The Boat

My brother had this boat. It was quite a nice boat, as far as boats go. I’m not sure where he got it from. A boat seller, I suppose.

He had no idea how to sail, or even, as far as I could tell, how to row.

Every weekend he would wheel it out of his garage and onto the drive and wash it, or repaint it, or varnish it, or any number of other entirely pointless jobs designed mostly, if not entirely, to delay the moment when he would have to commit the thing to water and demonstrate, in public, the extent of his own incompetence.

His house burnt down one autumn, struck by lightning in a late and lonely thunderstorm. He lost everything, even his cat.

The cat wasn’t hurt, but he never forgave him, and ran away across the street and moved in with a neighbour, hissing in horror whenever my brother tried, forlornly, to claim him back. The sadness in his eyes on these occasions was heartbreaking. In my brother’s eyes, I mean. In the cat’s there was nothing but the fury of betrayal.

Everything else was covered by the insurance.

He moved in with me for a while, while his house was being rebuilt, and it was tolerable at first. But slowly he started filling up my house as the insurance slowly coughed up replacements for all his possessions, and to be honest by the time he moved out it was a bit of a relief. There’s only so many times you can sit in a living room filled to the brim with new TVs, bikes, computers, sofas, cupboards, plates and clothes, before the claustrophobia starts to seep into you and you dream, each night, of being crushed alive under an avalanche of pots and pans.

He never reclaimed the boat.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 27th, 2017

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Tale #30: The King’s Daughter And The King’s Son

There lived a King, and with his first wife he had a son. This son grew up to be a huge and monstrous beast. Everyone who saw him shuddered in horror at the look of him and cowered and hid in fear until he was gone. The King feared and hated him, too, and so he locked in him a maze and never let him out.

The longer his son remained locked away, the more exaggerated the claims of his ferocity and deformity grew,. And the further the rumours spread.

On lived the King, and with his second wife he had a daughter. This daughter grew up to be a kind and beautiful angel. Everyone who saw her quivered in delight at the look of her and called out proclamations of their love until she was gone. The King loved and coveted her, too, and so he locked her in his castle and never let her out.

The longer his daughter remained locked away, the more exaggerated the claims of her beauty and kindness grew. And the further the rumours spread.

One day, the King announced that whoever entered the labyrinth and slew his son would win his daughter’s hand in marriage and make of her their queen. For if none could slay his son, he would have weakened the kingdoms he considered his rivals. And if one could slay his son, his daughter would strengthen the ties between his kingdom and those that would be its friend.

Ten princes sailed forth from all the lands of the earth, and they came to the King’s island and accepted his challenge. For everyone had heard how fearsome the beast of the labyrinth was, and so they wished to show their courage. And everyone had heard how beautiful the angel of the castle was, and so they wished to win her love.

The first prince entered the maze. In the dark he felt his way, along passages of untold length for a time of unknown duration, and eventually he found his way to the centre, where beneath a burning brazier lay the King’s son. The prince stood over him and raised his sword, and the beast held up his hands in friendship and said, “Please, I mean you no harm.” But his voice was weak from all those years alone, and the prince swung down his sword and sliced a finger clean from the beast’s hand.

The King’s son howled in pain, and in his fear and desperation to get away he leapt to his feet and charged at the prince. He knocked him to the ground and under his heavy feet trampled the man dead.

Ten times this happened, and all ten fingers the King’s son lost, and all ten princes the King’s son killed. And ten times he cried at what he had done, for he wished to hurt no-one. And ten times he cried at what had been done to him, for he wished too for no-one to hurt him.

When none of the princes returned from the labyrinth, the King made plans for a great party to be hosted in the city. He announced that no-one had been able to do as he asked, for their Kingdoms were not as great as his own.

And he told his people that tomorrow he would enter the labyrinth. He would kill his son. He would take his daughter as his wife and make of her his Queen.

The King had his dressmakers create the most beautiful wedding gown for his daughter, and he dressed her in it, and said to her, “You are indeed more beautiful than any angel.” And he took her down to the entrance of the labyrinth and made her wait there for his return.

She had cried all week, while the princes had tried to kill her brother, and she had cried all night, when her father told of his new plans. And she had cried all day, when her father had dressed her in this dress and paraded her before his subjects as his Queen-to-be.

