Parodies & Possibilities: End of the Year Part the Last

More curiosities arising from this year’s greydogtales articles, some stumbling reflections and a bit of writing news. Oh no, it’s our final End of the Year review. This isn’t a ‘best of’ or self-congratulatory creature. Ideas and connections spark ideas and connections. Something new arose after almost every post, often something more interesting than the original whimsy.

And it is the end of the year as we know it. Except to the many people who have a different one. Some Orthodox Christians celebrate the New Year on 16th January, going by the old Julian character. Our circle of friends in Yorkshire always celebrates the Chinese New Year, which moves about around the end of January and early February. And if you feel daring, the Aztec version starts on 12th March.

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an aztec calendar for easy use

We’ll be conventional today and go for the regular one, with a last look at what emerged from greydogtales broadcasts in 2015. We gave the lurchers a good run on here a couple of days ago, so now we go hard-core (ish).

Weird Art was one of our most productive themes in this regard, and it hasn’t finished yet. Every post led to more artists being mentioned, and in some cases suggestions for (or even offers of) further illustrated features. Much to our surprise, we ended up skittering around the UK, the United States, Denmark and Argentina.

John Coulthart raised the name of Santiago Caruso, who produces strange and surreal imagery, some of which has adorned the covers of weird fiction. Caruso has described himself as “a Symbolist, who recreates the deformation of reality that the human being perceives”.

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santiago caruso

The Weird Fiction Review website has an interview with Caruso, if you want to know more:

weird fiction review

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santiago caruso

And you might guess that Caruso is Argentinian. It has been a genuine pleasure to conspire with fellow Argentinians and creative friends Sebastian Cabrol and Diego Arandojo during the year, digging deeper into South American weird art.

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sebastian cabrol

Following frequent mentions of Quique Alcatena, Diego recently brought another of Alcatena’s works to our attention – Empire of Blood, concerning an alternate British-ruled India. More about this in later posts.

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The imagery of folk-horror came to the fore as the year started to close, mostly thanks to the work of Andy Paciorek and other enthusiasts, who are reviving and re-interpreting this area with great vigour.

Andrew Paciorek Fir Darring
fir darring, andy paciorek

We don’t usually think that the world needs more genres or sub-genres, but there is something in this one which hangs together, as exemplified in the recent Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies book mentioned here before. If you’re not interested in British countryside weirdness, think Appalachian folk studies or the film “Winter’s Bone” – the brooding darkness of small communities and their secrets.

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And what of John Linwood Grant and his misunderstood relative, J Linseed Grant? Well, we have more Good News from the Spiritualist Telegraph to slide in before year’s end. With luck and a following wind, Spring will see the publication of the Tales of the Last Edwardian novella, “A Study in Grey”, as part of 18th Wall’s Science of Detection series.

Put briefly, early on in their new career, Henry Dodgson and Abigail Jessop assist one Captain Redvers Blake in uncovering Edwardian treachery. Oh, and Sherlock Holmes plays his part. It’s been an enjoyable challenge to write a novella which is canonical to both Tales of the Last Edwardian and Conan Doyle’s creation, without compromising or screwing up either. Possibly.

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We’re also pleased to confirm that more jlg weird stories will definitely be published on the open market next year, thanks to frenetic anthology and magazine submissions between blog posts. And Sandra’s First Pony, the Enid Blyton/H P Lovecraft crossover by J Linseed Grant, continues unabated, whether people want it or not. Harrumble!

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Oh, and on the subject of harrumble, we discovered a new profanity this year – cockwomble. We can see many uses for this in 2016.

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Exploring William Hope Hodgson and Carnacki during our Octoberfest, you may remember that we raised the subject of pastiches and parodies, which led to David Langford‘s excellent collection He Do the Time Police in Different Voices. The connection is Dave’s Dagon Smythe stories based loosely on Carnacki. These parodies are witty, intelligent and often quite hilarious, whilst his pastiches can be quite loving, and we recommend them all.

timepolhe do the time police in different voices

But – the sequel to this is that as a result we went into the Magic Loft and unearthed a treasured copy of John Sladek‘s The Steam-Driven Boy and Other Strangers (1973).

21432612253_e95a175db0The connection is that Sladek includes ten great parodies of classic SFF authors. Thus you can find, between the two volumes, such pleasures as:

  • Three Isaac Asimov parodies – Broot Force by Iclick as-i-move (Sladek), Tales of the Black Scriveners and The Last Robot Story by Is**c As*m*v (Langford).
  • Classics such as The Purloined Butter, purportedly by Poe, H G W*lls story, Pemberly’s Start-Afresh Calliope (both Sladek) and a wonderful G K Chesterton Father Brown parody The Spear of the Sun, by G K Ch*st*rt*n (Langford).

