Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Fourth Ghost

In the spirit of the season this week’s sentence was taken from Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'.

The sentence was:
'Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.'

The Fourth Ghost

That next summer a fourth Ghost appeared to Scrooge.
Awakened and irritable, he glared at it.
“Ebenezer, you have been slipping back into your old ways so I have been sent to reform you. I am the Ghost of Modern Christmas.”
“Christmas? It's August, you cretin!”
“Ah, but the Modern Christmas begins in August when festive goods start appearing in the shops.”
Scrooge boggled.
The Spectre beckoned.

A moment's confusion as his own familiar chambers dissolved and the Ghost led him through a maze of tiny boxes. To Scrooge's amazement he saw that each contained a worker toiling in far less space than his own clerk, Cratchit. With a grin of delight he resolved to move the man into a cupboard the next morning.

The scene changed and now those same workers assembled in morbid little groups, bitching about one another, drinking cheap, nasty wine and devouring revoltingly greasy, gristly things that Scrooge could not identify as containing any foodstuff that he had ever known.
In darkened cubicles, in party hats, sordid and ill-advised liaisons were reaching their ghastly, alcohol-fuelled nadir, but before Scrooge could express his horror the scene faded, resolving itself anew into a whole town of shopping streets piled on top of one another, and indoors!

Scrooge and the Spirit swept unseen down miles of aisles, their passage through the corporeal world marked only by the mysterious opening and closing of automatic doors. Scrooge screwed up his eyes against the assault of garishly lit and hideously festooned shop displays, asparkle with shimmering tat, piled high with acres of Christmas-themed goods that nobody could possibly want and books with no literary merit whatsoever.

All around him in the bustling throng, family groups veering from potential divorce to mutual homicide screamed obscenities about one another's relatives and argued over money.
Teenaged girls with bottle-blonde hair scraped back from faces livid orange with fake-tan, yelled and swore into mobile phones while trailing caravans of fat shrieking brats in their wake.
The central altar of this obscene temple of Mammon and Misery was not the Nativity but a monstrous plastic abomination, a grotto from beyond Dante's nightmares.
All around it, parents queued - and paid - to place their frightened children in the lap of an obese and elderly man wearing a patently false beard and a garish red suit who cuddled them inappropriately and whispered things into their ears as they cried.
Scrooge reeled back, revolted.
A succession of similar tableaux passed before his ever-widening eyes, spiralling to a crescendo of tinsel-draped horror.

“Are you telling me that by returning to my grasping and curmudgeonly ways I risk losing all of this? Bah! Humbug!”
The Spirit seemed puzzled by his respeonse.
“But Mr. Scrooge! This is the very Spirit of Modern Christmas!”
Scrooge couldn't help himself. It started as a giggle and then got serious.
Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Christmas Karel

This week’s sentence was taken from one of Charles Dickens’ many delightful Christmas Books: The Chimes (A Goblin Story).

The sentence was:
‘A lamentable instance, Mr. Fish.’

A Christmas Karel

"It appears to be an elf, sir."
"I can see it's a bloody elf. What I am at a loss to explain, Mr. Fish, is what it is doing here."
"In the holding cell, Inspector?"
"In REALITY, Mr. Fish."
"I believe it materialised in the lounge bar of The Golden Calf, sir."
Inspector Bird, perennially indefatigable, raised his eyes to Heaven.
"Does it talk?"
"Not a peep, sir, but it was carrying this letter."
The Inspector eyed the envelope with suspicion. In neat copperplate script it bore the legend, 'To Whom It May Concern.'
He tore it open and read the contents aloud:

'Dear Sir/Madam,
In light of recent developments, viz. burgeoning greed and hypocrisy, a catastrophic decline in belief in my own existence and the impossibility of finding good little girls and boys, deliveries are forthwith cancelled.
Yours, etc.
S. Claus.
P.S. The elf's name is Karel. It is housetrained.'

