First, a doleful announcement: I have failed to attain the dizzy heights of Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. Jack And The Banshee-Bird was, in the judge’s opinion, pretty good, but not quite good enough. Alas!
But, gentle reader, do not repine! I have a piece of fiction here for you that, last year, DID attain the dizzy heights described above. I just realized that I hadn’t actually shared this incredible work of folly with you before, and I now hasten to repair this error. I believe that my assignment was as follows:
A Car Accident
…but it was last year, and my memory is, frankly, terrible. Anyway, this tale did move me on to Round 2 of last year’s competition; in fact, I think it got first place in its category. Because it was just that good.
Without further ado, then…
Lyrical Lord Pinchbottom
George II Inlaid Mahogany Supper Table
It was Friday night, and we were in our usual places at The Lion, our local pub.
“I want,” said George, “to go to America.”
“No,” said A Voice, “you don’t. I will tell you why.”
And so he did, despite all our protests.
I am (said the man) a Musical Entertainer, known professionally as Lyrical Lord Pinchbottom. I am a brave practitioner of the refined art of Chap Hop, and it was in this role (of a B.P. of the R.A. of C.H.) that I left my native land to travel across seas. I had been hired to perform at various Steampunk conventions. We are proud, but poor, and we do as we must.
My first “gig” was Antikythera Con, to be held, apparently, in a field in rural Pennsylvania. My first view of America, from the window of the taxi I hired at the airport, suggested most of the country consisted of churches (some of which expressed the most alarming sentiments on their little boards outside), cemeteries, pastures, cows, and, in the middle distance, farms.
It seemed to be dark, in America. Either it was not yet daybreak or I had not been sufficiently briefed. It was early June, and the air thrummed with crickets. I was soothed. I was, in fact, charmed.
I didn’t know I would, that very day, cross swords with crime, and death, and scoffers.
My hotel room was neat to the point of negation. I spent some time remedying this. Then, lovingly, I unpacked my accordion and began to rehearse.
A knock sounded on my door. A large and angry bellhop headed the large and angry mob filling the hallway. They seemed to object to accordion music in the middle of the night.
“Very well,” I told them severely, “I shall take my accordion elsewhere.”
This, I was revolted to note, was greeted with cheers and coarse ribaldry. The crowd dispersed; the bellhop offered to help me pack.
“My good man,” I told him, “I do not intend to quit this establishment for good. I would- and gladly- were I not here on Antikythera Con’s dollar. As it is, the only other accommodation locally is a Ritz, for which they will not spring.”
He looked disappointed. I cared not. I went on. “I merely intend,” I said, “to take my accordion and stroll out into the waking world, composing new rap stylings as I go.”
“Rappers,” he told me, “do not play accordions.”
I was aghast. Could it be that this man was so musically out of touch as not to have heard of Chap-Hop? I twirled my mustache and viewed him with concern. “Laddie,” I told him, after a moment of silent soul-searching, “go and Google Chap-Hop. It will, perhaps, do you good.”
“No,” he said, and went away.
In somber mood I left the hotel, but I soon forgave the loutish bellhop for his loutishness. I even composed him a song, which I, rather puckishly, plotted to spring on him later in my stay, when he would not expect it. This would simultaneously satisfy my honor and enrich his soul. I liked to picture him, weeping with joy at my feet, and apologizing for the dreadful things he’d said. I would, I decided, be dignified, but kind.
I based my new composition on the poem in M.R. James’ story “Number Thirteen.” Rhythmically, I intended to reference The Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right… To Party.
It went like this:
When I am thrown from my hotel
At 5 O’Clock AM,
For the raising of unholy hell
With my accordion…
No. No, it wouldn’t quite do. AM and accordion, I mean to say. The rhyme was a little too slant. I played pensively upon my squeezebox and racked my brain for better, brighter rhymes.
I never found any.
When I compose, I become abstracted. I tend to lose track of the world around me. I did not, therefore, notice the moving van hurtling towards me until too late. I felt something hit me in the accordion, and then, for a time, there was but blackness.
I came to slowly, and discovered, to my surprise, that I was not dead. I groped for my accordion. It was Not There. I sat up and looked about me. The moving van was wrapped around a tree. The back hatch was open. I stumbled towards it, in the addle-pated hope that someone had moved my accordion into the van, perhaps to prevent it from warping in the sun.