Our favourite from the Sladek volume is the piss-take of Cordwainer Smith, One Damned Thing After Another, but you’d probably have to know Cordwainer Smith’s odd and marvellously different creation, The Instrumentality, to get it. Which comment should lead us on to a celebration of The Instrumentality, but maybe some other time. You can get the Sladek here:

the steam-driven boy and other strangers

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We still have deep love for classic authors, of course, especially the weird or supernatural ones, and so we introduced E G Swain, Sir Andrew Caldecott, William Hope Hodgson (of course), E & H Heron, and Henry S Whitehead, with a smattering of H P Lovecraft and M R James mentions along the way. As this theme continues in 2016, it will be scientifically based on things I find in the loft and stories I can half-remember. From thirty years ago.

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There you have it, dearest listeners. Broadcasting out of a derelict shepherd’s hut on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, and living off what the longdogs don’t get first, this has been greydogtales 2015. Thank you for tuning in, and special thanks to those creative human beans who have made greydogtales so collaborative and given up their time, artwork or ideas. We hope that somewhere along the way you have all found something to interest or amuse you,

henrymeme

Literature, lurchers and life, the weirdest things you’ll ever meet.

Next time: Our imagined calendar of what we hope to cover, and the beginning of 2016 weird…

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Days of Whine and Lurchers: End of the Year Review Part 2

A mostly canine review today, to do justice to the longdogs. Some unseen photos of our pack, some new photos from Katy of her longdog Eva, and the curious monastic regime of Django, one of our own little monsters. We do spoil it towards the end, though, by mentioning book stuff again…

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our only short-dog, doing something disgusting as usual

As we said last episode, the popularity of the Lurchers for Beginners series took us by surprise. It wasn’t even meant to be a series, for starters. During the year we covered What is a Lurcher, Lurchers and Your (ex) Garden, Common Questions about Lurchers, Lurcher Equipment and sundry other related topics.

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chilli explains to django exactly how the garden will be destroyed (it doesn’t look like this any more)

And although we use lurcher as a general cover-all term, people still ask us what we mean by longdogs, so we’ll slam it up one last time. Typically, a longdog is a cross between two sighthounds. Greyhound or whippet is often one half of the blend; the other can be saluki, deerhound or any other sighthound. Mix and match to your heart’s content. But don’t expect to be able to catch them…

To illustrate longdog types, we posted photos every so often of Django, Chilli, Ann’s Roxy (beautiful deerhound x) and Michaela’s Nicky (the amazing tripod). As we’re nearly out of year, we just have time to add Katy’s Eva, who is, by general reckoning, a greyhound x saluki. These are particularly nice because a couple of the shots really do show the “long” part of the name. Katy kindly sent us these after contact through Lurcher Link (photo credits – Katy herself and Peter Austin).

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eva demonstrates that lurcher/longdog smile
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ready for takeoff
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whee – i can fly!
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now you see why they’re called *long* dogs

Many thanks to Katy, and to others who have sent longdog photos throughout 2015.

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it’s dinner time – do something, now!

Speaking of heart’s content, we have now pinned down the strange connection between Brother Cadfael and Django. Dogs vary (surprisingly) in how they tell you they want something.

Thinking about  some of our earlier dogs, Radar used to use a peremptory single bark: I want it, now. Jade merely looked aggrieved and waited patiently. Twiglet, still astonishingly with us at 16, is given to both the Radar-bark and a hefty shove or bat with a large paw: I want it now and I’m going to hit you until I get it. Chilli signals her requirements by pushing a very cold nose in your face and knocking your glasses off.

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our late jade in a cheery mood

But Django… well, he whines. Boy, does he whine.

This might be fine on occasion, except that he adheres to a form of traditional monastic timetable which links every part of the day to a particular service. You know, where the monks have to traipse into the chapel at set hours, regardless of what else is happening. I recently managed to pin down Django’s exact schedule of service, which goes as follows:

0700 hrs  Breakfast – large bowl of yummy raw mince and bits.
1000 hrs  First Walkies – rain, sunshine, tempest, doesn’t matter. Poo forecast – light to middling.
1300 hrs  Lunch – scraps, chicken bits, anything that falls out of our sandwiches.
1500 hrs  Formal Nap – everyone should go upstairs and doze in a heap together, possibly with jumping on and off bed if First Walkies was boring.
1700 hrs  Second Walkies – especially in pouring rain, tempest etc. Poo forecast – heavy, may need multiple poo-bags.
1800 hrs  Dinner – large bowl of yummy raw mince and bits, preferably with fish or yucky bits extra (liver, kidneys, heart, last night’s uneaten peas and sprouts). Everyone else’s bowl if they’re not fast enough.
2000 hrs  Bone Time – forgotten at everyone’s peril.
1200 hrs  Supper – the sundry bits we’d been saving for a special treat (for us).
0200 hrs  Traffic direction – Chilli always takes the best dog-bed and guards it, Twiglet’s too obstinate to move, so Django has to be guided to a safe landing position.

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you appear to be eating my sandwich

The above schedule wasn’t our idea. He decided that this was how he liked things, and set up vocal signals to train us acordingly. Any deviation is met with plaintive, highly annoying whines and general restlessness of the masses. As his regime leaves only five hours of potential human sleep, we are fortunate to have at least one of us semi-awake throughout that long day.

He is a joy, but a very whiny one when all’s said and done.

