Posted tagged ‘Strange Tales’

Radio Blah

September 17, 2013

The explosion of digital radio stations means there is a vast choice of listening material on the menu. One station that I particularly enjoy is Radio Blah. They deal exclusively with everyday gothic soap operas. There are some compelling episodes.

    The laptop with the faulty battery

Nancy Wheeler was going to be thirty. The day before her birthday a surprise party had been arranged by her husband using all his surreptitious guile to leave Nancy ignorant of the celebration in her honour. Nancy’s close friend, Jessie Bird was excited for Nancy and she was making last minute adjustments to her make-up before she and her husband would leave to be at the party before Nancy as is the convention at surprise parties.

“Are you ready, James? What are you doing?” Jessie asked.

James Bird had just finished making the last of his chess moves against an online opponent using his laptop that had a faulty battery. The mains plug had to be on continuously to keep the console powered. With their children shepherded away at relatives James could concentrate on his game and just given his foe a discovered check. Get out of that one Karpov. Kasparov. Korchnoi. Kramnik. Kalashnikov. Karravagio, whoever you are?. The list of chess masters with their surname beginning with the letter K amazed James. No famous Birds in the chess world only the basketball world. And he played with the team that was pronounced with a hard K.

“Krisssakes.” James had switched the laptop off and was confronted with the legend.

Installing updates.
Do not turn off or power off your computer.
Installing update 1 of 45.

“James we need to go.” Jessie’s voice was more strained, more worried, more animated, more concerned, more agitated.

“We-we can’t go yet.”

“We need to go now so we are there before Nancy. I want to shout, surprise, at her.”

“The laptop is installing updates. It’ll only be-be a minute.” James looked at the screen. It was still on number one.

“Listen. We have to go. Everything is timed to the last second.”

The machine now registered 2 of 45. James wanted to give it a thump. That type of retribution used to fix his dad’s TV aerial. Corporal punishment was frowned upon by today’s new technologies. Too fragile, by far. 3 of 45.

“James, you will have to switch that thing off. Pull the plug out.”

“I-I can’t do that. The updates will be corrupted.”

“What are you talking about? Corrupted.”

“If I turn the power off before the updates are installed the next time I put the laptop on there will be registry issues and all sorts of retrieval messages and windows warnings. It’s a lot of hassle that-”

James Bird’s lament was curtailed by the telephone ringing. Nancy picked up the receiver and was hollered at down the line by Drew Wheeler, husband of Nancy. Drew was angry at their non-appearance. They were cutting it fine if they were to beat Nancy to the party. Relaying this news to James, Jessie used words she had heard Vince Cable use to describe the jailing of Chris Huhne.

“This is a terrible tragedy”

“No it’s not. It’s not a tragedy. And what else could a tragedy be except terrible. You don’t get happy tragedies, funny tragedies, laugh out loud tragedies, smiley face tragedies. They’re all terrible and there’s not even any need for the terrible. This is being tautologous,” James went on in a right fandango, “And it can’t be a tragedy because it hasn’t happened yet.” he looked at the laptop. Installing update 6 of 45. Tragic.

“Will you just pull that plug out?” shouted Jessie, nearing the contraption that was causing all the consternation.

Will the laptop install the updates quicker or will it have its power source wrenched from the wall? Will the Birds make it to the party before Nancy? Will Drew draw a line at letting in late-comers? Will James’ chess foe expect the discovered check and have a Killer King-Krushing Komeback move? Why doesn’t someone buy a new battery for the laptop? You’ll have to tune in same time tomorrow to find out.
Fade-out with instrumental music.

    Footsteps above

The Wheelers had moved into a new home. Still at the embryonic decorating stage they had shepherded their children over to their close friends, the Birds, for a few days. Close friends being relative as Drew Wheeler was still angry at the housewarming gift presented by the Wheelers. Probably, James Bird’s idea.
The Faber book of Chess Openings.