But now she vowed she would cry no more.

She unpicked a thread from her dress and tied it to the gate and made her way into the labyrinth. In the dark she felt her way, along passages of untold length for a time of unknown duration, and eventually, just as the last of her wedding dress unravelled, she found her way to the centre, where beneath the dying embers in the brazier lay her brother.

In the darkness he could not see who approached. He was too weak now to speak, and, his broken hands held up in front of him in fear, he waited in silence for the killing blow to come. His sister leaned down low, and took his poor hands in hers. And she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “Oh, my brother, oh my poor brother, everything will be okay.”

To see him there before her, despite her vow, she could not stop herself crying. And at her kindness he wept too, and their tears fell down together and washed the blood from his body and he was made whole again.

With the last coal from the brazier, they set alight the thread of her dress, and they followed the flickering flame all the way to the entrance and the bright light of day.

The King’s daughter and the King’s son fled the castle of their father, and they fled his kingdom too and sailed out together across the sea. And all the while in the labyrinth the King was lost in the twists and torments of his own making, and he was never seen again.

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Notes:

1. Written in May 2016
2. First published in the kindle anthology Waiting for a Kiss: A Princess Fairy Tale Anthology, in April 2017
3. The second story in a row I had published where the title was a mangled version of a band’s name (in this case, of King’s Daughters And Sons)
4. Also this is a re-telling of the story of ariadne, theseus and the minotaur, obviously. It was inspired by a print of ariadne playing cat’s cradle with the minotaur that I have on one of the shelves in my room, by Minkee, which is the first thing I see most mornings

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Tale #10: The Old Lady And The Three Brothers

There was a road on which three brothers lived. The youngest of these brothers was a farmer, and one evening as he worked in the fields he saw an old lady walking past. He called to her and said, “My friend, it is a long road ahead, and almost dark. Why not join me for dinner and stay here the night, and continue on your way upon the morn?”

The old lady said, “I am but old and poor, with nothing save the hair upon my head, the clothes upon my back, and the hands I have with which to work.”

To which the man replied, “I expect no payment in return, nor do I wish to place an obligation upon you that you cannot fulfil. I offer my hospitality as a gift, for we are all travellers together in this world, upon a journey we know not where will end.”

“Then I will join you,” said she. “And thank ye kindly.” And they went together to the farmer’s cottage.

There the farmer, though it meant he would go hungry in the days to come, cooked for the lady a fine meal, and while they ate they talked of many things. Later, though it meant he would sleep that night upon the cold stone floor of the hearth, the farmer prepared for her a fine bed, with quilts of fur and blankets of homespun wool to keep her warm. And finally, though it meant by the next morning he would have no more, he piled the last of his wood on the fire and kept it burning until the darkness waned and the sun rose up and brought with it the warmth of the new day.

As she came to leave, the old lady said to the farmer, “You have been greatly kind to me. Although I would not wish to insult you by attempting to pay for that which was freely given, I hope you can accept a small gift from me in return.” And she reached up and took the hair from her head and placed it in the farmer’s hands, and as he held it he saw it was not hair but finely spun yarn of purest gold.

She left him then and went on her way. The road was long, as the farmer had said, and she met no-one on it for the rest of the day. As dusk was falling, she happened upon a large house by the side of the road. The second brother, a merchant, lived there, and on seeing the old lady passing by he came out and said, “My lady, it is a long road ahead, and almost dark. Why not stay here the night, and in the morn continue upon your way?”

The old lady said, “I am but old and poor, with nothing save the clothes on my back, and the hands I have with which to work.”

The merchant looked at her clothes, and saw they were made not from cotton, but from finely spun yarn of purest gold. And so he said, “Then I will have your clothes, for I should be able to sell them for a high price.”

“Then I will join you,” said she. And they went together into the merchant’s house.

The merchant gave her some bread, which was stale and old, and left her at the table to eat by herself. When she had finished he showed her to the cellar and, pointing to the cold stone floor, said, “Here is your bed.” And then he took her clothes in payment, and went back up the stairs and locked the door behind him.