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On the non-dog, rather than the long-dog side, we explored the joys of audio. This included an article on the outstanding radio series McLevy, based on the exploits of a real life Victorian detective in the Edinburgh police. See At Last: CSI Edinburgh

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david ashton

So we were delighted to receive a subsequent e-mail from the talented David Ashton, the Scottish author and actor who writes McLevy (and star in it as Lieutenant Roach, McLevy’s boss). Amongst some kind remarks, he passed on the following:

The subsequent (BBC Audio) releases are scheduled for 1 October (Series 3 & 4) and 7 January 2016 (Series 5 & 6). We’ll all be in our Zimmer frames by the time it eventually comes out.

Sadly also the BBC in its wisdom have decreed that series 12 is to be the last. Series 11 is to be broadcast from Dec 14th (I think) 2015. Series 12 we haven’t recorded yet.

If you haven’t heard McLevy, buy, borrow it or download it. Episodes vary in their seriousness and topics. Some have a wry sense of humour and contain many wonderful observations on Victorian society and justice. At times, though, there are episodes which are haunting and quite horrifying, proving that you don’t need an actual monster to scare you – it just takes human nature.

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I can’t judge other people’s tastes, but if you would prefer reading some McLevy as opposed to listening, you might try out one of David Ashton’s books. Fall from Grace is a good one, bringing in the infamous Tay bridge disaster. Enthusiasts of Victorian fiction might also like Nor Will He Sleep, in which Inspector McLevy meets up with one Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Jekyll and Hyde, in the city to bury his recently deceased father (link on right sidebar – to the book, not the deceased father).

Towards the end of the week, a quick update to our 2015 weird and horror-related posts, and then it’s time for 2016…

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Naked Lurchers & Quique Alcatena: End of the Year Part 1

Quite amazingly, greydogtales is FIVE. Months, of course, not years. Who would have thought that a penniless match-girl from the cholera-stricken slums of Yorkshire could rise to command such an empire of weird pleasure? No-one, of course. Instead, dear listeners, we married her…

Gosh, those tablets were hard to swallow. Much like greydogtales. But we feel better now, so for the last few posts of 2015, we’re going to wrap up our first calendar year of lurchers, literature and life by providing a miscellany of updates and oddities.

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‘christmas nude lurcher scandal’, the batley herald and gazette

The great controversy of the year, of course, has been the cutting-edge debate on whether or not Django should be wearing pants, given his shameless habit of lying upside down with his legs apart. So far the consensus is that as he doesn’t have his family jewels, he should get away with it.

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django’s teddy removes his pants in protest

We had two unexpected successes during 2015, both of which started as mere whimsies. The Lurcher for Beginners series, which began in early September, took off rather dramatically. We can still tell when we’ve published one of these by looking at the huge spike in readership for days afterwards. And if we don’t write about longdogs and lurchers often enough, we get sent huge spikes. So that series may have to continue in the New Year.

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The other series which went down surprisingly well was our extended tribute to William Hope Hodgson, The Writer on the Borderland, throughout October. We didn’t think we could get more niche and limited, but enthusiasts of the ‘grandfather of weird fiction’ emerged in great numbers from their protective pentacles to take part. We shall have to celebrate someone far more obscure and less popular next time.

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Later in the year we discovered South America, which must have been a surprise to the South Americans, who thought they already knew who and where they were. So our first end-of-year link is to a documentary by our friend Diego Arandojo, who came on greydogtales along with the illustrator Sebastian Cabrol in November. Diego has just produced Alcatena, which looks at the life and work of the famous Argentinan cartoonist Enrique ‘Quique’ Alcatena, the creator of worlds and fantastic creatures, with contributions from colleagues, friends and family.

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batman, quique alcatena

The documentary is predominantly in Spanish, but well worth a view even if you don’t speak the language. For one thing, Diego has captured numerous pieces of Quique’s artwork, from space opera to the Metal Men comic, and these are a joy to behold. Additionally, if you hover around after 1hr10m, you will see and hear US comics writer Chuck Dixon talking (in English) about his projects with Quique. Dixon is known for his work on Marvel’s Alien Legion, The Punisher and DC’s Batman (amongst many other things), and here he discusses the Leatherwing comic featuring ‘Pirate Batman’, and other projects he has done with Quique.

Alcatena (2015, Diego Arandojo)

Vida y obra del historietista argentino Enrique “Quique Alcatena”. Una mirada profunda sobre este creador de mundos y seres fantásticos, con el aporte testimonial de compañeros de trabajo, amigos y familia.

As we’re on Diego anyway, we might as well mention that his site lafarium now includes a new piece, available in English or in Spanish, dedicated to an interview with Edward Packard. In 1969, Packard came up with the idea of writing multi-path second-person adventures, in which the reader makes choices that affects how a story unfolds and thus how it ends. “The Adventures of You” were eventually picked up by Bantam Books and published as a popular series of children’s books. The English version should be found here:

lafarium – edward packard interview

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dr strange, quique alcatena

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Towards the end of the year we chose a weird art theme, and as part of this we interviewed the creative Richard Mansfield of Mansfield Dark, looking at their work on bizarro fun films, cunning cut-outs and shadow puppetry.

