Tag Archives: short stories

Yours forever

A true tale by Mr Bamboo.
When my grandmother died just recently at the age of 105, the family went through her house and my father, being the youngest and fastest of his generation, managed to purloin several items long suspected of being quite valuable antiques, some of which allegedly date back to the late 18th century.
 
Among the objects which my father inherited was a portable writing desk which he noticed seemed to contain something because he is susceptible to detecting rattles where others detect none. There was nothing obvious in the writing desk, but he soon realised that there must have been a hidden compartment, and my mother found a means of opening it using a concealed latch while my father was getting his power saw. This was fortunate, because this particular portable writing desk, which is is excellent condition, is very valuable.
 
Inside the draw was a tightly rolled sheaf of papers which contained a diary written by my grandmother’s great aunt, Agnes Pembury in around the mid 19th century. I’m not quite sure why the diary was passed on to me (my father said something about it being in Old English, which is clearly not a variety of English he knows), but it turned out to be much more interesting than the china and pewter antiques of utterly uncertain provenance which elderly relatives of a certain generation have had in their keeping for 60 or 70 years.
 
It will take me some time to transcribe the whole diary because the hand writing is rather dense and can be difficult to decipher at times. None­the­less, I’ve read enough of it to be able to present this pseudo-novelisation because my great-great aunt’s style of writing shows a flare for story-telling, although I can’t say whether her style was influenced by the likes of, say, Sheridan le Fanu, Bram Stoker, or any other 19th century authors with a penchant for ghost stories. Of course, unlike those writers, Agnes Pembury’s story is wholly true.

“Will you always love me?” said Agnes gazing longingly at Ernest Bell.
 
“I shall love you forever, body and soul,” he replied.
 
