Despite being a rather grumpy man for football related reasons today I had a very fun time writing this story. I had actually been looking forward to this one for a while as there were plenty of things I could have done with it.
I don’t know that I’ve got the best out of it, but that’s what editing is for, I suppose. I’ll have plenty of time to think about how to make it, and all the other stories reach their full potential before I come to rewrite them next year.
Anyway, I am going on again, so here, as per the request of my good friend Kelli Savill on Facebook, is ‘the story of Kelli and the Chubby Pandas’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
Kelli and the Chubby Pandas
“Iiiiiiiit’s Entertainment Tonight, with your host, Robbie Falstaff!”
The cameras panned down from the ceiling to focus on a desk with a high-backed leather chair behind it as the show’s house band played the theme. The desk was on a raised dais, next to which were three smaller, less expensive chairs for guests to sit on.
The host of the show, Robbie Falstaff, made his way out to a cheering studio audience, waving at all of the cameras as he walked by, a huge grin on his face.
As he moved to sit down behind his desk the applause and the music died down, prompted by show runners outside of the view of the cameras.
“Good evening, and welcome to Entertainment Tonight! I’m your host, Robbie Falstaff, and folks, do we have a show for you tonight? Coming up later we have a celebrity couple that is the talk of Tinseltown, and music from international megastars Kelli and the Chubby Pandas. But, up first we have a special interview with the Chubby Pandas front woman herself, Kelli ‘Panda’ Savill!”
The house band struck up once more and played a short jingle as Kelli Savill walked out on to the set, waving and smiling at the crowd as she went. She was wearing a sparkling silver jumpsuit and a panda hat.
As the music died down again she took her seat next to the dais.
“Kelli, it’s great to have you on the show,” Robbie said, leaning forward.
“It’s a pleasure to be here, Robbie,” Kelli replied.
“Kelli, the Chubby Pandas are just great. I understand that your new single, ‘Panda Pops’, has broken the record for fastest selling digital single of all time…” A big cheer went up from the crowd, interrupting Robbie. “Add that to the list of other records you’ve smashed this year with your quintuple platinum album ‘Black and White’ and surely it’s fair to say that the Chubby Pandas are the biggest band in the world right now?”
“Well Robbie, I don’t know about that, but it has been a really amazing journey to get here.”
“I understand that there is quite an interesting story related to the band’s formation. Would you tell us a little bit more about how it came about?”
“Of course, Robbie, I’d be glad to. It all started one day in Colchester, England back in 1994…”
“Now there’s no need to be afraid, dear. The foster home isn’t a scary place. There’s lots of other children your age there to play with and if sure you’ll make lots of friends.”
The little girl continued to bawl her eyes out. “But I want my mummy and daddy!” she cried.
“Oh sweetheart,” the matron of the foster home said, trying to console her. “I’m afraid that’s not possible at the moment.”
“Don’t they love me?” the girl cried. It seemed that the matron’s words were only making things worse.
“Of course they love you, dear,” she said, putting her arm around the child, “But it’s very complicated. How old are you, dear?” The matron knew, of course, but she wanted to draw the little girl out of her current state of mind.
“I’m ten years old,” the girl replied, still sobbing.
“Well now, you’re very brave for a ten year old girl. I sure your mummy and daddy are very proud of you for how brave you have been coming here.”
The girl’s face lit up. “Do you really think so?”
“I do. In fact they told me just how brave you would be and you are right. They asked me to look after you here for a little while until they have sorted some things out, and then they will come and collect you again. OK?”
“OK,” the girl sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve.
“Now, a little bird tells me that you are a very talented singer, is that true?”
“Well then, there’s a few people I’d like you to meet. They are all very talented musicians. Perhaps you can be friends?”
“I’d like that.”
The matron and the girl stood up and walked out of the office in to the common area, where a group of three girls were sat around playing idly with some musical instruments.
“Girls, there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” the matron said. “This is Kelli. Kelli, the girl there with the guitar is Ingrid, the girl at the drum kit is Sherri, and the girl behind the keyboard is Louise.”
“Hi, Kelli,” the girls said in unison, as the young Kelli stood wide-eyed.
“Are you guys in a band?” she asked, dreamily.
“Yeah,” Ingrid replied. “We’re called the Chubby Pandas, but none of us can sing, so we suck!”
“I can sing!” Kelli replied. “And I LOVE pandas!”