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Their adaptation of E F Benson‘s famous horror story The Room on the Tower, which we mentioned as forthcoming in that article, is now available on Vimeo. Follow the link below to watch it:

the room in the tower

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In August (we don’t like to be too linear), we introduced the stories of Henry S Whitehead, set for the most part in the Caribbean. Tales of jumbees and strange spirits, curses and hauntings, these stories are well worth a read. This next bit gets complicated, so do keep up.

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In that article we mentioned that Whitehead was a friend of H P Lovecraft. Recently, whilst putting together an introduction to the writer H Russell Wakefield we asked the scholarly Bobby Derie about Lovecraft’s opinion of Wakefield’s work. He kindly opened up his library on this matter, and we got talking. Whitehead’s name came up, and Mr Derie pointed us to facsimiles of some of Whitehead’s few surviving letters. There are many interesting little tid-bits therein, but we particularly liked this passage:

Obeah and voodoo should be carefully distinguished. Obeah is the “White” magic; Voodoo “Black”. “Obi” (or some similar, local rendition of the first word,) is the current term for BOTH throughout the Islands. This has deluded many writers into supposing that the term PROPERLY covers all kinds of West Indian and even African magic. Such is, emphatically, not the case. Obeah is concerned with safeguarding people from natural and supernatural bad influences. Voodoo invokes such influences. To the former belong: A. Herbal medicaments. B. Fortune-telling. C. “Song-making”. To the latter belong the Worship of the Snake; “Le Chevre sans Cornes” (The Goat Without Horns) i.e child sacrifice; and “Long-Pig” i.e. , cannibalism.

November 18, 1925, to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales.

This letter’s especial relevance is that it was written from St Croix in the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands, formerly the Danish West Indies, are the setting for some of Whitehead’s best supernatural tales.

NB. Some quotes from Lovecraft’s letters, again courtesy of the helpful Mr Derie, will feature in the H R Wakefield article in January.

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Finally for today, there have been many ghostly stories bandied about over Christmas, it being something of a tradition at this time of year. As an antidote to the troubling  supernatural reverberations of those stories, we suggest the following, by the rather talented writer, broadcaster and performer John Finnemore:

Terrifying stuff, eh?

Next time, End of the Year Part Two – more updates on those sundry weirdnesses we covered during the year, and perhaos some utterly misguided plans for 2016…

 

 

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Something Annoying This Way Comes

As a holiday extra, greydogtales offers you an exclusive free short story, Something Annoying This Way Comes, by the renowned British author J Linseed Grant. Mr Linseed Grant is well known to our listeners, and to lawyers throughout the developed world, for his charming and light-hearted tales of unspeakable abominations on the Yorkshire moors.

The history of this particular story is also well known. Written in 1982, during his enforced exile in the Orkneys, it was submitted to an American magazine, Astounding Fantasies (incorporating the Amateur Bicyclist) in the November of that year, and rejected seventeen minutes later. After a series of injunctions, Mr Linseed Grant agreed not to submit any further stories to the United States. Ever.

Fortunately the original draft, most of which was written on a discarded sheep*, found its way to us at greydogtales, and in lieu of proper writing, we present it here in full (after a hurried conference with our solicitors). A .pdf is included to aid those who cannot scroll for medical reasons:

something annoying this way comes

*The sheep, a ram of the North Ronaldsay variety, lived to be an astonishing twenty three years old, though it never spoke again after the incident.

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Something Annoying This Way Comes

by J Linseed Grant, author of ‘Sandra’s First Pony’

Hurray! Sandra’s cousin Mary would be staying with them for the Christmas holidays.

Sandra was so looking forward to it. It was not that she didn’t like the rest of her family, but it was always nice to have someone of her own age around. They would share secrets and have bumper midnight feasts, and maybe paint each other’s toenails – all the little things which made the holidays extra special.

Father had changed his plans yet again and was now doing something unspeakable in Sumatra, but he had sent her a lovely big present. Unfortunately her mother had insisted that it should be X-rayed first. Sandra’s father had a habit of sending various shrunken objects, and Aunt Agatha had been hospitalised by the sight of last year’s present. This year he had been instructed to stay strictly above the waist when it came to gifts.

It was a bright, clear morning, so Sandra walked down to the village station to meet her cousin. The rail service had been officially discontinued in 1963, but a series of threatening letters from the Girl Guides had ensured that there were still four stopping trains a week. The local guides were somewhat feral, and were rarely ignored, even by Transport Ministers.

Mary was waiting by the station entrance. Sandra didn’t do squeals of excitement, so she gave her cousin a cheerful punch on the arm. He staggered, almost dropping his stylish pink satchel, but recovered his balance quite well for a boy.

He was dressed in his usual white cotton blouse and pleated skirt, with a simple black jacket. The skirt was a lovely green, if perhaps a little short for the season. At least this year he was wearing sensible flat shoes, thought Sandra. His experiment with stilettos had not been a success.