“Oh Ernest!” Agnes kissed him impulsively.
17th March 184_
Today my joy and happiness have reached their summit, my darling Ernest having proposed, of which papa, knowing him to be of good character and excellent prospects, did not hesitate to approve. I cried; mama cried; and even papa’s lip trembled in response to the general sentiment which prevailed in the room. We are planning to get married in May at St Albans, the delightful church near Alton…[1]
The wedding was duly held on 14th may under the most auspicious circumstances. The weather was fair after a week of overcast skies and rain, and Agnes wrote that God himself must have approved of the match to bless them as he did.
15th May 184_
I was with a man for the first time last night. My hand trembles to confide such an intimate event to my diary, but it is an event of such moment that I feel I need to inform someone or some thing. Yet I am sure that we erred in the way in which we performed the act, though when I raised this point with Ernest, he assured me that that was how they did it at Winton[2] and Cambridge. Since I cannot disagree with the custom of places where the best practices are to be found, I should not object in spite of finding it rather painful.
20th May 184_
I am now rather enjoying it and expect to find myself with child any day now. Nonetheless, I have my doubts about the way we do it. Both Ernest and I long for a child…
21st May 184_
“How is married life?” asked Lucy Atkins.[3]
“To be recommended as the greatest felicity a person can possibly know,” said Agnes pausing while the waiter brought them tea and cakes. “Ernest is an ideal husband, I dare say. I could not hope for more.”
“And is there any news of that happiness being augmented?”
“Not yet.” Agnes leaned forward conspiratorially. “I have some doubts.”
“You don’t want a child?”
“It is not that. It is…” Agnes hesitated before describing as delicately and as periphrastically as possible her most intimate moments with her husband.
“No wonder you are having no success. That is what is known as the,” (and here she lowered her voice even further), “public school method.” With equal delicacy, Lucy described how Agnes and Ernest had erred.
Now knowing that of which I was previously ignorant, I can scarcely wait until tonight for the proper intimacies which pass between a married couple. I also wonder how Lucy, who is unmarried, should know these things better and in more detail than I who am married.
22nd May 184_
Last night, having informed Ernest of the mistake we had been making, I persuaded him to try the act as I originally believed it should be done. Lucy, who is a fount of knowledge which would only be expected among the common sort, says that the public school method is common in Catholic countries. I can only suppose that we now employ the Church of England method. I found it a little painful and yet more satisfying.
In spite of changing how they did the act, Agnes failed to become pregnant that summer even although there seemed to be no impediment on either side. The knowledgeable Lucy explained that conception was a great deal more difficult than commonly believed, but she was sure her friend would soon blessed with a child. As the summer wore on, Agnes was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the frequency of marital relations, and with Ernest’s preference for the public school method.
17th September 184_
After getting caught out in the rain yesterday, the worst has come to pass and Ernest has contracted a fever which has confined him to bed. Dr Ashford came this morning and said that Ernest should rest for a day or two. Ernest has been rather busy at work again recently and I think a brief respite would not go amiss. I have written his mother a letter to inform her of his situation and assure her that he is getting the best care.
18th September 184_
I am beside myself with anxiety. Ernest’s malady seemed to have taken a turn for the worse around mid morning, and I summoned Dr Ashford. When the doctor asked me for a few moments alone with Ernest, I regret to say that I did not act with the greatest propriety but listened at the door to the conversation which ensued. As a wife, I believe it is my duty to know about my husband’s condition so that I can provide him with the best care. Dr Ashford explicitly enquired whether Ernest was familiar with the public school method and whether he practised it. When Ernest admitted that he knew it and had done it, the doctor revealed that his ailment had not been caused by the rain (which, he said, has no deleterious effects), but by a long history of using the public school method. Ernest’s first concern was not for himself, but for my well-being, and Dr Ashford having questioned him closely said that he doubted there would be any harm to me.
In just a few months my greatest joy has now become my greatest sorrow. I can write no more.
21st September 184_
I had thought that I would never write another entry, but last night’s events are so extraordinary and unbelievable that they demand to be recorded. I was in bed last night but in spite of my exhaustion, my distress was preventing me from falling asleep. I was sure that I kept slumbering briefly for a few moments, but that Morpheus kept turning me away from his door, which continued until my head was quite dizzy and my sense of reality distorted to such an extent that I was uncertain whether I was awake and hallucinating, or asleep and having the most vivid dreams. I was sure that I could hear someone downstairs, but thought that it was one of the servants; and when I heard footsteps on the stairs, I thought the same.
Because Jane has been most solicitous since my terrible loss, I believed that she was coming to check on me and the footsteps coming nearer stopped outside the door and the handle rattled as it was opened. I feigned that I was asleep so that I might be left alone. The footsteps sounded heavy and ponderous as they approached the bed, which are unlike Jane’s since she is a most light-footed girl, who might come and go from a room without being noticed. But whoever had entered the room came over to the bed and stood on Ernest’s side. There was a pause and a sort of throaty murmur before I felt the sheets being pulled aside and someone get in the bed beside me. If it was Jane, I thought, then she was taking her duties too far, and I demanded to know who it was. The reply was not one I was expecting in an odd voice which sounded as if it was coming from far away. “It is I,” was all it said.
“And who would you be daring to enter a lady’s room and climb into her bed?” Agnes demanded.
“Dare?” replied the voice. “I did not know that I needed to be daring to lie in my bed beside my wife.”
“This is outrageous!” said Agnes angrily and fumbled to light the candle beside the bed to reveal the true identity of the intruder. The light flickered into existence and she raised the candle above the bed where to her utter horror lay the body of her late husband. She opened her mouth to scream, but her terror was too great and no sound came out. The shock of seeing Ernest, his skin grey and waxy, was too much for Agnes’ spirit and she fainted.
When she recovered from her faint, the candle was still burning and Ernest was now sitting in a chair beside the bed. He seemed to be looking at Agnes, but his eyes were dull and lifeless. She shrank back in fright from the apparition and watched with a strange fascination as Ernest’s mouth dropped open and that same distant voice spoke.
“You really ought to be more careful in future. If I had not been here when you dropped the candle, the bed would have caught on fire.”
“Ernest?” Agnes finally found her voice, but it seemed to be as weak and distant as her dead husband’s. “But you are dead.”
“True, but I did not forget the promise I made all those months ago when I said I would be with you body and soul forever.”
“That was just romantic hyperbole.”
“So I was not meant to take my own words literally; and yet I must abide by the promise I made.”
“That’s not possible. You are to be buried tomorrow.”
“Then the funeral will just have to be cancelled.”
22nd September 184_
The terror which I felt when it reappeared the night before last has now given way to a general loathing for this animated corpse which I cannot bring myself to refer to as Ernest because it is a mockery of the man I love. I had Ted fetch Reverend Brewer[4] this morning, but he was uncertain what might be done because it was wilfully refusing to return to the undertaker’s and get back in his coffin. Since the Church disapproves of superstitious practices such as exorcism, he recommended me to seek the assistance of Father Harris. I sent Ted at once to get the man while it chatted quite happily with Reverend Brewer as if there was nothing remotely unusual about the situation.
Father Harris arrived about an hour later and seemed quite personable for a Catholic. He was, I note, quite handsome. I would expect Catholic priests either to be red-nosed Irishmen with a fondness for communion wine, or untrustworthy, swarthy Frenchmen. He was a rugged, masculine Englishman. He was also sympathetic and understanding about what had happened, and had come equipped to exorcise the fell spirit that was inhabiting my dear Ernest’s blameless mortal remains. But when he began his ritual, it told him to take his popish practices and leave the house at once. I urged Father Harris to ignore these injunctions until it looked up from the newspaper and informed the priest that since he was Church of England, Catholic rites of exorcism would be ineffectual. Father Harris persisted for a time, but seeing that his efforts were having no effect, had to admit defeat and promised to enquire further into the matter.
23rd September 184_
Although the funeral never took place today and the will was never read, I still went to Mr Hughes-Wilson’s office to consult with him regarding what legal recourse I might have under the circumstances.
“You have my deepest sympathy, Mrs Bell,” said Mr Hughes-Wilson whose own cadaverous appearance reminded Agnes of the thing in her house. “I hear there has been an unusual complication.”
“You are correct. I have come to you seeking legal advice about my dead husband who is now living in my house, and refuses to be buried. I want a divorce.”
“If you did not seem to be in a rational state of mind, I would rather think your statement just now that your dead husband still resides with you was mere uxorial hysteria. I think, however, that I can clear this matter up quite quickly by asking you one question. Is there a signed death certificate?”
“There is,” said Agnes producing it. “I brought it with me specifically because I want you to keep it safe for me.”
Hughes-Wilson examined the document and said, “I shall do as you request. I assume that you fear that your late husband may attempt to destroy this document.” Agnes nodded. “So long as this document is in existence, your husband is deceased and all matters which pertain to widowhood such as remarriage apply. In short, there is no need to consider divorce proceedings because Ernest is legally dead and has no legal rights at all.”
“None?”
“None.”
25th September 184_
A funeral should be a time of lamentation, but in defiance of convention, it was a time of relief for me. Ernest is finally at rest…
Armed with knowledge of the legal situation and great-uncle George’s French cavalry sabre, I was able to deal with it yesterday. I am, by nature, a normally timid and placid creature. I remember when I was a little girl seeing Uncle George’s sabre (which he won from a dead French cavalry officer in some battle during the Napoleonic Wars) and fearing that although it was hanging on the wall in its scabbard, it might fall and cut me in half. When Uncle George once took it down for me to examine more closely, I shrank in fright from even touching it. Even now that I am much older, I drew the blade with considerable trepidation, fearing both it and what I had to do with it.
The monster which was pretending to be Ernest was sitting in his favourite chair in the conservatory reading the paper. I was grateful for Heaven to have placed it in this way because I am not sure that I could have struck the first blow if I had had to look him in the eye. But though he was facing away from me, I still hesitated before I could summon the resolve to perform that necessary, tragic and terrible duty to bring rest to Ernest’s unfortunate soul. I cannot bring myself to describe what I did. I am trying to forget what I did, and the sickening sound of every blow. It did not even cry out and again I must thank Heaven, for if it had cried for mercy, my resolve would have been swept away. Afterwards I cried from sorrow and relief until I could cry no more.
I invited Father Harris to the funeral to thank him for his recent efforts. Although Catholic priests are celibate, I wonder whether that extends to the public school method.
The cat is scratching at the door, no doubt wanting to curl up on her mistress’s bed for the night.
Agnes put down her pen and went to the door expecting Lucretia to saunter in with her usual feline insouciance. But that night she opened the door not to the cat, but – would she never be free of it? – Ernest’s right hand, which promptly scuttled into the room like an enormous spider made of decaying flesh and leapt onto the bed.
There is no indication of what happened, but the diary, which is quite a large book with a rather solid cover, has a hand-like stain, still visible against the dirty brown leather, on the back cover. I shall leave the reader to draw some conclusion from this since the mark may have some other cause and its shape may just be coincidental.
Notes
1. The village near the Bell family seat in Hampshire.
2. A minor public school, now defunct.
3. My great-great aunt’s best friend who would eventually marry Agnes’ brother, Frederick.
4. Like Livingstone, Brewer was a missionary explorer in Africa who was responsible for the discovery of the sources of several tributaries of central Africa’s major rivers. In 1853, he marched into the interior of the continent with a small expedition in search of some ruins which were alleged by locals to be about a week’s march into the jungle, but was never heard from again. It was not until 1978 that ruins were finally discovered in the general area where Brewer had vanished, but it seems unlikely that it will ever be known if he found them.
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Remember, remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I was going to round off today with a Guy Fawkes story, and even came up with a couple of ideas, but in the end I wasn’t quite satisfied.
 
