Tuesday, 13 October 2009


This week's sentence was taken from Mikhail Bulgakov's 'The Master And Margarita'.

It was:
"Witchcraft once started, as we all know, is virtually unstoppable."


"Witchcraft once started, as we all know, is virtually unstoppable.
As with life itself, when it does finally stop the result is invariably terminal," she paused for effect, “and usually messy."

"So that's kinda like a health warning, right?"
The old woman winced inside but her smile remained relatively benign. She had expected a dour and studious girl but the Wiccan Council obviously knew best. If this was the child they had selected to receive the cumulative magical power of her ancestral line then who was she to argue? Just an old witch about to die.
'What's the worst that could happen?' was her final thought as her soul departed and the door burst open.
"Sorry I'm late." gasped the dour and studious girl, looking up as Emma aimed the wand at her.

"Late indeed, dearie." Grinned the delighted new überwitch.
A dour and studious pool of slime steamed slightly on the doormat.

Emma tried a cackle. Pretty good!
It's amazing the things you can find on the internet, she mused. The last of the real, old school, hardcore witches was about to die and her power would pass to a successor chosen by a bunch of flabby middle-aged women in Stevie Nicks dresses.
Not if I can help it!
Later that evening, Emma surveyed the smoking remains of the Wiccan Council Chamber. Shreds of lacy frock still floated down to alight amidst smashed crystal and charred body parts. The whole place stank of aromatherapy oils. She almost puked.

What to do; what to do?
The world was hers!
War, famine, pestilence and what was the other one? She could never remember but it didn’t matter; she could make it all happen.

And she did.

At the stroke of midnight a whole slew of wars exploded across the peaceful world in an orgy of flame, death and destruction. A previously healthy population was suddenly stricken with everything from cancer to the common cold. Around the globe economies fell splat like fat bankers from tall buildings.
And the worst thing was that thanks to Emma’s spell nobody realised anything had been any different the day before.
Evil unchained rained down upon our innocent and undeserving planet:
Bigotry and hatred
Reality TV
Celine Dion
Fox News
Such curses and calamities as the world had never known.

A voice behind her said, "THAT'S QUITE ENOUGH, YOUNG LADY." and Emma whirled around, aiming her wand and knowing with dreadful certainty that it was suddenly just a stick.
It pointed at Him.
It quivered a little as she trembled.
That was all it could do now.
There was something horribly familiar about the figure looming over her.

Emma’s eyes were drawn to His feet.
Cloven hooves? That's not right.
His legs were … er … unfeasibly hairy and …
And as for THAT!
He lazily picked a scrap of skin from one of His horns.
Emma swallowed hard.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Two Sous

This week's sentence was taken from Victor Hugo's 'Les Misérables'.

It was: 'Between the walls of the two yards there was a dark and narrow street, the Rue de Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which seemed to be exactly what he was looking for.'

Two Sous

Nobody gave a second glance to the stocky figure, black clad, bespectacled and riotously moustachioed, as he lugged a canvas sack through the dank labyrinth of Parisian slums which in those years clung desperately to the riverside; a pestilential netherworld of fester and reek, of crime and destitution. Down here life was as cheap and vile as the compendious varieties of vice available in every cellar and alley.
Émile, in his mire-bespattered element had been wandering for days through this godforsaken gehenna, alert at all times for the slightest glimpse of his quarry. His client's requirements were exacting but he knew the area well and was certain he would find the right girl in this most wretched and hopeless human sewer.
By mid-morning the rain had cleared and low grey clouds were scudding on a brisk breeze. Émile found himself betwixt a coopers' yard and that of a tannery, the stench from which would have been unbearable had the bitter wind not borne it away from him.
Between the walls of the two yards there was a dark and narrow street, the Rue de Chemin-Vert-Saint-Antoine, which seemed to be exactly what he was looking for. Scarcely wide enough for a handcart it ran for thirty paces between crumbling, ivy-clad walls before opening slightly into a ramshackle terrace of dingy drinking dens and squalid tenements, the cobbles slick with refuse and worse, the buildings leaning at crazy angles, falling forward like drunks and leaving the street below in perpetual semi-darkness.
Émile's eye had been drawn to the pitiful sight of a small girl attempting to clear some kind of pathway through the filth. A tiny, starved waif, dwarfed by the broom she was using, clad in tattered rags; her lank, matted hair soaked from the earlier rain.
He smiled. The child was perfect. He approached slowly, trying not to startle her.
A woman's shout stopped him dead and froze the girl to the spot. Emerging from a narrow alley like some slimy behemoth, a monstrous harridan charged at him.
"Bastard! Pervert!" she yelled accusingly.
Émile, conciliatory, arms out, palms upturned.
"Madame, your daughter?"
"For shame! She is much too young."
She looked him up and down, haughtily.
"I do, however, have a girl more suited. Do you have money?"
"Madame, please! You misunderstand."
He proffered his hand.
"My name is Émile Bayard. I am an artist and merely wish to sketch the child. I can offer you money but all I ask is the chance to draw her just as she stands. She would add a certain character to an illustration I have planned."
The woman looked from Émile to her daughter and back again.
"Two sous!"
Émile produced the money.
"I really am most grateful, Madame. If you would ask your daughter to stand just as she is for a few minutes …"

The girl's wide, frightened eyes stared up at them as Émile peeled back the proof from his etching plate.
Victor gasped, his own eyes suddenly wet with tears.

Émile Bayard's original illustration for Cosette.

My own treasured copy of Les Misérables, bound (beautifully but inexplicably) in bright blue leather.

I have no idea if Bayard found the model for Cosette on the streets.
Perhaps she was paid to pose in a studio, though from the diaries of Bayard's contemporaries whose works I collect it seems likely that Cosette was indeed a street urchin sketched en plein air or at best the daughter of a friend.
I do wonder - when I see those eyes everywhere advertising the musical derived from Hugo's story - what she might think if only she knew how famous her face would become.