They hugged and exchanged gossip. Mary’s first term at sixth-form college had been a great success, and there had only been three fatalities, though the Latin master was still missing. As for Sandra, she told her cousin all about Mr Bubbles’ silver cup at the Ripon Gymkhana and Meat Pie Show.

“And we won the bronze rosette for dressage the week after that. We’re going to try barrel racing next year.” said Sandra.

“Are barrels very fast?” Mary asked, looking dubious.

“Idiot. You go round the barrels, like an obstacle course.”

She explained that her prize-winning pony Mr Bubbles would not be joining them on any adventures this holiday, as he had contracted an unknown disease again. He was confined to the stables until he stopped oozing yellow-green phlegm. And certain other things which Sandra didn’t ask about.

In the nearby woods, Yorkshire’s only colony of whip-poor-wills cried out hopefully in case the pony didn’t make it. They took their duty as the conductors of dead souls very seriously. Sadly for them, Mr Bubbles usually got over these things quite quickly. He had recovered from dengue fever in less than a week by putting a towel over his head and inhaling Friars Balsam.

“I have a new friend this year.” said Mary.

Sandra sighed. “Not another offer of marriage?”

“Honestly, just because I iron the pleats in my skirt properly. People have some funny ideas. No, I met Mr Linseed Grant coming off the train.”

J Linseed Grant was a dour old recluse who lived in the abandoned rectory beyond the village. He kept to himself usually, writing such scandalous tales that the village post-woman was paid extra to deliver writs and summonses. He also bred albino penguins to annoy any passing shoggoths. He was renowned for wandering the woods at night with his dogs, shouting “Teke-bloody-lili, come on out, you squishy bastards!”.

“He’s your new friend?”

“No, look.” Mary pointed at a long-legged, brindled animal which seemed to be watching them from a doorway. It was probably a dog, but seemed to have quite a lot of marsupial in it. “He’s a lurcher, called Bottles. Mr Linseed Grant said I could borrow him for the holidays.”

His cousin stared. “Are you sure he’s a lurcher? I would have said that a daddy dog and a mummy kangaroo met, and they loved each other very much, so…”

Mary whistled. “Come, boy.”

Bottles looked around in panic, and then rushed over to cower next to Mary’s bare legs.

“He’s a bit nervous.” said Mary.

“You might need dry socks.” said Sandra.

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Down in the village it was quiet. Most people were preparing for the annual Winter Solstice procession through Whateley Wood. This was always a jolly event, with bunting and a carnival atmosphere, and a big party at the end.

During the procession the Old Gods would be propitiated or taunted, depending on whether or not the vicar was there. As a highlight, the Womens’ Institute always sang a selection of dubious folk songs before leaving an offering of home-made produce on the Moon Stone, that Cyclopean edifice which sulked in the very centre of the woods. It was said that the blasphemous things which inhabited the area could be seen spitting out raspberry jam for weeks afterwards.

Sandra and Mary said hello to Mr Quilling, the village pervert, who was in his front garden, putting the last touches to his snowman. The fact that there was no snow, and that the vicar’s wife had been quietly sick at the first sight of the construction, didn’t seem to be hampering Mr Quilling’s endeavour.

“I didn’t know you could get underwear in that size.” said Mary as they wandered past.

“He’s had to make it himself since Miss Thornton gave herself unconditionally to some abominations. Poor chap. He’s absolutely dreadful with a needle and thread.”

At the end of the main street they met a man hauling a small trailer laden with logs and old branches. A few villagers were watching him, muttering among themselves.

“That’s a fine collection.” said Sandra, glancing into the trailer. The man was obviously not from the village. He had the carefree look of one who had never lived between Whateley Wood and the Grimspike Moor.

He smiled. “The wife insisted on one of those wood-burning stoves. So I came out here to get some logs.”

Sandra and Mary looked at each other.

“I don’t suppose,” said Mary, “That you’ve been in those woods over there?” Mary waved a slim arm in the direction of Whateley Wood.

Another smile. “That’s right, young lass, er, lad. I’m surprised more of you haven’t taken advantage of it. There’s fallen trees all over, lots of good burning, and-”

“I should put it back if I were you.” said Sandra. She looked into the trailer. One of the logs was oozing, and that didn’t look like sap coming out of it.

The smile faltered. “Now look here, I’m just-”

“It’s probably too late anyway. Come on, Mary.”

A group of villagers now stood between the man and his fancy four-wheel drive. In a rare act of solidarity, some of the larger and more aggressive ducks were patrolling around the vehicle. The ducks had enough problems with things trying to use their pond for orgiastic spawning ceremonies. They didn’t need trouble from the woods as well.

Woof. Bottles glanced hopefully at a duck, and then changed his mind when he saw the red gleam in its eyes. So he peed on the visitor’s trailer.

The two cousins left the man to his fate. Something worrying might be on its way, and the farmhouse was very near the trees.

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Back at the farm, mother was up on a stepladder, arranging rowan branches outside the front door. She was also swigging from a bottle of Old Suzy, a local brand of gin distilled with seventeen herbs, three of which were unknown to medical science.