In one, the Gunpowder Plot succeeds, but the expected rebellion lacks popular support and has to rely on financial and military support from the Spanish, who only help when the Pope makes them. Guy Fawkes is given the rank of colonel in the English Catholic army, although he’s a bit miffed to find out that the Wintours and the Wrights have been awarded similar ranks in spite of their lack of military credentials. In truth, Fawkes is daydreaming as he lies on the hurdle beside the gallows. The executioner has forgotten to procure some rope and there’s a slight delay in the proceedings. I wrote a couple of pages, but I thought the story was starting to drag on towards an anticlimactic punch line which didn’t deserve the build-up.
 
In the other story, someone has the idea to make a Guy out of food which will then be cooked on a bonfire. Instead, the spirit of Guy Fawkes, seeking revenge, animates it, and he now harvests the parts which the executioner cut off or cut out so that he can become whole again and complete his mission. But the plot bears more than a passing resemblance to The Mummy, hence this never got beyond an idea.
I also did a search for stories about Guy Fawkes, but there are almost none. I did find a poem on blogspot, but many of the references online are to V for Vendetta. I’m not aware of a tradition of writing Guy Fawkes stories, although I’m sure Bonfire Night must form the backdrop to more than a few tales.

The public demands to know

How did Napoleon gain his empire?

It was about mid morning and Napoleon entered the Joan of Arc Room in the Palace of Versailles just as Joséphine came in from the Charlotte Corday Memorial Garden.

“There you are, darling,” said Joséphine.

“Is that the post, la mia petite baguette?” The emperor had never quite lost that hybrid Franco-Italian accent which he had inherited from Corsica.

“It is. I think your catalogue’s arrived.” Joséphine handed him a thick envelope with the Argos logo in one corner.

“I thought the English weren’t going to adopt ISO 216 paper sizes until 1959,” Napoleon muttered to himself, suspiciously turning the envelope over a couple of times for effect. He tore open one end and extracted the catalogue. To his relief, it was the French language version as he had requested. He pulled out a chair at the table and started scanning the index. “Here we are. Empires. Let’s see. The Americas.”

“Surely not,” said Joséphine in the voice she used to express her doubt about her husband’s ideas. Sadly, it would eventually fail when he decided that the French army should be treated to a winter holiday in Russia.

“Of course not. They were the bastards who renamed the national food of France ‘freedom fries’. What about Africa?”

“Not till later this century.”

“All right. Er, India? No, not India. Curry gives me the worst diarrhoea. China?” Joséphine’s expression alone was sufficient to veto that sug­gest­ion. She had been most vexed when the Chinese ambassador had claimed that his nation had invented French fries centuries before. (“But potatoes hadn’t even been invented then,” Napoleon remarked later.) “Australia? ‘With a mild climate and a wide variety of stunning landscapes, Australia is just the empire where you and your fellow emperors will gather around the barby drinking Foster’s.’ Sounds like fun.” He put a little cross beside Australia and read on.

“What about Europe?” prompted Joséphine, who had been reading the catalogue over the emperor’s shoulder.

“Europe?” Napoleon sounded sceptical. “It’s a collection of squabbling nation states. And who on earth would want to run the place from Brussels?”

“But it’s just next door and you’re always saying that we should have the neighbours over.”

“Of course, ma piccola salsiccina. Instead of having the neighbours over, why don’t we go and see them. It’s about time the army had a holiday.”

And that’s how Napoleon gained his empire, and how the French army had the most fun holiday ever.

Appendix
Inspired by a Baidu search hit about the subtitle.

The End of the Line

By Mr Bamboo.
Preface
Once again, the shower proves to be the place where ideas pop into my head (not necessarily all good), and because I’ve read so much Gothic horror recently, it’s not surprising that this story is in the same vein.

Dr Thomas Steadman of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, was the leading scholar in the field of Dacian history. Every summer for several years, he had travelled to that last and most briefly included province of the Roman Empire to gather  materials for his definitive history of the region which would extend to five thick volumes in small, densely packed print. It was the summer of 1891 when he procured access to Castle Dracula where, he hoped, would be an invaluable collection of historical documents in the care of the Count, who was perhaps the direct descendant of the infamous Vlad the Impaler.
 
