came to see him. Ned was a local businessman who owned a supermarket, a hardware shop, a pub and a farm. "I've come here to buy your chocolate factory," he said to Hugh. "I've always wanted to own my own chocolate factory, just like Willy Wonka. Now there was a great businessman. I've always aspired to be like him, as a businessman rather than as a person. He was a bit odd as a person."
"My chocolate factory is not for sale."
"I'd give you a job. You'd be the manager. I've got big plans for your factory. Not as big as Willy Wonka's plans, but bigger than anything you could imagine."
Hugh wondered if he should point out that Willy Wonka was a fictional character. He decided against this. "It's not for sale," he said. "I'd rather be my own boss."
"Of course you would. When you're your own boss you won't have to worry about your boss telling you how useless you are, unless you hate yourself. A boss like that isn't going to amount to much, and neither is an employee who doesn't know how useless he is."
"Why don't you set up your own chocolate factory?"
"I tried once, but it's not easy making chocolate that people actually want to eat. I only succeeded in making chocolate that people wanted their enemies to eat. There isn't much use for chocolate that you don't want to eat, unless you can force-feed your enemies, and there aren't many people around who can do that, not like in the good old days when there were plenty of people going around the place making other people consume things against their will, and there wasn't a thing the law could do about it. We didn't need TV in those days. That's why we didn't have it. That's why we didn't have electricity -- we didn't need it. All we needed to do for entertainment was to look out the window and see someone talking to a tree. You'd say, 'Someone has made them eat something that's making them behave in this peculiar fashion. I wonder who it could be. It could be anyone of about a hundred people.' And then we'd spend the rest of the evening trying to figure out who the culprit was. It was like an episode of 'Murder, She Wrote'. We need 'Murder, She Wrote' now because forcing someone to eat or drink something that may have peculiar side-effects is practically a crime these days."
After Hugh had insisted that he'd never sell his factory, Ned left.
A few days later, a woman called to see Hugh. She said she'd tasted his chocolate at the market and she'd been inspired to make her own. She offered Hugh some of the chocolate sweets she'd made. They looked too tempting to resist, so he tried one. It tasted odd. Not bad, but odd. It made him feel a need to sit down and close his eyes.
When he opened his eyes again he was tied to a chair in a room he'd never seen before. Ned was there. He smiled when he saw that Hugh had opened his eyes.
Ned said, "You've probably guessed that I've made you consume something you wouldn't have taken of your own free will. You wouldn't have tied yourself to the chair of your own free will either. And the only way to release yourself is by agreeing to sell your chocolate factory."
"I can wait. And it's much easier for me to wait because I'm not tied to a chair."
Ned did a tap dance to demonstrate how not tied to a chair he was.
"People will know I'm missing," Hugh said.
"The story that will be spread around town is the one about you needing to get away after your little breakdown. You've been working too hard in your chocolate factory, trying to combine it with your day job. Photos of your breakdown will be spread around town as well."
Ned took out some photos of Hugh in tears as he tried to knock down a wall with an umbrella "You'll never guess what I gave you to make you do that," Ned said. "I have a video as well. If you agree to sell it now, no one will ever have to see these photos or hear about your breakdown."
Hugh knew he was beaten. He said, "You can have the recipes and the contents of my shed, but you'll have to move them to your own premises."
"That was the plan all along. Do you actually think I'd be associated with your ramshackle little operation? I told you I had plans for the business that were bigger than anything you could imagine, but I had no idea you couldn't imagine anything bigger than your garden shed."
"And there's no way I'm working for you."
"Now that I know you can't imagine a chocolate factory that's bigger than your garden shed I'm not sure I'd want you as manager anyway."
Ned moved the factory to a former butcher's in the town, but the business only lasted six months. When he needed to get revenge on the people who criticised the Christmas decorations in his supermarket he couldn't resist adding something to the chocolate. Before long, half the town were talking to trees, pretending to be cats or feeling unwell. Ned thought the whole enterprise was worthwhile. He had fulfilled his dream to own a chocolate factory, selling chocolate that people liked, and then he had made those people sick.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Toby can think of two things wrong with the claim that school days are the happiest of your life. He only spent one day in school and it wasn't very happy. The only things he learnt from his formal education were that he didn't need to spend longer than a day at school, that this day wasn't as enjoyable as a day spent watching a shed leaning to one side, and that pet rabbits don't like being called after infamous historical figures. He was nineteen when he had his first and last day in school. He was much taller than the other children. They laughed at him, and they made fun of his height. They asked him if it was snowing on top of his head. They thought this was hilarious, and they wouldn't drop the snow joke. It expanded all the time, like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. By lunchtime they were asking him if the skiers relaxing in the chalet on his head were aware that the Yeti in the leather jacket had found a can of petrol and he was building a bonfire outside. They were, Toby said.