“Oh, hello, my dears! You look nice, Mary.”

She looked with vague disapproval at Sandra’s combat jacket and fatigues. Sandra’s mother always welcomed Mary’s visits. A fine young man, she would say, very popular with the village girls. And much prettier clothes than… some.

“Is Great-Uncle Aleister here yet?” asked Sandra, hoping to change the subject.

Her mother considered the gin bottle, then the hammer in her other hand. After a moment’s hesitation she nailed up another branch with the correct implement.

“He’s in the police cells at York for importing mescal, darling. The lawyer says that as Aleister’s a brujo, it counts as part of his religious paraphernalia. He’ll be out by Christmas Eve.”

So a brujo was a South American witch, thought Sandra, and not a cooking pot for treating maize with slaked lime. That cleared that up.
Her mother made her way down the step-ladder, a process which took some time.

“There’s cold ham, a pork-pie, hard-boiled eggs and fresh lemonade in the kitchen, dears. And Mrs Womersley has baked something which may be bread. Help yourselves. Mummy’s going for a lie down.” She looked up at the cloudless sky. “But it looks like we’ll have no snow this Christmas. How disappointing.”

Sandra smiled as her mother disappeared inside. Mother was a dear, despite her affection for Old Suzy. And it was the holidays.

“Crikey.” Sandra suddenly remembered the stranger and his incautious wood-cutting. “Come on, Mary. Let’s load up.”

“On hard-boiled eggs?” asked Mary hopefully, but he knew what was coming next. Pump-action shotguns all round, and a trip up the lane to Whateley Wood. He glanced towards the stables. “Are you sure Mr Bubbles can’t help us?”

A resounding cough from inside, followed by some choice swear words, answered him.

“We do have Bottles.” said Sandra.

The dog tried to scratch where his jewels had once hung, and fell over.

“You have to keep at least three legs on the ground, boy.” said Mary with affection, stroking the dog’s head.

They went into father’s study, and unchained two of the Remington 870s from the gun cabinet. Given some of the things which came down from Grimspike Moor, her father believed in having a well-stocked gun cabinet. Her mother had the same view about the drinks-cabinet, for much the same reasons.

“Oh well.” Mary adjusted his skirt and took a box of ammunition from his cousin. “I don’t suppose that we ever will just play Monopoly at Christmas.”

A whip-poor-will cried out in the distance. Mr Bubbles might be in recovery, but there was always hope of a fatality when someone meddled. The sound would have been more ominous, but the bird had a worm caught in its throat, and its eerie call ended in a choking fit.

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Sandra and Mary, accompanied by a skittish Bottles, made their way through the outskirts of Whateley Wood with shotguns at the ready.
Hemlock trees, presumably from whip-poor-will droppings, competed with birch, ash and sullen pines, while holly bushes lapped at their feet. Here and there patches of Spanish moss struggled with mistletoe to win the best parasite award. Rhododendrons, the result of an incursion by spectral Welsh hounds some years ago, had died in protest at such globalisation and now stood dry and twiggy at every turn.

Except for its extensive size, the wood might have been a deranged arboretum planted by someone who had no idea which continent he or she was on.

They made their way deeper into the gloom, trying to keep off the Old Straight Path. This clear, easily-negotiated track had been widened in the seventeenth century by the local squire. Not only did it interfere with the Ley Lines, it still held the remains of early mine technology and a number of bear traps. The squire had been lynched by his own gamekeepers in 1684.

“There’s something over there.” said Mary, pointing to an ivy-festooned stump. “Behind that ivy. And that stump.”

“You’d better come out, whoever you are.” Sandra worked a shell into the chamber, and raised her gun.

Henry, the local charcoal-burner, appeared from the undergrowth.

“Oh, hello.” said Mary. “Sorry about that. Have you seen-”

“Shh, it’s coming this way.” said Henry, wiping smudges from his already dark face. “I’m hiding.”

“You should get back to the village.” said Sandra. “Tell them that we’ll sort this out.”

Henry narrowed his eyes.

“But where’s Mr Bubbles?” he asked.

Sandra felt peeved. Just because she was a girl!

“He’s sick, actually. But I’m sure we can manage the problem, Mr Ndoah.” she said rather sharply.

The charcoal burner shrugged, and slipped back the way the two teenagers had come, casting occasional dramatic glances at the trees. A failed Nigerian businessman, he had taken to charcoal burning and coppicing with remarkable enthusiasm, finding it infinitely more enjoyable than trying to sell televisions in Lagos.
Except when this sort of thing happened.

Mary looked at Sandra. “What are we trying to manage? It’s about time you told me.”

“Well, given that oozing bit of wood in the man’s trailer, it’s probably one of Shub-Niggurath’s Dark Young.”

Bottles shivered and peed himself again. Mary felt the same urge.

“Er… Shub-Niggurath? The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young? Isn’t that rather… dangerous?”

“Not at Christmas. They’re quite slow at this time of year.” Sandra gave him a confident smile, although she wasn’t so sure in herself. She could hear a crashing in the woods which sounded like something very large on the move.