The moving van was empty save for a scrap of paper, looking abandoned and much stepped-upon, upon the floor. I picked it up.
“Sotheby’s,” it said at top. It went on to list some very fancy furniture with fancier prices. For example: George II Inlaid Mahogany Supper Table, $20,000.
I checked the van again. No supper tables of any kind. In fact, still nothing. And yet surely this was an inventory. There was an address at the top. Herman T. Ermyntrude, 1 Piscebibula Way, Waverly, PA. It had the current day, month, and year as the delivery date. Perhaps (he said, seeming to remember our existence) you chaps will say the furniture had already been delivered. This would, you would potentially continue, neatly account for the emptiness of the van. Ah, but mark, I say in reply, the sequel.
For at that moment I chanced to glance towards a nearby cornfield, just in time to see a George II Inlaid Mahogany Supper Table vanishing into it.
I must still have been groggy from the crash, for I am not commonly, I think, a stupid man. I came to the conclusion that Herman T. Ermyntrude’s residence must be quite close, perhaps only a cornfield or two away. Having crashed their vehicle, the movers must have decided to hoof it the rest of the way, carrying the furniture. I further concluded that one of the movers must have seen my accordion lying on the ground and erroneously concluded that it, too, was rightful property of Mr. Ermyntrude. He had therefore scooped it up and taken it. Why he hadn’t decided to scoop me up, too, I did not know, but perhaps there was some innocent and humane explanation for this fact as well. I would ask him when I caught him up.
“I say!” I cried, and plunged in among the corn.
Somewhere in the distance, I heard the wail of a siren.
I stumbled on.
“Movers? Table?” I cried. Something about being alone in all that corn made me long for human society, or at least the soothing aura of a very expensive table. “Accordion?” I cried, rather more loudly, for the company of that noble instrument would, of course, be most consoling of all.
The siren grew louder still, then, abruptly, cut off. I heard a babble of voices from the direction of the road.
“I-” I said. I meant to call out some greeting to the police officers.
In the event, I did not. A meaty hand emerged from the corn and clamped around my mouth.
“Shaddap,” said A Voice.
“Who,” demanded a Second Voice, “is making that racket?”
“Let’s see,” said the First Voice. I was dragged through the corn.
I was looking at an enormous man. His face was acne from chin to hairline. I felt fairly certain the man who had a death-grip on my face was similarly enormous. The man with the acne held the George II Inlaid Mahogany Supper Table in one hand; in his other hand he held my accordion. I saw this, and squirmed feebly.
“It’s the guy who wrecked our van,” Acne-Man said.
Well, really! It is not mannerly to hit someone with a vehicle then blame them for wrecking it, it really isn’t. I would have mentioned this, had I been in a position to mention anything.
“Cops,” said the man who held me. “What we do with him?” He joggled me at Acne-Man. “I think he’s gonna yell his head off if he’s let.” I nodded. The man had read my character correctly. I warmed to him slightly. “I could knock him out,” he continued. All warmth fled from my assessment. In fact, I decided I positively disliked both these men. It occurred to me, belatedly, that they were criminals, and had no intention of taking any furniture to Herman T. Ermyntrude.
Acne-Man thought, then shook his head. “No,” he said, “because you don’t know how quick he’ll come ’round. He might not even go all the way under, and he’ll wake up and shout his head off before we get clear. We’ll have to take him with us.”
And that is what they did. I struggled, until they laid out the personal consequences this behavior would have should it continue.
“I,” said the Enormous, Unseen Man, “will fucking strangle you if you keep flopping around like that.”
He squeezed my neck a little, to show me what it would be like, and I found his demonstration convincing. I ceased struggling. I allowed myself to be led for what seemed like miles in that cornfield. I developed a morbid theory: all of America was cornfields, and we were heading to California, presumably navigating by magnetic fields. Eventually, however, we left the corn behind us. We came out onto a footpath, and I was hustled along it, up a hill and into a wood. As we ascended, I looked down upon the field. There were several police cars around the smashed van, and I fancied I detected movement within the corn. But they were near the road, thus too far away to do me any good. I smiled sadly and bid them a silent goodbye.
It was a lonely sort of wood. I did not like it. It seemed damp and unhealthy.
At least the hand was finally removed from my face.
