Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Monday, June 28, 2010


The Land Where the Bees Make Gold

   Paddy spent most of his time in rundown pubs near the harbour. He'd drink and tell stories about his maritime adventures to anyone conscious enough to look as if they were listening. He seemed perfectly at home in a pub with sawdust on the floor and bar stools held together with twine, so he was very surprised to be invited to Mr. Connolly's house, a mansion on a hill overlooking the town. He accepted the invitation because Connolly was the sort of man who'd consider it a crime not to offer a guest a drink, even if he only invited you to his house to murder you.
   Paddy was delighted when he was offered a glass of brandy on his arrival, and he was glad to find that he wouldn't be murdered as well. He wasn't the only seafarer to be invited to the house. Connolly's drawing room was full of local sailors, and it seemed obvious to Paddy that Connolly was planning an expedition on the ocean. This was confirmed by Hughie, one of Paddy's old friends, who'd also been invited to the house. Connolly's personal chef had told Hughie that the ship would leave port on the following week, but Connolly had yet to reveal their destination. The chef would be on board, as would Connolly's personal doctor.
   When Connolly arrived in the room he outlined his plan to find an island where the bees had discovered the secret of alchemy. Their honey was solid gold and the islanders despised it because of its taste. He promised the sailors a very decent share of the gold. All of the sailors agreed to go because they thought it would be easy for them to take much more than a very decent share.
   It took them three months to find the island. During that time they fought off pirates and a sea monster who nearly defeated them by pretending to cry. They came close to being sunk by ice bergs and by a mountain that rose from underneath the surface of the water. When they found the island, the welcome of the locals and the comforts of dry land were just as gratifying as the abundance of unwanted gold. It didn't take long for the sailors to lose interest in the songs and dances of the locals and in the novelty of ground that hardly ever moved, but their interest in the gold remained undiminished. While the sailors were collecting gold for Connolly, Paddy and Hughie were looking out for ways to find some for themselves. They met a local witch doctor called Simon. He was really an English aristocrat who posed as a witch doctor by wearing a hat with feathers in it. He was harvesting gold as well. He'd been on the island for a year and he was planning on staying for another few months, until he had harvested enough to ensure that he'd never be short of a gold egg cup again. Paddy and Hughie were determined to find his stash of gold and take as much of it as they could carry.
   Simon lived amongst a tribe at the other side of the island. Paddy and Hughie went there, and they had no trouble finding his hut because it was the only one with a door bell. It was the only one with a door as well. It didn't have a lock, so they were able to get in without breaking anything. The gold was hidden under his bed. He obviously hadn't been overly-concerned about thieves, which made him exactly the sort of person Paddy and Hughie loved stealing from.
   Their escape wasn't as easy as they thought it would be. Members of the tribe at this side of the island liked the taste of gold, but they loved the taste of thieves. Paddy and Hughie were put into a huge pot of water over a fire. They'd be boiled for dinner, and the gold would be used to make a sauce.
   Simon arrived on the scene shortly after the fire had been lit. He said, "They've asked me to use my magic powders to help with the seasoning. The powders are really just salt and pepper. If only all jobs were as straightforward as this. Try as I might, I can't find a way to cure diarrhoea with salt and pepper. And they're always asking me to cure diarrhoea. It's because of their diet. Never eat anything that cries and tells you about its pet canary as you're putting it in the pot. That's my advice, but they just won't listen. Jobs are rarely as pleasant as this. Curing diarrhoea with a pinch of pepper is anything but pleasant, but I'm only too happy to add a bit of flavour to the men who tried to steal my gold."
   "Why don't they eat you?" Hughie said.
   "I'm a witch doctor. Eating me would be like eating a dog. No, a dog wouldn't be mysterious enough. A unicorn."
   "You're the man they turn to when they want someone to unsuccessfully cure their diarrhoea. There isn't anything mysterious about that."
   "You're right. We'll go with 'dog'."
   "We're very sorry about stealing the gold," Paddy said. "Maybe there's something we can give you if you get us out of this pot. I have some very impressive knives on the ship."
   "I've only just replenished my supply of very impressive knives."
   "I have a book with pictures of women," Hughie said. "They're doing things with very impressive knives. You can have that if you get us out."
   "It's a deal."
   Simon put some feathers in their hair and he said to the natives, "Look, they're growing feathers as they're heating. They must be witch doctors as well."
   The natives removed Paddy and Hughie from the pot. One of them patted Paddy on the head, suggesting that these witch doctors were regarded more as dogs than as unicorns.
   They spent another three weeks on the island. They were revered as witch doctors, but they were often called out to cure unpleasant ailments and diseases. At least it gave them a good opportunity to collect gold. They always carried sacks that supposedly contained their powders and potions, but the only contents were salt, pepper and gold. They had no trouble hiding the gold on the journey home because no one would go anywhere near them out of fear of contracting a disease, and it was rumoured that the sacks contained medicines that would jump on your face and lick your eyes if you looked at them. So they made it home with enough material for all the gold knives they'd ever need. They brought a few contagious diseases as well, and they had fun passing these onto their friends, but they were sorry they didn't bring any of the medicines that licked people's eyes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Basil won a stair-lift