They crouched low, advancing under cover of the bushes. The sounds ahead grew louder, accompanied by a stench which evoked the open grave, a few weeks after its occupant had been in residence.

“Phew!” Mary wrinkled his nose. “Smelly socks.”

“You wish.”

And there it was, pushing down a silver birch to break into the open. Writhing, ropy tentacles the colour of bathwater lashed at the trees, making way for a sort of body which shone with grey-green slime. Two thick legs crushed the undergrowth, and it howled.

“That’s a Dark Young.” said Sandra, pleased that she had got it right. That would be another tick in her I-Spy Book of Eldritch Horrors. One more than Penny Collins, the sixth form swot.

“What does it do?” asked Mary, checking that his shot-gun was loaded.

Sandra thought. “Well, it devours the innocent with its obscene, puckered maws and spreads the worship of Shub-Niggurath, its unholy mother. Everything else it strangles or crushes. Generally speaking.”

“Oh.”

Somewhere in the dense woods, a badger threw up.

She pointed to the monstrosity.

“See – one of its legs is shorter than the others. That chap in the village must have hacked at it by mistake. It was probably trying to hibernate.”

And it was true. The Dark Young, whose legs were stumpy and much like tree trunks, was definitely hobbling along. If it hadn’t been twenty foot tall and using its tentacles as well, it might have been at a disadvantage.

As it came to within twenty yards of the two teenagers, they raised their shotguns and fired.

Nyuuurgh! The Dark Young shrieked, sending a charnel waft their way, and lashed at the trees. But the shots seemed to have little effect on the slimy bark which formed its skin.

“And again.” said Sandra.

Dutifully Mary pumped the shot-gun and gave it his best. The creature paused, but then carried on towards them, dripping ichor as it went.

“Run away?” asked Mary, watching Bottles disappearing into the distance.

“Strategic withdrawal.” said Sandra.

They legged it.

####

Back at the farm, Sandra went straight to the stables to find Mr Bubbles. The pony was laid on a pile of straw, licking a fetlock. He coughed – mainly for effect, she thought – and stared at her with one watering eye.

“Feel ill.” he said.

“I know.” Sandra ran her fingers through her short hair. “But there’s a Dark Young on its way, and it doesn’t want to stop.”

“Sick.” Mr Bubbles spat out a lump of matted hair. “Not my problem.”

Sandra played her secret weapon. “It’s coming straight for us. It’ll trample right over the turnip clamps.”

One of the pony’s ear shot up. Sandra knew that Mr Bubbles was particularly partial to mother’s turnips. There was three months worth stored in the earthen clamps by Upper Meadow. His next cough was less theatrical.

“Dark Young. Like trees.” He took a deep breath. “Burn.”

“They like trees? Oh, I see what you mean. They’re sort of woody.”

“Still sick.” said the pony, and closed his eyes.

Sandra ran out to where Mary was comforting poor Bottles. The oddly-shaped dog was alternately eyeing the woods and the wide lane which led well away from here.

“It’s an adventure.” said Mary. He crouched down and stroked the worried animal. “We always have adventures when we come to stay with Sandra.”

Bottles gave him a look which suggested that future visits might be short.

“We need to set fire to that thing.” said Sandra.

“Can’t we just give it that bit of its leg back and apologise?”

“Don’t be a chump, Mary. It’s far too cross now.”

Mary sighed. “I have a large box of matches. I was going to make a scale model of a Heinkel bomber with them.”

His own mother was a Royal Air Force test-pilot, and regularly made Mary identify the outlines of obsolete German aircraft. It was another good reason for not being at home for Christmas. That and the obligatory Boxing Day assault course.

“We’ll need more than matches.” said Sandra. “And father’s flame-thrower is in for servicing, along with the lawnmower.”

Mary listened to the less-than-distant crashing from the woods. It wouldn’t be long before the Dark Young was out into the open and heading over Upper Meadow. The farmhouse was directly in line with the village.

“Didn’t you use the school howitzer when those fungus things wanted Mr Cafferty’s brain last year?”

St Botolph’s Mixed Infants was proud of its howitzer, donated by the Women’s Institute after a frenzied bidding session on e-bay had gone rather wrong. Edith Partington, who frequently forgot her medication, had been determined to buy a fruit-cake large enough to cater for the WI centenary. It turned out that she had not investigated the listing for a “twenty-five pounder” in quite enough detail.

But Sandra had already dismissed that idea. If Mr Bubbles was right, they needed to burn the Dark Young, not make holes in it, and due to the Education Authority’s interference, St Botolph’s no longer stocked white phosphorus ammunition. The gun would be useless.

“Old Suzy.” said Sandra decisively.

Mary looked puzzled. “I don’t think I’m allowed to drink gin.”

“You are wet sometimes, Mary. We shall make some Molotov cocktails, of course, and jolly well show that thing.”

They dashed inside the farmhouse. Under the huge Christmas tree in the dining room were several bottle-shaped parcels, all labelled ‘With love from Mother’ and all addressed ‘To Mother’. It was a family tradition, and the way in which Sandra’s mother ensured that she, at least, had a very merry Christmas.

