Aunty Stella’s Tale (Part One)

CromfordLarry’s Letter

“That was a fine haggis supper, Catriona, you excelled yourself. Are we all here, has anyone seen Slasher McGoogs?”

“He took off after Overmighty Black Douglass, through the rhododendrons.”

“OK. So, where shall I begin? Googleberry had been away visiting rich relatives in Derbyshire, again. He’d been gone a few days when I received a text from him:

OMG A STLLA ∑:>{+’ LDY C’S FNCY DRSS BBQ WSHD OUT COS GUSTING WND SWPT FOUNTAIN AX PATIO! SOCIAL BUMMER = LHK 4EAE GOOGLEBERRY XX = PS LDY C SEZ 2 TELL U LES YT CTS MOBILIZING = LLAP ∑:o3 LOL WUSS *

…closely followed by this Basildon Bond gilt edged letter, delivered to my door by a uniformed dispatch rider on a Brough Superior:Larry Doc

…Obviously urgent and not much leeway for discussion. I only hoped someone along the way would have the where-and-when missing from Larry’s redacted letter. I scrawled a quick note to the family, Lasagna in the fridge, PE kit in airing cupboard, that sort of thing, and left it on the kitchen table. Then Strawberry and I chucked our tooth brushes, clean knickers and a spare pullover each into overnight bags, fired up the Blue Chevy and hit the high road bound for the Dales.

That Chevy needs some work on it. The engine’s clapped out, the seats are incredibly uncomfortable and it is a long haul from home into the upper reaches of Derbyshire. By the time we made the A6 I had progressed from aching all over to being numb from the neck down. Strawberry announced that he was getting rather stiff too. So we parked up in Cromford and visited the local bookshop for soup and builders’ tea. It has a world-renowned Vegan café on the top floor. Vegan soup is not generally regarded as palatable since the flora and fauna on Vega is invariably slimy and tentacly. This facsimile vegan soup, however, was made with nettles and mushrooms and things picked from local hedgerows and was barely slimy at all, with virtually no tentacles. It was delicious.

‘That girl behind the counter, the one with the rasta hair and sandals that gave us the long stare; she got on the phone to someone soon as she’d served us,’ observed Strawberry.

‘I’ve had a tingly feeling for a while, like we’re being watched,’ I replied, ‘Drink up and we’ll crack on.’

Halfway down the stairs we met a middle-aged lady coming up. We stepped back into a room, labelled SATIRE & SURREALIST FICTION, to allow her to pass and were immediately grabbed from behind. Sacks were pulled over our heads; we were bundled out into the street and into the back of some sort of van.

When the sacks were removed I found that I was sitting on a hard wooden chair, nose to nose with an inquisitive lurcher.

‘Let them be, Spike, they may be friendlies.’

We were in a dimly lit barroom surrounded by ruffians in ski masks. One of them rose after studying my face and took off her balaclava.

‘It’s OK, it really is them. I’ve met them before,’ said Snowdrop. ‘Sorry about the rough treatment, Les Chats are watching the roads north of Matlock and we had to grab you quick. It’s important no-one knows you’re here.’

‘They may know already,’ said Strawberry, ‘the girl in the café rang someone.’

‘She’s one of ours. That was our signal to move in.’

The door burst open and in walked a chattering group of hikers.

‘No coach parties,’ snapped the tall, dishevelled landlord, from behind his row of beer engines.

‘But…’

‘We’re closed. What do you think this is, a pub?’ The hikers left, disappointed.

‘Isn’t it a pub?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ replied Snowdrop, ‘but not always welcoming to strangers. Makes for a perfect hide-out.’

‘So, what now,’ said Strawberry.

‘Manchester, but first we need a willing volunteer to wear the Subcomandante Everyman costume,’ she was talking to Strawberry, but looking at me, ‘and you, Strawberry, are a bit on the short side. Come on Aunty Stella, it’s not as if you’d really be in charge or anything.’”

* Translation for those unfamiliar with Googleberry’s version of text speak:

“Oh My God, Aunty Stella, catastrophe, Lady C’s fancy dress barbecue washed out because gusting winds swept fountain across patio! Social bummer. Love, Hugs and Kisses for Ever and Ever, Googleberry, Kiss, Kiss. P.S. Lady C says to tell you Les White Cats mobilising. Live Long And Prosper. Smiley face. Laughs Out Loud With Unintentional Snort Sound.”