   Basil won a stair-lift in a raffle organised by his local Amateur Dramatics Society to raise money for the costumes for their Christmas pantomime. Basil was delighted with his prize, even though it was a second-hand stair-lift, and he had no need for one. He put up the stair-lift in his garden. At first he was proud of his new garden ornament, but after a few weeks he started to think that it looked bare on its own, so he built a stairs to go with it. This didn't have the effect he was hoping for. The stairs with the stair-lift looked even more bare than the stair-lift on its own, so he built a house around them.
   His new house was better than the old one, so he knocked the old one and made a garden there instead. He put up the stair-lift in his new garden, but it still looked bare, so he built a stairs and a house to go with it. His new house was better than the old one, so he knocked the old one and made a garden there instead. He put up the stair-lift in his new garden...
   After eighteen demolitions and constructions he ended up with an extraordinary house. It was three storeys high at the back, seven at the front and eight at one side. There were thirty-five rooms, not counting all the secret ones. He was sorry he'd made the kitchen so big. It felt all wrong, and he wished he could go back a few houses, to when he had the perfect kitchen. But getting it back the way it was would have been very difficult. It seemed easier to change his life to suit his new kitchen, and one morning he had a brilliant idea: he'd get married and have kids.
   He got his keys and he went out the front door to get married and have kids, but just after he'd stepped outside he stopped to think about his plan. What if he got a wife and kids who didn't match his house? He'd have to change the house again, because changing the wife and kids could be difficult. So he hired actors to play his wife and kids, just to see if he could match them to his house. Chinese orphans, Russian wives and children raised by wolves were all tested on his house before he found the right blend. His wife was a French film star. He had a good selection of prodigies amongst the kids. There was a concert pianist and a mathematician, and his youngest daughter was both a concert pianist and a mathematician.
   After getting the family right he thought he'd finally be able to enjoy his house, but he was struggling to get some of the smaller details right, like what breed of dog they should have. When he won a caravan in a raffle organised by a rugby club, he decided to take a trip in it to clear his mind of the house, hoping that a fresh perspective would finally enable him to get everything right. He couldn't decide where to go in his caravan, but he realised that he didn't need to decide. He could go anywhere. At last he'd found something that felt just right, so he sold his house and family. He was content travelling around the country in his caravan, without any destination in mind.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Wrong Place