Nancy Wheeler was still excited about their new home. “Isn’t this great, Drew? I love finding all the nooks and crannies we missed when the estate agent showed us around. There’s so much to discover. Go and have a quick peek in the loft, will you, darling?”

Drew pulled down the steps leading to the highest place in the house. I’ll get Bird back, he muttered under his breath. This Christmas I’ll give him a CD of Led Zeppelin IV. Drew had a few spare copies of this.

The loft was empty save for an old canvas painting of a seaman.
“It’s empty, save for an old canvas painting of a seaman.” uttered Drew.

“Well, bring it down and we’ll chuck it out in the morning.”

The rest of the day passed in matrimonial bliss as the Wheelers, without the children getting under their feet completed many of the chores needed to do in a new house. Bedtime arrived and they snuggled down for the night. Lights off.

Within a few minutes they heard noises coming from above them. It sounded like footsteps. Nancy felt a chill go through her bones. “What is that?” she cowered under the clothes.

Drew had also heard the footsteps. Feigning sleep he did not answer. An elbow in the ribs brought him back to life. “What is that?” asked his wife again.

“It’s nothing.” The nothing had suddenly become a bit louder. The footsteps were now sounding as if they were sloshing in water. Drew tried to play down the menace as his bravery had just put its shoes and coat on and left the building jumping on a bus to anywhere but here. “It’s just the radiators crackling.”

“It’s coming from the loft,” said Nancy “you better go up and see what it is.”

Drew did not fancy the idea. Although he had checked the loft and there was nothing in it, it was clear that there was something in it now. An unbeliever in the supernatural Drew was convinced the noises could only be from a ghostly source. He was a born again demonologist.

“It’s the painting. It must be haunted.” He said

“What are we going to do?” asked Nancy.

“We’ll put it back up in the loft in the morning. That might calm the spirit down.”

The splashing footsteps were now accompanied by a throaty laugh. Nancy and Drew did what any one would do in such a situation. They assumed the foetal position. This curling up into a ball defensive mechanism stops the villains in their tracks. No one in the history of horror films has ever seen a man with an axe attacking a rolled up person in bed. One with their feet out the covers, yes. One in the foetal position, never. Never?

Will the foetal position save the Wheelers lives? Is the painting haunted? How many spare copies of Led Zeppelin IV does Drew possess? Are there more nooks and crannies to be discovered? Tune in tomorrow to hear another thrilling instalment.
Fade-out with instrumental music.

    The sword’s mighty, the pen’s mightier

James Bird shepherded the children into the living room. With Jesse making cookies James was told to hold the fort for awhile. He looked forlornly at his broken laptop as it sat in the corner of the wing. The laptop was a casualty in the circus this place had become. A consequence of its demise would be the games of chess he would have timed out on. His rating would fall farther than the House of Usher.

“What are we going to do, Uncle James?” said one of the Wheeler children, James didn’t know which one. Stella and Steve both looked the same. It also troubled him that they had got into the habit of calling him uncle. He was far, far removed from that Record shop owner’s son, Drew Wheeler.

James had recently watched Washington Journal and he liked to watch the presenters highlight with markers selected snippets from the day’s newspapers.

“Let’s get our magic markers out.” said James and the kindergarten audience emitted a collective groan.

James produced from a little-used shelf old markers that were still in their wrappers. He tore them open and handed out the pens and scrap paper to the four children, two of them were his own flesh and blood, and told them to draw something they liked. A short time later the children had got used to writing and drawing and settled down, seeming to enjoy themselves.

The TV was showing King Kong and the ape had Naomi Watts in its big fist. King Kang was the alias of James’ current opponent in the online chess world. Double K would have discovered his check and replied in kind. James said to himself that he would never again use the en passant move, fall for a gambit or use a discovered check. He was annotating a previous game in his mind when Jesse let out a shriek.

“Cookies are ready.”

This shriek was followed by a louder one. “AAAHHHH”. The four children had passed out on the floor. The carpet was a spaghetti mixture of limbs and torsos.