The journey to the castle, situated deep in the Carpathian Mountains where the borders between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires were ill-defined, was quite tiring, punctuated by frequent changes of transport until having alternated between various trains and coaches, Dr Steadman arrived at his destination where he was met by the Count’s servant, Igor, who ferried him in an aging, rickety coach along the wooded lane that ran up the side of the mountain to Castle Dracula.
 
The tired scholar had expected an edifice of singular and dominating mag­nificence, but it was obvious the place was only a few degrees from being deemed a ruin. The outer walls were a fence of jagged stone with several breaches; the turrets were toothless stumps; and the gates had clearly been built by the region’s least competent carpenter. Two servants had to lift up the gates, one at a time, to open them for the coach to enter, and when the gates were closed again, they sagged on their hinges. On the other hand, the keep seemed well-maintained even if the seasons were gradually winning that battle.
 
Igor stopped the coach in front of the door and as he alighted, he ordered the other servants to unload their guest’s luggage and take it to his room. He himself conducted Dr Steadman into the keep, closing the outer door with a grating crash and showing him to the first floor where the Count kept his apartments. Igor announced the visitor before withdrawing.
Dr Steadman had met many members of the Dacian aristocracy on previous visits and knew that they had a penchant for ridiculously florid military uniforms which, he was sure, were tailored to the specifications of no existing regiment and embellished with decorations won on no campaign. But Count Dracula, pallid of skin and greasy of hair, looked shabby in a suit whose age could almost certainly be measured in decades. As well as the shabbiness of the Count’s clothing, Dr Steadman had instantly perceived a rank stench the moment he entered the room, and the stuffiness of the chamber as if it had not been aired in a long time. All the windows were hidden behind heavy, dark curtains and the room was lit with a few tallow candles, which, the Englishman thought, must have made the room feel as if it was always mid evening.
Count Dracula, exuding a pungent miasma, rose to greet his guest and gesturing that he should sit in an adjacent chair began to inquire about his journey. Dr Steadman used this as an opportunity to escape from the Count’s malodorous presence by claiming – truthfully – that he was tired after a long journey and would be grateful if the interview might be con­ducted at a later time. Count Dracula granted the request without demur, apologising for forgetting his manners and being overly eager to converse with his guest. He immediately took Dr Steadman to a room on the second floor and invited him to resume their discourse after he had rested.
As soon as the Count had closed the door, Dr Steadman opened the curtains and flung wide the windows to let air and daylight into the room. His luggage had been placed neatly at the foot of the bed which seemed to have been made up with fresh linens. But for the rest, there was an air of age and decay, and the lingering reek which the Count had left behind. Only Dr Steadman’s fatigue kept him from worrying whether he had made a terrible misjudgement and having cast himself onto the bed, he soon fell asleep.
By the time he woke up, the sun had set an hour or two before and the moon, nearly full, had turned the Carpathians and their sylvan mantle light grey. In the pale light, he could just see some candles which he lit and by their feeble light poured some water into a bowl. As he was washing his face, there came a knock at the door. It was Igor, who had been sent to inquire whether Dr Steadman might like to join the Count for dinner. He accepted the offer with unexpressed reservations and was led to a small dining room two doors away.
The fare, goulash, fittingly up to the standard of Castle Dracula, had been prepared by Igor who, so the Count informed his guest, was an indispensable Jack-of-all-Trades. He proceeded to praise Igor for his dubious culinary skills which to Dr Steadman seemed to be a convincing argument for the reinstatement of public floggings. In the course of the dinner, he answered his host’s various questions and was promised that he would not be disappointed by the content of the castle library. He ex­pressed a wish to see the collection as soon as possible.
After refilling Dr Steadman’s glass with some species of liquid that was purportedly wine, the Count took him to the third floor where there was, against all hope, an extensive library which would take some time to examine. For the moment, the Englishman was content with a brief and hasty survey, but Count Dracula pulled a volume off the shelf and proffered it to him. What Dr Steadman saw confirmed the futility of his visit.
In the study of Dacian history, Dr Steadman had only one rival whose work, signed on the flyleaf by the author himself, had just been handed to him. He turned to the title page where he read A Short History of Dacia by Barnabas P. Hackencough III ma, Shelton Scholar of Eastern European History at Harvard University.
“I shall leave you to your research,” said Count Dracula. “I have to go and feed on the blood of attractive women from the local area. You see, my dear Dr Steadman, I am a vampire.”
The baffled Cambridge scholar thought that the Count might be in jest, and impotently watched him uncross the curtains, open the window, and fling himself out of the room, his final words being “I’m a bat”.
Gravity respects neither social status nor degree of sanity, and also proved how lethal cobblestones can be as Count Dracula hit them with a sickening thud that signalled the end of his life and the line of Vlad the Impaler.