“…and that is how we all met.”
“But you were only ten years old at the time, and the Chubby Pandas didn’t record their first single until you were fifteen, correct?”
“That’s right, Robbie,” Kelli continued. “Sadly, not long after we met we would be split up…”
“That was a great practice, girls,” Ingrid said after the band had stopped playing. “I think we are starting to get really good!”
“I can’t believe we have only been together for six months,” Kelli added. “It feels like I have known you girls all my life!”
There was a short rap on the door of the room they used to practice in, and then the door slowly opened. It was the matron.
“Girls, I have some good news. Louise, Sherri, come with me.”
“…and so Louise and Sherri were adopted,” Kelli went on. “By different families, actually, it was just a coincidence that it happened on the same day. But they stayed in touch as they lived near each other. Ingrid and I kept playing together in the foster home, but it didn’t feel the same without the other two backing us up.”
“That must have been a really tough time for you all,” Robbie interjected.
“It was. Eventually Ingrid and I were both adopted by the same family, so at least we got to stick together. It was three years later that fate would bring the Chubby Pandas back together…”
The bell above the coffee shop door jingled as it opened. The two girls, one slightly older than the other, walked in and sat down at a table in the window. They continued to talk amongst themselves until one of the servers came over to take their order.
The pair turned to face the server, and there was a clatter as the her pen hit the floor.
“Louise, is that you?” the elder of the two girls asked.
“Ingrid! Kelli! What are you doing here?” Louise replied, hugging them both. “I’ve missed you both so much!”
“Our adopted family moved back to Colchester recently,” Ingrid, who was the older girl, said.
“We haven’t seen you in years!” Kelli added.
“I know! Do you girls still play together?”
“Sure, we got adopted together and have been practicing every night like we always did,” Kelli said.
“This is so exciting!” Louise replied. “Hang on a second. There’s someone else here who will want to say hello!”
Louise ran off to go and find who she was talking about whilst Kelli and Ingrid sat at the table, experiencing a mixture of surprise and happiness. Eventually Louise returned with none other than Sherri, the fourth Chubby Panda, who was also working at the café.
Louise and Sherri spoke to their boss who let them finish early, and the four girls spent hours reminiscing about the good times they had together in the foster home. Eventually the conversation turned to the band.
“Do you think we should get back together?” Ingrid asked.
“I don’t know,” Sherri replied. “I haven’t played he drums in forever. What if I don’t remember how?”
“I don’t even know where my keyboard is anymore. I think my mum put it in the attic…” Louise said.
“But we were so good!” Kelli replied. “I bet with just a little practice we could get back to our old level.”
“I don’t know…” Sherri said, hesitantly.
“Come on!” Ingrid said. “Those times when we played together were the happiest times of my life. It made me feel really special to be part of a band like that, like it really meant something. Even if we suck now, even if we have completely lost what we had back then, is it not worth reuniting the band so we can get those good feelings back again?” She put her hand palm down over the table. “Come on, who is with me?”
“Yeah!” said Kelli, and she put her hand on top of Ingrid’s.
“You’re right,” Sherri added and did the same.
Louise looked at the faces of her three friends, and slowly moved her hand on top of the other three. “It looks like the Chubby Pandas are back…”
Ingrid smiled at her bandmates. And with a “One, two, three, Pandas!” the girls all threw their hands in the air.
“Wow, what a story!” Robbie said, wiping a tear from his eye.
“It turned out that we were still as good as back at the foster home. I guess playing music is like riding a bike! A few months later a promoter heard us play at the Colchester Arts Centre and offered us a record deal right away. Soon enough we had recorded our first single and, well, the rest is history.”
“Well now, that really is the most fascinating and heartwarming tale. Here was me thinking I couldn’t love this band any more than I already did, and you go and come out with a story like that!”
“Well we have to go to a commercial break now, but when we come back Kelli here, and her band the Chubby Pandas, are going to perform their new smash hit single ‘Panda Pops’, and it’s a real cracker. We will be right back after these messages!”
I’ve broken my own (unwritten) rules slightly this week. When I started this project the idea was to write the stories in the order they were requested, but a couple of weeks I put out an ask for more ideas, and Mat ‘@pillowfort’ Jones suggested that I enter a competition that is ending in the next couple of weeks.