“What’s happened?” shrieked the shrieking Jesse.

James investigated the scene. His nostrils quivered and it was as plain as Jesse’s cookies that the children had been intoxicated by the fumes in the marker pens. The smell of some kind of glue was strong.

“They’ve been sniffing the ink.” proclaimed James.

“This is a terrible tragedy.”

Jesse pleaded with James to do something. “Give them the kiss of life or something.”

“I can’t do that, they’re still breathing.” he looked more closely at the prostrate children seeking proof. Sure enough, there was movement in the chests. James, his chess brain with all its variations multiplying possible solutions decided to try another avenue of escape. “Open all the windows and let some fresh air in.”

Running around like a couple possessed, Jesse and James opened their windows and this rush of pure air awakened the children from their stupor. As they groggily came around the front door opened and there stood The Wheelers, wondering what was going on. Drew Wheeler had a present for James for watching his children. He carried under his arm the canvas of a painting.

Will the Birds ever baby sit Stella and Steve again? Is the painting the one of the sailor? Did the cookies get eaten? Will James never accept the Keres King’s gambit (C33) in future? All will be revealed tomorrow. Remember to tune in at the same time.
Fade-out and instrumental music.


Steam on the inside

November 13, 2012

Many tides ago I recall reading in some obscure magazine that it is not a good idea to make friends while on a cruise. The reasoning for this was that, although initial contact with the strangers you’ve just met was favourable, after a few further meetings they can start to annoy you. His jokes are rotten, her voice is grating and things like that. Avoiding your new acquaintances can be difficult as big as the boat might be, there are limited spaces to hide on a ship. Diving over the side is not an option, especially if there are sharks in the water or if you can’t swim. There’s a lot of islanders that can’t swim, you know.

I’ve singled out cruise ships but irritating holidaymakers can be found on any kind of vacation. Or location. On a train, for instance. There’s no telling who will sit beside you on a long train journey. If it’s the chatty type you’re in for a long haul. Guess what, I was once the victim of a gabby traveller who could talk the leaves off a tree.

My ordeal began, as these things do, quietly enough. The carriage I was in was empty save me and I settled down for an enjoyable read of my Kindle. The silence was broken by the siren of the train signalling it was about to move. I had selected my novel from the library mode of the machine and breathed out a pleasant air of satisfaction as the train trundled on its way. Suddenly, there was a back draft as the door of the train opened and a middle-aged man jumped into the cabin with the verve of a superhero.

“Hello there, I’m Dan.” Dan offered his hand to me and during the clasping of hands he tried to wrench my arm from the socket. A firm handshake is one thing, why do some men go the extra inch? It’s definitely a my car is better than your car kind of thing. Male alpha/beta nonsense. And we all know what these men are hung up on.

“What are you reading?” Danman asked.

For me, this is bad practise. It’s Ok for close friends to ask this personal question not complete outsiders. I was also reading a Kindle which should give me amnesty from this type of query. The whole point of the Kindle is for private reading. There are no big covers displaying your reading material only a leather bound wrapping protecting the e-reader. My hesitation lasted a lifetime forcing Dan to utter another enquiry.

“Do you speak English?”

This was a lot easier to answer. “Yes”

“So what are you reading then?”

And now there was nowhere to hide or run or dive and attempting to shield my pulp reading matter I lied to Dan that I was reading that masterpiece of complex human relationships dealing with the theme of madness, Tender is the Night.

“Tender is the Night.” was my lying reply.

“Fitzgerald, eh.” Danman was on the ball with books. He went on. “Don’t you think Redford was miscast in the Great Gatsby? He ruined the whole film for me. A better choice would have been James Franciscus.”

This was too much for me “James Franciscus has never been in a decent film or TV show in his life.”

Dan was not for budging. “Franciscus was absolutely sensational in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. He outHestoned Heston.”

“Are you kidding? The Apes saga was Chuck’s best work.”