I can still taste that hand, on dark nights. A pungent mix of sweat, blood, dirt, and Sin, it tastes absolutely beastly.
We finally reached a tiny cabin, around which enormous men bustled back and forth, carrying the pricy furniture. As we approached, bustling ceased.
The Most Enormous Man stepped through the doorway (there was no front door) and regarded us. He was, I think, about seven foot five, and resembled a plate-illustration of an ogre (the type of ogre who is interested in the blood of Englishmen) I saw once in my childhood. I never opened that book again.
“The accordion man,” said the Ogre.
“What ho, what what,” I said, suavely.
The Ogre narrowed his eyes. “Are you English, or only pretending to be English?”
All my fears were confirmed. Just as some people prefer tea hailing from China, others that from India, Ogres, too, have regional preferences, when it comes to blood. Or so I concluded. I was, perhaps, slightly overwrought. “I am English,” I said, with dignity.
“Why,” he asked, “do you talk like a national stereotype?” He asked absently, glancing at his watch at frequent intervals. He was obviously filling time before something happened. All the enormous men were, in fact, waiting. I felt that when whatever they were awaiting happened, they would no longer find me entertaining, and probably do something horrid. I inched towards my accordion, which Acne-Man had contemptuously tossed aside.
“Sir Ogre, I shall explain,” I said, preparing to Freestyle For Life.
“Why should I wallow
in a life called hollow
Even by its biggest fans?
No! I disown it:
I won’t text or phone it.
I upend it, un-follow, un-friend it,
won’t swallow, I’ll end it!
I’ll unseat it,
I refuse to re-tweet it.
Last breathing, the classiest blast-
I, the glorious past.”
Not my best work, but I was under pressure. They looked hostile, but interested. My fingers worked the old squeezebox. Now, to find the catch. Ah, I had it.
“You modern souls sicken,
If I say, what the Dickens,” Click.
“or squawk like a chicken-” here I flapped my arms divertingly. They were Not Diverted, but they were Misdirected, which was to the point. The quickness of the hand deceives the eye. I flapped again, this time drawing a thin, deadly blade from my accordion’s frame.
In explanation: I am sometimes booked to perform in pubs by people who don’t know what style of entertainment they are engaging, only that it seems to come cheap. And there is something about me that induces mass homicidal mania in certain audiences. I have therefore taken precautions, such as concealing a blade, and learning what to do with said blade once it is drawn. What I generally do is swing it wildly around me while screaming and charging towards the nearest exit. That, in a modified form, is what I did at this moment.
I was expecting this to be more or less instantaneously fatal (for yours truly, not, alas, for the thugs), and it would have been, I think, had not the police at that moment charged down as one body upon our merry band. I would have liked to stay and chat with these brave officers, but I had charged inadvertently down a hill, and seemed to be continuing on in that fashion, willy-nilly.
I was soon far from the fray.
I stopped to catch my breath and contemplate life.
It was then the Ogre stepped out of some Ogre-hiding shadows the wood seemed to have provided especially for him. He smiled at me, and there was blood and death in that smile.
“Fe Fi Fo Fum,” he said, advancing upon me with terrible slowness. I screeched like a woman and fled.
I did not flee far. There was a totally unexpected sort of gully about two feet behind the place where I had stood to catch up on oxygen; I fell in it.
The Ogre loomed.
He grabbed my blade out of my weakened and sweaty hand.
He raised it high.
I closed my eyes and tried to recall how praying worked.
There was an explosion.
I opened my eyes.
The Ogre looked momentarily surprised, then slumped to the ground.
I stayed in my gully, awaiting developments.
A Shape soon loomed over me. It had a jolly red face and an enormous wide-brimmed hat. It beamed down benevolently at me.
“Hi!” It said. “Herman T. Ermyntrude, at your service. I been huntin’ furniture all day. I don’t like to sit back and let it get delivered,” he explained, with anxious honesty, “because then often as not it don’t never show up at’all.”
I stammered out my thanks.
“Aw, it weren’t a thing,” he said. Then his eyes fell on my accordion. “Hey now,” he said, running his eyes over it lustfully, “how much you want for that there squeezebox?”
Lyrical Lord Pinchbottom looked at us sadly.
“Did you take his offer?” We asked, eagerly.
He just shook his head, not, I think, in denial, but in puzzlement.
“Don’t go to America,” he told us.