 

Gilnockie Tower Part 4

The Tower Besieged

A wraithlike army is pouring out of the deciduous woods that border the castle grounds. White cats in brass goggles are forming up to surround the tower, their white leather greatcoats conspicuous in the flickering firelight of the ravished airship.   They are carrying scaling ladders and grappling hooks, and as the sun goes down Les Chats Souterrains are pushing their dark goggles up onto their pickelhaubs or down to hang round their neck. There are Moss Troopers in the ranks as well, large, fierce tabbies in dented tin-hats, a motley assortment of mismatched armour, basket hilted broadswords and targes. And there are a few mercenaries from the continental wars too, distinguishable by their flamboyant wide brimmed hats with ostrich feathers, slashed jackets and vicious Tua handit swerdis.   (That’s the local name for two-handed swords.)

“That’s the Overmighty Black Douglas down there,” growls The Gilnockie, “treacherous dog.” Black Douglas glances up and they wave to each other. I can make out the uniforms of Le Régiment Étranger over by the ornamental carp pond where cats are checking the magazines on their PPSh-41 Machineguns. A sea of frowning white faces with beady pink eyes stare up at us.

The Gilnockie’s ghillie-weetfit rushes onto the battlements with his master’s brace of Purdy shot guns. “We’ve shuttered the windows and barricaded the door. Have you seen that mob down below, sir? They don’t look very friendly.” Several ghillies appear with arms full of pikes, halberds and scimitars that had, until minutes ago, decorated the walls of the dining hall, and others have brought the contents of the gun cabinet. Catriona is the last up with a bundle of tweed country jackets to keep out the chill.

I am just starting to feel a bit better about our chances when another bunch of ruffians emerge to form up behind Les Chats. These are huge ginger haired highlanders in kilts and Borderers in scraps of ancient, ill-fitting armour, cuirasses and plackarts, mail, greaves and vambraces. Mostly they are carrying old Sten Guns and assault rifles, Czech Sa vz 58Ps, Enfield Bullpups, Sturmgewehr 44s, Cristobal carbines and stuff I can only guess at; trophies from countless raids and conflicts, passed down from father to son.

“Those were my boys,” says The Gilnockie, “Looks like they’ve sided with the opposition. Sorry. We could be out on a bit of a limb, here.”

But the newcomers aren’t exactly mingling or being welcomed. Les Chats are starting to look uncomfortable and mumbling amongst themselves. And now the cavalry has arrived, in olive green fatigues and balaclavas, hefting AK-47s. I can see a tall white horse ridden by a slim chap in a flamboyant hussar uniform with his face hidden behind a ski mask under his shiny black shako.

That’s, Subcomandante Everyman,” I shout. And Boz looks quizzically at Slasher McGoogs:

“I thought you were Subcommandante Everyman.”

“Not this time old chap,” he replies. Because it is the Snake Pass Zapatistas and there is their black banner with a scull and crossbones, and Snowdrop canters out of the woods on her tachanka with Strawberry manning the Maxim Model 1910.

Les Chats Soutarrains have split into small groups, with their hands in their pockets, staring at their feet or whistling innocently. The scaling ladders have been abandoned on the lawn and are being avoided by their erstwhile owners. The white menace is melting away with the cats of Le Régiment Étranger covering their retreat whilst trying hard to look as if they are not, and the Zapatistas strike up a merry La Cucaracha to encourage the departure.SC Everyman Colourised S

We are all rushing down stairs and wrenching away the heavy timbers that brace the outside door and are dashing out to meet the Zapatistas. Les Chats Souterrains are all gone, Black Douglass and his Moss Troopers have disappeared and the mercenaries are trying to negotiate a change of paymaster, without much success. Subcomandate Everyman springs down from his charger. He strides over towards us, removing his shako and ski mask. And it is Aunty Stella!

Byline: Phoebles (mostly)

Somewhere north of The Wall

Star Stone Trilogy – Book One: Yii, Chapter nine (cont.)