So I made the decision to push my schedule back a week and grind out an entry to War of the Words, a bad science fiction writing jam. The full rules can be found here but essentially the idea was to write the worst sci-fi story possible and submit it for consideration. If I win I will get a custom book cover designed for me, so let’s hope that my writing is as bad as I think it is.
I mean, I think this is pretty bad. But deliberately so. Also, who knew that deliberately writing badly was so hard? It usually comes so naturally.
There was no brief this week as such, so the plot, or lack thereof, is entirely my own. Back to your regular scheduled programming next week, but for now, I give you ‘To Boldly Go’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
To Boldly Go
The sound of the metal boots crashing against the floor echoed down the length of the corridor. The robed figure trudged on until it reached a door, at which point it stopped and entered a number in to a keypad. A red light flickered on and the door slid upwards.
The room was dimly lit and sparsely furnished. A bench lay against one wall and a small toilet, not cleaned for some time, was the only other item of decoration present.
In one corner of the room three people were huddled together for warmth, or perhaps out of fear. One of them, a woman, looked up at the robed figure as it entered, a look of abject terror spread across her gaunt features.
“Get up, all of you,” the robed figure barked in an artificial, electronic tone. “You are to be blasted from the airlock in one hour.”
The figure hefted a laser rifle and aimed it at the three huddled bodies,a waiting compliance.
The room began to fill with people, and slowly but surely everyone took their seats around the large conference table.
“I wonder why the Admiral has called us all here,” Captain Janus said to Captain Worrall, who was sat next to him.
“There’s only one reason that the Admiral would call together all of the Galactic Union’s crack starship captains,” Worrall replied. “The Union must be about to go to war.”
The hubbub of individual conversations died down as the Admiral, an imposing man in his 60s, with white hair swept in to the room in full dress uniform.
“Now listen up you pukes, and listen good,” he rasped. “I know you’re the best goddamn starship captains in the Galactic Union fleet, but you’re all mavericks and I’m sick of you not playing by the rules. The Galactic Union is going to war and we need our best captains out there on the front line.”
“Who are we fighting?” Captain Praxis, of the SS Grisedale, asked.
“The Wolgane of Vixia V. They are a hyper intelligent equine race similar to a mythical creature known as a ‘horse’ that was rumoured to exist before the Great Devastation back on Terra.”
At the mention of the Great Devastation everyone in the room performed an elaborate hand gesture, which ended with a collective utterance of the sentence “May we be forgiven.”
“One of their unmanned, or rather unhorsed, robotic probes breached Union space yesterday and refused to turn back when hailed,” the Admiral continued after the proper tradition had been observed. “This was seen by the Galactic Council as a universal act of aggression and a declaration of intent for all out war against the Galactic Union. We must eradicate this filth at the source before it can do the same to us. It’s kill or be killed out there. You know what you have to do so go out there and kill some space filth.”
With that the Admiral turned and stormed out of the room as quick as he had arrived moments earlier. The room was left in stunned silence until another man stood up. It was Captain Cork of the SS Freelance Opportunity and he looked pumped.
“You heard the Admiral! You know what we have to do! We gotta go and kick these Wolgane right in their elongated faces! Do it for McFiggins!” he said to the room, practically screaming the words. The mention of the deceased hero ace pilot McFiggins raised a suitable cheer, and everyone went back to their starships ready to introduce some alien horse scum to the business end of their boots.
Two weeks later the fleet of ships were in orbit around the home planet of the Wolgane, Vixia V.
Captain Cork stood on the bridge of his ship looking triumphantly down on the planet. The planet itself was mostly an icy wasteland, and the equine population lived primarily in a temperate belt around the planet’s equator. This made carpet bombing the habitable areas all the easier, and Cork was pleased that the war was going swimmingly.
As he cast his gaze over the planet his crew was preparing an away mission, to be led by himself, to demand peace terms from the belligerent horse people below.
His second in command, Commander Speck approached him from behind.
“Captain, the team is prepared.”
“Plenty of red shirted officers, like I ordered?”
“Yes sir. I’m sure your logical postulation that profligacy of the colour red will startle them in to ultimate submission to the Galactic Union is a wise one indeed.”
“Good. Set a table for us all, we will have a party when we return to the ship victorious.”
The two men began walking to the transporter room.
“Tell me,” the Captain asked. “What can we expect from these horse people?”