They gazed down at the elf.
It gazed right back up at them.
"Any chance the old bugger's bluffing?"
The elf shook its head, disconsolately.
"He's really cancelling Christmas?"
Karel nodded.
"A lamentable instance, Mr. Fish."
"Indubitably so, sir."
"Christmas? Without greed and hypocrisy?
Christmas IS greed and hypocrisy!
If Claus goes through with this charade, what in Heaven's name will we be left with?"
Fish gazed at his feet.
"Um, peace on earth and goodwill to all men, sir? The birth of Jesus?"
"Pah! Humbug! Next thing you know we'll all be singing carols and giving fat geese to tiny cripples."
A constable handed Fish a sheet of paper and scurried out.
"Reports are coming in, sir: festive goods disappearing from shops, Christmas TV schedules mysteriously cancelled; trees, stockings and decorations vanishing from people's homes; all with a puff of coloured smoke and a kind of soft, plopping sound, it says here."
"Ye Gods, man! There'll be rioting in the streets! Murder! Mayhem! We've got to stop him."
The elf spoke at last.
"It's too late. He's already signed the contract."
"Contract? What contract?"
"He's doing the Fat Elvis circuit in Vegas."
The Inspector rolled his eyes.
"And what about the rest of you … er … guys?"
"We're launching 'Rudolf's', a chain of reindeer-meat burger bars.” He handed them a flyer. “The Fat Man says you’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas so you can bloody well do without it."
And with a puff of coloured smoke and a kind of soft, plopping sound, Karel vanished.

Fish and Bird wandered the station in a daze.
"Sir, all the mince pies have disappeared from the canteen. The tinsel has dropped off our festive handcuffs."
"So that’s it then, Mr. Fish. The end of the modern, materialistic Christmas.”
He sighed.
“Is there nothing left?"
"The Nativity scene is still there, sir. Apparently they all are. All over town."
They walked out into the street, passing family groups, freed from television and the tyrrany of greed.
“Ye Gods! They’re wassailing!”
In the distance, muffled by the fresh-falling snow, church bells were ringing.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Warm Brown Life

This week’s sentence was taken from J.M. Barrie’s delightful precursor to ‘Peter Pan And Wendy’, the Pan we all know and love: ‘Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens.’

The sentence was:
'There is almost nothing that has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf.'

Warm Brown Life

Mister Lunchtime. Perched on the park bench. Passing joggers flailed and gasped, the slap of their soles receding into general background chatter. Kids yelling. Muffled traffic. Park noise.
He tuned it out, apple poised for the first bite.

Sudden movement caught his eye and he instinctively followed it.
A smile creased his face. Ambushed by childish delight: 'There is almost nothing that has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf'.
He watched the wind catch at this one, the desperate fluttering of its final few moments before a sudden blast plucked it free from the tree; torn from the twig where it had been born into springtime and where it had spent this past summer's life that was now ending.
A large plane leaf: deepest yellow flecked with brown at the curling edges. Magnificent in itself. Free of treedom it clearly revelled in this one last mad fling.
A blustery gust and the leaf swooped and swirled, caught an updraught, sparkling gold shimmered in the sunlight as it spun against the deep blue sky.
What a truly beautiful way to go, he thought. Perhaps humans might feel this same sheer uninhibited joy when wrenched free of the burden of life. He somehow doubted it. We should be so lucky.

Still flying; frisky, skittish, playful, whirling in the tumbling breeze.

Watching the leaf duck and dive he felt a momentary pang of regret at being the wrong shape to join in the fun. Physics being physics, even spread-eagled, leaping from the high-board he had always tended to the vertical.
Just once in his life he would love to experience this glorious flutter and glide, to go out like this leaf, in one last gravity-defying dance, whooping and hollering his way to oblivion.

Suicide jumpers, he mused, might come closest to such spectacular flourish, though of course they would need billowy clothes and a really windy day to try it. Mostly people simply dropped, more like fruit than leaves. And just as messy. Rarely would they spin or do anything more than surrender to the inevitability of gravity. On occasion one might hit a ledge on the way down and bounce, cartwheeling, puppet-dancing, an aerobatic spectacular plummeting to the big bang, but usually it was simply a dull demonstration of Newton's laws.
Not his leaf though. This guy was defiantly taking the scenic route.
Mentally he urged it on.
"Fly, you little sucker! Go out in a blaze of glory."

He was glad of the breeze. Pity the leaf that falls on a still day. A few twirls and a curlicue to sign off and then oblivion. The slow transformation to humus.
At last his leaf, sated, settled with a sigh joining the millions basking in the sunshine. Deep drifts the colours of fire would feed next year’s leaves.
Kicking his way happily through this warm brown life, he tossed his apple into a pile of leaves where it disappeared beneath the surface.
Let it join the party.

I love the park …

Magic is always possible there.