That Place, Part 4

“Ay brought a few things,” said Georgia as Rachael hugged her.
“You didn’t need to do that!”
“Me mum taught me never to show up empty handed.”
“How is Moria?” she asked.
“Feisty as ever,” she replied as she tousled Rachael’s hair.

Rachael slapped her hand, which was easily as big as her head.

“Look at my hair!”
“It suits ya. Windswept and all that,” Georgia said she as carried bundles of food inside.
“Windswept? I look like I just escaped from a madhouse!” she said she as attempted to finger comb her hair back to something less alarming.

“A little bout of madness enlivens things,” she replied.
“I suspect that we’ll have more madness than we can handle soon enough,” Rachael said, having pulled her hair into a ponytail, which at least was orderly, if not stylish.
“Suppose so.”

Having brought in the last of the food, Georgia took in the room.

“It’s changed,” she observed,.

The walls and floor were fitted grey stones, each piece irregular but they all fit together neatly. Polished, heavy, wooden furniture was arranged in circles, as if to encourage conversation. Soft, heavy carpets covered the floor and a large fireplace, currently unlit was flush with the back wall. A wide staircase rose upstairs and seven wooden doors led to other rooms. The whole effect was as if a modern designer wanted to give a rustic home a streamlined touch.

“Of course it changed,” said Rachael, “It always does.

Georgia hummed loudly and said, “Not sure the others will like it.”

Rachael rolled her eyes.

“When do they ever NOT complain?”
“Suppose so. Still…”
“Listen. This fell to me. I certainly didn’t ask for it. And if they don’t fancy the décor, well they can just leave!”

And with that Rachael pointed to the front door. It was a more dramatic gesture than she normally did, but given the circumstances, she felt entirely justified.

“True enough,” said Georgia. “If anyone gives you any trouble, I’ll-“
“That’s kind of you, but I’ll handle things. After all, it’s my turn.”
“I was sorry to hear ‘bout yer da.”

Rachael collapsed into one of chairs.

“My father worked harder at avoiding responsibility than anyone I ever met. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he got killed just to avoid having to deal with all this.”
“Ya miss’em then?” asked Georgia.

Getting up, Rachael said, “I miss the fact that he should be ringmaster of this circus. C’mon, let’s get some veg from the garden. Something tells me you didn’t pick up anything green on your way here.”

“I think some of the cheese is green,” said Georgia.

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Posted in Short Stories

That Place, Part 3

For the next week, everyone in town was waiting for something terrible and tragic to happen. There was even talk of a mass evacuation but Mayor Ben Cooper, who had held the office for twelve years running, assuaged people’s fears by reminding them that this was the twenty-first century and of course there are no such things as monsters, witches or goblins. Said out loud, it sounded absurd and everyone smiled or laughed at the silliness.

This was particularly effective in the daylight hours, and in those times, spirits were high. Of course, once the sun set, it was a different story. Despite his outward lack of superstitions, the Mayor wore a cross around his neck, a bottle of holy water in his right pocket and a cold iron nail in the left. Just in case.

Folks now tended to cluster, either in their homes or at the pub. If you had to travel at night, people always went in groups. It felt safer and so far, nothing, except for the appearance of “That Woman,” had happened. Of course any dog barking or cat hissing was seen as a raised alarm. While it is true that animals are sensitive to things that humans are not, most dogs are inclined to bark with little provocation and cats hiss at even less.

A week passed and nothing happened, at least nothing out of the ordinary. Barry, who worked at the garage sprained his ankle while fleeing what he thought was a spectral figure but was in fact, a tarp hanging on a door frame that blew open from a gust of wind. Barry told everyone he slipped on some grease on the garage floor, which sounded foolish but less foolish than running from an imaginary phantom.

Since the town was whole and there were no supernatural crises, life went back to normal. The sun shined, children played and all was right with the world. Of course it didn’t last.

The harbinger of that was the deep baritone rumble of a motorcycle, roaring into town early one morning. It wasn’t the presence of this particular mode of transport, they were common enough, it was the rider. If Rachael’s appearance was the gold standard of innocuousness, this person was the height of ocuousness, which is clearly not a word but nothing else quite fits.

Over two meters tall, with long, shaggy red hair, dressed in worn biking leathers, adorned with a plethora of chrome chains and what looked like amulets and talismans, this lady, if we’re being polite and it would advisable to do so, pulled up in front of the butcher shop just as it was opening for the day.