The Sherlock Holmes Blog

by Dr John Watson (aka Mr Bamboo).
I began this entry wholly as a general introduction to the world-famous Sherlock Holmes, but I was recently presented with such a specimen of the great man’s genius that I felt there could be no better means of introducing him to those few people who are unfamiliar with the man and his ways than to recount his latest triumph in the art of deduction.
Holmes had been absent on a small matter of personal business, which is his euphemism for buying cocaine from a gentleman known as Skinny Vince, although the epithet is singularly at odds with the man’s figure which, in volume, I aver could contain both Holmes and myself, and probably one or two others besides. I was trying to concoct a precis of Holmes’s most celebrated cases when he came barging in the door where he stood unsteadily for a few moments with a rather distracted air about him as if he was neither sure of himself or his location.
“Dude,” said Holmes glancing at me as I half rose from the chair because I feared that he would collapse at any moment, “I’m so f_cking shit-faced.”
There was a cigarette in his hand, but the fragrance wafting across the room was different from the tobacco with which I was familiar.
“A Turkish blend, Holmes?” I asked nodding at the cigarette.
“Your powers of deduction are still as appalling as ever, Watson.”
I could only marvel at how perceptive he was because, as Holmes has proven time and again, my powers of deduction are appalling. I looked at Holmes hoping that he would enlighten me, but he swayed some more before staggering out of the room and, concerned that he might injure himself, I followed closely behind. His destination was the kitchen into which he crashed, startling Mrs Hudson who toppled off her chair, although with no injury to herself, her voluminous skirts cushioning the impact of her fall.
“I deduce from her dress that Mrs Hudson is a woman,” Holmes announced. Ordinary mortals would never have reached such a conclusion, but Holmes is no ordinary mortal. “And,” he added after a brief pause, “from the amount of material, we can determine that she’s a little rotund.”
“Really, Mr ‘Olmes,” protested Mrs Hudson as she picked herself up off the floor, “I’m as English as you are. I ain’t never been to the Rotundas, although I’m sure the late Mr Hudson visited them on several occasions.”
And since Mr Hudson had been a merchant sailor, plying various routes in the South Pacific during his youth, I did not doubt that Mrs Hudson was probably correct.
Meanwhile, Holmes had plunged into the pantry where he was opening every jar and box in sight and tasting the contents before tossing one container aside to investigate another. Before I could get to him, I saw his hand reach out towards a box of rat poison which Mrs Hudson kept on the top shelf next to a mummified cat Holmes had discovered in the cellar. He thought that it would be amusing to place it beside the rat poison because if the latter failed to eliminate any offending vermin, then the cat might act as a second line of defence. Of course, Holmes was high at the time and, looking back on the incident, I find it to be less amusing than I previously thought. By now, he had opened the box and the bag inside it.
“Don’t do it, Holmes,” I cried urgently, stepping forward; but he twisted away from my advance to keep the box from me. “That’s rat poison.”
“Am I a rat, Watson?”
“Certainly not.”
“And is this rat poison?”
“Certainly is.”
“Then…?”
“It’ll still kill you.”
“My dear Watson,” he said in a slightly admonishing tone, “my dear block-headed amanuensis.” He smiled his cold superior smile. “This is rat poison. I’m not a rat. Therefore, it won’t poison me.”
“But are you proof against a rolling pin?”
“A rolling pin?” queried Holmes as Mrs Hudson, whose time as a training instructor with the Royal Marine Commandos was once again put to good use, knocked him unconscious with her favourite, a McMuir Highland Pine No. 6.
Later, when Holmes had recovered consciousness and the effects of the cigarette had worn off, he explained that he had been investigating the properties of cannabis so that he might be able to determine whether someone was intoxicated from their mannerisms and behaviour. When he asked me about the lump on the back of his head, I told him that Professor Moriarty himself, disguised as Mrs Hudson, had penetrated our inner sanctum, and that it was only through Holmes’s selflessly blocking a blow from a rolling pin with his head, that the Professor’s evil schemes had been thwarted again and the real Mrs Hudson had been rescued in the nick of time. Holmes was rather perplexed that he could remember almost nothing of that afternoon’s events, but I assured him that amnesia resulting from a blow to the skull was medically well documented and that there was a good chance he would recover his memories in the fullness of time.
And just yesterday, Holmes said, “You know, Watson, I’m pretty certain that I spotted the fake Mrs Hudson almost immediately, but I decided not to act until the villain revealed himself.”
“I thought as much afterwards,” I replied.
And that, I think, is as good an introduction to Mr Sherlock Holmes as any of his cases.
Appendix.
Someone turned up here looking for a Sherlock Holmes blog, hence this entry.

Darling, there you are!

Loved you in black curtains.

Noting that Class 16 are soon going to be out of Dr Who, I thought I might see what was available in the world of Dr Who fanfic, and found A Teaspoon and an Open Mind. I must admit that I tend to be a little scep­tical about fanfic. I’ve seen a few instances of it in the past which seem to revolve around people writing themselves into their favourite TV series.

“Who are you?” said the Doctor, “and how did you get on board the TARDIS?”
“I wrote myself in,” said Mr Bamboo.
“Oh.” The Doctor’s response was typically indifferent to the unexpected. “And your answer to the first question?”
“Mr Bamboo.”
“Bamboo, eh? Can you burn?”
“I’m not made of bamboo. It’s a pseudonym.”
“Like an alibi.”
“No, that’s an excuse you have for being somewhere at the time when some crime was perpetrated.”
“Great.” The Doctor sounded exasperated. “Trust the one person in the universe who’s brainier than me to write his way into the TARDIS.”

I think you get the idea.

I should mention one of the first stories I perused, A Very Civil Partnership. Brief and amusing. I note that most of the stories currently being featured are marked “Adult”. The site probably has a mass of stories which connive to get the Doctor and, well, nearly anyone into bed. Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s quite a bit of slash fiction.

“Bet there’s a lot you can do with a sucker, if you know what I mean,” said the Doctor admiring the dalek’s arm, stiff and extended.
“Baby!” croaked the dalek, “I am hot for you. Guess where my stick gun goes.”
The door suddenly burst open and in walked a cyberman who, if his face had not been metal, would have been in tumult, not knowing whether to look aghast or furious.
“What are you doing? I thought you loved me.”
“I do!” The dalek’s head whirled round. “I was just interrogating the prisoner.”
“That doesn’t look like interrogating to me.”
“I’ll just leave you girls to bitch it out, shall I?” said the Doctor.

I think you get the idea again.

Stories of Old China

Not translated by the Yangs.

Stories of Old China is another in the Foreign Languages Press series called Echo of Classics with the text in Chinese and an English translation on the facing page. This is a collection of thirteen short stories. 