The next morning at the break of dawn he unlocked the door and woke her up and threw her out on to the road. “You tricked me, you witch!” he shouted. “Last night these clothes were made of purest gold. Yet now they are nothing more than old rags.”

“It was your greed that tricked you, not I,” she said, and turned to the road and continued naked on her way.

The road now was longer than ever, and she met no-one on it for the rest of the day nor into the night. Eventually she fell down in exhaustion by the side of the road and lay there asleep until dawn.

The third brother, a king, saw her there and said, “How dare you sleep upon my road. Pay me what is rightfully mine or I will place you in chains and not let you go.”

The old lady said, “I am but old and poor, with nothing save the hands I have with which to work.”

“Then your hands it will be,” said the king. And with a desperate laugh the old lady reached up and throttled him dead.

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Notes:

1. Written on July 18th, 2014

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Bottle Bank

About ten years ago my brother bought an old farmhouse a couple of miles up the road, out towards Mayland somewhere. It’s bloody wonderful and fucking massive. It’s almost enough to make me wish at some point in my life I’d bothered to find myself a job and earned myself some money. Almost.

In the garden, if you can really call a load of old fields and yards a garden, there was (and still is) a ruined old stone barn, or shed or whatever, with just the walls left standing – no roof, no door (although he’s since put one in), no glass in the windows. The walls are about four or five feet high, although there’s a couple of bits where they’ve cracked and broken and fallen in and there’s only maybe two or three feet of wall still standing. I think maybe a tree must have fallen on it at some point. Or someone rode a tractor into it.

For some reason, instead of putting empty bottles in the recycling bin, my brother would come outside and hurl them into this old barn, steadily building up a mountain of cracked and broken and smashed up bits of glass. After a year or two of this, one time when I was round there I asked him why he did it, why he kept on doing it, and his answer was that he liked the sound of smashing glass. That he had always liked being allowed to drop bottles in the bottle bank when our dad took us over the tip when we were kids.

I’m not sure I ever remember going to the tip with our dad.

A couple of years ago I was walking in the woods a few miles from where my brother lives, and from the top of the hill you could see down to where his house was, and the glass all shimmered and sparkled there in the sun like he had a barn filled with jewels. Or with water.

After that I was always a bit scared some birds would land in it thinking it was a pond and end up slicing themselves to shreds. Or I’d remember the time one of our cats almost had her paw sliced off climbing trough a broken window, and I was endlessly glad every time that I thought of it that at least my brother didn’t have any cats, and didn’t live near enough to anyone that did.

But there was always foxes I could worry about, and badgers too, although I had no idea if badgers could climb walls or would even want to if they could.

Last year he invited me over for bonfire night and I when I got there he was up a ladder, wearing some old fireman’s gear, and pouring petrol over the side of the barn and onto his big pile of glass. Ten years of glass all piled up there as if it’d had just been waiting all this time for this. He climbed down the ladder and took it back to the house, and came back with a big ball of cardboard covered in something that resembled glue, all thick and yellow and strangely horrifying looking. He lit it with his lighter and hurled it over the wall and just managed to turn away in time to shield his eyes from the whoomph of heat as the whole thing burst into flames.

It burnt for hours. I have no idea how much petrol he must have poured in there. I’m surprised the initial fireball didn’t blow the entire barn up like some sort of Hollywood explosion. I suppose it was directed upwards rather than out. Although I was stood miles back, cowering in fear on the far side of the yard, and I could still feel the heat of it for a second or two as it caught, could feel it pushing me back like a shove to the chest.

Then it settled down and we watched it burn into the night. At some point the wooden door caught fire and burnt off its hinges, crashing down suddenly sometime towards midnight, which made my brother jump so violently he dropped his glass of beer and spilt it all in the dirt. It’s a shame the glass didn’t break really, for reasons of symbolism, and rebirth.

The next morning there was a solid river of glass that had flowed out of the barn and into the yard, the soot burnt black onto it all, and into it, maybe, too. A ridiculous mess that I have no idea how he ever cleaned up.

And everything stunk for fucking days.

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1. Written on November 15, 2014

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Tale #3: The Cat Wife

A nobleman had three sons, but had yet to choose an heir. When a cat began to attack the people of the town, he said to his children, “Whosoever saves our town from this beast of the woods shall inherit my castle and all of my lands”, and each in turn set out to defeat the creature.