Dan sat back in his seat deep in thought before resuming the conversation. “I’ll let that one go. Let’s go back to Gatsby. Lloyd Bochner would have played the part much better than Redford.”

“Dan, You’ve lost the plot. Bochner must have been about forty when The Great Gatsby was made. He’d be too old.”

“Actors change their appearance. They’re never too old or young.” Now I’d had enough. What am I doing, sitting here arguing over trivialities with a stranger on a train? Goodbye, Danman, I’m going to jump. I opened the door of the carriage and leapt outside.

My fall was broken with a soft landing. I had jumped into a small lake which was beside the railway. How lucky was that? And then I remembered I couldn’t swim. More serious was my worry that I didn’t know if the Kindle were waterproof or not. At least as I was in Britain there were no sharks or stingrays or piranha. I heard a splash in the near distance. Crocodiles? Alligators? With my head barely above the surface I could see a figure powering toward me through the water. It wasn’t a caiman it was Danman.

4. The Roller Coaster

September 25, 2012


The fairground was buzzing with the joyful atmosphere of happy people. The carnival was having one of the busiest days of its season. Ralph was gobbling up the last of his candy floss as he waited for Jeff and Sly to come off The Big Wild One rollercoaster. Ralph had a low opinion of candy floss; he was sorry he’d bought the cotton candy. Jeff and Sly appeared through the crowd and surprised Ralph.

“Hey.” said Jeff.

“Hey.” said Ralph.

“You’ve got candy floss on your cheek, Ralph.” sneered Sly.

“Hey, Sly. Thanks for the heads up. Candy floss is an over rated sweey , if you ask me.” Ralph wiped his face with a tissue.

“That is one great ride, Ralph, you don’t know just how good that was.” Jeff was holding a souvenir photograph of him and Sly on the ride. “Look at this. What a thrill that was. You definitely missed out. Look at Sly’s face.” Ralph stared at the photograph. The grinning couple in the snapshot eyeballed him back.

“Yeah, she looks thrilled.”

“Too bad you’re too chicken to go on it, Ralph.” Sly sneered again.

“I’m not chicken. You can only get two people in each carriage. Three of us couldn’t fit in it.” explained Ralph. Sly shot back.

“They do allow a single person rides. You would have the carriage all to yourself.”

“You know, that’s not fair. There’s a huge queue and if they let everyone ride singly they’d be doubling the ride waiting time. Single riders are selfish. Shouldn’t be allowed.”

“But it is allowed, Ralph. You’re only using this as an excuse.” Sly would not be beaten.

“No I’m not. And another thing it’s only sad individuals that go on these things alone.” Jeff and Sly looked at one another not convinced by Ralph’s argument.
“Think about this, Jeff. Would you go to a movie by yourself? No, you wouldn’t. This is just the same.”

“No it’s not.” said Jeff.

“It is. Remember that time I wanted to go and see The Watchmen and you couldn’t make it.”

“I wanted to go. It was a busy time at the office. You know what my clients are like.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go yourself” you said. And I replied “What kind of loser would I be if I went alone?”

“You did go alone.”

“Yeah, but I felt like a loser.”

“Wait a minute. You told me the cinema was full of single males. Single male, empty seat, single male, empty seat, single male, empty seat. You said you didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.”

“That’s because I was sitting in a room full of losers.”

“You’re both losers, liking comic books at your ages.” said the unsympathetic Sly. “Watchmen. Watching men, whatever.” Jeff changed the subject.

“Me and Sly are going for something to eat. You wanna come, Ralph?”

“No, I’ve just eaten.”

“Suit yourself. Come on Jeff.” Sly flung a sly look at Ralph.

“Yeah you two go on. I’ll hang about here and browse the funny hats stalls. Or have a go on the hook-a-duck stand. Maybe I might find a comic book shop, if I’m lucky.” Ralph watched them disappear into the bustling human traffic.