“Well, Captain, they are notorious warriors, but reluctant to leave their planet. That is why one of their robotic probes was encountered in Union space, rather than a manned ship, and this is also why we have encountered little resistance during our prolonged orbital bombardment. I suspect we will encounter much more in the way of a battle on the surface.”
“But we are…prepared?”
“I believe we have superior firepower at our disposal.”
“But most importantly, what of their women?”
“The Wolgane are notorious lovers, sir. Renowned the galaxy over for their passionate lovemaking and sensual tantric abilities.”
“Wonderful, I look forward to making a diplomatic connection with another new species.”
An hour later the away team rematerialised after beaming down on to the planet’s surface. The party was two short, as two of the red shirts were lost in a transporter malfunction, but the surviving members quickly moved out and met fierce resistance from the Wolgane forces.
It wasn’t long before the sway team had been reduced to Captain Cork and Commander Speck, and the two men were completely surrounded, unable to transport back to the ship as the operator was on lunch.
“We surrender!” the Captain shouted as the ring of horse people closed on then, and they were taken to the capital city.
Once they had entered the capital with their horse escort, they were taken to the royal palace, where they were brought immediately before the King and Queen of the Wolgane.
“What are the Galactic Union’s demands?” the Queen asked.
“An immediate cessation of hostilities by the Wolgane people and a withdrawal of all unmanned probes from Union space,” Captain Cork replied. “And personally I would like to make love to one of your women.”
“Our unmanned probes are also unarmed. At no point have the Wolgane engaged in any hostility against the Galactic Union. In fact is is the Union’s troops that are currently bombarding our planet from high orbit and massacring our people.”
“Personally I find it disgusting that you are unwilling to acknowledge the Wolgane’s role in this conflict. If your probe had not breached our space the. We would not be here bombing your people. The blood of all your weird alien comrades is on your hands, your majesty, not ours.”
“Our planet is devastated, our population utterly decimated and our army defeated. If I thought you were a target of any value whatsoever I would use you as a bargaining chip to barter peace with your misguided leaders, but you are a bumbling buffoon of a starship captain who led a team of 15 people, mostly rookies up against an army of 15,000 well armed troops garrisoned outside our capital city, so I suspect I would be laughed out of the negotiation room, if I were not blasted out with a laser.”
“What are you saying?” Commander Speck asked.
“I’m saying that if I killed you two right here I would be doing your Galactic Union a favour. There is nothing left for us to negotiate. Our population has been reduced from 6 billion to under 1 million in a matter of days.
“So there will be no lovemaking?” Cork asked despondently.
“Not for you, no”
And with that the Queen of the Wolgane lifted a laser pistol with her hoof and obliterated Cork and Speck in two shots.
Vixia V was destroyed a few hours later, but not before two suspicially equine looking creatures wearing the Galactic Union navy uniforms of a Captain and a Commander. They posed as Cork and Speck for the whole trip back to Galactic Union HQ before opening fire on the Galactic Council building and blowing them all up so the Galactic Union collapsed so really it was a bit of a disaster by all accounts and they probably should have just left the peaceful horse people to their own devices.
The galaxy returned to peace forever more, and there was never again an organisation as mighty as the Galactic Union, because most species realised that space travel was stupid anyway and that all the cool stuff they needed was right there on their own planets.
I can say with some certainty that this week’s story is by far one of the most personalised ones I’ve written so far.
With the exception of a couple of my very early stories I haven’t written any with characters based on people I know, so it was interesting to try and personalise this one as much as I did.
It’s possible, or more likely probable, that the result is a bit impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t know anything about Merseyside, Liverpool or football, but then each story is meant to be for the person who suggested it, so I make no apologies for that.
So, if you are the sort of person who would not be able to break through that, then perhaps this isn’t the story for you. However, if you can ignore all the metaphor and simile, I think there’s actually a pretty good tale under there, so go nuts.
And so, without further ado, I present to you this week’s suggestion from Elizabeth Scott: ‘A story about a redheaded princess named Elizabeth who finds true love after dating wankers for years.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Happily Ever After
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there existed a kingdom, known as Wavertreevia.
There were three factions within the kingdom. The Red Men of Anne’s Field were the strongest and mightiest warriors in the land, and did regular and bloody battle with the neighbouring kingdom, the vile and despicable Kingdom of Mancunia, ruled by the despotic King Moyes, whose Red Devils and Citizens were clueless, and no match for the might of the Red Men and their Kopite infantry.