The Heartless Lover by Jiang Fang is also in Selected Tang Dynasty Stories under the title Prince Huo’s Daughter. It’s the tale of a scholar called Li Yi who does well in the imperial examinations, but can’t find a wife and asks a matchmaker, Mrs Bao to help. Although he seems to be a nice young man, he turns out to be a rather nasty misogynist. 

Good Fortune waits on Courage is the story of Pei Youxian whose uncle, the Prime Minister Pei Yan, is wrongfully executed. When Pei Youxian remonstrates with the empress, he is flogged and sent into exile where he marries and becomes a rich man. He and his wife manage to survive the pre-emptive slaughter of members of the previous royal family and are restored to favour when a new regime come to power. 

In A Dream and its Lesson, an ambitious but somewhat indigent young man complains to a Taoist priest about his lack of success. He then dreams that he rises high in the government; but when he finds that success comes at a price, he prefers to remain a farmer. 

In The Herbalist’s Strange Adventure, a nameless herbalist from Qingcheng (青城; i.e., that place about 40km up the road from Chengdu) ends up in heaven. In spite of that, he longs to return to Earth and is granted a lifespan of 5,000 years. 

The Mystery of the Missing Minister is similar to the preceding story. In this one, a Duan Lüe is obsessed with learning about the Way and becomes the pupil of a hermit called Meng Qisi from Heng Mountain. Duan Lüe studies with the hermit for four years, but becomes homesick and wants to return home. He later learns that the mysterious Elder of Heng Mountain was probably none other than a Jin Dynasty minister, Xi Jian. 

Shang Qing is the heroine of The Faithful Handmaid, the story of a servant who helps to clear the name of her late master, Prime Minister Dou Cen, after he falls from imperial favour through the machinations of the conniving Lu Zhi. 

I’m sure that I’ve read Love and Loyalty of a Courtesan (李师师外传) somewhere else. I may have read a story of a similar nature, perhaps one of Pu Songling’s. After her father dies when she is young, Li Shishi ends up in a house of pleasure (brothel, I assume) which the emperor visits incognito and is enchanted by her. For a long time, she is his favourite and he showers her with gifts. But eventually, he tires of luxury and abdicates to become a Taoist. Li Shishi joins a nunnery, but when the Jin invaders come in search of her, she kills herself.

Tyrants and Scholars is a story about a scholar named Du Xunhe who seeks an audience with the Lord of Liang and, after a considerable wait, is granted one. He manages to become one of the Lord of Liang’s favourites. But on another occasion, after all of the Lord of Liang’s entourage agree with one of his pronouncements – apart from one man – he has his snivelling lackeys executed.

In Scholars versus Eunuch, the powerful eunuch Wang Jing makes all manner of demands as he travels around the country. A group of scholars in Shuzhou resists him much to his fury. The provincial governor is a decent sort of person and assures the scholars that all will be well. Local officials manage to prevaricate until Wang Jing is disgraced, and the scholars get off lightly.

Mr Dongguo, a follower of Mozi, rescues a wolf from hunters in An Ungrateful Wolf. After he releases the creature from its hiding place, it announces that it’s going to eat him. Dongguo asks the wolf to consider arguments from third parties, but a tree and an ox side with the wolf. With the help of an old man, Dongguo tricks the wolf back into its hiding place and together the two men kill the animal.

The Old Scholar’s Reincarnation is the tale of a successful young scholar who is the reincarnation of a scholar who, in spite of his brilliant compositions, never succeeded in the imperial examinations. The young man’s success enables him to raise his former wife out of poverty and the family goes on to fame and fortune in Fujian Province.

In Fairies of the Floral Kingdom, the narrator, Wang Zhuo, visits the flower garden of Mr Shen who is also known as the Flower Hermit. Wang meets and is entertained by the flower fairies in the garden one evening.

The final story in the book, Quest of the Filial Son, is about Zhou Fangrong’s quest to recover the remains of his father. In spite of enormous difficulties and hardships, Zhou succeeds in fulfilling his filial obligations.

23.06.13. Edited the formatting and added tags. I assume that many of these stories are meant to impart some sort of message. It would be helpful to know more about the context of each tale.

Telling stories

Girlfiends.

There once was a man called Zhang Duyu (张独玉) who worked as a freelance writer for several magazines that mainly catered to the teen market. He had often thought about writing a novel, but had never done anything about it. He was not married; nor did he have a girlfriend. He found it hard to talk to women unless it was about everyday matters or in connection with his job. If he wanted to talk to some woman because he liked her or thought she was pretty, shyness would overwhelm him and he would not dare say anything for fear of making a fool of himself. And when he thought about it, he did not know what he might say anyway. He once wrote in his diary that he would not mind if his girlfriend turned out to be a ghost or a fox spirit, but no beautiful and mysterious women ever appeared. This often depressed Zhang.

One day, he ran into his neighbour, Wang Dalong (王大龙) as he was getting into the lift. Zhang Duyu hit the button that opened the doors just before they were going to crush Wang. Zhang observed that his neighbour was looking pleased with himself, like a cat that has flagrantly eaten a canary and then been rewarded with a saucer of milk. Wang did not hesitate to tell him that he had a new and indescribably beautiful girlfriend, adding boastfully that the sex was to die for. Zhang remarked how lucky Wang was, but he looked at his pot-bellied neighbour and wondered how he could have a girlfriend when Zhang, who was much better looking, had none. He was inclined to be sceptical about Wang’s description of her as a peerless beauty. But when Zhang happened to see her her a few nights later, he found, to his irritation, that Wang had not been exaggerating. This made Zhang even more depressed.

A few days later, the two men net again under similar circumstances. Zhang instantly noted that Wang was looking pale and haggard. He commented on his neighbour’s sickly appearance, but Wang denied anything was wrong. To the contrary, he readily informed Zhang that he now had a second girlfriend who was possibly even more beautiful than the first and just as good in bed. Again, when Zhang caught sight of this new girlfriend, he saw that Wang had no more exaggerated on this occasion than he had on the first. He sighed unhappily.