Ernie, owner and proprietor of said shop was just about to turn the open for business sign when he spotted this new visitor. Understandably, he was overwhelmed, as I’m sure you would be. Please, you know you would.

A sharp rap brought Ernie back to the present, that and the looming figure in his doorway.

“Mornin,” said the looming figure.
With a start, Ernie replied, “Good morning!”
“Are you open?”
“Yes, yes! Of course!” Ernie turned the sign and leap back. “Please, what can I do for you?”

Opening the door, she entered. The butcher, who was not by anyone’s definition, dainty, felt like a small child next to this customer and hurried behind the counter.

“How’re the bangers?”
“Best in the county!” said Ernie in a higher pitch than normal, “Old family recipe!”
“Alright then. I’ll take’em,” replied the very large woman.
“How many did you want?”
“I said, I’ll take’em.”

Ernie paused.

“All of them,” said the looming figure, who seemed to be even bigger, but how could that even be possible.
“That’s going to be a bit expen-“

Ernie trailed away as his patron produces a large roll of cash from her pockets.

“Not a problem. Throw in three geese and some meat pies if they’re fresh.”
“Made them this morning!” squeaked Ernie.

Ernie’s butcher shop was not the only stop. She went to the cheesemongers, the bakery, and picked up a keg of stout and a case of wine. Afterwards, no one could say how she took so much food and drink out of town on just a motorcycle, even as large a one as she rode. The prevailing opinion was she had a cart of some sort, or maybe a large sidecar, even if no one could recall exactly which she had. All of that couldn’t fit in the large saddlebags on the back. On that everyone agreed.

No one asked where she was heading, or even her name, which was Georgia. But they knew where she was headed. Everyone was afraid that something terrible was looming. It was, but not in the way they feared.

Posted in Short Stories

That Place, Part 2

People who think that little towns are quiet aren’t listening hard enough. News travels rapidly and with an exponential rate of inaccuracy. While gossip about celebrities is entertaining, it can’t compete with people you know, or at least see in person.

The woman who inherited “That Place” was described as young goth by the Burt the mechanic and as a wizened crone by Myrtle, the manager of garden centre. Neither of them had laid eye on her but that didn’t matter. Of course there were multiple variations of those two extremes. None of them were accurate, but it’s understandable given the local fear of that location.

The truth was her name was rather ordinary, like someone who you worked with in an office whose cubicle was adorned with pictures of her cat. She was Rachael Pegg. See? I told you. Unremarkable. For the record she was neither a youthful goth nor an ancient crone. Rachael appeared to be in her early thirties, neither striking nor hideous, and like her name, she drew little attention to herself.

Well, until after she mentioned her inheritance. Then she found herself the center of passive attention. For the rest of the previous night’s meal, everyone wanted to look at her but didn’t wish to caught doing so. Normally, that might be just politeness, but in this case it was pure fear.

Things did not diminish the following morning, she was told that the kitchen was closed for breakfast, despite the fact the local cafe was filled with folks hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

She drove her rental car through the foggy morning out to the lane that lead to “That Place.” A low stone wall ran along the road and when Rachael arrived at the turn off, she was greeted by the site of a constable who had arrived before her, his bicycle leaning again the wall. She pulled over and approached him.

“Good morning,” she said.
“Morning,” replied Clive, which was the constable’s name.

The awkward pause that had been trailing her since the evening before caught up and each of them stood silently. With a desperate wish to end this, Rachael spoke.

“Is there something I can do for you?”
Clive stood a little straighter and cleared his throat.
“It’s part of my duty to make sure you have the correct paper work,” he said.

Having anticipated this, Rachael produced a thick packet of papers and handed it to Clive, who had not expected such a rapid response. He leafed through them and made some thoughtful noises as he did so. Clive thought that these murmurings made it seem as though he was considering all the minutia of what was before him. It didn’t. Nor did he understand the documents, other than it read “Deed of Property” and that it listed one Rachael Pegg as owner.

“I suppose you have-“ began the constable when Rachel proffered her ID.
“Ah then, everything seems to be in order,” he said returning the documents and ID to her.
“Excellent,” said Rachael.
“You have to understand, it’s my job make sure everything is on the up and up,” Clive said in what he hoped was an official sounding manner.
“Of course.”

They stood for a moment.

“Was there anything else?” she asked.
“No! Just dotting the eyes and all that. Have a lovely day.”
“And to you as well.”