The second faction were from the town of Evertonia, and wore almost exclusively blue, but sometimes neon pink when they were away from home. They were a weaker tribe than the Red Men, and were constantly in their shadow, lacking the strength or character to compete with the mighty warriors.
This led to their constant grumbling about their inferiority, insisting that it hadn’t always been the case. As a result they gained the nickname ‘the Bitters’, and to led to much good natured teasing in the ale houses of Wavertreevia when the Red Men claimed victory yet again.
Finally there were those who lived over the water, or the Wools as they were known. They were tolerated in the cities of Wavertreevia but mocked mercilessly when they tried to pass as true residents of the kingdom, for their warriors even lacked the quality possessed by the people of Evertonia.
The three tribes held an easy peace within the kingdom, united in their hatred of the evil people of Mancunia, particularly the Red Devils, the lack of internal competition preventing the local rivalries from boiling over beyond the odd pub brawl.
The kingdom had been ruled by the Scott family for many generations. The current King, John Joseph had been on the throne for decades, and the people were happy and contented with his rule. All except one.
“This is shite,” the princess said.
“What is, Princess Elizabeth?” her handmaiden replied, whilst brushing Elizabeth’s long, fiery red hair.
“I’m 29 years old and I’m still single. It’s pure shite,” Elizabeth explained. She slumped down on to the window sill of her room at the top of the tallest tower in the castle, despondent.
“But Princess Elizabeth, you are the most beautiful woman in all the lands of Wavertreevia, and you are a noted wit, surely you must have your pick of the men of this kingdom,” the handmaiden replied, surprised to hear of this state of affairs.
“Oh aye, yer, but the problem isn’t with me is it?” Elizabeth said with a dismissive flick of her hand.
“What do you mean, my lady?”
“It’s the men! Every single fella in this kingdom is a wanker. A gobshite. Or worse, a Wool. At least, the ones that aren’t taken anyway.”
“Oh, I see, I’d never thought about it like that before,” said the handmaiden, calmly, continuing to brush Princess Elizabeth’s hair, all the while recalling her own experiences with the menfolk of the kingdom. “But now you come to mention it they are a shower of bastards, aren’t they?”
King John Joseph I and his Queen, Irene, sat in the throne room.
“This simply won’t do,” the King muttered.
“What’s the matter, dear?” the Queen asked, looking up from a book.
“Elizabeth will be 30 years old next year and she is yet to marry. As my only child she will be Queen one day after I have passed on, and she must continue the Scott line. It has gone unbroken for hundreds of years and I shall not let it be discontinued on my watch.”
“But she has courted many suitors from the kingdom over the years and each time it has turned out the same. When things begin to get serious they turn out to be despicable, foolish, or worse, Wools.”
“Indeed,” the King sighed. “That is why I have made a decision. It is a difficult one for me to make, for the traditions of Wavertreevia state that the royal family should not marry outside of the peoples of the kingdom, but times are dire and needs must. Princess Elizabeth must marry…an outsider.”
Princess Elizabeth walked through the large double doors that led to throne room as they were opened by two servants, one clad in red and one in blue.
It was a long walk down the length of the room to her parents’ thrones, and she felt very self conscious as she heard her high heels click along the stone floor with every step.
“Hello, my dear,” the King said as she reached the end of the room.
“Iyer dad, mum,” Elizabeth replied.
“Do you know why I have summoned you here, Elizabeth?”
“Your mother and I think it is high time you settled down and married someone,”
“Dad I’ve told ya, all the men around here are nobheads. It’s not like I haven’t been trying. I even had a crack at a few of the girls but none of there were anything special neither,” Elizabeth lamented. “I can’t get married if everyone is proper shite.”
“I agree,” her father said. “Though I’m not sure I would have out it quite like that. In light of the fact that there are no appropriate suitors in the Kingdom of Wavertreevia, we have sent out word that a tournament is due to be held to decide who will win your hand. The games will begin in one week, and we are expecting competitors from all around the world to attend.”
“Oh ey, dad, but what if they’re all nobheads as well?” Elizabeth protested.
“Then so be it, a nobhead you shall marry.”
“Are you ‘avin a laugh? I’m not marrying a gobshite no matter where he’s from.”
“Then you had better hope that the winner is worthy of marriage, because my word is final and this tournament is going ahead.”
Elizabeth spent the week leading up to the tournament sulking in her room. She only allowed entry to her handmaidens, who brought her regular supplies of chip butties and lippy.
Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly she emerged on the day of the tourney to sit in the royal box in the grandstand alongside her father and mother.
The competitors lined up in front of the grandstand, to present themselves to the royal family.
There were several men there that Elizabeth recognised. Champions from the Red Men of Anne’s Field, and the blue clad warriors of Evertonia lined up with a gaggle of outsiders.
Elizabeth sighed as she immediately checked these men off the list. Three of them she had dated already, and the other was apparently crap in bed, so she was definitely not interested.
She scanned her way idly down the rest of the line. There were roughly 30 competitors in all, and none of them leapt out at her immediately as someone she would care to spend the rest of her days with. That is, none of them until she reached the end of the line.
Her eyes widened as she spotted the final two competitors, talking idly with each other as they waited to be inspected. They stood tall and proud in their gleaming armour, and Elizabeth was immediately in love with both of them.
“Dad, who are they?” she asked, pointing the two men out.
“That is Lord Jamie of the Red Knapp, and next to him is Sir Steven Gerrard of High Town, a small independent territory near the borders of Wavertreevia.”
“Can I just have both of them?” Elizabeth wondered, dreamily. “They’re well fit.”
Her father frowned. “We shall see,” he replied. “The tournament will decide if they are worthy.”
And so the tourney went on throughout the day, and gradually more and more of the suitors were eliminated. By sunset, only two men remained. To Elizabeth’s delight, the two were Lord Jamie and Sir Steven.
The King rose from his chair.
“We have seen some brave feats of combat today, and many great men have gone home defeated. And thus we bring the day’s events to a close with one final battle. A round of single combat to decide who will ultimately take my daughter’s hand…”
“They can take more than me hand,” Elizabeth said, loud enough for the two men to hear.
Her father went on, choosing to ignore his daughter. “…you will fight until one of you yields. Take your positions and begin.”
The two men clasped each other’s wrists in a show of solidarity, and backed away, swords drawn.
“Ooh, I can’t watch,” Elizabeth squealed.
The two men fought bravely against each other for some time, neither managing to gain the upper hand over the other, no matter how hard they tried, and the battle raged on long in to the night.
By the time both men slumped simultaneously to their knees, too exhausted to continue, most of the crowd had gone home, bored with the contest. But Elizabeth and her mother and father were all still sat there, watching, Elizabeth much more keenly than her parents.
“Well?” she asked. “Neither of them lost, dad. Can I keep them both?”
Her father furrowed his brow. “A situation like this has never presented itself before, I must consult with my Prime Minister.”
Prime Minister Rodgers stepped forward and opened the book of laws of the kingdom. He thumbed his way through the pages, eventually finding the one he required.
“My lord, there is nothing in the laws of the land that states that Princess Elizabeth cannot marry both men. In fact, it rather demands it, as our land has no method of deciding a tie in cases of a draw.”
“Very well,” the King sighed. “But remind me to discuss that shoot out concept that one of the courtiers proposed last month. It seems perfect for such a conundrum.”
“Boss!” Elizabeth declared, and ran over and gave both Sir Steven and Lord Jamie a big snog. “Eeeee,” she squealed. “They’re both dead fit!”
Princess Elizabeth married both Sir Steven AND Lord Jamie in a single ceremony. She split her time evenly between the two, although her favourite days were when they both took her out down Wavertreevia One to go shopping.
And so Princess Elizabeth, her mother and father, and all the people of the world lived Happily Ever After.
Except for the people of Mancunia, who were thoroughly miserable for the rest of eternity.
It’s a bit of a double feature this last fortnight as this week’s story is another request from my good friend Llinos.
And yes, if you have already requested a story please feel free to ask for another one. I still have plenty of slots available before the end of the year, so don’t be shy, come and request a second tale.
Or, you know, if so far you have just been reading and have been thinking “Well cor blimey, lawks a mercy, I wouldn’t mind ‘avin meself one of them there new-fangled stories!” (because you all think like 18th century chimney sweeps AND DON’T DENY IT) then now is the time to come forward.
What was it those adverts used to say? Book now to avoid disappointment?
Anyway, on with the yarn, which is about ‘a lady with a psychic connection to trees.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Lady of the Forest
The three boys did their best to sneak quietly down the path through the trees, although their silent tiptoeing was largely cancelled out by their loudly whispered conversation.