“You unwrap them, Mary, and I’ll make some fuses.” Sandra grabbed an old tablecloth and began tearing it into strips.

Mary dutifully ripped off the yards of badly-sellotaped wrapping paper. He frowned at the contents. Only 53% proof.

“I don’t think this gin will burn well enough. We should soak the fuses in the gin, but fill the bottles with petrol. And maybe some washing-up liquid to make it stick more.”

Sandra grinned. Mary always came through in the end. He was her favourite cousin.

“Good show. There’s a can of petrol in the outhouse. Father’s getting tough with the whitefly next year.”

In five minutes they had a bucket full of gin surplus to requirements, and four improvised petrol bombs.

“So,” said Sandra, taking two of the bombs and a box of matches. “We hurl our bottles at the Dark Young and then get out of the way.”

The dog, who had been listening intently, ran under the dining-room table.

“Not you, Bottles.” said Mary. “Silly dog. She means the gin and petrol ones.”

Outside, they could see the hideous writhing of the creature’s tentacles as it limped its way into Upper Meadow. A stiffening breeze brought the stench of its body to them, and unholy shrieks issued from six or seven purple lipped mouths.

What the two plucky teenagers hadn’t expected to see was Mr Bubbles, standing on top of the largest turnip clamp. Wrapped in mouldering horse blankets, his eyes and muzzle running with phlegm, he looked almost as appalling as the creature in the field.

“I say, Mr Bubbles. Do get back!” shouted Mary.

The pony turned his head.

My turnips.” he said grimly.

The ghastly spawn of Shub-Niggurath, Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, stared at the pony.

The pony stared back.

A few seconds passed, and then the creature changed direction. It began to head straight for the farmhouse. Either it didn’t like the look of Mr Bubbles, or the fact they were both dripping mucus made the Dark Young feel a certain kinship with the ailing equine.

“We need to turn it away from the house!” shouted Sandra. “Mother wouldn’t like me to burn that down as well.”

They tried to divert it with the Remingtons, but without success. A couple of blasts from the shotguns made no difference, as before, and it seemed oblivious to their yelling. Sandra was about to risk using the petrol bombs, and hope that the creature fell the right way, when a brindled bundle shot out from behind Mary’s legs.

“No, Bottles!” cried Mary.

But it seemed that the dog’s deep chest harboured a mighty heart after all. It was also possible that Bottles was frightened out of his wits.

With a keening howl, he charged the Dark Young, dashing under those flailing tentacles and closing with it. At the last minute, the lurcher hauled himself up and, with a bravery which could only been born from sheer terror, cocked his leg.

A spray of nervous pee hit the Dark Young’s wounded limb, and it shrieked. Twisting its lumpy body, it tried to reach for the dog with its tentacles, but Bottles was off again, running east – away from the farmhouse. And the Dark Young tried to follow.

“Good dog!” yelled Mary. He struck a match and lit the fuses, first his and then Sandra’s.

The two cousins dashed closer, weaving about so that a stray tentacle didn’t hit them. The Dark Young, confused by things coming at it rather than fleeing, lost the plot and thrashed violently in protest.

Whumpf! The first petrol bomb fell between its upper limbs and foamy fire spread down its side. Mary’s second throw missed, but Sandra had won seven teddy-bears on the hook-a-duck at the last village fete. Both her throws hit the monstrous being dead on, and then its body was aflame. The added washing-up liquid seemed to affect its coating of discoloured mucus, accelerating the fire.

“Gosh!” said Mary, staggering back to a safe distance.

The bark-like surface of the Dark Young’s body flared and crackled, and it tottered madly, shrieking. The stench of burning meat and wood was almost unbearable.

“I was at a barbecue like this once.” Mary coughed and held his nose.

At last the monstrosity’s screeching voice fell silent, and with a final flail of its tentacles, it died. Assuming that it had ever been alive, in the normal sense.

A twenty foot inferno raged in the middle of the Upper Meadow, and the creature’s unnatural corpse was beginning to fall apart. The wind fanned the flames and carried greasy fragments of Dark Young high into the air.

Bottles came panting back to Mary’s side.

“What a good dog, yes you are.” said the delighted boy, scratching the dog’s bottom. “I shall tell Mr Linseed Grant to give you a whole penguin for this.”

“They taste disgusting. Like chicken in diesel oil.” said Sandra.

But she had to admit that things had gone rather well, all things considered. In the distance, Mr Bubbles spat and staggered back to the stables. His turnips were safe, that was what really mattered.

“Coo-ee!”

They turned to see Sandra’s mother standing at the farmhouse door with one arm round the bucket of discarded Old Suzy gin. The bucket appeared surprisingly light.

“How clever of you.” she said. “A festive bonfire, all on your own.”
She looked up as thick white flakes of charred Dark Young floated down. “And look, my dears, it is snowing after all! Merry Christmas, everyone!”

Then she fell over.

“I think I might go to Auntie Marge’s in Dunwich next year.” said Mary.

Woof, said Bottles.

THE END

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greydogtales returns after Christmas, unless you’re very good…

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