Now, after a night’s sleep, and most of a day to find her way around and recover from the journey, the Colonel and his wife had brought her as far as the cage.

The Colonel pointed out Yii to Sarah.

‘This is a strange person. We think he is a wolf boy, that is, someone who has got away from his parents as a small child and been brought up by wolves. We don’t really know much about him, but he could be dangerous. It’s all very strange.’

Sarah asked where he had come from, and the Colonel explained again how he found him. They all stood looking at Yii, who was sitting on his haunches and gazing at them. He was quite expressionless – though actually both sad, because he didn’t understand what was happening to him, and also curious, fascinated with the sight of this new person. The Colonel and the others talked for a while, but then the Colonel was then called away, and went off with his wife and Dr Raybourne. Sarah hung back, left alone to study Yii, which she did with great intensity looking at him with genuine interest, her head tipped slightly to one side, a puzzled look on her face, trying to make him out, to discover a way of understanding him, even of communicating.

Yii in turn looked with genuine interest at this new person who seemed curious about him, yet curious in an interested way, eager to engage directly with him perhaps, rather than simply talk about him as an object. He sensed someone who might just be able to understand him, who might be able to open a door into this strange world and answer some of his puzzling questions.

So he chose this moment to try to speak to her, seeking to engage her attention.

Pointing to himself, he kept saying his name: ‘Yii,’ and again: ‘Yii.’ Over and over. Sarah was puzzled by what sounded at first like growls or grunts. Was he just an animal, or was he trying to say something. Eventually Sarah caught on.

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘it’s your name: Yii.’ And pointing to him she said his name: ‘Yii.’ Yii was delighted and showed it, standing and almost dancing with an animation and a liveliness he had never shown since being in the cage.

‘Yii,’ he said again. ‘In Yii!’ (‘I’m Yii’).

Now it was Sarah’s turn to engage in the pantomime, and pointing to herself, she said her name: ‘Sarah,’ and again, ‘Sarah.’

This posed a small problem for Yii since he was used to a limited language where words were normally of one syllable. However, he made a great effort: ‘Sar – rah,’ he grunted, ‘Sar – rah.’ Sarah, trying to be encouraging and overcome his growl, spoke in a higher voice:

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘Sarah. Sarah.’ Showing the connectedness of the syllables.

‘Sar-ah,’ said Yii. ‘Sar-ah’.

‘That’s right,’ said Sarah. ‘Keep trying. Sarah; Sarah.’

This time Yii got it right, ‘Sarah,’ he said, ‘Sarah,’ delightedly pointing to her and repeating her name over and over.

‘Well done!’ said Sarah, ‘Very well done!’ Also delighted. They both laughed happily. The connection had been made, communication opened up.

Thus began an initially painful effort at language, but an effort which grew, gradually at first, and then rapidly less painful, and ultimately flowed and flowered with ease, for Yii like Sarah demonstrated a remarkable gift for language despite the severe limits of his own language..

Gilnockie Tower Part 3

Gilnockie Tower UFOLes Chats’ Foo Fighter

Then we all tuck in to our porridge, which is REALLY salty, not like at home, and I’m not liking it much, but you got to be polite. Conversation is replaced by munching for a while and then Boz pipes up:

“I’ve got an idea. It’s the Tamworth Ranters’ Gala coming up soon, and that’s always good for a laugh. Lets all meet there and after the fun we can have a conference. If you sir…” he addresses The Gilnockie, “ …bring some of your chaps and this pirate king along, we’ll get Larry to join us and we can thrash out a deal.”

“Sounds good to me,” says The Gilnockie of Gilnockie, “Will there be booze?”

“Good Burton ale,” says Ginsbergbear, puffing quietly on his Peterson briar.

“But no weapons,” chips in Barrymore, “and that includes bagpipes.”

“What about Les Chats Souterrains?” asks Ferdy, “No one’s mentioned them yet.”

“Ah…”

That’s when I become aware of a whirry buzzing noise from outside.

“Last time I heard a sound like that we were running for our lives in Castleton,” says I.

“Oh no,” groans Boz. And we all rush up onto the battlements in time to see the metallic Frisbee glinting pink and mauve in the setting sunlight.

“Is that a real flying saucer?” shouts The Gilnockie.