“Why do we have to do this?” one of them moaned. He had slightly grimy cheeks and had a general air of scruffiness about him. Unironed jumper, shirt not tucked in and tousled dirty blonde hair that looked as though it hadn’t seem a comb in recent history.
The tallest of the three boys, who appeared to be the leader, stopped and turned to face his companions. “Because Billy Naismith dared us. You can’t go back on a dare, Callum. EVERYONE knows that.”
“Yeah, I know…” the boy identified as Callum responded, defensively.
The three boys were year 7 pupils at the nearby Gosworth Comprehensive School. The darer in question, Billy Naismith was one of the coolest kids in year 10. To refuse a dare would lead to accusations of being chicken, but to refuse a dare from Billy was tantamount to social suicide at the school.
Not that any of the three of them; Callum, the scruffy one, George, the tall leader and Danny, who was the shy and quiet one of the group, were anything like cool or old enough to really worry about whether or not their social stock could deteriorate any further.
Even so, that was the kind of thing that 11 year olds worried about, and so to them, refusing the dare was unthinkable.
They trudged on for a little while in silence.
“What if she IS a witch?” Danny asked quietly, almost to himself.
“Well then she will turn us in to a newt or cook us or something,” George replied.
Danny screwed his face up. “My mum won’t like that,” he said. “She told me to be home for dinner, not to BE dinner.”
“Witches aren’t real you idiots,” Callum chimed in. “They’re a…what’s it called…a myth innit.”
“My brother told me they were real,” George interjected. “And that they live in gingerbread cottages and turn people in to stuff and have cauldrons.”
“Well then your brother’s an idiot too,” Callum said.
They turned a bend in the forest path and there it was. Callum noted smugly that the cottage was made out of stones and not gingerbread.
It was only small. A single-floored building which looked like it could only have had two or three rooms at most. The thatched roof was drooping over the stone walls, and the whole thing looked as though it could have used some loving care about 30 years ago.
“Do you think she’s home?” Danny asked.
“I can’t see any lights on in the windows,” George said stepping forward. He felt the twig snap underfoot as he walked slowly up to the gate. The forest was so quiet it could probably have been heard for miles around.
The boys heard a rustling come from behind the cottage, and a woman’s voice called out “Hello, is there someone there?”
“Leg it!” George hissed, and the three boys scattered from the path and in to the trees.
No sooner was the last boy out of sight than the owner of the voice appeared from round the side of the cottage.
She was middle aged, with light brown hair that was greying in places. Her long, flowing dress was made of cotton that, like her cottage, looked as though it had seen better days.
The woman was carrying a broom made from a branch and a bundle of dried twigs, which she propped up against the wall of her house. Folding her arms across her chest she began to look around the small clearing.
“Funny,” she said to no one in particular. “I could have sworn I heard someone. Oh well.”
She glanced up at the sky and, noting the position of the sun, said to herself “Oh my, that time already?”
The boys peaked out from their hiding places as the woman opened the creaky oak door to the cottage and went inside. They ducked back down as she reemerged a few seconds later, holding some sticks and a box of matches.
She walked up to one of the trees and pushed on of the sticks in to a knot, before setting it alight with a match. The clearing began to fill with the scent of incense as the lady sat cross legged in front of the tree. The boys watched intently as she shut her eyes, placed one hand on her forehead and another on the tree.
“What’s she doing?” Danny whispered to Callum.
“I don’t know,” Callum replied. “And shush, or she’ll hear us.”
They continued to watch as she remained sat in the same position for another few minutes. Eventually she removed her hands down to her lap and nodded.
“I understand,” she said, seemingly to the tree itself. “Until tomorrow.” She rose and, with a last look around the glade, went inside the cottage.
“Let’s get out of here!” George said, and the three boys scrambled their way down the path as quick as their legs could carry them.
That night Callum barely touched his dinner.
“Come on love, you’ve not had any of your egg and chips,” his mum said, in that loving chastising way that only mums who have slaved over a hot stove to make the dinner can muster.
“Mum I saw a witch today!” the boy blurted out.
“Don’t be daft, love, there’s no such thing as witches, at least not as what could do magic on you anyway…” his mother replied, smiling.
“No mum, I swear down! She lived in the forest in a rickety old cottage and had a broomstick and talked to the trees and everything!”
“What were you doing in the forest, young man?!” his mum demanded. “It’s dangerous in there.”