Ralph wandered around the fairground with no particular place to go. Thirty minutes later he ended up back where he started- in the vicinity of The Big Wild One rollercoaster. By some chance the queue was small. Ralph figured maybe every one had had their fill of Europe’s Greatest ride (self-proclaimed). The queue was manageable and having the relevant tokens he joined the end of the line. This will shut the Sly one up.

The row of thrill seekers was going in quick and Ralph was soon strapped into a double-carriage by himself. Once a loser, always a loser he thought. In the blink of an eye the ride took off. Ralph was in a state of exhilaration but no way could you call it fear. He took coasters in his stride no matter what Sly might think.

Jeff had told him that the camera part of the ride was near the end and Ralph had still to make a decision on what face to pull for the celluloid. I’ll just play it straight and stare at the camera nonchalantly, he decided. The Big Wild One dropped into a terrifying dip that wrought screams from panic stricken passengers. Ralph never moved a muscle as the camera was about to make its flash storm. A big fat guy in front of him, also a lone rider, unstrapped himself and stood up. The fat guy roared as the camera clicked furiously.

The ride ambled to the finish line. Ralph had the awful feeling that something was not right. He sneered at the fat guy as he departed his carriage.

A kiosk was set up after the ride with photographs of recent photos of the ride for purchase. Ralph scanned the images for evidence of his Big Wild One experience. There were none. The big fat guy had monopolised the four shots of the two double carriages. Ralph was invisible in all the photographs. Jeff and Sly appeared on the scene.

“Nice one, Ralph. What are you doing in here. Trying to fool us into thinking that you were on the ride.” said Sly in a sneering tone.

“I was on the ride.” said Ralph.

“I don’t see you in any of the pics, partner.” exclaimed Jeff.

“I was on it. I looked at the camera with a normal face. Just like this,” he showed them his face, “A fat guy was in front of me. He stood up and covered my shot.”

“Yeah, Ralph we believe you.” said Sly. She didn’t mean this.

“Jeff, come on. You know I don’t lie.” By this time all the photograph’s from Ralph’s ride had been wiped and the screens showed new images.

“Nnnn,” Jeff made an noise that signalled that he was unsure, “There’s no photographic proof, Ralph.”

With little point in continuing the discussion Ralph went quiet and the three of them moved on with the screams from the patrons of the next coaster ringing in their ears.

One step closer to the serial killer

November 26, 2011

The obtuse angle of dusk cut through the horizon. The whippoorwills began their nightly forage and Albert reflected on the Jedward trees that loomed in the distance from his house. Why are they all of a standard height? Why are their shapes so similar? Aren’t trees meant to be individualist and unique? Every night he looked at the trees with wonder.

A trail ran parallel to Albert’s log cabin that was never used by anyone but Albert. He liked to have these woods to himself; he was at one with nature. Just across from the side of his cabin a sign on the trail said: Montana 57 miles. He loved the complete randomness of the number fifty-seven. Not fifty-six or fifty-eight, it said fifty-seven.

Going indoors Albert listened to the radio. The Montana chainsaw killer had struck again, the news presenter said. Victim number ten was found hacked to death in the woods beside the highway in Rexford. Albert thought to himself that the murderer would probably stick at ten; it was a nice even number.

The next night as dusk hit the air in all its post-twilight shade the whippoorwills were nowhere to be heard. Albert yawned inside the log cabin before scratching his chest under his dungarees. He had overslept a bit. Albert opened the cabin door to be confronted with the Jedward trees right in his face. They were looking down on him with malevolence.

“The trees have moved.” Albert fell to his knees in a religious fashion. From out of the corner of his eye he spotted the trail, his trail. There was no sign on it. He rose up ignoring the Jedwards and walked round the side of the log cabin. In the distance the sign stood as erect as it ever had. As dusk fell it was clear to Albert that it was the cabin that had moved. It pained him to think that he was now, possibly, an even fifty-six miles from Montana.