The next time Zhang Duyu saw Wang Dalong, the latter was looking even more gaunt. His skin seemed grey and his eyes tired, but he still insisted on boasting about his two girlfriends and how he was hoping to persuade them to engage in a threesome. He complained that his attempts to arrange such a liaison kept being thwarted and how frustrating it was. Zhang listened and thought that Wang had no real concept of the word frustration.

It was some time before Zhang saw his neighbour again. Wang had lost a lot of weight to the point where he was beginning to look skeletal. In spite of his shocking appearance, he boasted that his dream of a threesome had come true. Zhang had a nightmare about it soon after. He could not remember the dream very clearly, but in it, some woman kept pushing him away from her, even although he had not approached her. She ignored Zhang’s protestations and in frustration, he burst into tears.

It was from Mrs Lao (劳), Wang’s other neighbour, that Zhang heard Wang had fallen ill and had been taken to a hospital accompanied by one of his girlfriends. It was from Mrs Lao that Zhang then heard that Wang Dalong was home again. He went to visit his neighbour and, for the first and last time, met one of his girlfriends, Hu Lijin (胡丽锦). He sensed something odd about her, but was distracted when he saw just how ill Wang looked. But Wang assured him that he was now feeling much better and well on the road to recovery.

A few days after that, Zhang was woken by activity in the passage outside his door. But by the time he had roused himself sufficiently, the passage was empty. Later that day, he heard from his other neighbours that Wang had died during the night. His two girlfriends were mentioned in hushed voices, the suspicion among the middle-aged residents being that they had murdered him, while the elderly residents talked about ghosts and fox spirits. Those who were neither middle-aged nor old doubt that those two hot babes could murder anyone and dismissed ghosts and fox spirits as superstitious nonsense. They did until the rumour went round that a dead fox had been found in Wang’s flat. As a result, the fragile-minded youths had to lie down for a time in a darkened room until they recovered from the trauma.

The next night, Zhang was just beginning to fall asleep when he heard his bedroom door being opened. His heart started pounding and he opened his eyes a fraction. Bathed in a slight, ethereal glow, Wang’s other girlfriend entered the room. Zhang could not believe his luck. He was going to get shagged to death after all. He sat up without even bothering to pretend that he was even half asleep.

“Oh.” The girl sounded disappointed. “Wrong flat.” And she vanished without another word.

The Romance of the Mid Autumn Festival

A truly contrived story.

Everyone in China knows the story of the Moon Maiden and how Chang E (嫦娥) ended up living on the Moon, but not many people know what happened afterwards.