The eldest son, a soldier, picked up his sword and marched out into the forest where the cat was presumed to live. He quickly became lost and as the day headed towards night he sat down and, although only intending to rest for a short while, fell asleep against the trunk of an old oak tree.

When he awoke it was completely dark, and he could feel the weight of something heavy on his chest. He tried to move but the cat – for that was what it was – pushed its claws into his skin, opened its eyes (which were just in front of his own) and said, “What is that you hold in your hand? Is it for me?”

The eldest son said, “Yes, it is for you. If you let me up I will give you a good close look of it.”

The cat leapt from his chest and sat down in front of him, and the soldier stood up, raised his sword, and swung it as hard and as fast as he could at where the cat now sat. But the cat’s eyes saw so well in the dark that she dodged easily out of the way of the blade and then leapt forward and sliced the man’s head clean off his shoulders with a single swipe of her claws.

The next day the nobleman woke to find the head of his eldest son left on their front doorstep. So now the middle son, a farmer, strode out into the woods to try his luck against the cat, and he carried with him a bag of the finest meat from his farm.

He quickly became lost as he searched through the unfamiliar woods, and as the day headed towards night he sat down to quickly rest his weary legs. Yet he ended up falling into a deep sleep, and when he awoke the moon was high in the night sky above him and bathed in its light he could see the cat asleep on his own chest.

When he tried to move, the cat awoke and said, “What is that you have in your bag? Is it for me?”

And the farmer said, “Yes, it is for you. If you let me up I’ll open up my bag and give you a good look at what’s inside.”

The cat leapt from his chest and sat down in front of him, and the farmer stood up and opened his sack, and took from within the meat he had brought with him and threw it onto the ground. The cat sniffed at it, and satisfied that it was not poisoned, began greedily to eat, and while she was distracted the farmer held out the sack and approached the cat as quietly as he could. But before he could lower the sack over her head, she heard the heavy beat of his heart as he approached and leapt out of his way. And then, with a single swipe of her claws, sliced his head clean from his shoulders just as she had his brother’s.

The next morning, the nobleman awoke to find the head of his second son left on their back doorstep. The youngest son, who was considered useless by his father for he had no job nor a wife, was still in bed when his father burst into his room. His father dragged him from his room and insisted that now he must make his way to the forest and avenge the deaths of his brothers.

To this the young son said, “I do not want to, father. This cat has never harmed me. And anyway, surely now you’ve sent my brothers to their deaths, I’m your only son and your only heir.”

In response to this insolence the nobleman beat his son so fiercely that the boy agreed tearfully to go to the forest, even if only to escape his father’s wrath, and he set out before lunch. In the woods, the young man did not become lost, for he cared not where he was, and gave no thought to returning home.

He came soon to a stream, where he stripped naked and bathed his battered body in the babbling brook. When he returned to the riverbank, he found the cat sat on top of his blood-soaked clothes, busily tearing the cloth of his shirt to ribbons with her long and deadly claws.

She looked up at him while her claws continued their game and said, “Your first brother brought me a sword, and with it tried to kill me. Your second brother brought me a sack of food, and with it tried to capture me. What have you brought me, and what will you try to do to me with it?”

The youngest son said, “I have brought you nothing, for I came here only to escape my father. I cannot give you my clothes, for you have already destroyed them. I cannot give you money, for I have no job and therefore nothing to spend. I cannot give you food, for I forgot to bring any even for myself. All I have left are my hands and my heart, which for all my trying I have never been able to give away, for no-one has ever wanted to employ me, and nor have any ever wanted to love me.”

“Then give me your hands,” said the cat. “To stroke me whenever I desire. And give me your heart, to love me forever and without regret, and in return I shall become your wife, and cease my attacks upon on the town.”

So they returned to his home and were married that very afternoon. For saving the town, the young man and his cat wife inherited the nobleman’s castle and all of his lands, and lived there benevolently until the end of their days. As for where the noblemen went, none would say.

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Notes:

1. The earliest version of this I can find is from August 2013.
2. Illustrated again by Holly English
3. I like cats

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