The class went on a field trip in the afternoon. Toby thought he'd enjoy this, but it only gave his classmates more opportunities to make jokes about his height. It wasn't long before the skiers were fleeing in terror down the mountainside. The class walked through actual fields on their field trip. Toby wanted to point out that he could walk through fields any day, and on any other day he wouldn't be ridiculed by kids, unless he was with his nephews. The teacher told them how to tell the difference between dandelions, buttercups and daisies. She spoke about the insects and animals that live in hedgerows. Toby didn't think it was necessary to say that giraffes don't live in hedgerows, but she did, and she explained why giraffes don't live in hedgerows. She repeatedly explained why a Yeti wouldn't live in a hedgerow, but only because the kids kept asking her.
The teacher told them to close their eyes and listen to the songs of the birds. Toby closed his eyes and thought about a shed collapsing, but his thoughts were drawn to the songs he heard. One song sounded familiar, and it wasn't coming from a bird. It was his uncle Ken, who was singing a Percy French song. Ken had sold his house years earlier and he started living in hedgerows because he believed that all houses would fall down eventually. Toby had tried to convince him that this only applied to sheds, but he wouldn't listen. He built shelters that were completely concealed by the stones, bushes, wild flowers and weeds in the hedgerows.
Toby's classmates and his teacher heard the sound as well, and it didn't take them long to locate its source. Ken came out of his shelter when he realised he had visitors. He was delighted to see his nephew in a school uniform. "You'll have a new star pupil," he said to Toby's teacher. "I've been telling him for years he should go to school. He has brains. I don't know where he got them from. It wasn't from his parents. His father fell in love with his mother when they first met. He thought long and hard about how he'd win her over. He kept smelling dogs until he found the smelliest one, and then he gave it to her. You'd think she'd have taken a step back and said, 'There's something I need to be doing,' and then run away. But no. She agreed to marry him instead. The time they spent together during their engagement was shaped by his need to avoid the irate owners of smelly dogs..."
Toby realised that his life story was being told. Because the audience was so young, some details about how his life began would have to be omitted, but sooner or later Ken would get to the story about how Toby and his brother set up their own business selling cakes made out of mud. The kids were listening intently to Ken, and so was their teacher. Toby came to the conclusion that school wasn't for him, and a swift exit was called for. He ran to the nearest gate and he tried to jump over it. He had successfully jumped over gates thousands of times in the past, but his movements were restricted by the school uniform, and this attempt proved to be unsuccessful. His foot hit the top of the gate and he landed on his head at the other side.
He didn't know how long he was out for, but when he regained consciousness he was surrounded by his classmates, his teacher and his uncle, and Ken had reached the story about how Toby and his brother built their own airplane, also out of mud. The school day was nearly over, so they had to return to their classroom. On the way there, Toby expected to be asked if the people on his head were attempting ski jumps that were beyond their ability, but the kids didn't say a word to him. They just looked at him with reverence, perhaps because of the success of the mud cake business or the spectacular failure of his jump. Despite this new-found respect, he still decided that school wasn't for him. He didn't think he'd be able to endure another lesson on why zoo animals don't live in hedgerows, and he had a good job in the bank to go back to.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
For many years I suffered from agoraphobia. I could never leave the house, but I was able to take it with me wherever I went. The view outside my front window kept changing and I could close the curtains on the people who laughed at me for walking around with a cardboard box on my head. I was never lonely in my house because I had so many visitors. People loved calling around, although some of them only knocked on my front door because it was an excuse to punch me in the face.
When a married couple moved into the box next door the walls seemed as if they were as thin as paper. I could hear everything they said. They had the same conversation every evening before they went out to a party or to a friend's house. He'd say, "I wouldn't use that sandwich, if I were you, not if you're going to use it as a hat."
She'd say, "I can use whatever I want to use as a hat."
"In that case, I'm going to use my bullet-proof vest as a hat."
"But people don't usually shoot you in the head."
Just before leaving the house she'd always say, "Spread some shadows over the furniture to keep the dust off. The man with the gun will come out of the shadows. He'll keep looking at his gun, so you don't need to worry about him."
She always said this very loudly. I got the impression that she wanted me to hear her because she thought this would stop me from breaking into their house. Sometimes they'd stay in and invite friends around. Their parties would keep me awake all night.
I moved house when I was able to afford the mortgage on a bigger box. My new neighbours sing to each other instead of speaking. The song always sounds happy, even when they're arguing. Her voice was full of light and love when she accused him of having an affair with her sister. I don't mind these arguments because I rarely listen to the lyrics of songs.
The Tree and the Horse
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.
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