“Les Chats Souterrains’ foo-fighter,” says Ferdy, “We really don’t need this right now.”

It’s got revolving, flashing lights and flies straight over the croquet lawn level with the battlements, and it is so close we can see the pilot’s face, all white and demented in dark goggles. The flying saucer whizzes right past us, cranks its death ray round and targets The Airship of State. And it doesn’t do the dirigible any good at all. There are a series of explosions and a sort of crumpling metal greeouch noise and our airship transport collapses in on itself in flames.

“Bugger.” Says Slasher McGoogs, looking pointedly at Boz, “Someone’s going to get that stopped out of his pocket money.”

“If they’ve scorched my Roller,” screams The Gilnockie, “I’m going to get really cross.”

The foo fighter is just beginning to train its death ray onto the upper floors of Gilnockie Tower when a stream of bullets is pinging off it’s hull. Out of the majestic, orange disc of the sun races a little crimson Rata, and it will be opening up with its cannons any moment. The saucer recoils and then hurtles off towards the east at an incredible speed, enthusiastically pursued by Polly, shooting as she goes. But there’s more…

“Hens’ teeth!” exclaims Slasher McGoogs as he peers over the parapet and his Mauser Red9 materialises in his right paw.

Gilnockie Tower Part 2

The Gilnockie of GilnockieGilnockie of Gilnockie

Once we have all tumbled out onto the gravel drive a window in the tower opens and someone shouts, “Come on in and get yourselves out of the cold,” ‘cos it is quite nippy out. There’s a flight of narrow stone stairs on the outside of the tower, up to a small doorway on the first floor and the door is really heavy, three layers thick of oak planking laid at right angles to each other, which is called axe proof, and lots of iron strapping. Inside, the reception hall is stark stonework, but we are met by a homely little woman in an apron and ushered into what she describes as the library.   The walls are lined with bookshelves and the shelves filled with books. There is a tiny window, a huge inglenook containing a miserably weedy fire and a few stubs of candles scattered about for lighting. Drawn up close to the fireplace is a large leather wing-backed armchair.

“Come and warm yourselves by the fire,” says the chair. Only it’s not the chair talking. A tabby, greying-whiskered face appears round the side and a short, rather portly cat rises to great us. He wears a maroon fez on his head, a crushed-velvet smoking jacket, a dress kilt of the same green and light blue, with a little bit of red, tartan as we saw on the ghillies, bed socks and carpet slippers. His turquoise eyes survey us through wire-rimmed pince-nez.

“I am the Gilnockie of Gilnockie,” and he shakes all our hands, and Ferdinand’s wing stub, vigorously. We grab what seating we can and draw up to the fire. Boz and Slasher have wobbly stools, Ferdy, Barrymore and Ginsbergbear are cosied up on a wooden bench and I found a beanbag that looked really comfy, but it has just swallowed me and I don’t feel very dignified.

“Catriona will be in shortly with porridge and mugs of malt whisky.   No point wasting time, while we wait we can start the negotiations.”

Slasher was the first to speak. “Has there been any follow up to our chat last time I was up this way?”

“Ah well… There have been meetings. The Moss Troopers are Felis Silvestris Grampia, like myself, and will follow their own inclinations regardless of what I suggest. But for the most part the Border Reivers are fed up to the back teeth with your aggressive policing. It is getting in the way of commerce and legitimate cattle thieving. They are willing to sign up to a truce while they see how it pans out. I have also been in touch with the pirate king. Do you know him, Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp? He doesn’t have quite the authority his title suggests, but the Corsairs can’t move in the North Sea at the moment without one of your airships turning up, so they’re willing to talk.”

There is a commotion at the door and the lady in the apron, who it turns out, is Catriona, wheezes into the library pushing a rattly old catering trolley. It’s got steaming bowls of thick, dishwater-grey porridge, a huge bottle of Bunnahabhain single malt whisky and a blowtorch. She pours the whisky over the porridge and then flambés it with the torch. There is a scary whump of flame and some of the nearby books catch light. She calmly throws the burning tomes to the floor and stamps them out.

“There’ll be haggis for tea, if the Gillies have managed to bag one, with champit tatties and bashed neeps.”

“Thank you, Catriona, we can barely wait.”