   Dennis had a habit of putting his foot in the wrong place. He always took great pleasure from putting his feet down on the ground when he was wearing his enormous boots, but his enjoyment would be diminished by the sound of something breaking, squelching or shattering into pieces. This would often be followed by an angry tirade from the owner of the item flattened by his boot. He thought it was unreasonable of them to admonish him for putting his foot in the wrong place. If only one step in ten resulted in a smashed vase, a crushed flower or a flattened cake, people would focus entirely on that one step and completely ignore the others. No one ever praised him for the countless occasions on which he put his foot in exactly the right place.
   One of his friends suggested going for walks in the fields because he was less likely to break things there. If he stood on something that went squelch he probably wouldn't upset whoever had left it there.
   Derek enjoyed walking through the fields. He could freely put his foot down wherever he wanted to until he crashed into a gate or a ditch. He was able to overcome obstacles like these, but his walk was brought to an unexpected end when he put his foot down on what seemed like solid ground and he fell through it. He landed in an underground room. He sustained a few cuts and bruises in the fall, but he wasn't seriously injured. A timber box had broken his fall and he had broken the box, but if he hadn't landed on it he might never have discovered that it contained gold coins. There was no one there to admonish him for the destruction of the box, and no one to claim the coins, so he took them home.
   Finding gold seemed like an enormous stroke of luck, but after his discovery he was breaking more items than ever with his boots, and the reactions of the owners tended to be more extreme. The owner of a broken flower pot wanted to stab him with a piece of the broken pot, and she might well have done so if he hadn't smashed it into tiny pieces. Dennis decided to get rid of the gold after he stood on a cake he was looking forward to eating. He was almost certain that this was the only time in his life he had left a cake on the ground, and its destruction seemed like extraordinary bad luck, which he blamed on the gold. But off-loading gold wasn't as easy as he thought it would be. No one wanted gold coins that were cursed. Gold coins on their own would have been easy to get rid of, but the curse made people reluctant to take them.
   When the local police force went on holiday they left the local superheroes in charge, but they're even less likely to prevent crime than the police. Amongst their number are people like Dean, who collects paper. This is his special power. Harry's special superhero power is pretending to be dead.
   When the superheroes were in charge it was a good time for stealing and for having things stolen. Dennis thought that the best way to get rid of the gold would be to let a thief take it. He wanted to advertise the fact that he'd found the gold, so he paid his brother to dress up as a butler and push a wheelbarrow around the town. The wheelbarrow contained Dennis and a treasure chest full of gold. Dennis was smoking a cigar and doing his best to look pleased with himself.
   He had no trouble getting to sleep that night. His mind was at rest because he was confident that a thief would break into his house in the middle of the night and steal his gold. He thought it would be like Christmases from his childhood when he goes downstairs in the morning and sees the empty space where once there had been a treasure chest.
   Shortly after three o' clock, Dennis heard the sounds of crockery and glass being broken. At first he thought he was dreaming. These sounds often featured in his dreams, just like in his waking hours. But when he heard voices he realised that a scuffle was taking place in his living room. He went downstairs to investigate, and he found that a thief had broken in to steal the gold, but he'd been overpowered by the superheroes. They had heard about his gold and they were sure that someone would try to take it, so they joined forces to catch the thief. When they combined all of their powers they were just about capable of catching a single thief, although Harry hadn't been much help. He was pretending to be dead behind the sofa.
   While the superheroes were describing in great detail the plan they used to catch their prey, the thief managed to slip away through the window. When Derek realised he was gone he looked to where the treasure chest was kept, and he was disappointed to find that it was still there. It felt like the Christmas when Santa brought him a teddy bear that wet itself when he really wanted a train set that caught fire.
   Things took a turn for the worse when he realised that the thief had stolen his boots. Derek felt the sort of despair only a disastrous Christmas Day could produce. He didn't think he'd ever wear his boots again, but he decided to go outside to see if the thief had left any foot prints.
   He found the thief and his boots in the garden. 'Garden' isn't really the appropriate word to describe the area around his house. 'Garden' would suggest that the place has been subjected to gardening, but Derek just lets it grow wild. A snare had been lost in the long grass until the thief found it, and he was stuck there. Derek had left the snare there a few years earlier because he wanted to catch a fox who had killed some of his chickens. But after Derek had stood on all of his chickens the fox stopped coming, and Derek forgot about the snare, until the thief found it.
   Derek helped the thief out of the snare and retrieved his boots. He then lectured the thief on how a life of crime will never pay, and he sent the man away with the gold. He put his boots on and walked back inside, breaking a brush handle and an old fish tank on the way. He never considered the possibility that it was actually his boots that were cursed, but if Derek was into considering things he'd probably look at the ground where he plans to plant his boots to make sure it isn't occupied by something likely to break.