Tales of the Wire: 5. Marlo

June 18, 2011

The legitimate businessman angle didn’t interest Marlo Stanfield. He would take another cut in the face to be at the head of a drug empire again. His days of supreme supremacy were over and there was a new King of sting on the block.

Nevertheless, Marlo was still rich beyond his wildest dreams. In many places he had taken his dirty money to be laundered. Material things -you could call it clutter- was Marlo’s new fixation. With a suitcase of money still reeking from the palms of previous owners -the desperate addicts of the street- he entered an auction house.

One painting caught his attention: The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel.

A craving came upon him the likes of which he hadn’t felt since the Franklin Towers came down. This apocalyptic landscape was making him high. Bidding for the lot began and Marlo found himself in a two-horse race for the prize with an elderly gentleman. Not wanting to be outbid Marlo asked the man if he wanted to “step-to”.

The bidder stepped down and Marlo had his Triumph of Death. Cash, I always pay in cash said Marlo opening his suitcase. The auctioneer grimaced, the smell of sweat and degradation emanated from the dirty bills of the row houses. They wouldn’t be cleaned in this launderette.

Two burly security guards easily ejected the ex-drug baron from the hall and out into the street where he belonged. As he was led away he was screaming. “MY MONEY IS MY MONEY.”

First among equals

February 19, 2011

In the colony, by common consent, Dalep Wiltonguru was the most handsome man and therefore was the subject of envy by his male contemporaries. Mucous formed in pools around the mouths of the jealous when Dalep was around. The world is not fair was the general feeling amongst the pride and they wished that they had Dalep’s lovely lesions.

Dalep did not think he was lucky. He roamed the lands of his adopted outpost and women literally threw themselves at his feet. Yet, they disgusted him; this wasn’t because he preferred the company of his resentful, foot-dragging, barely masculine associates. Far from it, he was of the manly opinion that all men are unattractive. Somehow, the ladies found him ravishingly appealing.

In desperation the females would beg Dalep to be their mate. Dalep grimaced as one by one he refused their favours. He was cursed to be loved by the ugliest, most gruesome women that lamely walked this earth. There are no good-looking ladies in a leper colony.

The Ferryman Cometh

November 13, 2010

The pulverising tempest rained down on the speeding vehicle. The bonnet flapped up and down obscuring the driver’s view. Stupid Graham Bonnet, said Long Hair, while he emptied the contents of a bottle of Jameson’s down his throat. The Metal Chainsaw Show on radio 666 had just played a trilogy of evil tracks-

Rainbow- All night long
Whitesnake- Don’t mess with me
Black Sabbath- Falling off the Edge of the World

Long Hair drove blind over a sheer cliff into a drop that kicked like Johnny Cougar. With a splash his car landed on a boat that stayed buoyant after the waves had settled. He opened a new bottle of Jameson and clambered out of the car to be confronted by the oarsman of this craft: Charon.

The spectral, sinister Ferrier held out a skeletal hand; he wanted his dues. Long Hair pulled off a Megadeth metallic badge from his jacket and gave it to Charon, who could scarcely believe his luck, and his eye sockets widened in wonder. Long Hair grabbed the oar from Charon and hammered his bonnet into place by buckling the sides of the lid.

The noise brought a company of bats to shriek around the boat. Using the paddle as a bat, Long Hair went through a repertoire of strokes to hit for six the bats into the Styx: edged paddle cuts, bottom of the oar hook shots, reverse sweep cover drives.

Long Hair ended his session and it was time for Jameson’s. Charon steered the ship down the murky waters. Shifting tides of mist made evil visages of departed souls as the gloomy voyage continued at deathly pace.

“You’re as slow as Smooth Radio,” said Long Hair and he took Charon’s oar off him again. “I’ll get us across this river. You have a drink on me.”

Long Hair rowed like a demon and they got to their destination at breakneck speed. Taking back his Jameson’s from the Ferryman he fired up his hot rod and sped off into the underworld.