Constable Clive was about ride off when he stopped.

“Begging yer pardon, I know this might seems a bit odd…” Clive trailed off.
“What?” said Rachael a little sharply, the lack of breakfast or even tea had frayed her nerves a bit.

Clive jumped a little.

“It’s just that the property, your property. Well, it’s a bit unwholesome, if you get my meaning,” he said in a low voice.

“In what way?” asked Rachael.

“When I was-“

He stopped, took a deep breath and spoke once more.

“Just be cautious, that’s all.”
“Old houses and all that?” she asked.
“Right! Exactly. Well, good luck and all that,” he said as took off on his bicycle.

Rachael got back into her rental and turned on the path that led to her new home. The trees that lined the way seemed to lean in but then parted, like cats that have sniffed you and decided that your presence is not an affront to them. She soon arrived at an old, wrought iron gate, which pattern suggested a dark and sinister forest, set between two carved stone pillars that abutted a solid looking stone wall.

She got out of the car and pulled a large ring of keys from her coat pocket. Picking one with a stylized tree at the top, (the top of a key is called the bow FYI), she unlocked the gate and they opened outward.

Driving through, the gates swung shut behind her and she looped around the circular driveway to the front of “That place.” Looking at the lawn, which might be more accurately described as a meadow given its unattended state, Rachael took a moment listened. Aside from the faint sound of the car’s engine cooling and the rustling of leaves, it was silent

Taking only the key ring, she got out of the car and walked to the front door. Her fingers found the largest key, heavy and cold, slid it into the keyhole and turned it anti clockwise, or widdershins, as her granddad used to say.

“It’s me,” she said.

With that, the lock clicked and the door opened.

Posted in Short Stories

That Place, Part 1

Ivy didn’t so much climb the side of the building as smother it. It gave the impression of the world’s largest topiary with a door and windows. If you pulled it away, and it took a bit of effort, you could see the grey and pitted stone that comprised the real walls. No one ever did.

The original name of the house, it was one of those edifices with a name, had been long forgotten. These days, it was only called “That Place,” as if naming it might invite undesired attention. Neighborhood children told all sorts of stories, a witch lived there, trolls, vampires or ghosts, and anyone who entered would never be seen again.

None of these were true, but there was something unwholesome about it. Grown ups pretended that it simply didn’t exist. If a child persisted with questions, they were told to stay away if they knew what was good for them. Only the most contrary of child persisted after that. Seeing, perhaps for the first time, genuine fear in their parent’s eyes.

As a result, “That Place” was a blind spot for the town, which meant that taxes were never collected, and all the bureaucracy that burdens the modern world did not touch it. For the town’s folk, this was small price to pay for the détente that they enjoyed, even if enjoyed is not quite the right word.

Ten years ago, someone from the big city had the idea to tear it down. No amount of warnings would dissuade him, after all, with real estate prices being what they were, why not? Why not indeed? Any lorry or other vehicle that approached with the intent of harm to “That Place” failed to arrive. Most of it was engine trouble, but there was one massive deadly accident on a nearby highway.

Everyone waited for further retribution but it did not come and things went back to normal, at least for what passed for normal. After a while, most folk felt as though they had dodged a bullet. But that’s what you get when outsiders meddle.

It was a foggy April evening when everything changed. The local hotel, which also housed the local pub on the first floor, had a guest. She seemed normal enough, dark hair, nether tall nor short, quiet, and dressed conservatively, she took a room for the night and had dinner in the pub. Lucy, the owner and local gossip brought her the special, a lamb stew, and a glass of red wine.

“Can I get ya anything else?” asked Lucy.
“No,” the woman replied, “I’m fine.”
“Just passing through then?”

The woman took a bite of stew and looked up.

“No, actually,” the stranger said.
“Bit of a holiday then?”

Looking up, she said, “Actually, I’ve inherited some property, just outside of town.”

While Lucy loved a sweet piece of insider information, this was of a higher proof than she was accustomed to. It was like taking a sip of boxed wine, the kind she served to tourists and finding that you have downed a mug of Absinthe.

“I hear it’s called, That Place. Do you know it?”

Posted in Short Stories

One story, six words at a time

She smiles and I fall again.

Crazy, little goes a long way.

Nothing versus something, who will win?

Seeing her again, brings sweet pain.

If I forgive, will I forget?

Promises worth their weight in air.

Objection your honor, overruled by wife.