Monday, June 07, 2010


Miss Watson

   Derek lived on the banks of a lake that was home to a monster. This creature only emerged from the water at night. Sightings were rare, but people for miles around could hear his roar every time he rose above the surface of the lake.
   Derek believed that the monster was lonely, and that all he needed was female company. No one in the area knew how to determine the gender of underwater monsters, but it was widely believed that this one was male because experience had taught people that only men roar in the middle of the night and wake up the neighbours. Experience had taught Derek that these roars were often inspired by female company, or the lack of it. Of course, alcohol almost always played a part as well, but this was hardly likely to be a factor in the monster's expressions of despair. It was difficult to imagine a greater commitment to teetotalism than living in water.
   Derek wanted to help the creature in the lake. At times it was heart-breaking to hear the monster's plaintive cry, evoking a sense of a lonely existence, but most of the time it was just annoying to be woken in the middle of the night. Derek wanted to find someone who could give him an insight into the psychology of the monster. He asked the neighbours if they knew anyone who could help. No one knew of a monster psychologist, but Mrs. Thomas did have a brother who studied child psychology. Derek didn't think that Mrs. Thomas's brother would be able to offer much help in this instance, so he tried asking the people whose lives were full of strange phenomena, the men and women who roamed the land at night to meet fairies and the spirits who were permanently lost in the hills, like the ghost of the hiker who'd been wandering around for centuries, constantly thinking about the sausages he'd left on the frying pan back at his camp site. For these people there was nothing strange about encounters with ghosts, and for some of them there was nothing strange about constantly thinking of sausages, but none of them had any experience of lovelorn monsters.
   As a last resort, Derek tried looking in the phone book. He was amazed to find an ad for a service that dealt with monsters of all shapes and sizes, from the smallest ones who set up horrid homes in handbags, to the enormous monsters who live in lakes or dance in the sky, generating their own clouds to disguise themselves (it's easy to see through the disguise when you see two clouds dancing). The ad promised an expert insight into the psychology of monsters. Derek was delighted when he read this. It meant he wouldn't have to contact Mrs. Thomas's brother, and he was glad because he'd heard that Mrs. Thomas's brother was just like Mrs. Thomas.
   The service was provided by middle-aged twin sisters. When they arrived at Derek's house they had suitcases with them. They told him they'd need to stay overnight to hear the monster. Derek had a feeling that this abundance of female company would turn out to be worse than not having any, but he was encouraged by the antipathy they showed for his company. They rarely spoke to him, and they insisted that he call both of them 'Miss Watson'. This suited Derek because he would have found it difficult to tell which one was which if he'd known their names. He appreciated their silence as well because he got the impression that they'd complain about his house if they were more willing to talk to him.
   Derek was woken in the middle of the night by the sound of the monster's roar, and on this occasion he welcomed the noise because Miss Watson would hear it as well, and hopefully it would offer them some insight into the monster's problems.
   In the morning they told him that the monster was actually female, and her biggest problem was that her wings weren't working. She used to be able to fly, but she'd been confined to the lake for the past fifty years. Miss Watson suspected that a magic spell was the source of the wings' malfunction. They said they might be able to reverse the spell, but they'd need to listen to the monster's roar again to find out more. Derek was relieved to hear there was a chance he'd get a good night's sleep some time in the near future, and he told Miss Watson they could stay with him for as long as they wanted.
   When they were still staying in his house three weeks later he started to wonder if he'd be better off with sleepless nights. He didn't know if they were making any progress with the spell because they were so reluctant to talk to him. And then Henry, one of the people who seek strange phenomena, came to see him to deliver a message that had been passed on in a dream. In Henry's dream he'd been told that the twins weren't really monster psychologists. Sometimes they posed as ghost-catchers and sometimes as mediums. The purpose of all their roles was to find a place to live. Their job would supposedly require an overnight stay, but they could be there for months. They'd been homeless for seven years, ever since losing their house after losing most of their money in a bad investment.
   Henry's message seemed believable to Derek, though he was reluctant to trust a man who devoted most of his spare time to his attempt to make paperclips out of butterflies, an obsession that began with an interest in alchemy. After another week of the twins' company, Derek decided it was time to tell them that he no longer required their services. Learning to live with the monster seemed easier than learning to live with two women who'd happily spend an evening silently expressing their antipathy for him and all he stood for, radiating their contempt around the house. When Miss Watson was standing at the edge of the lake one day he went to see them to inform them of his decision. He'd practised this speech in advance, but he didn't get far into it when he was interrupted by the monster, who emerged from the water and kept rising upwards, carried away by her wings. She let out one final roar before she departed, and Derek suspected that this one could be translated as 'thank you'. He watched in awe until she disappeared from view. He was speechless, but he did his best to make a noise that could be translated as 'thank you'. The twins remained silent. Miss Watson gave him their bill. When he saw how much they were charging he made a noise that would have to be bleeped out if it could be translated into English. He couldn't possibly afford to pay them what they were asking, but he saw another way of settling his debt. He offered them free accommodation instead of money. They accepted his offer, and he detected faint smiles on their faces. He took this as a sign that they'd turn out to be easier to live with than the monster.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010