His dad looked up from the evening paper. “She’s not a witch, son, she’s just an old hippy who lives out in the forest by herself. She’s been out there for 25 years.”
“I SAW IT WITH MY OWN EYES!” Callum shouted, pushing his chair away from the table. “I’M NOT MAKING IT UP!”
With that he ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He didn’t emerge from his room until the next day, when it was time for school.
At break time the three boys congregated behind the science building.
“We have to go back in to the forest this evening,” Callum announced.
“Why?” George asked. “We did the dare, Billy believed us.”
“We have to prove that she is a witch somehow. My parents didn’t believe me last night!” he said excitedly, and then, sounding hurt, added “They laughed at me.”
George and Danny looked at each other.
“Alright, fine,” George said eventually.
That afternoon they met outside the school gates and walked off in the direction of the forest.
“I wonder what spells she can do and stuff,” Danny wondered aloud as they walked.
“Probably loads,” George mused. “I bet she has all the forest animals working for her.”
“If you had to be turned in to an animal by her what animal would you choose?” Danny went on, his sense of curiosity about the unknown overwhelming his usual coyness.
“Probably a dog,” George answered. “They have the most fun.”
“She wouldn’t give you a choice, dummy,” Callum said. “She’d turn you in to something horrible like a newt or a toad or a slug. No one ever gets turned in to anything nice like a dog or a cat.”
That rather killed off the conversation, and the three were silent for the rest of the walk. Eventually they reached the clearing and the cottage again, and just as the day before there didn’t seem to be anyone around.
“What time is it?” Callum hissed.
“4 o’clock,” George replied, looking at his watch.
“She will be out any minute then. Let’s hide.”
The three took up positions between two giant oaks a little way away from the house, and waited for the woman to emerge.
Sure enough, at around the same time as she had the day before, she appeared from round the back of the house with her broom and took her position in front of the same tree, after lighting another stick of incense.
“Do you think she flew here on it?” Callum whispered, but neither of the boys felt able to give a definitive answer about the behaviours of a real life witch, so didn’t answer.
They watched as she sat, seemingly in commune with the tree, until suddenly she jerked upright.
“They’re in danger?!” she shouted. “Where?” The woman began to cast about, looking for any sort of danger, before seemingly receiving a response from the tree. “I see,” she said, before turning and running in the direction of the boys hiding spot.
“Boys I know you’re there,” she called out. “You are in grave danger, you need to get out from between those trees right now. Make your way out in to the clearing.”
Callum, Danny and George looked at each other before wordlessly complying. Sure enough, just as they emerged from the tree line and in to the glade, they heard a loud crashing coming from where they had just been.
When they went back to investigate, they saw that the ground they had been stood on had collapsed in to a hollow cave like area beneath, and the two oaks had collapsed inwards, and were now resting on each other.
They would surely have been killed, or at least very badly hurt.
“W-what just happened?!” Danny asked.
“The witch saved us!” George cried.
The woman stood in the clearing near to where the boys were gathered, her arms folded across her chest, staring at them.
“So you think I’m a witch, eh?” she asked.
“You was talking to that tree!” Callum observed.
“You’ve got me on that one,” the woman said, shrugging. “But I’m not a witch. At least, not a proper witch like in the stories. There’s no such thing as magic, you know.”
“Then how did you know we was about to die?” Callum protested.
“Well, like you said, I was talking to the tree. It sensed that its brother oaks were in danger, and that three other of my kind were in danger too.”
“Well, isn’t talking to trees like, magic, and stuff?” George interjected.
The woman smiled. “No, I am just gifted with the ability to talk to plants. There are many like me. Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea and I’ll tell you a bit more?”
“And you won’t cook us?” Danny asked warily.
“Not even slightly,” the woman beamed.
That night Callum burst in to his house with a huge grin on his face.
“What are you so cheerful about?” his dad asked.
Callum was so excited that all the words came out almost at once.
“You’ll never believe what happened! I met the witch, but she’s not a witch, she’s just a bit psychic, but only when it comes to talking to trees and plants. And her name is Imelda and she brews herbal tea using her own herbs from her garden ands be made her own broom with bits of tree, but she doesn’t fly on it because like I said she’s not a witch.”
Callum only stopped at this point because he ran out of breath. His father stared at him for a moment over the lip of his paper. “You’re right,” he said eventually. “I don’t believe you,” and went back to reading the sports pullout.