Work drains soul, fills my wallet.

Drink tonight, regret it all tomorrow.

Life hack this, always a cost.

Never look back, sorrow is there.

If you don’t ask, who knows?

So much is left unseen, unread.

Posted in Short Stories

Stop the show!

As I wrote about before, doing musical improv is, let’s call it challenging. At least for me it is, if you love to sing and can rhyme, it’s a day at the beach. Even more daunting is the idea of doing a wholly improvised musical. I’ve done them, and tried to stay to stay in the back if I can, but this is not about me.

I went to see some friends in a Wingnuts show. Wingnuts was an improv performance workshop taught by Tom Soter where the class did a show every two weeks. At this point in time, they were closing the show with a musical.

To set this up, they would get a suggestion and that would become the opening number. If it was cheese, the chorus would be “Cheese, Cheese, Cheese!” And if they got shoes, it would go, “Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!” Not exactly Sondheim but it set up the story.

One of the things that was taught for musicals was the concept parallel construction. So if the two lead had a romance, the best friends of the leads have a romance. It helps to give the story structure and for an improvised musical, that’s a big help.

I cannot recall if they got cheese or shoes or some other item at that show, but they were selling it and having fun. The final song, which summed up the lesson learned in the musical, was being sung. Everyone would have a quick line, and then it was back to the chorus.

Given that these musicals ran fifteen to twenty minutes, some of the B, C and D stories would not always get a resolution but the cast would be happy to have gotten to the end and frankly, the audience probably forgot about those other plotlines.

This night, the B story would NOT be ignored. They are singing the final song when one of the cast, by the name of Rhonda shouts, “Stop!” Everyone does and suddenly the whole thing has taken on a surreal quality.

Now that the finale is has suddenly been pulled over to the side of the road, Rhonda announces that her story was ignored. I think it was about her and her boyfriend either moving in together or getting married, but I cannot recall the details. They proceed to resolve this dangling plot thread and then continue with the finale.

Having seen many of these improvised musicals, this is the only one I remember. While grabbing the stick just before you’re about to land is inadvisable at best, it took what would’ve been a forgettable evening and burned it into my memory.

To paraphrase Daffy Duck, “It’s a great trick, but you can only do it once.”

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Obviously

There is or was a divide on improv. Those who love short form, also known as games, as you might see on “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, and those who champion long form. The most famous of which is called a “Harold.” There is a feeling that short form is hacky and jokey, it can be, and conversely, long form is pretentious and self-important.

Both these things can be true, I’ve seen and participated in a lot of short form. It was the improv I learned doing, but to be fair to all my early teachers, we also did a lot of scene work. But it gave me skills to do long form. A lot of improvisers start this way.

Way back in the late nineties, a group of people I knew formed a group to do long form, with a very vocal and public distaste for short form. I didn’t agree with their position but they were friends and I went to the show.

Because they are my friends, I will not reveal the name of the group, which didn’t last long, nor the performers involved. The reason for this will be made clear shortly, though I’m sure you can guess why.

It is not necessary for improv to be funny, though it usually is. This show was aggressively unfunny. Which is not to say it was dramatic, more unintentionally tragic. I can’t site any particular moments, time has happily wiped them from my memory. However it was easily, if not the worst show I’ve ever seen, in the top five. I don’t say this out of meanness, they did great work previously and would go on to do it after. But that that night.

Not only was it not funny or dramatic, it was long. You might think, “Well, it’s called long form for a reason.” Maybe so, but a typical long form goes about forty-five to fifty minutes. There are practical reasons for this, primarily because there is another show after you or the theater needs to close up for the night.

Well, this show kept going on. And on. And on. I think they ran an hour and change. And if it were good, the audience would have enjoyed it, even if the next show might be mad. Sadly this was not the case.

They repeatedly approached an ending and then diverted to more show. Much in the way a dog will fetch a ball but rather than drop it for you to throw again, runs off to the other side of the yard.

Thankfully, they ended. And as the tradition goes, we all went to the bar. In talking to a friend of mine who was in the show, I remarked on the more serious tone of what was just done. That was the nicest way I could say it. He proudly replied, “Yeah, we don’t care about being funny!”

I nodded to him and took a sip of beer. But all I could think was, “Obviously.”

Improv is an art form that embraces spontaneity and creativity and should always do so. But remember, you should not be having a better time than the audience.

Obviously.

Posted in Yes and so this happened