   Martin was convinced that someone was trying to steal his airplane. He believed that this person had been sent by a criminal gang or by an organisation with evil intent. This firm belief started out as a vague impression, and the seeds of the impression were the fleeting glimpses of a man hanging around the hanger (his garage) late at night. His airplane couldn't actually fly (it could hop reasonably well), but he never wondered why a criminal gang or an evil organisation would want a flightless flying machine. If he had put more thought into it he might have come to the conclusion that the thief was working for an organisation that urgently required a means of hopping. But if he had put more thought into it he might well have come to the conclusion that the thief was just a figment of his imagination.
   Martin didn't have time for putting more thought into things because he was too busy guarding his hanger. He was confident that he could ward off the most cunning of thieves, but matters were complicated when he fell in love with the woman who threw a stuffed fox at him. This is what almost always happens to matters when love begins to bloom. Martin had to find out more about this woman. He felt dejected every time he thought about the fact that he knew the name of the fox but he didn't know hers. He could only guess what her name was. He imagined it would be Amanda or Isobel or Beatrice, and certainly not Fifi, like the fox. The only thing he knew about her was that she'd throw a stuffed fox at a man simply because he tried to make unpleasant noises with a tuba. She was obviously a superior human being, or at the very least she was superior to a man who'd make unpleasant noises with a tuba.
   It was essential that he start spying on her at the earliest possible opportunity, but to do this he'd have to leave the hanger unguarded late at night. He wasn't prepared to abandon his plane to the clutches of the thief so he set up a security system, which consisted of a few ingenious devices. None of these were likely to kill the thief, but they'd certainly make him give up stealing airplanes for a while.
   Martin's first spying mission ended in failure. He couldn't even locate the woman. And to make matters worse, when he came home late at night he found that his airplane had been stolen. His security system hadn't worked as anticipated. It had hopped instead of flown. He was dejected. He wished he'd stayed with his plane and built a machine to spy on the woman who threw a fox at him. If only he could turn back time, he thought. He considered building a time machine, but that might not even hop. It might just fall over. He considered just falling over himself. It was the only course of action that seemed in any way appealing.
   Just as he was beginning to lean to his left he was startled by the sound of a cough, and then a woman's voice. "Sorry to bother you," she said, "but I'm afraid I may have damaged your airplane."
   Martin turned around, and he was shocked to see the woman who threw the fox at him. Her whole demeanour suggested that she wasn't likely to be throwing anything at him any time soon.
   "I was furious when you smiled after I threw the fox at you," she said. "It was almost as if you believed that I was doing you a favour, and there's nothing more infuriating than that. It made me determined to do something that you couldn't possibly regard as a favour. I saw how closely you were guarding your airplane, so I decided to steal it. If I hadn't been so angry I might have thought about it, and realised that it wasn't such a good idea. I finally got my chance to steal it when you went away this evening. My plan was to hide the plane in a hay shed. I wasn't stupid enough to think I could actually fly it. I was just going to drive it through the fields to the shed, but it kept hopping, until I crashed it into a ditch. I'm very sorry."
   Martin wanted to inspect the damage, so she took him to the site of the crash. He feared the worst, but the damage was nowhere near as bad as he thought it would be. He was certain he could repair the airplane. He was so optimistic that he even believed he could make it fly. He smiled at her and asked her what her name was.
   "Beatrice," she said.
   His smile became a beam, and she couldn't help smiling back at him. Love was in the air, and if love had complicated matters, stealing an airplane had undoubtedly simplified them.

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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