Throughout China, people went to the temples to pray. All the prayers were recorded by the Office for Prayers which Guan Liao (官僚), the Record-keeping General, would collect and assess before submitting them to the Jade Emperor for his approval or rejection.
One day, Guan Liao began to notice that the number of women complaining about their husbands or boyfriends had increased dramatically. At first he thought it was a seasonal thing, but the number, far from declining, increased even more. When the huge pile of prayers from women thudded onto the Jade Emperor’s desk, he looked curiously at Guan Liao, thinking that he had kept prayers back or had found some down the back of the filing cabinets in the Office for Prayers. He was displeased to have such a large pile appear on his desk because he had seen some pretty fox fairies (狐狸精) the evening before and thought to sneak out and cavort with them while his wife was distracted.
“What’s this, Guan Liao?”
“If it please your Majesty, these are petitions from women complaining about their husbands and boyfriends, and hoping they’ll be loving, faithful and dutiful.”
“What? All those alone?”
“All those alone,” said Guan Liao.
“Why so many? I know there are usually quite a stack of them, but this is a library. Have some minion go down to Earth and see whether this is all true.”
Guan Liao bowed and returned to the Office for Prayers. He had an assistant called Cai Hong (彩虹) whom he sent to Earth to find out what was happening that should elicit so many complaints. Cai Hong flew down to Earth where he became a cat and slinked along the tops of walls, along the tops of the roofs, and along the branches of trees as he listened to as many conversations as he could. This woman was complaining how her husband had some mistress and that woman complained that her boyfriend wouldn’t leave his wife for her. And everywhere Cai Hong went, he heard many more complaints that women had about their husbands and boyfriends until he wondered whether there were any other topics of conversation.
He flew back up to the Office for Prayers where he faithfully reported everything he had heard to Guan Liao. “… and they talked about nothing else,” Cai Hong concluded.
Guan Liao immediately sought an audience with the Jade Emperor who was about to go looking for some other fox fairies. He told the emperor all that Cai Hong had learnt on Earth. The emperor stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“Go and tell my wife,” he said. “She’ll know what to do.”
Guan Liao bowed and went to find the imperial consort who was hungrily eyeing a rather hot boy ghost about whom she had had a serious thing for quite some time. In fact, she had sent the fox fairies deliberately to distract her husband so that she could roger this hunk of diaphanous man meat without being interrupted. She was not, however, expecting Guan Liao to enter, though he did so with due and proper ceremony. The empress listened to him slightly impatiently and then with more interest once he had explained the situation.
“I can’t allow such ignoble treatment of women to go unpunished. Without any chastisement, men will continue to behave badly and women will continue to suffer. Let me think about it, Master Guan.”
Guan Liao bowed and withdrew. The ghost, who had been thinking that sex with the Jade Empress should be a pleasure beyond anything he had known as a mortal, soon found that it was punishment beyond anything his misdeeds – by and large, rather minor – might have warranted as she pounded him mercilessly.
While the Jade Empress enjoyed the pleasure of the afternoon, she thought about her various servants, but could think of none who might be fit for the task which she intended to entrust to some suitably qualified minion. She thought about asking a female demon to undertake the job, but she disliked demons and their habits. With no one in the Heavenly Palace and no one outside it, the Jade Empress tried to think of other places beyond the mortal realm. She felt that she was overlooking someone obvious.
“The moon!” she cried.
The ghost was startled and wondered whether this was some divine expression of sexual pleasure; and so, because he could not restrain himself any longer, he started repeating the Empress’s words. Thinking that this was a sign, she leapt up, straightened her clothes, and flew to the moon in the form of a phoenix, which was fortunate because she had not put her knickers on.
Chang E had thought that life as an immortal would be an endless round of socialising with other immortals. She would go to their palaces; they would come to hers. But there were very few invitations addressed to her and even fewer responses to the ones she sent out. Those replies which she did get revealed that immortals had an endless supply of dead relatives whose funeral obsequies demanded, with regret, their utmost attention.
Thus Chang E only had her maids, strange, grey-coloured creatures, to keep her company, and her rabbit, Tu Niang (兔娘), whom she affectionately called Bunny-chan. The rabbit had always been a playful creature on Earth with malevolent, deep red eyes and a penchant for mysterious nocturnal adventures. But since they had come to the moon, Bunny-chan’s eyes had dulled and she had become sleepy and lethargic. None of Chang E’s maids much liked the rabbit and it, in turn, showed no fondness for such dusty, grey creatures.
When the Jade Empress suddenly appeared at the gate, there was great excitement in the Moon Palace. The maids scurried hither and thither making sure that the place was presentable, while Chang E hurried to greet her august guest. Bunny-chan stared dully and looked limp, much like the Empress’s recent ghostly lover. Chang E bowed as the Jade Empress swept in, but the latter asked her hostess not to stand on ceremony since she had little time and a signal honour to bestow. Chang E felt her heart race and she wondered what it could be.
“I should visit you more often,” the Jade Empress said as they sat drinking tea in the dull, grey palace garden, “and you don’t come and visit me as often as I should like.”
In truth, this was a bigger lie than the first one. Since Chang E had scoffed the pills of immortality, it was felt that she was a little too nouvelle immortelle to be included in the social engagements of the other immortals. But the Jade Empress persisted with the conceit.
“I’ve mentioned to my husband several times that he should honour you in some way, but since he’s too busy chasing fox fairies, he’s failed to do something about this unforgivable lapse; and that’s why I’m here. It seems that more and more women on Earth are being mistreated by their husbands and boyfriends. It’s reached such a number that something needs to be done about it. We need someone has an unquestionable sense of ethics; who is righteous; and who will mercilessly chastise men for their misdeeds. I immediately thought of you. It will, of course, mean going to Earth…” The Jade Empress hesitated as if this was a terrible imposition which she was reluctant to inflict on a fellow immortal. She was anything but reluctant to inflict it, and Chang E was anything but reluctant to accept it.
“That is a small price to pay for the honour which your Majesty is conferring on me,” said Chang E trying not to sound excited. Even Bunny-chan pricked up her ears. “But exactly what is it that you’d have me do?”
“Punish men who have behaved unrighteously towards their wives and girlfriends by banging their brains out. Since they’re so stupid as to behave so improperly, they shan’t, I aver, miss their brains in the slightest.”
It was unfortunate that the Jade Empress meant for Chang E to beat the heads of unfaithful men against walls and other solid surfaces, but Chang E, being more familiar with the modern idiom, took it the other way. She was a little surprised to be asked to use this as a means of punishment, but she remained silent because she did not want to jeopardise her chances of becoming part of the immortal social calendar. Also, she knew that it was probably unwise to question the Jade Empress’s decision. Thus it was, thanks to Chang E’s efforts, that the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day came into being and has been celebrated ever since. How mooncakes came into it… Well, that’s another story.

The Wizard’s Tale

Once upon a time…

…there was a wizard. He was neither a very old wizard nor a young wizard, but somewhere in between. He had worked hard to earn his wizard’s staff and cloak, but found that when he was made a wizard, no one really wanted wizards and, after a brief spell at a very good magical university, he ended up living in the dungeon of a deranged old witch and her ogre of a son for several years with no prospects of ever escaping. Eventually, the old witch made good her threat to sell her ruinous, but centrally located hovel, and the wizard was forced into exile in a distant land where the customs were strange, and the people ruled by vampire necromancers.

It was in the distant land of Cathay that the wizard got a job teaching imps how to speak, but they were impish, which is to say that they weren’t remotely interested in what the wizard was trying to teach them no matter how many Spells of Interest he cast on them. In fact, they were completely resistant to such magics, and the wizard knew full well that what he did actually didn’t matter at all since the course he taught was, metaphorically speaking, tied on to the rest of the imps’ education system with a piece of damp string, although some conjurers had persuaded themselves it was really an iron band.

After three years, the conjurers asked the wizard to go to a village in a remote part of the country, to which he agreed because the imps at his first school had grown worse by the generation. The imps at the new school were really not too bad, even the annoying ones. But long before the year had passed, the wizard decided to move on. The vampire necromancer who was in charge of the school ran it like a prison, and the warders were emotionless robots who made some of the wizards teach implings. Besides, the place was dull and interesting, and a long way from anywhere anyone might actually want to go.

The wizard now found himself in South Cathay where it was always warm and tropical except in winter when it was neither. And there were the same old imps again whose impish behaviour so annoyed the wizard one day not long after he had started trying to teach them that he felt compelled to comment about it, but, lacking an immediate audience, decided to publish his frustrations in the vast lands of Cyberia where no one ever found anything unless it was by chance; or someone else told them; or there were naked women. There the wizard could write what he liked without interference from outsiders who had no say in the editorial content.

Thus it was that three people discovered the imps that the wizard was teaching in Cathay were a bit dim and couldn’t be motivated no matter how hard anyone tried. Of those three people, two had not bothered to read the whole article because so many words made them dizzy, and the third, who had been hoping for naked women, had departed soonest.

© The Wizard of Cathay 2006.
All events, people, and incidents in this story are wholly fictionalised.
I really love my job. No, really I so do.